By Jamie Schwoerer, Patheos Contributor
I was around 12 years old when my cousin, just a month younger than me, told me I was going to hell because, for whatever reason, I was missing Sunday school that week. After my Dad and I dropped her off at home, I asked him if I was really going to go to hell for missing Sunday school. After all, it seemed to me that a loving, forgiving God who created the imperfect human race to begin with would be able to find it in his heart to forgive a child for missing Sunday school. My Dad looked me in the eye and told me that I would absolutely not be going to hell for missing one Sunday school class.
It was shortly after that conversation that I began questioning the Catholic faith. I never enjoyed going to church all that much to begin with, and I felt strongly that I wasn’t actually learning anything about what Catholicism was all about anyway. In fact, almost every sermon I heard, no matter how hard I tried, was way beyond anything I could understand. Why didn’t they try to teach us things that were applicable to life now, not life 2000 years ago? Why did I have to try so hard to understand what the priest was trying to tell me about how I should live my life according to God? And, most importantly, how on earth did singing silly songs and reading meaningless passages from a study guide tell me anything about what I was supposed to believe as a Catholic — other than, apparently, that if I missed Sunday school I would go to hell? That was clearly the only real substance my cousin got from going every week.
My parents, both raised Catholic as well, were very supportive of my decision not to get confirmed into the Catholic church. They expected me to go to the classes so I could make an educated decision, but they did not tell me what I should do. I felt that almost all of the other kids my age were simply getting confirmed because that was what was expected of them. I didn’t know a single other person who could honestly tell me he or she was being confirmed for any other reason besides, “that’s what my parents expect me to do.”
After I made the decision not to be confirmed into the Catholic church, I felt somewhat spiritually lost, but I found that I didn’t care all that much. I knew God loved me, whoever he was and in whatever form he took, and I also felt strongly that I didn’t actually need organized religion at all in order to have a conversation with him any time I wanted. For several years I prayed when I felt like it, mostly when I felt I needed God’s help with something. “Dear God, please help me pass this class,” “Dear God, please please please let that guy in the seat next to me ask me out,” and so on. Then one day I was having lunch with a woman who was especially religious, and, when someone else commented that God never answered their prayers anyway (that guy never did ask me out, come to think of it!) she said that you can’t just ask God for things all the time, you have to thank him too. Right then and there my prayers turned into thankful ones, because truthfully, I have a lot to be thankful for, and always have.
Meanwhile, I decided that, along with a Philosophy major and a Communication Arts major, I should also major in Religious Studies in college. I was fascinated with Buddhism and Hinduism, and Indian culture in general. Along with this new interest, I began to question faith and religion further. Mostly I came to believe that there was no way a loving God who created humans in his likeness, as I was brought up believing, would sent entire cultures to hell because they didn’t believe in the same Christian God that I did.
Unfortunately, I still struggle with religion and faith on a daily basis, and all of the studying has left me with little in the way of my own spiritual beliefs. I still pray occasionally, but I also feel that my life, values, personality, and core beliefs align much better with Buddhism than they do with Christianity or any other religion. I would convert to Buddhism in a heartbeat, but there is one thing holding me back — what about the God I’ve believed in for 26 years, the God I’ve prayed to, the God I would feel immensely guilty about turning my back on? I still do not have an answer to that question, that feeling of guilt, shame, and uncertainty that will not allow me, at least not yet, to fully embrace the Buddhist way of life.