This is the third part of my four-part series on atheism. This one was originally published on my old blog on 20 January 2014.
Where part 2 left off, I was eight years old, and had completed my first confession and first communion. I did believe in God (but no longer believed in Santa Claus), and I did believe in Jesus, kind-of. At least, I believed that God had a son, but I could not understand why I was supposed to pray to him, rather than praying to his father.
I kept my doubts to myself, because I was a child, and had been taught that I must have the faith of a child. I found the whole thing very confusing. Also, I didn’t want to get into trouble.
I went to confession twice more in my life, once that same year, and once before my confirmation, which happened when I was 14.
Before I reached the confirmation class, there were a few years that are mostly a blur in my memory. At one stage I had a teacher named Patrick, who was an Irish South African complete with red hair, red beard and a smoking habit that required one of the kids to be sent to the shop and buy him a pack of cigarettes before each lesson. He was a pragmatic type of fellow, and told us tales of his youth and what it was like to attend a Christian Brothers school, and spent the rest of the time teaching us to know the required prayers and Creed off by heart. He also taught us what to say when people criticized us Catholics, accusing us of worshipping Mary and what-not.
Those lessons came in quite useful in the most surprising of places… Years later, while adding features and fixing bugs related to a program that could store freeform data, but did not correctly persist the right number of characters, I unit tested the code by filling the freeform text with the Hail Mary and Glory Be prayers, from memory. I reckon that after my colleagues saw all the prayers in that database, they must have thought I was off my head.
As for the lessons in defending Catholicism, I learned in later years, when it comes to criticism, even if the negative criticism is unfounded, people who criticize are often just not willing to listen to any response, so there is seldom any need to answer what they have to say. [Edit 28 August 2016. I used to be defensive about my former religion. When I wrote this, I still was. The truth is, the rationalizations that Patrick taught us to use when defending the religion didn’t make much sense, when I think about them now. Why should Mary intercede between us and god? Why pray to Mary?… Assuming a need for prayer at all, which I do not. But even if god existed, praying to Mary makes no sense at all.]
Patrick also taught us about the Holy Trinity, and I did not understand that part. By the age of ten, I was already successful when in came to selective belief. I think, as a Christian, you have to be. I mean, is creation a literal tale? Is it a parable? I thought a parable must have a second meaning. What is the second meaning; the lesson that it conveys? The whole story of God creating the Earth in 7 days, “Let there be light” and the fall of man don’t make any sense, no matter which way you look at it. I knew that already at ten years old, but I did what every good little Christian does, and tried not to think about it.
Then we moved on to the next Sunday School teacher. She was a crazy person named Beverly. I was convinced that she was out of her mind, when she taught us about Heaven and Hell, Purgatory, Limbo and original sin. WTF? We all inherit Adam’s sin, and are not forgiven for it… Only baptism in a Catholic church frees us of this. Thus if a baby dies, having not been baptized, it can not enter Heaven, but must spend eternity in Limbo. As for the rest of us, even if we live saintly lives, after we die we must hang around in Purgatory for a while, maybe hundreds of years, before we can go to Heaven.
I’m sorry, but only a lunatic could ever believe that nonsense. So we inherit sin? The sins of the father, literally. What about every sin of all the other billions of ancestors after Adam?
So by 12 years old, my selective belief was starting to get out of control. By the time I reached 14, at around the same time as my confirmation, I’d reached the point where there was more that I disbelieved than I believed, and my doubts in the existence of God, at least the God I had been taught of, was starting to take over.
Again, this is starting to get long… I don’t want to put too much into a single post (and it’s almost time for me to drive home anyway). Thus here ends part 3. Of course there will be a fourth part. Beyond that, I don’t know.