Many people leave the Roman Catholic church to become Protestants. They all have their reasons. Many have, likewise, ventured in the other direction, also for their own reasons. I believe that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and all share in eternal life. My own story is neither dramatic nor unique. Nevertheless, blogs being what they are, I feel I must tell it.
As a Catholic, I was what you could call “devout.” No one I knew doubted the truth of the Catholic church, much less the existence of God. Did I feel the presence of God in my life then as I do now, or was it my family, church and school whose presence I felt? I’ll never know. I do know that I prayed earnestly and was faithful in the sacraments, teachings and practice. Church was a big part of my life. It surrounded and defined me.
This is not going to be a post about how damaging the Catholic church is - or was. I went to Catholic school for 12 years, and I do not regret one day of it. I was “raised by nuns” some of whom I disliked, but most of whom I loved dearly. I parted company with the church over some issues, but I have no personal beef with it.
My understanding of Protestantism was that people believed they were already “saved” by Christ’s death and Resurrection and that they had no fear of hell. To be a Protestant was, therefore, to take the easy road. We learned that the Reformation took place because so many people were unwilling to embrace the rigors of true religion. Protestants certainly had nothing to teach me.
Then there came a time in my life when, without being too specific, it became very easy for me to “fall into sin.” I don’t live easily with cognitive dissonance so, to make my life simple, I rejected religion completely. I was like the fundamentalist who, when told that it is a sin to wear shorts, announces that she never believed in God anyhow. I met a lot of new people who were talking about a lot of things besides religion.
There was rock ‘n roll; there was philosophy; there was Civil Rights; there was feminism; there was art and literature. Who needed God with all this great stuff?
I became enamored of myself and my ideas. I loved other people insofar as they agreed with me. I was right. I was righteous. I was militant.
Do you know anyone like that? Big personality. Full of passion and zeal. Committed to a better world and always having a boyfriend. How can someone so irresistible be so unhappy? In the midst of all this, I felt that terrible emptiness that only comes when God is far away.
In those days, I often reviewed my non-belief, backing it up with logic and my own observation of a broken world and meaningless existence. Surely any God was so far away, so laissez-faire, that invoking him or her would be a waste of time. Maybe the universe hung together on its own. Maybe there was a system, like astrology or tarot or something that underlay it all. Maybe I needed to find out.
I ended all my friendships, moved to a new apartment, sold all my records and most of my furniture. All that was left was a Siamese cat and a hundred or so books. I decided to study anthropology, informally, on my own. I read many dozens of books, one book leading to another as so often happens. This study gave me a lot of answers about human behavior. For example, the first things to develop in a culture are structure and ritual. Rules about families, rules about food, rules about work. It showed me what I knew as a small child, that religious practice is central to our lives.
What drives people to organize their lives this way? Why are ritual and structure so satisfying? Even before an actual God is envisioned, humans conduct themselves worshipfully. Why is this so? Where does this need come from? Holiness is natural, it seemed. Why had I let it go?
"Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you." 1 John 27
Next week: what happened next!