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.

My mother is a 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 siblings and I. Catholicism was not super obtrusive to our childhoods, but it was presented as the unquestionable way of life. We were brought up with clear versions of right and wrong, and family prayer was daily. On Sundays we'd go to church, and then to my grandparents' house to gossip about it.

As a child, I'd have no reason to doubt God's existence. At school I coloured in Jesus and sang songs for him. Ideologically, there wasn't much worth thinking about for someone who'd rather be climbing trees. It's handy I didn't overthink the philosophical implications of Catholicism, because the concept of hell would have been fucking terrifying. You will burn for eternity if don't go to church on a Sunday, unless you admit it to a dog-collared man in a box.

Any cynicism as a child would have been quickly quashed by my mother, who viciously feared non-belief as an evil to banish from the mind. She bound tightly together faith and duty, to the point that my beliefs were so unquestionable they weren't worth thinking about. Religion became something to tolerate rather than to enrich. As many millions will know, getting through lengthy religious services as a child requires a handful of coping strategies. Church became a place not express my own thoughts, but to just be with them (they were mainly about football or later, nsfc). I think this is how my over-passivity developed.

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 than on religiosity. I had felt coerced when living at home, 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. Whereas my father could cohabitate by being passively non-religious, I was made to feel that I still 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, blind, or taken in by the devil. My mother often reiterated the importance of religion, but she too wasn't overly keen to open a constructive dialogue. I guess worse than knowing your son isn't religious, is hearing it said out loud, and feeling powerless to change it. I think this is how my fear of confrontation developed.

As much as religion has been primarily an unhealthy familial psychological battle, I have had enough time in pews to give the concept itself plenty of thought. The only outlook that makes sense to me is agnosticism. Science cannot disprove God, because God is not scientific. You can make historical assumptions about religion's main characters, but you can't make a scientific argument for or against their supernaturality. It comes down to faith, which simply some people have, and others don't.

I question why I should believe the one religion I was born into. To submit myself to Catholicism, I'd have to surrender agency, which paradoxically I should apparently be using to get into heaven. The conundrum is between 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 a logical argument like the one above. What it really comes down to is personal experience and from where one draws meaning. Even within Catholicism's supposed dogma, I have seen people with a variety of beliefs and attitudes. Religion seems to be able to attract people for different, sometimes contradictory, reasons: community or escape; love or fear; passion or repression; learnedness or submissiveness.

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 or her power.