On Religion

I call myself an agnostic, but religion has been a huge part of my life. This post shares my subjective experiences, and how they have shaped my opinion and attitudes towards religion.

I was raised a Catholic in a secular part of the UK, a country with rapidly declining Christianity. My mother is a very devout Catholic and my father is non-religious. Through my father's passivity and my mother's rigid beliefs, a strict religious homelife was cultivated for my three younger siblings and I. Although Catholicism was not super obtrusive to our childhoods, it was presented as the unquestionable way of life. We were brought up with clear versions of right and wrong, and family prayer was quotidian (a family that prays together, stays together). On Sundays we'd go to church for mass, and then to my grandparents house, to dissect/gossip about it.

When I was a child, I'd have no reason to doubt God's existence. My mother said I should thank Jesus for the day, and at school we coloured him in and sang songs for him. I was too young to think much about it, but there wasn't much worth thinking about for someone who'd rather be climbing trees. I learnt that not everyone believes in God. This too didn't bother me, it was just another thing to learn about the world. You can tell a child anything, and they won't dwell on the philosophical implications. Unlike adults, a child rightly knows that to dwell on anything is a waste of time. This is handy, because the concept of hell would be fucking terrifying.

You will burn for eternity if you wank into a sock, unless you admit it to a dog-collared man in a box. My cynicism is retrospective, or if it did exist at the time it would have been quickly quashed by my mother, who viciously feared non-belief, as an evil to banish from the mind. For her children, she bound tightly together faith and duty, to the point that my beliefs were so resolute, they weren't worth thinking about. Religion became a something to tolerate rather than to enrich. As many millions of children will know, tolerating incredibly long church services requires a handful of coping strategies. Church became a place to be with my own thoughts (mainly football or nsfc lol), but not express them. This is how my over-passivity developed.

I spent adolescence avoiding being asked the question 'are you religious?' by my friends, mother and myself. To my mother the answer would've been yeah, not that the question would ever be asked, as the assumed yes wasn't up for discussion. Since it wasn't up for discussion, I could only wonder to myself whether I would go to church as an adult. I'll probably go to church, but I probably won't pray outside of that, I remember thinking. I would play down my religiousness to friends, because although I went to Catholic school, Catholicism was still uncool. Many kids were from non-religious backgrounds, and the strict teachings I'd got from my mother were not much reinforced. The peer environment treated the life of a practising Catholic with no familiarity.

The first Sunday I moved out of home to go to university, I didn't go to church. That was my first opportunity to make my own decision, and it was made based on control, rather religious belief. I had felt coerced when living at home, and powerless in the weekly situation of being woken at 7am for church. Not going to church is a mortal sin, which means that it can lead to damnation if never repented. However, eternal punishment wasn't on my mind as I enjoyed my new Sunday lie-ins. The only unease I felt related to how I was disappointing one of my parents.

My mother's response was a mixture of disappointment and passive aggression. When I was back home, it was the great unsaid that I would continue to go to church, despite my conscious term-time lapses. Whereas my father could cohabitate by being passively non-religious, I was made to feel that I had to be passively religious. I avoided talking about religion, as to do so would be exposure to either information bulletins about how much God loved me, or scathing comments expressing I was weak, taken in by the devil, blind, or stupid. My mum often reiterated the importance of religion, but she too wasn't overly keen to open a constructive dialogue. I guess the one thing worse than knowing your son isn't religious, is hearing the sentiment expressed out loud. This is how my fear of confrontation developed.

As much as religion has been primarily an unhealthy familial psychological battle, I have given the concept itself a lot of thought. For me, the only outlook that makes sense is agnosticism. Science cannot disprove God, because God is not scientific. You can make historical assumptions about the existence of Jesus, but you can't make a scientific argument about his supernaturality. It comes down to faith, which simply some people have, and others don't. An issue I have, is raised by the existence of plurality: why is the one religion I was born into necessarily the right one? It follows then that to submit myself to Catholicism, I'd have to surrender agency, which paradoxically I should apparently be using to get into heaven. My conundrum is with choice and dogma: I now cannot have the latter without exercising the former, and if accepting the latter, I must surrender the former.

But the reality of any personal relationship with a macro institution is vastly more complicated than can be reduced to the logical argument put forward above. What it really comes down to is personal experience and from where one draws meaning. Even within Catholicism, I see people come together without unanimous beliefs. People take different things from religion, it attracts people for different, sometimes contradictory, reasons: comfort zone, community, escape, fear, grief, hope, joy, knowledge, love, passion, repression, religious experience, salvation, spirituality, stories, submissiveness, tradition, superiority.

In my life so far, God has not revealed himself to me, and quite frankly, I find the whole thing completely uninteresting. If God wants me to change my mind, then it is totally within his power.