There’s so much untruth being told to us, by others and ourselves, about Christianity. I should know, because I turned away from Jesus for over two decades on account of such false and dangerous conceptions. The better to warn people of them, I hope.
I remember praying regularly at night well into my second year in high school. By then, though, my worldview must have already been tainted, wherein my prayers resembled a wishlist more than a dialogue with the Lord (I am still working on this). But what clinched it the following year, upon my confirmation as a Catholic, was exposure to New Age ideas, as found in books and magazines. Two big books to me were James Redfield’s ‘The Celestine prophecy’ and Shirley MacLaine’s ‘Going within.’ For some reason, our household had a subscription, possibly complimentary, of ‘Theosophical digest,’ and ideas that I had heard of before, took on a more convincing guise, in particular, reincarnation.
But not literally, stupid
A lot of what was discussed in New Age literature had to do with reorienting my understanding of religion, in the at-least intellectual acceptance of what I now see plainly as occultism or magic. The Bible? It’s good and all, but not perfect, certainly not understood by the Church hierarchy who either don’t know any better or have ulterior motives. And so I was to take much of the so-called Word of God as merely symbolic, and really not being against certain ways of the world, like contraception and euthanasia. The Bible couldn’t be against these, not in this day and age!
The scope of symbolism widened to not just cover Jesus’ parables, not just His presence in the Eucharist, but His very death and resurrection. I proudly stated that if I were to find out for certain that the Resurrection and other Biblical events never happened, it wouldn’t shatter my faith, for the truth of these was beyond their historic value. Back then I thought this meant I had greater faith than the typical Christian. Little did I see that doubting the plain truth of Jesus for the sake of some supposedly greater but unrevealed meaning, was no faith at all. This was apparent, if I had only looked, in my morals and attitudes to people at the time and many years after that.
It didn’t help that my favorite comic book, still probably my favorite, was Neil Gaiman’s ‘The sandman,’ which in my mind facilitated the relegation of the physical, historical truth of Christianity to mere myth.
Being better than all you idiots
Later on, Western philosophy added fodder to my dismissive attitude towards organized religion, Christianity specifically, with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche supplying my hatred against the herd. Kierkegaard would eventually play an important role in getting me back to Christ, but at this time it was his cynicism over institutions I latched on to. In gobbling up Nietzsche, I was distant enough from the reality of the spiritual to suppose that the satanic was merely another school of thought advocating for self-reliance, a quite benign portrayal in comparison to the terror of Hell that opens to us when we turn away from God.
So with a mix of New Age-Eastern lifestyle and a smattering of academically certified philosophy, I went about unhappily in my self-righteousness. I remember one incident of crying at mass upon seeing a little girl stumble, which I took to symbolize the destruction of innocence by these leaders of what I dubbed ‘Complacent Christianity,’ whose congregants display their indifference and boredom at church, and whose lives must have been so dull that they would fall for such primitive tall tales as Jesus watching who’s naughty and nice. Contrast this with the rich, ecstatic poetizing of Nietzsche’s ‘Thus spoke Zarathustra,’ and the joy I felt from Mozart and Beethoven, and it felt so easy to brush off Christians as ‘pharisitical’ (my ‘brilliant’ coinage), who merely mouthed out responses to the priest, and who couldn’t sit or stand up for themselves.
Looking back, I’d say the time of 2004-2007 was my most distant from Jesus. In 2005, I gave up going to mass, whose folk songs had been the only thing I could even appreciate at that point, and I hadn’t even been receiving the Host for several years by then. Meanwhile, my CD and DVD collection was growing unabated. No wonder that I was also at my most irreverent and most unhappy. If it had been His will for me to die then, I may very well have gone to Hell. But God’s will, spread as it is through history, isn’t so simplistic. Everything is so, so that each of us is given every opportunity to return, and more. That is His mercy.
God did preserve for me a kind of reverence for the mystical, with my having such an experience with Mozart’s ‘Prague’ symphony in 2002. So whenever I’d read of Christians, in particular, Saint Teresa of Avila, I knew there was something yet true of these experiences that science could not quite pin down. However, I didn’t distinguish much between the Christian mystical experience, and that of someone listening to Beethoven, or a Hindu in samadhi, or a Zen master attaining satori. Such diversity seemed to confirm to me a yet deeper truth that no scripture, no doctrine could reach. Of course, by conceiving truth as such, I was denying even the possibility of personal truth, thinking that whatever creative force there is in the world couldn’t concern itself with us, standing on a speck of dust orbiting one of billions of clusters of boiling gas. How could God possibly fit into all this vastness?
Notice how I was so caught up in my abstraction of reality, as to think reality’s foundation could ever be as limited as the mental structures in my head tell me. In our quest for ‘true’ science, we trap ourselves in it, as to exclude a Creator, much more one that loves us. Because that’s all animal biology anyway.
Such pride in my ‘deeper’ interpretation of ancient religious texts persisted even or especially when I used Jesus to illustrate some point, political or other, I was making.
We already know the truth
I’ll explain the process of my actual conversion eventually. In here, I mainly wanted to depict my previous states of mind, in particular my patronizing attitude towards Christianity, which I mainly wielded as a weapon to others of See? I know what Christ said. But I know more about it than youuu! Now that I’ve recovered my Catholicism and hold on to Jesus for dear life, such things that seemed to make life worth living are so barren. I find it harder to read fiction, including much of philosophy, or to watch shows, sports, and movies, or to listen to music, without thinking “This don’t mean a thing.” And none of them really do in the absence of God who revealed Himself in the Bible. For a long while there, I thought faith was believing something greater than I’ve been told (Kevin Moore’s words “Heaven must be more than this” resonated so much then), but it took a little more than 20 years to know that the simple truth I’d been taught as a child, about God, Jesus, the Church, and Heaven, was already all the truth I needed.
3 thoughts on “My faithless ‘Christianity’ before I returned”
I think each person’s walk is personal.
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Well expressed, Paul. I assume you read Peter Kreeft and Rod Bennett’s works. St. Irenaeus’ works, especially the older translations of them into English, are also very enriching. So glad the Light has led you back home!
Brother Lance Wonders
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Thanks Brother Lance for appreciating what I have to say. I have yet to read Peter Kreeft but did read Rod Bennett’s book on the early fathers. Am now going through an audiobook of Eusebius’ history of the Church which is great. Thanks for mentioning Saint Irenaeus which I will get to. God bless you!