Monday, October 5, 2009

Welcome to The Religious View

Welcome to The Religious View! I've decided to start this blog because I've always enjoyed learning about different religions as well as different denominations within Christianity. I believe this will be a good spot to record what I have learned about various religious views on various topics. This blog will allow others to learn as well. It amazes me that many people I've come across know very little about religions other than their own. Sometimes, they may not even know much about their own religion.

This blog will be more educational than inspirational. I may occasionally state my own beliefs on a topic, but my main purpose will be education rather than evangelization. I will focus slightly more on the beliefs of the various sects within Christianity, but I will also cover other Western religions, such as Islam and Judaism.

My own religious journey began in the Catholic Church. My family attended Mass fairly regularly when I was a child, and I faithfully (and begrudgingly) attended catechism classes on Wednesday nights. Beginning in my third grade catechism class, I began to feel that many of the other children held hostile attitudes toward non-Catholics. This attitude seemed to be reinforced by the catechism teachers. This is probably because most people at our church, including the catechism teachers, were uneducated beyond high school, and were particularly uneducated about other religions. The catechism teachers, in general, did not seem to have much control over the classroom, and often the students began talking about various topics, many of which had nothing to do with Catholicism. A common topic that did refer to religion revolved around bashing Baptist, Pentecostal, and Jehovah's Witness beliefs. It was typically because a Baptist at school had told someone that he/she was wrong for "worshipping Mary" or something like that. (One must understand that this was the only Catholic church in a very small town of about 3,500 people, and we all attended the same elementary school. Most people in town were either Baptist or Catholic. There was hardly anything in between). Rather than taking the opportunity to explain the Catholic beliefs about Mary and how they differ from other denominations' beliefs, the teacher would focus on how the Baptist Church beliefs were wrong. This focus on everyone else being wrong and our church being right really bothered me as a young child.

As a middle schooler, another thing that bothered me in the Catholic Church was that the services at my friend's Baptist church were so much more down-to-earth and understandable. I actually felt like I understood what was going on instead of following a ritual that I didn't understand because I wasn't learning anything about the ritual in catechism. In catechism, I was too busy being told why the Baptist kids at school were wrong, but I wasn't really being convinced that the Catholic Church was right. At the Baptist church, I could actually talk to people before and after the service. Overall, I just felt like I got more out of the Baptist church spiritually, and I definitely felt a larger sense of community. Therefore, in seventh grade, I decided to boycott catechism!

I started attending a very small, conservative Baptist Church with my best friend. I was even "saved" in this church. I can remember the exact date: December 11, 1994. I was in eighth grade. I also occasionally attended my best friend's mom's church, which was an Assembly of God church. This was my first exposure to charismatic Christianity. The only reason I quit attending the Baptist church was because my best friend and I relied upon her stepbrother to bring us, and he quit going.

In ninth grade, my grandmother and I began discussing religion. She told me that she was raised Methodist and that her grandfather was a Methodist preacher. My grandfather was Catholic. She had agreed to raise my dad and his siblings Catholic, though she had never converted. She had looked into converting when she married my grandfather, but she was informed by the priest at that time (c. 1955) that she would have to be re-baptized. She did not want to be re-baptized because her grandfather had baptized her. She had not attended the Methodist church in 40 years and asked me if I wanted to start attending with her. Of course, me being the religious seeker and explorer that I am, agreed. I was really excited about the prospect of a new church and belief system that I hadn't yet explored. I also thought it would be fun to go to church with my grandmother and to meet new people.

I ended up attending the Methodist church for 8 years. My grandmother and I became involved in volunteer work and social groups, attended Sunday School, and helped administer Communion. I found the Methodist church to be a middle ground between the Baptist and Catholic churches. It had some ritual and sacraments like the Catholic church but was still more community-oriented and down-to-earth like the Baptist Church. I even attended a Methodist college, where I continued to be involved in Methodist and ecumenical activities. I took Old and New Testament courses there and learned more about John Wesley's system of beliefs.

Upon graduating from college, in the spring of 2004, I attended my cousin's confirmation at the Catholic church I had so long ago abandoned. A girl whom I had attended the Methodist Church with was also getting confirmed Catholic. I thought, "Why in the world would anyone ever want to go from the Methodist church to the Catholic church?" At this time, I really thought I had found the perfect church in the Methodist church and had no plans of leaving.

The only thing that bothered me about the Methodist church was that a lot of people at my home church seemed to have different beliefs regarding issues such as sacraments and predestination, and all of those beliefs seemed to be accepted by the church leaders. It almost seemed as if the church leaders were not correcting others when their views differed from the Book of Discipline (the United Methodist authority, somewhat akin to the Catholic catechism). There were even non-church members teaching Sunday School classes. Once, a church member in a Bible study I attended was arguing for a Calvinist view of predestination. I proceeded to tell him that that view was not accepted by the United Methodist Church. Then another non-church member, who was Baptist, stood up at the pulpit one day and announced a baby dedication rather than a baptism. Once again, I think it was due to most members being uneducated beyond high school and myself actually being educated at a Methodist college. This issue, however, did not seem to be an issue at the Methodist churches I attended in other areas, where the people were more educated, including the church leaders.

It was around this time that I noticed the former Methodist being confirmed Catholic. I decided that there must be a book written about converts to Catholicism, and I would find it. I just had to know what could possibly draw these people to the Catholic church, when I had been driven away at such a young age. The first book I found was Surprised By Truth 3. This was a compilation of several Catholic conversion stories. Instead of finding that these people were becoming Catholic for all the wrong reasons, I found that many of them had convincing arguments. The main points that convinced me were the following:

1) The Bible was created from Tradition and not the other way around. I had even learned this at my Methodist college. Therefore, there had to be some beliefs and practices of the early Church that were not necessarily derived from the Bible but from Tradition.

2) The reason Catholic Mass is not "down-to-earth" is because it is supposed to be sacred. The "ritual" actually has meaning behind it and has been used by Christians for centuries in order to bring them closer to God.

3) Historically, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were truly the first churches. In my mind, this had to stand for something.

4) The early Christians (i.e. Thomas Aquinas, John Chrysostom, Augustine, Origen, etc.) had Catholic and Orthodox views on sacraments, liturgy, Mary, etc.

5) The Catholic Church was one of the few churches who had held its stance on birth control, even in the face of a liberal society. All other churches crumbled in the face of society.

6) There was actually an authority in the Catholic church. The Bible and Tradition were not left up to one's own interpretation. This had been my problem with the Methodist church.

In the fall of 2004, I decided to start RCIA classes and was confirmed Catholic in spring 2005. So it seems that my religious journey brought me back to Square One. I think that because of the way my religious journey played out, I have a lot more respect for other Christians than I would have had if I had never ventured outside the Catholic Church. I think we can learn a lot from Protestants about evangelization and community. By the way, it is interesting to note that my grandmother converted to Catholicism in the spring of 2007.

As stated above, the purpose of this blog will be to educate others about differing viewpoints on issues such as predestination, sacraments, liturgy, speaking in tongues, and many other topics. I wholeheartedly encourage others to disagree with me or enhance my postings with additional information in the comments section of this blog. Enjoy!