I’d like to start by saying that I’m not sure I belong here. That is, am I a convert? I guess that in a way I am, as I had endured at least 12 years of Roman Catholic indoctrination.
For the most part my family was not religious. Pretty much all of my recent ancestors were European immigrants. The only one that really practiced religion, however, was my beloved grandmother on my father’s side. She was from Warsaw Poland, thus the Roman Catholic connection. Strangely enough though my grandfather, (the product of a poor English coal miner in Pennsylvania), refused to attend any church at all. Despite this, he was the most honest and ethical person I had ever met, even to this day, (I’m 56 now).
My mother’s side was mostly German farmers. I never even heard religion discussed in that side of the family. It just never seemed to be an issue one way or the other. I do recall my maternal grandmother saying that her mother was a "bible thumper", (she spoke in a delightful archaic American prose).
My paternal grandmother was strong willed, and would not allow my parents union until my mother was duly indoctrinated into the Catholic church, (apparently this happened pretty quickly as I was already inevitable). I don’t remember my mother talking about religion at all though. She would attend church as she was expected to do, but would sit tacitly, and seemed glad to be home when it was all over.
For me, Sunday mornings seemed an endurance test. The only good memory I have of attending mass was saying hello to Jimmy the crow. Someone who lived near the church had a trained crow that would repeat the word hello when it was spoken to him.
Thankfully, I was not forced to attend Catholic school. I think this was only because it is really a private school, and there was certainly no spare money around our house in those days. I did however; have to attend the Catholic school for an hour and a half a week on Fridays for religious instructions. This was about a one mile walk from the public school I attended. The walk was rather pleasant in that old Pennsylvania town except for those occasional days when one of us got beat up by one of the Catholic bullies along the way. Nice touch!
The nuns were scary. I only knew one that was pleasant. The rest could be pretty brutal. It seemed to me that the habits they wore were meant to intimidate. They all carried a meter stick. They must have been special order. They were solid oak with brass end caps. In later years, when exposed to other cultures, I thought back to the nuns. I thought it would be a fair match to put one of Saint John’s nuns with her meter stick against a Samurai.
I was always too scared to ask any questions. The nuns said this is the way it is because we have God’s word on it. I found this rather intriguing. Did he speak to you directly I wondered?
We of course had the class "smart ass". This is the one not afraid to ask anything. He asked a lot of the questions we all would like to have asked, certainly the ones that I wish I had. The reply was always, "you’ll understand all this when you’re dead." That’s a pretty scary thing for a seven or eight year old to hear.
Most of the time, I didn’t think about religion at all. I just dreaded attending mass on Sunday and hoped the nuns would not break my fingers with their meter sticks. Most of my contemplation of religion was during those Friday sessions. I wondered if there would come a time for all of this to make enough sense for me to believe. Was there some key piece of information they weren’t telling me that would bring it all together?
By about 14 or 15, I finally figured out that there was no more. No keystone to support the facade. I started observing nature. I saw a lot of beauty in it. I spent much of my free time in those old northern hardwood forests. This was the real world.
I made an observation that to the laymen, the heart of a large deer is practically indistinguishable to that of a human, hmmmmm!
High school biology brought it all together. This was the answer. It’s the real world, and we’re just a part of it. Could all of "them" have been wrong all this time? I just kept my mouth shut.
I did as I was told when I entered active duty, so of course Roman Catholic went on the religion line of my personal data. (I was told I had to put a "real" religion there). I think it was some strange fate that I was designated the "Catholic religion Petty Officer" when I attended basic training. (In retrospect, it was a random selection by my Southern Baptist company commander). It was my job to make sure all the Catholics in the company attended mass, and I had to compose and submit an attendance sheet to that effect. All but one of them expressed some disdain about attending mass. (The "one" was a real Catholic zealot, but a pleasant enough individual.) I allowed the rest to stay in bed if they wanted once I found out no one but me was checking on the validity of the muster sheet. After all, what did I care if they attended mass? I endured it though, as sort of a service to my shipmates.
After boot camp, I never attended mass voluntarily again. I was married, by chance to a Catholic, and was coerced into going a few times, but was married by a deputy county clerk, so religion was never a big part of that relationship either. My ex was a Catholic from the Philippines, and yet was very superstitious. A strange mixture indeed.
Marriage became very tedious. I felt stifled and could not be myself, so I waited until my son was in college and broke free. It took about a year for me to re-discover who I was. Part of that was devout orthodox atheist. Finally after all these years I am happier than I have ever been. I luckily have retained the ethics of my paternal grandfather. I live by no dogma. I’m likely one of the most ethical people one could meet, but only because I think it’s a good idea.
I still work for the department of the Navy, now as an engineer, and am a recent member of MAAF, (military association of atheists and freethinkers).
I still have to remain somewhat tacit though, especially at work. There is often someone there ready to tell me how wrong I am. My reply to them is that it’s not up for discussion or debate.
As an added note, I find it somewhat oxymoronic that my fellow educated engineers are so religious. It seems the indoctrination is stronger than their education. How can one be a degreed engineer, trained in working with real empirical data, and still be devoutly religious? There are only three confirmed atheists in my department. We communicate via E-mail most of the time to avoid confrontation.
My parents are long gone now. I never told them. Let them rest in peace.
So, do I belong to the converts?