Sunday, February 15, 2009

Confiteor

Confiteor is a Latin term meaning "I confess", and I've adopted it as a title for any post that pertains to autobiographical accounts of my "spiritual" journey from indoctrination to deconversion. You might liken posts like this to the "testimonies" of converted Christians, though there's nothing spiritual going on here. I don't know how many I'll write, or how often I'll write them, but I hope you don't find them too boring or self-indulgent, and that they give you some food for thought.

Prima Pars: Prophecy

I was raised Roman Catholic because my older brother didn’t know how to fistfight. That’s basically how it was explained to me, in so many words. According to my mother, Artie frequently got himself beat up in the Cleveland Public School system, which is why she looked into parochial schools for me. I was the “baby” of the family – about 15 years younger than my assertive and self-confident Sis, who would not be able to protect me from bullies as she had for my brother – who is a year older than she.

My family was not Catholic, except for my dad, who was lapsus – he had not darkened the doorway of a church since... well, I don’t remember him ever going to church, unless someone was getting married and, even then, it had to be someone very close. My mom, when asked, described herself as Protestant; I think her church was United Methodist, but I don’t know what she was before the United Methodist church was founded in 1968, two years before I was born. She hardly attended church services either. For the both of them, faith seemed a private matter.

But there are scads of Catholic schools in Cleveland and, still in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, they had all started accepting non-Catholic students. So, for a family like mine, looking for a private school, it was a fairly easy choice. Kindergarten at St. Benedict’s, 1st grade at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and 2nd-8th at Our Lady of Peace. I’m not sure why so many; I think the Diocese of Cleveland had been closing and consolidating parishes. The tuition bill was footed by my gramma D. She belonged to Eastern Star, the sister sorority of the Freemasons. This was somewhat ironic, because a Catholic can get himself excommunicated for affiliating himself with the Freemasons.

OLP apseBy 2nd grade, Our Lady of Peace (OLP) was the most gorgeous church I had ever seen. It had a baldaquin atop marble pillars. Beneath that was a bronze tabernacle, upon which sat two angel figures face to face, like the Ark of the Covenant. A realistic crucifix seemed to float in air between baldaquin and tabernacle, a grim reminder of the sacrifice required to expiate mankind's sinful nature. Its apse contained a vaulted ceiling on which a mosaic depicted angels dancing around a throne where sat the Madonna and Child in a field of azure strewn with stars. It was beautiful to behold, and for a seven-year-old like me, it fixed the imagination upon the transcendent.

In 2nd grade, most Catholic kids were making their first communion. The boys who made their first communion would eventually be allowed to serve as altar boys. These boys would partake in the strange and mystical rituals of the Catholic Mass beneath that azure vault. Garbed in scarlet cassock and white surplice, they would perform the mysterious tasks of the liturgical rites. The pomp, the circumstance, the occasional magic word in Latin thrown in for good measure. I was jealous, and I wanted in; and that meant, I would have to become a Roman Catholic.

After speaking with my parents, the pastor, Fr. Zepp, was uncertain if a Methodist baptism was valid. At least that’s what he said. So, he performed a special Mass to cover both my baptism and first communion. All for me, and me alone. I remember quite a number of parishioners showing up for this event, which would have been done during the course of a regular Sunday Mass. So, I was the star of the show, the center of all that pageantry. And, with the Blessed Virgin staring down as a witness, the first step of my plan to become an altar boy was completed.

I had learned a couple of things about that day much later in life. First of all, a Methodist baptism meets the requirements for what the Catholic Church would regard as a valid baptism. Consequently, I had been baptized twice, and had two sets of godparents. I can’t see how Fr. Zepp didn’t know this; I had learned it by high school. I suspect he didn't want to be certain I had a proper baptism so much as he wanted to make a show of me: come one, come all, see the amazing son of apostates return to the One True Faith! Religions love to parade their converts about, don’t they?

I didn’t learn the other thing about that day until I was in college. I was going to Borromeo, a now defunct seminary college. I was still in love with the Catholic rites, the mysteries of faith, and the eye-appealing architecture, and my plan was to carry that love to its logical conclusion: the Catholic priesthood. That’s when someone, I forget who, had told me about the “prophecy”. Apparently the nuns of OLP, the ones who witnessed the spectacle of my conversion (if a seven-year-old can be said to have a conversion), regarded it as an omen. They regarded it a miracle that someone so young would embrace the Mother Church, the one true body of Christ on Earth. Such a miracle betokened one of two things: either I would die in childhood, or I would grow up and become a priest.

Whoever told me about this prophecy seemed to believe in it, and was excited that it would come true since, although I failed to die young, I was in the seminary studying to be a priest. She seemed quite happy that prophecies could come true. However, I was quite disturbed. For some reason, I resented that the nuns should say such a thing; I resented that they thought God had such a narrow path set out for me. I had never thought about the implications of prophecy before. But if prophecies come true, can there be such a thing as free will? I wasn’t sure, but I felt like I had to prove the nuns, if not God himself, wrong. From that moment I knew that I most emphatically would not, could not, become a priest.

~Philosobot

9 comments:

  1. Hey Philo,

    Thank you for sharing this. I learned a lot about you in this post, and I look forward to further sharing of this nature.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into your formative years. I am now convinced that you are not part of a vast Jesuit conspiracy to steal Scrip’s soul. You are just another casualty of religious abuse. I am beginning to understand the roots of atheism. It is religion and people that have disappointed, not God Himself. We have more in common than you think. If the definition of “atheist” was “one who has forsaken abusive or erroneous forms of churchianity or religiosity” I would be in your camp as well. Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4)! We have all experienced the counterfeit and misguided. Now let’s discover the REAL

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  3. Tandi,

    Is it possible that I am the closet Jesuit? Ah the possibilities and the intrigue.

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  4. Philo,

    I am surprised by how offended you were with this "prophecy." Others might have found it flattering. Can you elaborate?

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  5. Scrip, Philo.........

    Speaking of Intrigue, you have reminded me of one of my favorite books...the one that led to my renouncement prayer that set me free from religious bondages. I hope you will both read it. Here is a preview from chick.com (also available at Amazon)

    50 Years in the "Church" of Rome, by Charles Chiniquy
    Conversion Testimony of a Former Catholic Priest

    As a child, Chiniquy memorized scriptures at his mother's knee and developed a deep love for God. Becoming a priest, he wanted desperately to place full trust in his "church", but was hit by waves of doubt as his "church" claimed adherence to the Gospel, yet violated it at every turn. His jealous superiors falsely accused him, but Abraham Lincoln, a young lawyer from Illinois, defended him and saved his reputation. Chiniquy proves that it was the Jesuits who later killed Lincoln, and explains why.

    Finally, after twenty-five years as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, his bishop demanded that he give up his precious Bible, and pledge blind obedience to the "church. After a dark night of struggle, he emerged gloriously saved, and led almost the entire Catholic population of St. Anne, Illinois to trust in Christ alone. Here is the finest work ever written to show, from the inside, what Catholicism really is. You will feel Chiniquy's broken heart for Catholics, even as he clearly refutes Catholicism's errors. Now, abridged from the 1886 edition, it is even more readable than before!

    ------
    The Chick comic, The Big Betrayal, also tells the story (available at chick.com for online reading I think). But the words of Charles Chiniquy himself in the book he wrote are compelling. Made a huge impact on me anyway.....and many other ex-Catholics.

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  6. It sure is nice to have people to point fingers at to distract us from our own sinful nature. Those Catholics with their blood pudding... grrr... they are the REAL bad guys!

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  7. Scrip wrote: "I am surprised by how offended you were with this "prophecy." Others might have found it flattering. Can you elaborate?"

    I'm surprised that you should be surprised. Being prophesied about is seldom a good thing; to be the subject is to be subjected.

    Do you know the story of Croesus? Croesus was the king of Lydia around 500bce. A famous story is that he consulted the oracle at Delphi as to whether or not he should go to war with the Persians. The oracle said that if he waged war on the Persians, a mighty kingdom would fall. Croesus was encouraged by this prophecy, the Persians were mighty indeed. But when he engaged the Persians, he soon discovered that the mighty kingdom about to fall was his own.

    As for me, I was 20 years old (or thereabouts) at the time. When you're 20, you still think of your life as an open book full of all kinds of possibilities. So, to think that a choice I made was really a choice that fate had made for me was unacceptable.

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  8. Oh, and Tandi: I don't mean to suggest that this story alone was the defining moment when lightning struck and I decided to become an atheist. If Jesus appeared to me today and said I had to believe, I would probably go right back to being a Roman Catholic.

    Under some other post you were talking about the evolution-to-atheism connection, and I wanted to write a comment that evolution had nothing to do with my deconversion. But as I was typing my response, I realized that I didn't have a single reason that I could point to. There's a lot of little things that brought me to the conclusion that there is no God (or, if there is, he is irrelevant); there was a lot of going back and forth on the issue too, a lot of lapses in and out of religion. So, I thought it might be interesting to sort out these little things in a series of posts.

    And, if I choose to write more posts like this one, there are yet Jesuits to throw in the mix :) There are also Benedictines, Franciscans, fundies, Evangelicals, charismatics, several Jews, Jehovah's witnesses, and a special someone from the church of the Nazarene. Oddly, there are hardly any atheists to report, and no scientists, unless you include the nun who was infatuated with Teilhard de Chardin.

    Anyway, if only I've humanized myself a little in your eyes, then I'm glad. I'm really quite ordinary, I think, and not the grand poobah of some fraternal order of atheists that I sometimes think you think I am. :)

    Regards,
    Eric

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  9. Eric,

    At 20, you did not want to be under subjection because of a “prophecy” that confirmed your free-will choice? Yet today, if you saw an apparition, you would fall in line into this same Roman Catholic subjection? Interesting....and scary. Please read Chiniquy!

    I look forward to hearing “the rest of the story” of “the road to unbelief.” You are a very good writer. I eagerly await Chapter 2. Yes, you have humanized yourself in my eyes. I did not know what to make of you, but your influence on Scrip is apparent, as is the influence of Biggums. We all influence one another to some degree. We are sponges in the sea of life.

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