Note to the reader: this is the third part of a series of three articles about my spiritual journey. You can find the first one at this link and the second one here.
I was 18 by now and with school over, a world of endless possibilities had just opened in front of me. Together with my study and career projects, my religious path was now set on a new course. Openly critical, but now respectful, of the Catholic religion, I started exploring its different derivations, but also its origins.
I was fascinated by how Judaism transformed into Christianity or, more recently, how Protestantism was born from Martin Luther’s refusal of the Roman Church. I was deeply interested in these matters but for a while, it became more of an academic exploration than a religious one.
I thought I could see how these changes were often generated by a political agenda and not a sense of religious purpose, and I noticed this in many religious institutions across history, first and foremost the Roman Catholic Church.
I also grew more aware of the historical eras in which these religions developed, and in particular that Christianity, for how one of the most widespread and followed, was not the first and surely not the last one to be invented. From the Egyptian Gods to Kopimism, new religious are being born every day, and almost all of them claim to be the right or only one.
Again, I don’t intend to generalise here. This is simply my interpretation of how my discovery process unfolded. I strongly believe anybody could look at the same information I had looked at and come to completely different conclusions.
At any rate, my research continued and as I discovered more, my curiosity grew further. With it, a familiar stir in my soul began to unravel, like something was still missing from the equation.
I thought I had found my spiritual dimension in the purpose of discovery, but a personal connection to the spiritual had gone missing in the process. To subdue my anger towards the divine, I had conceptualised divinity almost completely. If there was a God, I was determined to find Him, but in the process, all options were open. Scepticism and relativism were what saved my religious views from fading into some of my friends’ (in my opinion) unsubstantiated atheism.
But something peculiar then happened. I met Emily (not her real name), my now ex-girlfriend, and we were both very interested in each other and equally uninterested in discussing religion. I had just come out of my rebellious period and she had her reasons, too. We enjoyed our time together and talked about many things, but for a long while religion was almost never a subject of our talks, and it was fine for both of us.
After a while though, I met her family and came to know that her mother was a very religious woman. She believed in a particular form of Evangelism and was very passionate about it.
The first few months I interacted with her family, we discussed university matters, music and the weather, and amidst the typical awkwardness and expectations of impressing your partner’s parents, one lunch followed the other in an uneventful fashion.
One day, as Emily was getting ready for us to leave the house, I noticed a booklet – the Gospel of John – open on the kitchen table, certain parts were underlined with a pencil. You see, this could not mean much to you, but my parents always did this thing of highlighting and taking notes on the Bible, so this struck me as a more than familiar quirk.
Emily’s mom noticed my gaze was pensive, hovering on the open booklet and she asked: “are you alright?”
“I’m okay,” I remember answering, “just, my parents do that all the time.”
From there, a series of careful questions issued on her side, which in time led to me picking up a Bible after a while, and most importantly, talk to my parents about religion again.
I perhaps need to clarify here that I had already started discussing with them certain religious matters, but it was mostly about me exposing my ideas and them answering that the Christian doctrine interpreted certain things differently, or ultimately required me to have faith.
I had faith in my research skills then, and for this very reason I could not and would not stop exploring. Whatever the case, during the next few weeks, Emily’s mother brought to my attention certain elements of the Catholic doctrine and their “incoherence”. There were certain passages in the Bible that could possibly be interpreted but in one way.
The most striking one was about Priests’ celibacy. As you might be aware, according to Catholicism, Priests and Bishops cannot get married. Well, what Emily’s mother showed me was quite the opposite.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (Timothy 3:1-5)
When I brought this to my family’s attention, they mentioned how this might have been the case in the Judaic society but that religions evolve and adapt with time. So I asked why would they follow certain ancient teachings then. My father answered saying that righteous men are able to discern the Word of God from those of false prophets, and that was only rational that, in order to survive to the pressure of the state throughout the centuries, the Church had to retain their material possession that would have otherwise been dilapidated, if Priests would have been allowed to marry.
He also said the Church may not have behaved in an irreproachable fashion throughout history, but they have helped and still do, many poor and disadvantaged people around the world, and they would not be able to do so without funds.
I could see the logic behind this reasoning, but I would not accept this faith and believe with all my heart in something so liable to change as personal interpretations. I found a few more of these which I believed to be manifestations of incoherence, and once again dismissed Christianity as a possible harbour for my soul to dock, this time with some of its variants, too.
But my spirit had awoken again, and I felt a renewed sensation of belonging to something bigger, higher. I was almost completely sure by now that, if a God was to be found somewhere, He must be among us, and not above.
The impossibility of determining a God’s existence is unfortunately absolute for us humans. It’s ultimately a matter of faith and on whom we choose to put it. After those events, I chose to put my faith in humanity.
Of course, people have hurt their fellow beings since the dawn of history. It’s sadly part of our nature, and the survival of the fittest is often a reality in the animal world as well as in the human one. However, humans are also capable of incredible deeds, heroism beyond compare and a desire to help one another so deeply embedded in us that is impossible to get rid of and sometimes even hard to comprehend.
Instead of blaming God for the world’s evils, I started blaming men. Instead of thanking him for humanity’s achievements, I praised the men and women who did achieve those victories.
And I can honestly say now that felt liberating. It took me a while to fully embrace this view. When something really bad happened to me, I could not help to look at the stormy sky and plead for help or scream in anger and fear. When something too good to be true was in sight, I smiled to myself thinking that someone was giving me that extra push.
In time, however, and in a lengthy and painful process that is still taking place today, I managed to find my spiritual dimension. And I say spiritual (and not religious) because it was after that realisation that I started to try and get in touch with my inner self. I was interested in Buddhism for a while but soon found that abandoning all of my physical desires, for how reinvigorating it could be for your mind, it was not what I needed.
I wanted to burn with passion for a cause, to devote my soul to something, just like my parents had done. Meditation throughout these years has helped me channel my desires and energies, and it’s, therefore, an invaluable tool without which I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am.
Writing has also been an important tool in my spiritual development. Jotting down thoughts and ideas whenever I needed helped to shape my beliefs and strengthen my inner self.
After all these years of research, though I may have found my spiritual stability at the moment, I’m more aware than ever that this may just be the first step of a new adventure and that much is yet to be discovered.