Just a collection of very fancy symbols

While I personally identify more with the stories of gut wrenching adult deconversions, I love and am completely charmed by people’s stories of being precocious kids who reason their way out by making for themselves logical connections or sudden realizations that a worrisome number of adults will simply never manage. Telling the story of her deconversion while at Catholic school, Brienne Strohl offers several charming or moving vignettes. Here is the first one:

When I was little, I loved being Catholic. I went to a Catholic school in the Midwest, where religion classes were mandatory beginning in preschool. I guess “age of reason” was a pretty accurate description in my case, because by second grade I was very serious about understanding theology. I considered preparing for first communion a grave responsibility. It was, after all, the first sacrament I’d take of my own choice.  I was dedicated to understanding transubstantiation, why it matters, and what sacraments are really all about. I remember struggling with the idea of symbols; I was never satisfied by the explanations of them my mother and teachers would give.

I was told that symbols are “outward signs of inward grace”, and that they are there to help our small mortal minds comprehend God’s infinite love and wisdom at least enough to let ourselves be transformed by them. I was skeptical, even then. I was worried that symbols might actually be distractions, or, worse yet, artificial barriers designed by the Church to control my relationship with God. Why are priests the only ones who can ask God to turn bread into the Body of Christ? I wondered. If God is infinitely wise, what does He care for the infinitesimal wisdom accumulated through seminary? I felt fairly certain that the only reason priests could serve as special conduits of God’s grace was that their hearts were pure and fully devoted to Him when they made the request. It seemed implausible that the sacrament of Ordination, really just a collection of very fancy symbols, could grant you magic powers in virtue of its role within the thoroughly human structure of the Church.

I called bullshit.  I decided to become a priest.  “The Church doesn’t let girls become priests,” my second grade teacher informed me.  I told her I didn’t really intend to ask permission.

Read about where things went from there.

What about you, what heretical theological epiphanies did you have as a kid?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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