Faith, devotion, and when it all goes away
By Jacey Gibb, Opinions Editor
Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile. — Kurt Vonnegut
Religion and I have never gotten along. Sure, we run into each other every now and then on the street and it comes up in conversation sometimes, but we’re not exactly pen pals. At one point in high school, I decided that I wanted to give spirituality a shot and I became a Buddhist for about a week—by which I mean I changed my Facebook religious views and proceeded to tell people that it was a part of my life now. Since that identity crisis, I’ve made an effort to avoid diving into the religion pool, but have maintained a curiosity towards it, making sure to mildly interrogate new friends of mine whenever I discover they had religious upbringings. A more recent acquaintance to come into my life, Brody Steves, had a particularly interesting background: he had been placed in an intense Catholic school for grades four through to graduation—despite not being Catholic himself when he started.
“My parents sent me to a Catholic school not to be Catholic, but so I could go to a good school. They didn’t care if I came out Catholic or not.” Over a mess of $2.99 Bon’s breakfasts and complimenting dollar coffees, we met to discuss his roots in religion, the eight years that they occupied, and the eventual falling out.
“I kind of just fell into it. I got to the school in grade four and I hadn’t really given a thought to religion before then.” At the school, Catholicism was deeply entrenched within the system, including prayers at the beginning and end of every class, as well as blocks of time specifically allotted for learning about the bible and all the extra fixings. “I don’t want to say I was brainwashed, but after years of it, I just started to think more and more and, up until my grade eleven year at least, I was convinced that I was going to be a Catholic.”
[quote style=”boxed”]It’s reported that about a third of people lose their faith after encountering a near-death experience or after they’ve endured some form of long-term trauma. There’s a sense of betrayal afterwards, as individuals feel that their safety and protection that their religion had previously offered them failed under the circumstances.[/quote]
It seems the majority of people who consider themselves religious have for their whole lives, which I’m not sure I can agree with. When you’re growing up, your parents become sculptors, chiselling your beliefs and values typically into something reflective of their own. It makes sense, seeing as how you’re their responsibility until you reach the liberating age of 18. During my pre-beardedness period known as childhood, my parents would occasionally drop my brothers and I off at my grandparents’ house for the weekend. These visits were typically made up of fresh air on the farm, home-cooked meals that I was too young to appreciate, and spending our Sunday morning stuck in church. When you’re an eager kid, donning itchy dress clothes and spending hours listening to a man with the charisma of a paper cut preach about things you’ve not even developed enough to understand can be a bit tedious. But for some, that’s when religion becomes a part of their lives and a part of their identity. “That’s how you get cultural Catholics. People are born into religion and they’re brought up with it from a young age. A bunch of them later find out it’s not for them but until then, they don’t know anything else.”
What struck me as odd about Brody’s upbringing was that his parents never encouraged his newly adopted beliefs, but almost attempted to defer him from them. “They were always encouraging me to think for myself, but when I was really into it, I found it insulting. At first I thought they were trying to push me away from God.” It wasn’t until a classmate started to openly question his faith that Brody reconsider his own.
But the transition away from religion isn’t always as gradual as his was, nor as graceful. It’s reported that about a third of people lose their faith after encountering a near-death experience or after they’ve endured some form of long-term trauma. There’s a sense of betrayal afterwards, as individuals feel that their safety and protection that their religion had previously offered them failed under the circumstances.
When I asked if the fear of going to hell was something Brody was still concerned about, and if he thought that was something that played a major part in a person’s faith, he was adamant that it was. “Why do you think they paint such graphic pictures of hell? They’re trying to scare the crap out of you. If you believe it, that’s great. Even if you don’t, then it still kind of scares you.” As pessimistic as it sounds, I think this is also one of the main reasons why some people only discover God later on in life, when a person’s mortality is creeping up on them.
As the coffee cups ran dry and restaurant livened up to a noise level combative with my iPhone recorder, I asked Brody if he had anything final to say about his experiences with Catholicism or just in general. ”Religion’s not a bad thing, and I’m not trying to bash it here, but just from my own experience, near the end of it I was so cynical of everything. I’m glad I went to Catholic school because I think everyone should see religion up close at least once in their lives, but I just know now that it’s not for me.”