I've been toeing the lines between agnostic, atheist and pagan for a little over 10 years now. I also went to Catholic school for about 12 years. I've always been a good student so I know about God, I know about Jesus, I've read the Bible and had it explained to me by two intelligent men, one of whom has a PhD.
Not once in those 12 years did I feel a connection to Catholicism, which, for years, made me wonder: 'is there something wrong with me? Why does believing come so easily to my classmates? How do they not doubt any of this?' This is one of the things that started me on my quest to find out what it is I do believe in.
After three years of soul-searching and into my freshman year at my first undergrad program, I came to the conclusion that not only am I not Catholic, I also don't believe in "God" as the traditional definition in Catholicism and Christianity defines it.
I can wrap my head around the possibility that maybe there is a higher power or forces that we, as humans, know nothing about. What I can’t wrap my head around is the notion that this higher power essentially punishes you if you don’t believe in this one specific religion. There are literally thousands of religions that are all built around similar creation stories from Shinto to Greek to Judaism. Even Wicca has some similarities in their creation story.
As for this idea of Creationism, I can’t get behind it as an actual theory of how the world was created. Even most of my Catholic school theology teachers would explain the whole “and on the seventh day…” thing as a metaphor or as hundreds of thousands of years but not as a thing that actually happened.
In addition to that, I feel that there is too much evidence suggesting that evolution is a logical theory. Science, real science, and not this recent pseudoscience about how vaccines and GMOs will kill you, loves things that can be repeated and supported with evidence over time. That makes sense to me. I don’t know why this is such a hard concept for some people.
A lot of the facets of Catholicism and related spiritualities and/or religions can be interpreted in different ways. You say prayer, I say directed energy. You say the Devil, I say negative thoughts, influences or the thoughts depression and anxiety make you think and drag you down to your lowest of lows.
Calling it “prayer” never worked for me. I only ever felt silly kneeling down and trying to think of something to say to a being called the one true God that I’d been told over and over lived in the sky and watched over us all, sometimes with an iron fist and sometimes with a kind and forgiving one. I knew feeling bored during this time wasn’t good either because this was supposed to be a serious, spiritual convergence. I knew the anxiety that perched on my shoulder when I got confirmed had little to do with the actual anxiety disorder I wouldn’t find out I had until my mid-twenties because every doctor or specialist would say I had ADHD (called just ADD back then) when I didn’t.
What that anxiety did have to do with was that I was only going through with the confirmation because my Catholic K-8 school made it a part of the curriculum, I was already bullied enough for being different and my parents expected me to. None of these are good reasons to go through with a religious rite. Over the years, as I learned more and more about Catholicism, the more my beliefs waned.
Even imagining the Devil as he is stereotypically pictured, sitting on his throne all red, horns and pitchfork and eternally tormenting people was another thing I couldn’t rationally believe. Sure, Lucifer falling is a great narrative story, but to me, that’s what it was, along with all the Greek and Japanese myths about Zeus and Inari and kitsunes, respectively.
Those stories fascinate me, but I don’t take them as fact. There are two reasons: again, almost every religion has some form of a temptress or a god of the underworld so it’s hard for me to believe that this one devil figure in this one religion is THE one. The other reason is a little bit deeper: you can experience hell on Earth. It just comes in different forms: natural disaster, poverty, homelessness, abuse, feeling suicidal or anxious and having those feelings invalidated over and over again or being blindsided by a friend or significant other you thought you knew. The only difference is that the hell on Earth (hopefully) isn’t eternal, even though it can feel like it sometimes.
Everyone deals with these hellish situations differently: either through music, art, writing, talking to close friends, therapy, a combination of medication and therapy or, obviously, religion.
I’ve chosen to deal with mine through listening to music, writing, talking to friends and a combination of medication and therapy. It’s infuriating when I’m fumbling my way through one of these rough patches still doing all of the above, yet people and even some “friends” tell me that my misery is solely because I haven’t accepted Jesus into my life.
I know they likely mean well, but it usually comes off as “I know your mind, beliefs, and struggles better than you do and I know you’d believe this if you just tried.” I wonder: do they not know how arrogant they sound? How patronizing? Do they not get how angry and frustrated they would be if I tried to sell them on the merits of paganism?
I'm glad Catholicism or Christianity could give you direction in your life and/or peace of mind in a difficult time but as someone who grew up believing, listen to me when I tell you I don't anymore, haven’t for a long time, and didn’t come to this decision lightly. Please stop telling me I'm wrong for believing what I do.
The conversation should literally be: “do you believe in God?”
“No [or at least not the way you do is what I’m trying to say and I'm afraid of where this conversation is going].”
“Oh? Why not?”
“[lists all the reasons above]”
“Oh, okay. That’s a lot different from what I believe, but that’s cool. I believe in x, y and z.”
I don’t understand why accepting your friend as they are is such a difficult concept for some. After all, that is you’re supposed to do as a friend and as a Catholic or Christian, should you believe in either of those things.
All of this raises another question for me: who are you to think you can dictate or judge what works for that person? As long as it’s not self-destructive or at risk of harming others, it’s none of your business. You are not that person, so stop pretending you are.
There’s a huge difference between being a supportive friend and being straight up obnoxious and hard headed. If someone you’re talking to tells you they’re not religious, gives even one reason why and tells you to respect that, please do that. If you still bring up Jesus, Christianity or Catholicism, you’re being obnoxious and hard headed. That is not what friendship is about and it’s definitely not what Jesus is about.