Nobody should be rebuked or mocked for personal beliefs
OPINION:What can we have gained if we exchange one exclusionary orthodoxy for another?
AT THE age of 14, with no sense of fuss or crisis, I discovered that I was, perhaps had always been, an agnostic.
Simply put, there came a day when I asked myself, an inscribed Catholic, if I believed in God, and found the answer was that I did not. I don’t recall any sense of drama about this, but I do remember deciding to keep this moment very much to myself for reasons which I will presently discuss.
I did not argue myself to this position, I simply found that I did not believe – and I considered this nobody’s business but my own. I had by then begun to conceive a profound distrust of the institutional church, helped on I am sure by the inarguable fact that most of my Christian Brother teachers were neither Christian nor noticeably brotherly.
The gulf between the Sermon on The Mount, which I had read very carefully, and the marked absence of caritas in the world around me, more especially in the advocates of my inherited religion, certainly helped drive that process of alienation, but I do not mean to say that it was the ideological hollowness of Catholicism as I saw it that led to my lack of faith.
These were separate but linked phenomena. I could not, and therefore would not, say that I believed – and at the same time I saw that I could not subscribe to, did not wish to be counted a member of, a church that had become all too human an instrument for exercising brute power in the world.
My mother died when I was 21. She was a woman of simple direct faith, not pious in the sense of haunting the churches but a profound believer in the intercessionary goodness of God and his saints, most especially a believer in the power of Mary to alleviate grief and pain.
I am still profoundly glad that I kept my unbelief from her – she would have believed, absolutely believed, that I was damned to the pains of hell for all eternity and her pain would have been boundless. My father died eight years later. His belief was as absolute as my mother’s, though he was perhaps more conventionally observant of a masculine God.
By accident he discovered that I no longer considered myself a Catholic, and this caused him great pain. He feared for my immortal soul, was tortured by thoughts of my suffering eternal torment, and I will always be grateful to that worldly priest who advised him with great gentleness (knowing otherwise, I’m sure) that my unbelief was surely no more than a passing, fashionable phase of rebelliousness.