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Diversity fosters doubt (and that’s a good thing)

So, coming out of high school, my orthodoxy was pretty solid. I had my beliefs, which were well-researched, and well supported by my social milieu. At least, I thought my orthodoxy was pretty solid; but it only survived less than a year of university. Simon Fraser University brought new experiences and new friends.

Blame Dungeons and Dragons. I was such a stereotype – pudgy, shy, awkward, well read, and extremely well versed in the ways of geekdom. Well, this was the late 80s, the Golden Age of tabletop gaming, and believe me, I was not alone. Instead, it took less than a week for me to find a circle of gamers who became dear friends that I still talk to.

These friends, who remain an absolute blessing, gave me a sense of belonging, love and laughter (as well as a TON of drama) for years, but most importantly for this story, they profoundly challenged my sense of Catholic orthodoxy. Although they may try to deny it, most Catholics project a sense of quiet, smug superiority to non-believers. To be Catholic is to believe that you are in the best, most exclusive club of those who follow the One True Way and are therefore among the Saved. I realize that most religions teach some variant of this, but believe me, Catholics have a kind of old school arrogance that can really only be matched by the British aristocracy.

Well, my new friends had no time for this. They weren’t dickish about it, but these were intelligent people who were used to confidently sharing their opinions, and expected other people to have reasons for their opinions stronger than, “Because the Bible says so.” We weren’t trying to score points off each other, or to be more clever than each other, we were trying to understand each other and be understood. I was learning that there were WAY more ways of looking at the world than I had ever imagined, and that people had very good reasons for how they looked at the world, and their places in it.

And all of a sudden, I really wasn’t sure what I believed any more.

More Catholic than the Pope

When I was born, neither of my parents practiced any form of religion, but given our cultural heritage, I suppose it was inevitable. My dad’s side was Baltimore Irish, and my mom’s side was Pittsburgh Polish. To the best of my knowledge, my dad’s side was never all that zealous about it, but my mom’s side? Oh, boy.

Grandma and Grandpa…they were a little intense. I think I was twelve when they gave me two books for Christmas: Fatima: the Miracle of the Children and Evidence of Satan in the Modern World. I read one of those books, and it was much less cool than the title suggested. I also remember that at my Grandma’s urging I spent a few months making rosaries for children in Africa. I do wonder if somewhere in Kenya there’s somebody wearing one of my rosaries…

My family has never been one for half measures, and once my mom and dad decided to rejoin Mother Church, we were all in. My sister and I were switched to Catholic school. My mom became a Catholic school teacher. My dad eventually became the Director of Catholic Charities in our home city. I became an altar boy and read for the congregation at Sunday mass. Thanks to the Church’s patriarchy, my sister got off pretty lightly, really.

Like the rest of my family, no half measures for me. My favourite books in my early teens were Lives of the Minor Prophets and a comic book version of the Old Testament. (Favourite minor prophet? Hosea. Turned out to be weirdly significant, but more on that later.) I knew the commandments, the beatitudes, the gifts of the holy spirit, the sermon on the mount, the loaves, the fishes, the whole shebang. I collected cards with the lives of the saints on them, and had a cross blessed by the Pope. Well, that’s what my Grandma said, anyway.

And, until university, that was my path. Then the wheels fell off.

Steps on a very strange walk

Well, depending on whether the date stamp sticks around, you can see that there’s been almost a year between good intentions and follow through. So be it! I’m sure that I’m not blazing a shocking new truth when I say that there can be a lot of reasons not to step out of the comfort zone.

But what the hell, I’m here now. So onward and upward! So to speak.

Let’s start with a label: heathen. I am one. Like most labels, it tells you some things but leaves out lots more. It tells you, for example, that I don’t follow a monotheistic religion, but neither am I an atheist. Some people use the term asatru, which refers to a person who believes in the Norse gods. But do I believe that when I see lightning, that Thor is striking his hammer against the anvil of the heavens? No. I do not.

I didn’t start out here. Actually, I started a long way from here. More to come.

(Note: to follow the chronology of this story, read from oldest to newest. If you are unstuck in time, read it any damn way you please.)