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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Columnist: Kech Simon/Facebook

The reason I quit religion Part 1 (Why I left Roman Catholic Church)

I came into this world in the late 70's, born in the South-eastern region of Nigeria where Roman Catholicism was, and is still the predominant religion. My parents were among the catholic faithful, and expectedly, I was baptized a catholic in my infancy. And that marked the genesis of my journey into the world of religion.

By age 4, I was already inducted into the church's neighborhood congress for youngsters otherwise known as block Rosary in Catholic parlance. Much like a school in structure, it was an evening rendezvous for local Catholic kids, a platform to learn the rudiments of the church's doctrines and moral instructions. But with the benefit of hindsight I found out it was no less than the launching pad for prepping the suggestible minds of youngsters with the many pseudo paganism and occultic doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

Anyways, I was nudged by my well-meaning parents to be punctual to the daily evening meetings of the group, and I dared not disobey. I recall with dismay how I was knocked down by a hit and run motorcyclist on my way to one of those meetings one fateful night. And that was how I came about the huge scar on the upper side of my left eyebrow. In fact, I nearly lost my sight in that accident, but that's by the way.

At the block rosary meetings, the 'Queen of Heaven' and 'mother of God' - 'Virgin Mary' was the centrifugal force of everything. We were daily inundated with her formidable exploits, her divinity and miracles, and several of her apparitions wherein she bemoaned the sins of the world, and commanded we constantly plead with her for intercession on our behalf, in order to avert or escape the ever fury of God. Fear-inspiring it always was. And so, we prayed and fervently besought her daily, reciting the rosary and some other inane incantations called the litany and chanting many choruses in her 'honor' before a special altar made for her.

This altar, it is interesting to note, was more of a miniature shrine, made to look like a Hindu chapel of some sort. It came complete with a crucifix, and some flowers, a statue of a beautiful lady (thought to represent 'Virgin Mary'), a crafted or printed image of a handsome man (thought to be Joseph, the surrogate father of Jesus), and an alluring imagery of a newly born baby depicting the infant Jesus. Light from candlesticks provided it with illumination and some element of life. And like baby robots, we were programmed to adore, bow, and kneel before it, reciting the Rosary and chanting our litany for intercession before it. The awesome presence of God and that of 'his mother' - the 'Virgin Mary' inhabit this altar whenever it is set and lit up, we were subliminally made to believe. And so, we accorded it the very best of esteem and reverence.

Now, every Sunday morning was the time for some short ritualistic liturgy called Mass. And my parents ensured we never missed it for any reason. They would give us some stipends to enable us to buy the Bulletin, and also give offerings. A Bulletin (for those who don't know) is some pamphlet that contains a selected portion of the Bible, hymns, and Psalms, and little announcements, to be used in the Mass procession. It was sold at the church's premises, and everyone who wished to partake in the Mass of the day was to procure a copy. In fact, it was more or less the Bible for Catholics, as it was more useful than the Bible itself in the life of a Catholic. There was just no need for the Bible if one could get the bulletins every Sunday morning. And so, we never had a single copy of Bible at home, but would rather buy bulletins for the Mass every other Sunday, take them home afterward, and probably use them to wrap Akara the next day.

The Mass service, I can say, was more like the epitome of all vain religious rituals, an archetype of occultism. Nothing else could be as spiritually loathsome and banal. It would begin with a priest proceeding into the church from the porch in a colossus image, often clutching or swinging a covered chalice of a burning incense in the convoy of a handful of assistants referred to as Mass servants. Mounting the pulpit, he would declare the session open with a sign of inverted cross chanting some prayers alongside, and pulling the attendants through some rites and ordinances that were all designed to leave them pensive and externally solemn.

I can say again in retrospect, with my little knowledge of Bible, that Mass embodied every abominable, not only to the Scriptures, but also to reasoning. And I believe much hasn't changed to this day. We would bow and genuflect before many graven images and objects strewn across the church building to depict some heavenly beings, praying to some of them at some moments. We would make supplication to dead folks (plausibly referred to as 'the saints') to intercede on our behalf, and solicit heavenly angels to plead for our sins. Much of these petitions we would nonchalantly blab in latin language, others we would chant in some somber choruses. The climax of it all would be the adoration and veneration of a huge piece of unleavened bread referred to as the Holy Eucharist. It inhabits the presence of Christ, we were made to believe. And so we would bow to it, adore and pray soulfully to it. Those who had recently gone to confess their sins to the priests, now taken to be in the state of grace, would later have a taste of pieces of the bread by way of communion.

Of course, there must have been a short sermon which might tangentially be rooted out from some verses of the Scriptures read on each Sunday. The motif of these sermons, percolated to induce fear, depression and pessimism in the minds of the listeners, centered chiefly on the death of Jesus, piety of Mary (the mother of Jesus), fury of God, and the sinfulness of mankind. Everything basically tilted towards the oncoming wrath and damnation that await mankind in the hell fire and purgatory. In fact, those sermons, I can say, were the major conduit through which the church perpetrated much of its brain washing. And funny enough, we would be asked to pay for all these disservice to our minds by way of offerings and donations.

Well, the Mass would end within an hour or two with some benediction from the priest, and we would have fulfilled the required ordinance for the justification of our souls, purification from our previous sins, and exemption from the oncoming tribulation. We would hurriedly discard the sanctimonious mien we had put on, and blissfully hurry back home in our usual self and lifestyle. But a sizeable portion of the attendants would pensively proceed to either the chapel of the Holy Eucharist, or the shrine of the 'blessed Mother' for further adoration. This 'shrine of the blessed mother' is the huge graven statue of a beautiful woman that is mostly decorated, lit up, and strategically placed at the premises of every Catholic church. Ditto the chapel of the Holy Eucharist.

To cut the long story short, I'd say I spent my whole childhood and teenage dancing to the mad beats of Catholicism with all the candor and fervor I could muster. Confirmed by age 14, I was neck deep indoctrinated into the church that nothing could pierce through the heavily fortified walls of my persuasion. Catholic church was the only church commissioned by Christ through Peter I was made to believe. And every other propaganda used in mitigating and white washing the church's many bizarre practices and beliefs I bought hook, line and sinker. In fact, I fanatically stood up for all of them. For instance, when confronted by others on our obvious worship of Mary, I'd pull the usual cliche - 'we don't worship Mary, we only 'honour' her'. There was of course an avalanche of plausible defenses and prevarication for every of the church's perversion. Much of these were contained in the church's Question and Answers teachings known as Catechism. And being an excellent student of this catechism, I was well grounded in the knowledge of the church's underpinnings for its teeming doctrines. I was staunchly confident, secure and committed to rather live and die a Catholic than port to any other denomination or religion.

However, in the wees hours of my teenage, I had relocated to Lagos - a more cosmopolitan and religiously diverse city, to begin my odyssey in the world of business. Being a city tightly under the siege of an opposing brand of christianity - pentecostalism, my beliefs and bulwark in Catholicism were sure vulnerable to convulsion. I had started relating and making friends with a spectrum of people most of whom were pentecostals. And I noticed to my insecurity that these folks were far grounded in the knowledge of Bible than I was, especially each moment we played the religion card. By their influence, I began to devour diverse Christian literature to learn more facts about other denominations.

Within months, I was growing fond of the many pentecostal evangelical telecasts that dotted the landscape of most local TV's prime times. Remarkably, a lot of things were said and done in stark contradiction to the ways I had understood Christianity to be. For the first time, I got to hear sermons that were motivating and uplifting, and see ways of worship that appealed more to my religious fantasies. Their simplified ways and approach to Bible injunctions appeared to resonate better with the Truth. But in spite of it all, the walls of my faith in Catholic wouldn't cave in, as I still prayed my Rosary, attended Mass, adored the Eucharist and invoked 'the saints' to intercede for me. I never seriously contemplated taking a walk from Catholic church.

But then again, something fateful happened in 1999, and that dramatically changed the whole equation. It was an act that was meant to add manure to my faith in Catholicism, but it turned out the catalyst that shattered the foundations of it. A devout Catholic friend of mine, observing how adrift my faith was getting, had gone ahead to buy and hand me a copy of the Good News Bible Edition, all in a bid to bolster my faith. And no sooner had he handed me the book, I began to feast on it with keen interest and passion, from Genesis down to revelation, page by page. It was like a new found love. To my utter consternation, every chapter I perused brought a clear indictment to at least one of the many Roman Catholic's cardinal doctrines. And systematically too, a new vista of different consciousness about God and Christianity was striking root in me.

I would say I spent about 3 more years to diligently studying the Bible and many other Christian literature I could lay my hand on, juxtaposing the new insights I got with every fabrics of the doctrines and philosophies of Roman Catholicism. My sense of truth was beginning to take root, and it would soon out-grow the bounds of all that was embedded in me by way of indoctrination. And even as I remained a nominal Catholic for few months afterwards, I was beginning to grow uncomfortable with so many things in the church. I began to quietly ruminate, and question the grounds for the justification of most of the church's grisly dogmas such as bowing down to graven images, praying to the dead, and adoration of the unleavened bread aka the Holy Eucharist. Why would a dead woman in the person of Mary be worshiped under the pretext of 'honoring the mother of God'? Why should she even be given pre-eminence over Jesus on whose message Christianity is pivoted? Why would God be portrayed always in the light of an imperious, irritable and mean fellow? Why candles and statues in prayer sessions? And why the constant threats of hell and damnation?

As the consciousness of these grave absurdities widened, with little or no convincing answers and rationalization, I became the more disaffected and detached from the sentiments that had engulfed and blindfolded me all along. Worse so, the threats from fellow Catholics that I could incur God's wrath or curse for daring to probe or doubt those doctrines rather served to magnify my suspicion of the whole charade and falsehood. I could then see that the validation of every of those doctrines by many was fundamentally driven by fear of being labeled a heretic, rather than true convictions on the facts Bible. And as I dug deeper into the history of Roman Catholic church, and how it came about its doctrines (from Roman traditions), my disenchantment grew rather taller. So grew too my resolve to exit the church.

And so by the eve of the year 2003, I had had enough. I was somehow able to muster the fortitude to serve the divorce notice. Unceremoniously, I got disengaged from Roman Catholicism as I ejected her from my life. And I threw to the garbage my Chaplets and other objects of worship in my possession, and ceased attending Mass and meetings of the many church fraternities I was affiliated to. I would soon quit paying homage to the church's clergy and institutions. But it would take about a year more before I could completely disabuse myself of the last vestige of the church's observances and programs.

I guess all that remains of the whole ugly episode in my life till this day is the baptismal name I got from the church in my infancy. It has managed to stick like an Hausa Perfume. Perhaps, that will serve as a reminder to me that I was once a member of the world's biggest occultic movement in the world - the Roman Catholic church of Mary.

To be continued...

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