[This is a continuation of yesterday’s little ramble, kicking off with the joys of The Retreat.]
My parents (probably my mother) would drive me up to Rathfarnham Castle – a Jesuit Seminary at the time – where I would be dropped off with my suitcase for a period of prayer and reflection with a bunch of my classmates. I would be allocated a room which was barely big enough to hold the bed, and left to my own devices.
The Retreat was strict. From the moment I arrived to the moment I left (three or four days?) I was not allowed to speak. Strict silence at all times. During mealtimes we were subjected to a priest droning out the lives of the saints or something and apart from regular Masses this was the only voice we heard. Except for the sermons! The sermons all basically seemed to be about sex. Sex was evil. Women were evil. Women were put on earth to tempt all us poor innocent boys into sex, damnation and the eternal fires of hell. Sex became a very interesting subject to my adolescent mind. I vowed to find out all about it.
The only good part of the day was a period where we were allowed out onto the grounds where we were to walk around in total silence and contemplate the evils of women. This is where I had my first taste of a cigarette. There was a shop in the castle and they sold cigarettes so I bought a pack of ten. Smoking a cigarette while I strolled the paths passed the time. A few of us used to gather behind the trees to have a bit of a chat and compare cigarette brands.
So I did learn something in those Retreats. I learned the joys of tobacco and also now had a fierce determination to investigate the evils of predatory women.
At this time I was having grave doubts about the Catholic religion. There were aspects that just didn’t add up as far as I was concerned. Even worse I came to the realisation that Catholicism was fine just so long as you believed everything, but as soon as doubts crept in the whole edifice collapsed like a house of cards. And this was long before some of the later revelations about the Church and its shenanigans. I began to realise that the Catholic Church and Christianity were two entirely separate things. Christianity was a philosophy of peace and love, where the Catholic Church was a man-made institution more interested in self-serving wealth and control of the people. I had come a long way from my ambitions to become Pope?
I carried on attending Mass along with the family but it was basically a routine to please my mother. I think I had secretly joined my father in that respect.
I remember one Sunday declaring that I wasn’t going to Mass. My mother was horrified. She begged and pleaded but I told her that as far as I was concerned the Mass was just a ritual that I could well do without. She begged me to pray for faith. I pointed out that that was a paradox – you could only pray if you had the faith to start with. If you don’t have faith then you can’t pray for it. That was a turning point for me.
Subsequently I used to have debates with my father (whenever my mother wasn’t around). I learned that his views and mine were virtually identical. He described himself as an Agnostic (but don’t tell your mother!) which he claimed was the only true religion – no one knows the afterlife without faith and it was therefore the only honest path. If anything, his philosophy was closer to Buddhism than Christianity. What was infuriating (and lovable) about my father was that he could debate any philosophy from any viewpoint. I remember one occasion out of devilment he invited a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses into the house and debated with them. He left them utterly confused. They couldn’t get out of the house fast enough.
I haven’t given religion much thought since then. I enter a church for Christenings, Weddings and Funerals but that’s about that. My thoughts are that if there is a god, he should look kindly on me as I have lived as good a life as I can, and if there isn’t a god, then why waste all that time attending to a religion? If there isn’t s god then I feel very sorry for all those priests, nuns and monks who have effectively wasted their entire lives. But then, if it makes them happy…?