When I was a lad, I was raised Catholic, and a Catholicer Catholic you never could meet. I was born with a heart defect, amongst other problems, that very nearly killed me, and was baptised and confirmed on the day I was born, and even received the last rites at once point, I was so gravely ill. After a few surgeries and a boatload of prayers from my extended family, I got better, and was raised in the belief that I was special because god saved me. The fact that if god were around to save me he was also the one who screwed up an important organ did not yet enter my mind, I was so rapt to think of myself as 'chosen' in some manner.
In my early life I don't remember religion figuring into it much after the drama was over, but once I got to school (a Catholic school, but here in Scotland the state pays for the running of Catholic schools so it is a little different from what many of you may be used to), I realised my potential to be pious. Wouldn't swear (yes, six year olds know the word 'fuck' and they're not afraid to use it. Five year olds know it too, but they're a bit more apprehensive), wouldn't cheat on a test, wouldn't steal a penny sweet, would not do anything that I thought could be considered naughty or wrong because the big man was watching me, always. I imagine for many it would be remarkably stressful to maintain this balance, but not to toot my own horn (that's probably a sin anyway), I was actually quite good at it. Sure I had my tantrums like any child, but 99% of the time I was literally as good as gold, because thanks to undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome I approached the world in a rather robotic manner. I had been programmed, basically, and could not really conceive of not following through with the instructions.
I had my first communion in a nice ceremony with my classmates, but around this time I started to get an inkling into the showmanship of religion and how much more important THAT was than the content of one's character. As I mentioned, I have Asperger's syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder, which no one really noticed until I was at college because they assumed my weirdness and quirks were simply fallout from the various health issues I had as an infant. Part of my issues from this is that I have rather limited facial expressions and don't express emotion a lot in general. As a child I never smiled. Before the ceremony, my head teacher/principal continually asked me to smile, eventually becoming genuinely irate and demanding that I do so, because I was SUPPOSED to be happy that I was receiving god. Nevermind how I actually felt, what was important was that the parents out in the audience THINK I am ecstatic eating a bit of bread.
A while later came high school, and whilst in primary school my medical problems had set me apart in the sense that I was to be treated with kid gloves by the other students, here I realised that I was not 'special', I was simply a freak. I was beaten and battered into walls and thrown up stairs (why up, I don't know) and was often simply collateral damage in other people's fights and wild behaviour, but when I approached the faculty about these issues, I was rebuked for even bringing them up. "Bullying is a fact of life," my principal said, "And you have to grow up and accept it". This Catholic school was once more very concerned with its image, constantly struggling for awards from various bodies (not like sports trophies you win by beating someone, just daft credentials like the charter mark and other vacuous nonsense that looks good on paper), and trying to put out this front time and again that Catholic education > *. Seriously. Our exam results were particularly good in one year, and the principal was crowing in the newspapers about how this proves that a 'Catholic ethos' (whatever that is) creates a better learning environment for students. And, of course, the Catholic school had no problems with bullying unlike the other schools in the area, because Catholics are so nice. Which is true, there were no reports of bullying in my school, because any time students attempted to make a report, they were told to keep quiet. So, once more, image over substance was of key importance.
During this time I became extremely depressed, and outright terrified of going to the school because of the dangers and the taunts. I struggled greatly with my faith, wondering why god had abandoned me, whether I had done something to deserve it, and whether I would go to hell if I committed suicide, the only way out. I was trapped, in essence, by this violent 'lover' who was making me suffer now but would only make things worse if I tried to escape. It was mentally exhausting, to say the least, but I held out hope that there was some grand plan behind it all.
Then came my parents' faith-based assistance. They said to me, genuinely attempting to be comforting, "I know this hurts, but we all have our crosses to bear." Not move to another school, not to homeschool, not even to punch the principal's lights out for being a ruthlessly political ass. Just a maxim from the church that did me no help whatsoever.
I survived, somehow, and ended up at university. Studying European History, I learned a great deal about the Catholic Church and how immensely corrupt it always has been and all the shifts in its positions on various issues, which really shook my faith to a significant degree. If they said one thing one century then changed it the next, which are we to believe? Abortion, for example, which I was steadfastly against because I believed in the 'a fetus is a person' line of thinking (mostly because I wasn't thinking), I came to understand was not even on the church's radar until the women's suffrage movement began in the 19th C. Coincidence? Ha.
Alongside History I took Philosophy, which finally taught me how to think, how to critically analyse something, and construct and deconstruct arguments. Applying this to the faith I now found very suspect, it collapsed like a house of cards. Still, from years of ingrained pure FEAR, to the point I became genuinely ill with worry over my immortal soul when I had my first wet dream, I kept the cards.
The final nail in the coffin was when I met my girlfriend. She is a tremendously courageous and thoughtful woman, who is part Native American, and though she loves me she could not abide my lingering association with an institution that tried to wipe her people off the face of the planet, amongst all the other horrors they had committed. I had already made the logical leap into disbelief, but I could not admit this, even to myself, until she gave me the courage and reassured me that I was not going to go to hell. Naturally, my mother hates her.