Frustrated Teachers. Frustrated Me.

"The great end in religious instruction, is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth; not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs; not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices to our particular sect of peculiar notions, but to prepare them for the impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to their decision; not to burden memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought." ~ William Ellery Channing (American Moralist and Clergyman 1780-1842)

It might be notable to begin with the clarification that the people teaching me catechism were not actually teachers - meaning they did not possess a teaching degree. They were mere humans from my congregation who made a commitment to the church to provide religious instruction to a bunch of teenagers who could not care less. I commend them on their bravery in this aspect as I presently work with teenagers and know they aren't the best audience unless some underage troubled kid is singing on a stage complete with a laser show. In looking back, I can now see through my adult eyes that it would have been easy to perceive me as an asshole rather than a curious kid, as my delivery wasn't always the greatest. There were parts of me that got great enjoyment out of asking questions that they did not have tangible answers to; however, there was also a part of me that was longing for someone to provide me with something that I wasn't getting.

As the teachings progressed through the old to new testament, I was unable to fathom how I was expected to take these teachings literally. The idea of believing, in literal fact, that the universe was created in seven days, that Adam and Eve existed and created all man and woman kind, that Mary and Joseph birthed a son - the savior off all mankind - who was the child of God, that there was a great flood that wiped out of the Earth - save for the animals that were gathered two by two and placed on an ark. My favourite questions in catechism class undoubtedly were: "but what about this.....????" and, "but there's no evidence to prove this.....????" Again, in this environment, the standard notation was the same: "it's simply just need to believe." Apparently, I wasn't that faithful.

Further confusion emerged as I began to enter into the beginning stages of my critical analysis of the hypocrisy presented in the bible. During my teenage years, these skills were not as fine tuned as they eventually developed to be; however, they were nonetheless developing in catechism class. I did not understand how god, a supreme being of kindness and love, could assert that he loved everyone - except for certain people. I did not understand how the place called hell existed if all sins were forgiven. I did not understand how an all-loving god could leave souls in purgatory for all eternity or why wars, famine, poverty and violence existed despite his watchful gaze. How could something be true when it was contradicted within the very verse it was written in?

As I sat back and observed the other teenagers in my class, it astounded me that few of them seemed to share in my confusion. I'm not sure whether their seeming ambivalence towards the subject was just that...ambivalence, or if they simply accepted these teachings as the word of god in the same way they had once believed in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. To me, believing in all of this god business was not an option at the time - it was just what you did. However, Santa had in fact turned out to be a legendary, mythical, folkloric, could god not turn out to be the same?

It amuses me that this might be another great example of that concept I mentioned a few entries ago.....foreshadowing, as my views about religion and god (and Santa, for that matter) have evolved to include concepts such as the moralization of civilization and social control. But, at the time, my underdeveloped frontal lobe was not processing on that deep of a level. Combined with the fact that I had recently discovered marijuana, my brain certainly wasn't working at 100%.

The Beginning of the End of Obligatory Religious Ceremonial Formalities

"Faith is believing in what you know ain't so. If there was an all-powerful God, he would have made all good, and no bad. If there is a God, he's a malign thug." ~ Samuel Clemens (Author, Mark Twain).

I entered back into the good graces of Sunday school after completing my 8th grade at private, Catholic school. After begging my mother for two years to place me back into the public education system, she conceded, and - no longer in a religious environment - I was back to the mundane teachings of mere humans once a week. I guess this would have been when I was 14, in grade 9 at a junior high school that was located down the street from my house. In Nova Scotia, kids attend elementary school (grades 1-6), junior high (grades 7-9), and high school (grades 10-12). Once in high school, the obligation to attend religious teachings of any kind ends as you get confirmed into the Catholic church prior to completing grade 9. And presto! The Catholic church owns you....or something like that.

When Catholic children are in grade 2 they participate in something called their First Communion. This is a traditional ceremony where children experience their first confession, which is then followed by their first experience of taking the Catholic Sacrament of Holy Communion. For those of you unfamiliar with holy communion, it is the ceremonial process where a priest does something called transubstantiation. This very fancy word defines a process in which a priest turns ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. In turn, Catholics then eat and drink the bread/body and wine/blood during mass. It's a big deal. When you are little, you attend Sunday school to prepare for this event, in part by coloring pictures (as mentioned before). However, when this big day arrives it is viewed as a rite of passage for children in their journey to becoming part of the Catholic church and faith. Little girls often dress up in gowns that look like miniature bridal dresses (with veils) and little boys often dress up in miniature suits (with ties).

As I type this out, I realize how odd this ceremony might sound to someone who is unfamiliar with Christian traditions and practices; however, in grade 2 this was all very exciting. In reality, it was really all that I knew and, because it caused me no harm and because my friends were all taking part in the same things as me, it just made sense. I went to church every Sunday without thinking about it. I went to Catechism classes every Tuesday evening without thinking about those either. It wasn't until I got older that I started to question things and my 14th year was noteworthy in terms of my attempts to critically analyze what I was learning about the Catholic faith. I chose to play out this critical analysis in catechism class, along with my best friend at the time.

We had been best friends since kindergarten where I distinctly remember us playing together in the sandbox. I also clearly remember crying my eyes out every time he wasn't there, which - when we were older - he loved to tease me about. The first time we got into trouble together, we were about eight or nine. I was spending time at his house and my mother came to pick me up and instead of getting ready to leave - as instructed - we took the opportunity to take off on my friend's bike (complete with an awesome yellow banana seat) so that I could stay longer. After calling out to us for over an hour, my mother eventually surrendered to the fact that we were not coming back anytime soon and sat to have tea with the other frustrated mother. If you recall, one of my earlier posts mentions something called foreshadowing - this would be another example. We were great friends who were not the best of influences on one another. My mother was always scared that I would grow up and marry him someday, which - in her opinion - could produce nothing but a possible jail sentence for both of us. In the event that we had ever gone to jail (which we did not), I'm quite certain that we would have found a way to escape together. Our friendship was built on thoughts of escaping that developed late in the night as we lay on cool asphalt under glowing street lights. We understood each other with a depth that still exists today, in our 33rd year, despite the fact that we have not laid eyes upon each other in many years. We were little shits. I am quite sure our catechism teachers thought the same in that grade 9 year.

Catholic School: How Did I End up Here? (The End, aka: finally, this particular narrative has ended)

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
~ Albert Einstein (Theoretical Physicist)

I don't think my parents had hopes of turning me into a religious enthusiast by compelling me to attend private, Catholic school. It's my impression that they were far more inspired by the prospect of me having a better education than producing a better Catholic. I guess I could say the Catholic aspect was a mere fringe benefit of the whole endeavour. And, in reality - did the Catholic conditions scar me for life? Absolutely not. I will say that, overall, it didn't help with matters in the mind of a curiously confused grade 7/8 student. In all honesty, I think my questioning was, in part, an attempt at active defiance - towards the school, towards my parents. In my case, this is what we would call foreshadowing. But, this wasn't entirely it.

As a small child being raised in the Catholic church, I did believe - most kids do. Little ones don't have the ability to critically analyze information, which is why they love unconditionally. I loved my parents unconditionally and, therefore, believed in everything they said. This included Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and God. My parents knew EVERYTHING, right? I mean, if Santa watched me all year round with his rather judgemental eye, it wasn't terribly far fetched to believe that a spirit in the sky did the same. But, it wasn't quite the same. Of course, by my ripe old age of 12-13, long gone were the days of believing in Santa. And, what about that? My parents had, in fact, lied about Santa - and all those other characters who brought candy and toys and financial donations. The time of these discoveries was acutely perplexing and I distinctly remember the day I detected the remarkable similarity between my mom's handwriting and Santa's. At that moment, not only did I know that parents knew EVERYTHING, I also knew they lied. About things of catastrophic importance. To say that this had an impact on my likelihood or ability to believe in my parents word would be a gigantic stretch; however, it did enlighten me to the idea that there were questions begging to be asked about a lot of things that I had been taking for granted.

(I would just like to note that I had a sister that was older than me by five years who never revealed the fact that Santa - or any other fictitious character - was not real out of spite or disdain towards my existence. I've always thought that was pretty incredible).

If I once thought that parents or nuns could answer my questions, these thoughts were quickly dispelled as I got older. Attending Catholic school was the beginning of this realization by simple fact that I had nuns and Jesus's on crosses around me on a daily basis. So, when I look back, I can say with certainty that being educated in a Catholic school environment had zero impact my understanding of the Catholic religion or myself as a Catholic (just in case there are parents reading this who are considering sending their child to Catholic school, purely for the betterment of their understanding of Catholicism). The only (unfortunate) thing my experience in private, Catholic school impressed upon me was a disinclination towards liking and doing well in school.

What a let down.