At some point in my teens I became rather disenchanted with being Catholic. Well, not with all of Catholicism. Mainly I was disappointed over the sacrament of Confirmation. All my life my parents and elders told me God was real and that Confirmation (“bierzmowanie” as they call it in Polish) was going to prove it to me. The Great Catholic Bishop James Timlin traveled all the way down from Scranton to anoint my fellow Catholics and me with the Sacred Chrism and make me a man in the eyes of God. We were all going to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Finally the moment came. One by one were brought before His Excellency, The Bishop.
He made his rounds to all us who spent the last decade learning and preparing for this second baptism. While I waited, I imagined what it would be like to finally meet YHWH in person. I pictured lots of singing and soft lights. Those around me straighted up as His Excellency approached. At last, it was finally my turn. He said some words of prayer. I responded. I closed my eyes and I was ready to faint and receive the gifts of the Almighty. “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” I felt a greasy thumb smear a rough triangle across my brow. I closed my eyes tighter, waiting for the Holy Spirit to make himself known. I took several slow deep breathes in anticipation. The bishop moved on to the person next to me and the cycle repeated. I looked to the left. I glanced to the right. Everyone had shiny, sticky foreheads that fittingly smelled like church. Just prior to the mass, all everyone was talking about was how much cash they were getting from their relatives for being confirmed. Cash was nice, but I felt no Holy Spirit and I was let down. Maybe the Bishop was just bad at anointing. Maybe I didn’t say the words sincerely enough. Whatever the reason, it didn’t happen to me. I must have dropped the Gift of the Holy Spirit or something.
A girl from school invited me to go to her Wesleyan youth group several times and I got to see how Christians discuss the Bible. Catholics don’t discuss the Bible. The Catholic Brothers and Fathers tell you what the stories are and what they mean. It was nice to have an interactive forum for a change. However, they never discussed the parts of the Bible where the morally questionable stuff happened– like the part where Lot is seduced by his daughters (Genesis 19:30-36) or where bald Elijah gets Yahweh to send two bears to kill the youth that mock his lack of hair (2 Kings 23-25). I didn’t know about these stories either so selective teaching is alive in well not just in Catholicism..
A pivotal test of faith for me came when I saw an TV ad for a debate about God in 2007. It was to be on ABC’s Nightline. Martin Bashir was going to moderate a debate over whether God exists.
It featured the somewhat famous actor Kirk Cameron and YouTuber Ray Comfort proclaiming that they would demonstrate evidence that God exists. The other debate team was two people named Brian and Kelly from some obscure organization called the “Rational Response Squad”. Who were these damned dirty atheists claiming there was no YHWH? Those fuckers– how dare they challenge the evidence of God! I genuinely was excited to finally see evidence, at long last. I wanted once and for all know whether my mom and dad’s religion had something to it. I wanted to be a better Catholic and this was the incentive for me to finally grow up and be responsible for my sins and fell the power of the Holy Spirit.
The promos of the debate promised that Ray and Kirk were going to prove God exists without invoking scripture. I was finally going to see this for myself. I missed the original broadcast of Nightline because of my work schedule, so I caught the debate as clips posted to YouTube. The opening statement from Ray left me aghast. His claim was that “using eyes that see and a brain that works” we can see that we are standing on God’s creation. A creation needs a creator. Therefore, YHWH exists. Creationism. Plus he threw in a sermon about sinning while invoking the ten commandments (from scripture). The same shit I heard all my life. The bit about buildings needing builders and paintings needing painters, was trumped in grade school science class when we learned the Earth’s creation is plausibly explained by the process of accretion. No YHWH required.
Brian and Kelly didn’t even need to say a word. To me, they already won. Kirk and Ray were the best that religion had to offer on national television? Brian and Kelly went on to point out the philosophical and logical flaws in Ray’s and Kirk’s arguments. Atheism trounced the foundations of YHWH so soundly, I could not ever go back to believing in that bat shit craziness anymore. Only then did it make obvious sense why the Holy Spirit didn’t visit me at Confirmation. For the first time I saw truly rational people telling the religious, to their faces, that they were not only full of shit, but that their burden of proof is not met by a self-contradicting bronze age tome cobbled together by a committee who performed the miracle of turning monotheism into polytheism by inventing the Trinity™, a concept which oddly is never hinted at in said tome.
In the years since then I’ve enjoyed watching guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens debate creationists and apologists in the dozens of YouTube clips available on the subject. Not once has any of the religious put forth anything credible to show the existence of their deity. The burden of proof has always been on theism and their burden is no longer mine.