I came across this powerful piece while following random links on a forum. If you have kids, have had kids, or plan to have kids, I ask you to take a gander.
Reading it raised questions about religion, God and faith that I’ve managed to deftly avoid for almost twenty years. With one child almost of school age and a second well on his way I have to consider how I (we) will present the whole matter to them. Nominally, technically, I’m an Irish Roman Catholic from the parish of St. Patrick’s church in Galway city. I was duly baptised in 1981, had my first holy communion somewhere around 1986 and had my confirmation in 1990. I went to church every Sunday until about 1993 – I was actually an altar boy – when one day I simply realised that no one at home was going to force me to go to Sunday mass. So I stopped attending. Mum gave me heat about the topic a few times, and Jennifer still tells me if I’m full of shit if the topic if it ever comes up, but mostly everyone at home has left me be about my faith, or lack of it. I mean, while I’ve gone through the motions a few more times for the sake of family, at dad’s funeral and at nana’s, I leave religion be and expect the same of them. The few Baptists, Evangelists, Mormons, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, Bhuddists, Hindus, bog-standard Catholics, Protestants and Calvinists who’ve pressed me on the topic of converting have been soundly told to go fuck off. I love you guys, really, but I’m not interested.
One of my absolutely earliest memories of religion was my first holy communion. To me it was just cards full of money from family members and cousins, some as far flung as England, and a really cracking dinner out at a pub. The spiritual parts were utterly missed on me, maybe considering my age. The next time comes a few years after that. I remember asking mum why we went to church if God was everywhere, all the time. She shushed me and told me that it was expected of us to go.
Alright. Fair enough, even. So we go to mass for the sake of fitting in with the neighbours?
No, Mark. Jesus expects us to go.
And I remember very clearly that that moment set off this niggling conflict inside of me. No one, not one person in my family who I ever met called upon God, prayed to Jesus outside of that one hour on Sunday morning when we went through the rote motions as the priest up upon high read the same letter out of John’s once again. I can almost recount word for word what was said every weekend. Lamb God, take away the sins of the world. Lamb of God, pray for us sinners. Yeah.
So we went there, we prayed, we went through the motions, and went back to being a broken family. Dad was almost at his lowest ebb then. He had walked out of his job simply because it cut into his drinking time, and mum had gone back to work in a bakery to make end’s meet, as well as having to be mum when she came back home. I was going through a really rough time at school by being that kid. I was bullied, I got in fights, I was disruptive and I started going out on the mitch all the time. Times were tough, and nowhere in it could I see the hand of God. Dad got drunk because that was just what he did. My own problems at school came from me not caring enough to just go through the motions of fitting in.
How could Jesus or God help us with this? Make us say a few prayers or recite the rosary?
Skip forward about six years. I became an altar boy because it was the done thing, and used it to my advantage. I got out of school, I got tips for weddings and funerals and otherwise, while I was closer to the action, I still had this feeling that we were all just going through the motions. Maybe this is an Irish feeling, this deep undercurrent of cynicism that lies in the heart of every Irish person. I’ve seen the alcoholism, the lies, all of the violence firsthand. And in all of this I had a growing realisation that I simply had no faith. There is no Big Man up on some cloud pervin’ on all of us mortal sinners as we had sex, as we lied, stole, beat our wives and families. And so I reached the point at the start of this piece: I simply stopped going to church.
Three things came of this, two good and one bad. One is an abiding love of the architecture of temples of all kinds. The entire concept of such a temple, a monument to something greater than the sum of all out of human parts speaks of a hope and unity that still humbles me today. The second is a respect for priests on an individual level. I feel lucky as I read about paedophile priests and preachers of hate and intolerance because every priest I encountered as a youth were warm and approachable men. They were teachers and shepherds, and if nothing else, they’ve sworn to give up their whole lives into the service of others. And the third thing is a deep and abiding dislike of religions as a whole. Church will always be, to me, people going through empty motions for the sake of fitting in, or worse, being filled with messages of hate and bias and intolerance.
So where do my kids fit into all of this? Force my own scepticism on them? Let them discover, as they will, God, god or gods? Tell them to ignore it all?