Catholic School: How Did I End up Here? (Pt. 3)

"I am an atheist, and that is it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for people." ~ Katharine Hepburn (American actress)

"It's simply just need to believe." I wonder how many kids, either from my generation or the kids of today, would accept this as an answer. I mean, it's not like I was asking when the next bus was coming - I was asking how the world was created and how humans came into existence!! In my mind (both past and present), questions like these need to be answered with more depth than a simple faith-based, Creationist perspective on life; however, this might have been be a tall order for a Catholic nun to fill at the time.

As most of us know, the basic concepts and premises of most religions of the world have fundamental differences and similarities. As part of today's blog, I wanted to examine the differences between two religions that have gained enormous popularity over the past 2000 years (one more recent than the other)......

I. Scientology: billions of years ago, a galactic overlord named Xenu needed to control overpopulation. So, he gathered up all his enemies and froze them. Then they were packed into spaceships, flown to volcanoes in Hawaii (and other places on Earth), where they were hit with nuclear bombs. Then, the spaceships vacuumed up all the dead alien souls and took them to a movie theater, forcing them to watch violent and confusing movies until they forgot who they were. These souls wandered off, clumped together, and landed in people. These are called Thetans. People need to get rid of these Thetans and, therefore, engage in different spiritual practices to accomplish this. In doing so, people live a better, more spiritual life with a clear mind and heart. That's the basics.

II. Catholicism: just over 2000 years ago, two people named Mary and Joseph birthed a son through immaculate conception. Mary was impregnated by a spiritual being that lived in the sky, beyond the clouds, in a place called Heaven. The baby produced by this pregnancy, a boy named Jesus, was born as the saviour of the entire world - as well as a carpenter. His purpose was to spread the word of God, his father (spiritual being in Heaven) and to save the people of the world from their sins by dying an excruciating death. All people were considered to be sinners, as people are born with "original sin" (the sin that occurs when the baby's parents had sex in order to create them). If these sins (and other sins) are not confessed and forgiven by God, people will burn in a terrible place called Hell, which is ruled by a very scary and evil spirit named Satan, for the rest of eternity. Jesus is said to be returning to Earth (called the Second Coming of Christ) at an unknown time and place, to judge the living and dead for their sins. This day will be called "Judgement Day." When Judgement Day occurs, the entire world will be destroyed and, as the inhabitants of Earth, we will know this day is coming because there will be fires, floods, hurricanes, resurrections of the dead, and the Second Coming of Christ. That's the basics.

As a grade 7 student, I distinctly remember thinking, "wait a minute....what???" as I was introduced to a higher level of learning around the Catholic faith (similar to the time I went to "mass" at the Church of Scientology when I was Now, as an adult, the idea that young people would not be encouraged to question these stories is absolutely preposterous to me. But, that's me. I also clearly remember being totally confused about the story of Creation because it just didn't make sense to me. How woman was made out of the rib of man, how a talking snake warned this man and woman about not eating apples from a specific tree, how when they ate the apples they suddenly realized they were naked and this was problematic, how a spiritual being called God made everything in the world in seven days and nights. How. How. How.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: if you are going to ask people to believe in stories as ridiculous as these, some questioning should be encouraged, whereas "blind faith" might be discouraged. Now, I am declaring these stories to be slightly ridiculous from the following perspective - if I was to land on Earth, not knowing anything about religion and these stories were passed on to me, what would I think? Ridiculous. However, I am noting that perspective from a 33-year old mindset; I don't remember thinking it was ridiculous in grade 7....I just remember being confused and not having my questions answered in a way that made me less confused. In fact, it made me more confused.

Ultimately, the most confusing aspect of this entire business was that my teacher, a woman married to god, didn't have the answers. As I've grown older I've come to realize that no one does - not my mother, father, mentor or priest. If I was to ask any one of these people, "how is it possible that a woman came to be made out of a man's rib" (particularly given the scientific fact of evolution), the answer would be simple: it just is. That's where faith comes in, I guess.

FAITH (n):
1. Confident belief in the truth, value or trustworthiness of person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing.
4. Often faith Christianity The theological virtue defined secure belief in god and a trusting acceptance of god's will.

My teacher had faith. For sure. She did not, however, instill faith in me.

Catholic School: How Did I End up Here? (Pt. 2)

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." ~ Dalai Lama (Buddhist Leader)

Notice how the kid in this cartoon is standing under the sign saying "public," whereas the adult figure - likely a mother who is over-reacting - is standing under the "private" sign. This is a good depiction of how this all played out in my family. I guess for this to be illustrated more accurately, the sign would actually read: "private, Catholic" but, that was impossible to find.

After eventually resigning to the fact that I was powerless over my mother's rash decision to send me to a different school - a school with no boys - a school where I knew no one - I ultimately opened myself up to this curious and somewhat dreadful educational experience. And, I hated it - have I mentioned that before?? Now, I could explain all the differences, all the experiences, all the memories; however, that would cause the Catholic School: How Did I End up Here dialogue to be endless in length. And so, for your reading pleasure, I will stick to the more interesting and amusing aspects of this particular adventure.

I would like to open with the following statement: if I was once a kid who things came easily to in terms of my academics, I was a dumb ass in private school. For example, the public education system began lessons in French in grade 4, whereas this particular school started them in grade 2. This was the same for most subjects including grammar, which was not something that was focused on in public school in the elementary school years (grade 6 and under). Concepts in math were far more advanced than my lowly public school education ever offered and, where the girls who surrounded me excelled in most academic areas, I fell behind in my classes quite quickly. That really pissed me off. I think this was one of the catalysts behind my behavioural downwards spiral that began that year, which likely contributed to my thinking that I could establish myself within the hierarchy by being different and disobedient, as opposed to smart. Figuring out this particular golden nugget took years of expensive therapy well into my adulthood.

Being the curious kid that I was, being forced to take a religion course in school was a novel idea to me and I remember being excited to learn about the different religions of the world. Until that point, I was struggling to see how wearing a uniform and having a boy-less existence contributed to my upbringing as a Catholic, but this - a religion class - would bring it all together for me. I anticipated learning about unconventional religious practices and rituals that developed in countries I had never even heard of. I was wrong and that pissed me off too. Within the grade 7 and 8 curriculum, the only religion explored in religion class was Catholicism. The course consisted of a bible study lead by one of the only remaining nuns teaching at the school, who oddly enough also taught health class (called CORE for some unknown reason). In case you are a visual person - she did not wear a habit. As an adult, I can now reflect on the irony of the fact that only Catholicism was taught in that religion class and I guess this falls in line with the first commandment that states: you shall have no other gods before me. Still, in my 13 year old brain it was bizarre that an entire course dedicated to religion would only explore one religion, but, what did I know? I guess it was no more odd than the fact that our health class (CORE), which was supposed to teach us something about sex - well, the Catholic version of that particular topic - generally focused on hygiene. I specially remember being told that I didn't really need to wash my body because the shampoo from washing my hair would take care of it. Again, my adult brain now understands that this was likely suggested in hopes of us avoiding touching our bodies in a manner that could be considered ungodly, which today strikes me as very amusing.

And so it began, the opportunity for all of my questions regarding faith and the bible and god to come forward to be answered by an expert: a nun. Someone not only married to god, but who dedicated some of her life teaching at a Catholic school for young girls. Brilliant. To my surprise, these questions were about as well received as they were to be in my ninth grade catechism class, where - as mentioned previously - my teachers would sigh in frustration as the questions would begin. This was surprising in the simple fact that, as a nun, my perception was that she would be all loving and all knowing, as god himself was supposed to be. I didn't expect the same from my catechism teachers - they were mere humans from my congregation, not people of god. Yet I found myself having similar experiences in religion class, where I was provided with nonsensical answers like, "it's simply faith, you just need to believe."

Catholic School: How Did I End up Here? (Pt. 1)

"I want you to know, when it comes to believing in god - I really tried. I really really tried. I tried to believe that there is a god who created each one of us in his own image and likeness, who loves us very much and keeps a close eye on things. I really tried to believe that, but I gotta tell you, the longer you live, the more you look around, the more you realize.....something is FUCKED UP. Something is WRONG here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, poverty, torture, crime, corruption and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong." ~George Carlin (American comedian, social critic, actor, author)

Grade seven and eight. Pivotal years in the life of a young person - years where you are developing your identity and forming lifelong friendships. Two years where I was removed from everything and everyone I knew since Kindergarten. Talk about a horrifying experience for a girl just entering into her teens and, not only was I moved to a different school in a different town, it was an all-girls Catholic school. WTF (when I was a teenager, WTF hadn't entered into pop culture - we simply would have said the entire sentence).

My older sister was pretty much a fantastically good kid when we were younger (and the coolest big sister ever, as I remember it). And, not "good" in the "goodie two-shoes" kinda way; she was simply a good person, a good sister. But, she began to experience some minor academic struggles in her Jr. High years. I was the kid who things came easily to; I didn't have to study much and I generally did well in school with very little effort (except in math, in that area I was a dummy). My sister's had to try a little harder and this became evident when she was in grade 9 in the public school system. Grade 9 is a difficult academic year for a lot of kids, as you are preparing to learn more difficult concepts in high school, and my sister was challenged in her ninth year at school.

Here's where the confusing part comes in: somehow, my sister's experiences in school translated into my parents deciding to put ME in private school, where I could get a "better education." Now, I wasn't having any difficulties in school - academically or socially - so it would have made sense to me (and probably my sister, who eventually attended the same school I did and flourished) that my parents would leave me where I was to invest extra money and time into helping my sister. However, for some reason in my grade 7 year, I found myself as the "new kid" at school and my sister continued to attend public school where she also continued to struggle. Go figure.

And, I hated it. In the summer after the completion of grade 6, I was contacted by a girl who attended the school I would be going to in the coming Fall. She had been a student there since she started Kindergarten at the age four and, therefore, had been assigned to be an "angel" to new girls arriving at the school. Basically, her role was to be your friend and to show you the ropes when the school year started, which struck me as an odd gesture. A forced friend. Weird. However, this did come in handy in terms of "learning the ropes," as Catholic school turned out to be much different than public school. Some of these differences included uniforms, morning prayers, religion class, and a girl running up and down the halls - swinging a bell - to indicate the change in classes (as opposed to the "normal" intercom system I was accustomed to). Over time, the bell actually grew on me - as did other aspects of school; however, I never knew that there were parts that I enjoyed until I was old enough to appreciate the experience. Given this, I hated it.

Genesis: The Beginning Started With Coloring

"What if humans are here by pure random chance? What if there is no guiding hand, no external regulation, no one watching? It is clearly possible that this may be true. In fact, this is what our scientific evidence is pointing towards. But what if it were true - what would that mean?" ~ Julia Sweeney (American actress, comedian, author)

I'm going to start of by saying something that wouldn't be considered very "PC" amongst most Christian folks out there - at least those of which do not possess a sense of humour - according to Genesis, God was a very busy guy in those first days of life and the creation of everything in existence. And this Genesis business - it continues on for pages and pages, totaling 50 chapters in all and resulting in the creation of the earth and all its inhabitants.

According to the bible, I too was created in this manner, in God's likeness, I suppose. I don't feel as if I was created in the likeness of anyone but my mother and father and, even some of these "likenesses" I would get rid of if I had the opportunity. So, how did this whole God/Catholic thing enter into my life? I imagine it's the same way for most of us: we are conceived and born, leaving our parents to decided what religion we will be affiliated with. This occurs without our input, obviously, and in my experience this continued on for many years with very little of my input. As many children that I grew up with, I was baptised in the Catholic church and then proceeded to go on to my first communion and my eventual confirmation. I attended weekly catechism (Sunday school) in preparation for these events for 10 years -10 YEARS!! That, in my estimation, is a gigantic number of Sunday's. Even when compared to the education system, which lasts 12 years in duration, this seems like an impossible number of Sunday's.

What I remember most about attending church as a child is coloring. Coloring and knelling on the floor to use the pew in front of me as a table in order to color. So, all in all, my early memories of attending church are rather benign. What I remember most about attending catechism is that my mother taught it for awhile, and that it also involved a lot of coloring. Why did we color so much? I distinctly remember the coloring pages being biblical pictures of some sort, generally involving lambs and a bearded guy in a dress holding a stick that was rounded on top. I remember being told the guy was Jesus and that he was watching over his flock. I wonder, did the Sunday school organizers think that we children would learn to like or get to know Jesus through coloring him on pages, as we did with superheros and Sunday morning cartoon characters (who we did, indeed, love)? May be it did work....come to think of it, I don't recall having any feelings of ill-will towards Jesus as a child, quite the opposite in fact. In knowing myself now, I suspect that I likely thought that Jesus was an eccentric man with a kind, but sad face, who was an animal lover.

But, how did The Beginning or the story of Creation link to my beginning? And, did it link to my beginning as a Catholic or as a human being? These questions did not evolve in my mind until I was a teenager, preparing for my confirmation, which in the Catholic religion is a very important event in the life of a young person. These were troubling Sunday's for me as I was being taught something that didn't make sense to my 14-year-old brain. These were also troubling Sunday's for my catechism teacher, who would literally let out a sigh of frustration when my questions would begin. What can I say, I'm a naturally curious the point of my own detriment at times.

When Answers in your Head Aren't Enough

As I proceed through this momentous journey called my life, it has become evident to me - in my process - that figuring all of this out cannot solely take place (and space) in my head. I've been walking an obscure path for some time now and, more recently, I've discovered that I am not the only person feeling lost these days (duh).  My rational conclusion was to write this blog, although I can't quite say how I reached this conclusion. May be people will read it, may be they won't. All I know is that this is a forum in which to get outside of the confines of my noggin' to put ideas and thoughts into the world, most of which are not so different from what other people are experiencing and feeling.