When I was a child, I was this model Catholic schoolgirl. My mother and grandmother would take me to church every morning, and my early waking hours were spent with them dragging me off the bed, and me sleepily taking a bath, putting on my itchy raffled dress, and absentmindedly walking out the door and getting on the tricycle. I had a rosary for a necklace. Every six in the evening, we would pray the Angelus, all adorned with burning candles on the altar and us kneeling before it. Every night before we go to bed, we would pray the rosary, but I would be snoozing off halfway.
My grandmother was an active Church member. She joined almost every group and organization concerning parish activities. My mom claimed that she had seen apparitions of the Holy Mother. My aunt was a choir member. And that left me, the little innocent child of God, entering the chapel to have my audition for the choir. I was barely eight then, and I couldn’t even distinguish one note from the other. But I still passed the audition.
I later joined the parish choir, and all its activities including a mini concert for a cause, interpretative dances, overnight vigils, and processions. As a child, I didn’t understand their real meanings. Most of the times, I was there for the free food and a chance to see my crush, an altar boy. I was possessed by blind faith. I was too eager to please The Almighty, hoping to catch a glimpse of Him whenever I did things as a terribly good child.
I had this illusion that I was the long lost sister of Big Brother Jesus, waiting by the front door for His return, listening to holy muffled footsteps, wishing that Jesus would come soon, arms outstretched, with chocolates and ice creams and toys. Later on, I learned that He was different from Santa Claus who, by the way, was also just an imaginary character. I thought He would come and save me from my father’s violence and benign neglect. I grew up from those desperate dreams and left my fairy tale cubbyhole along with my hopes and wishes of a good childhood.
When I was in high school, I still go to Church, mainly because we all have these mass cards. They were like Church attendance cards and we have to get the priest or the lay minister to sign them every time we go to mass. With most of us, it was more of a requirement than a freewill. After those mass cards were gone, only few of my classmates still went to Church.
I thought my school already inculcated those preachings in me. I thought that with those Bible studies and annual recollections, I would be invincible to temptations. I remember writing about the immorality of sex before marriage, promiscuity, and polygamy. I strongly opposed divorce and annulment. I despised those who take their own lives. I believed that living an honest and religious life would take care of everything. Little did I know that I’d turn the opposite way.
By the time I went to college, I no longer cared about heaven and hell, the afterlife, and all those metaphors about reward and punishment by doing absolute good and evil. I no longer believed that Jesus and Catholicism are the only way ot be saved, if mankind ever needed saving. I mean, what about the Hindus and Bhuddists and other religions out there, smaller sects and cults that don’t even know God exists? What about the lonesome island people around the world that the Catholic missionaries couldn’t reach? What about an Atheist who, although he doesn’t believe in a higher being, has lived a nobler life than a proclaimed Catholic? Don’t tell me that he is doomed to hell just because he is not a believer. I decided that it is tremendously unfair that we get to live less than a hundred years, and when everything’s added up, voila, we either spend billions of years in a proverbial vacation spot or get grilled in a huge spit like a barbecue. Where’s the justice in that?
I was once this unyielding sheep, following His Highness without complaint, totally afraid that if I ventured far from the flock, I’d end up in misery. I sang songs of praise and prayed everyday for the good of others because I was expected to do so. Now, I’m cynical. If there’s ever a weighing scale for my every right and wrong, mine would be tilting towards the bad one by, first, not believing in God, and second, by pretending I do.
I’m not against any religion of some kind. For me, they’re just organized relative truths that people hold on to just for the sake of holding on to something. In this world, we all need something to believe in, something more powerful than what our minds could comprehend, something to place our hopes on and put our resentments at whenever we couldn’t understand what was happening. A higher being was imagined because we need something to fear and revere. Religion is just a collection of manmade ideas passed on throughout history, like culture, government, and tradition. There’s no harm in believing in it, but to think that there’s a greater supernatural out there watching our every move and planning our lives, it just doesn’t make any sense.
For me, whatever life it is I have in this world, this is it. When I’m dead, I’m dead. Lights out. It’s all over. There’s nothing beyond. No paradise or hell. No reincarnations either. I already lost my faith in the Bible because it’s full of contradictions. I don’t have to be good just because I’m required to be good, because I want to count blessings in small change, or because I’m collecting reward points so I could trade them for a nice hotel room in heaven. I am not to be threteaned by an eternal fire burning my soul and spirit, if no one could ever prove that a human has ever possessed a soul or spirit. I don’t buy those teachings that our lives are equally unfair, that we have to taste bitterness to appreciate sanctimonious bliss, that we have to endure pain and suffering just so we’d realize that something more powerful is out there to help us. I don’t believe that there’s an all-seeing and all-knowing creature up above that passes judgment to everyone. I don’t believe, either, that there are hundreds of evils lurking around us, waiting for us at the corner, following us, and whispering on our ears that we should do bad things to others. Hell, just by writing this, am I being empowered by the devil?