“The truth shall set you free”
chapter 1 – the god delusion, part 1
Around New Year’s Day 2007 I took a trip by myself to Australia for a month, probably the best of my life at that point. The trip was full of adventures and meeting new and interesting people, but it also came with ample time to be alone… alone with a book, and alone with myself. Long flights, hikes in the jungle, walks on the beach, and hungover mornings in cheap hostel rooms with bad air conditioning, became sanctuaries for thought. I would think of where I wanted my life to head, how I was living my life, and how I should judge myself, by what standards should I be judging myself? Although I had been relatively independent for almost ten years, it was only a few years back that I let myself start to question if being a devout catholic was the best and only way to a happy and truthful life.
The last two days of the trip coincided with a friendofafriend’s bucks party in Sydney. After two days of (very heavy) partying and only a couple hours of sleep, I was taken to the Sydney airport, where I embarked on a 38-hour trip back home a la 1950’s air travel, stopping in Melbourne, Auckland, and LA.
At the LA airport on the way back to Guatemala, I saw a book with a shiny silver cover and its title in very big, bold letters:
Hangover symptoms immediately disappeared and I felt an immediate feeling of panic, as if I felt the devil’s soul radiating negativity around it. I started getting seriously nervous, how could someone write that? How bold does this guy think he is by writing a book specifically about god not existing? And how could the authorities permit such a thing? Of course I wasn’t going buy this book! But I was so curious as to what was in it.
Years earlier I had a conversation with my dad, or maybe it was my Mom… it doesn’t really matter if it was one or the other, or even someone else, what matters is that I clearly remember the gist of that conversation which went something like “can atheists go to heaven?” “No, if someone knew God once in his life and elected become an atheist, that person is going to hell, that is one thing we do know.” “What about if that person never had a chance to know about god, like he was born in rural China or the deep Amazon jungle or something” “well, then God probably has a place for those people, but I would guess that a perfect God gives everyone a chance in one way or another in getting to know him and believe in him. So definitely for people like us that had the privilege of knowing how great He is and how special it feels to be in his love, if someone like us decided to turn his back on God, for sure 100% this hypothetical person would go to hell. God would still keep loving him, but this person decided not to accept that love, so it would be impossible to feel god’s love and therefore would go to hell, and there’s no coming back from that.” “why do some people become atheists?” “well, people become atheists because of some traumatic incident that was very rough on them, and instead of going to God to receive his peace, they fail to see the transcendence in this life, and instead blame god for their mishaps, and decide to turn their back on him and…” “Yep, ok, that makes sense.”
Note to self: do not, under any circumstance, become an atheist.
Was this all an exaggeration? How important is believing in god for Catholics? Let’s see, where should we start… how about at the first of the Commandments? The commandments are a huge deal in the Catholic Church, as Matthew 19: 16-17 says, “What good deed must I do to keep eternal life?” Jesus replies: “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” In other words: if you want to go to heaven, you must obey the Ten Commandments. And what is the first commandment? Yep, you guessed it, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Back at the airport, I inconspicuously made my way to the book, feeling red in my face and starting to sweat.
Of course I wasn’t going to buy it! No one would buy this except crazy atheists. Being open to the truth is one thing, but dedicating time and money to something that is obviously out there just to antagonize and make a quick buck is silly. That is why I didn’t read or watch the Da Vinci Code when it came out a few years earlier… I remember it was all the rage but my dad told me the church had recommended not reading it. That one I didn’t question for a second. “It’s only fiction” said a friend of mine “Yeah but why would you give your money to someone who is openly criticizing the church? There are so many books and movies out there, just pick any other”. So I didn’t read the Davinci Code and of course I wasn’t going to read this peace of crap, but at least I was going to find out a bit more about it.
I had definitely changed in how much I respected Catholicism’s rules in the past couple of years (for one, by this time, I had a more relaxed view of Catholics that read the Da Vinci Code). But one thing was writing a fiction book depicting the church as corrupt and insincere, another was writing a non-fiction book doubting the existence of the most loving and most powerful being that there could be, one that created us out of love and is constantly looking out for us and just a small prayer away from comforting and enlightening us. Catholicism might not always be right, but the existence and love of that one true God could and should not be questioned.
As my arm extended and my hand retracted the book from the shelf, I wondered if touching it was already a sin. I could feel the judging stares of everyone at that airport bookstore, making me blush. I turned it to read the back: “Dawkins eviscerates the argument for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of the existence of a supreme being. He makes a compelling case that religion is not just irrational but potentially deadly…”. WHO IS THIS CRAZY PERSON? How can you be such a hater of religion? Religion might not be perfect, but god would never do anything bad to anyone, why pick on god?
I discreetly put the book back on the shelf and walked away, scared that I had probably sinned by reading the back cover. Of course I’ll never read it! my belief in the details of the Catholic Church might have been in question, but my alliance to our creator and friendly God was holding strong, I just needed to keep looking for the true way God connected to me and I’d surely find it.
And soon I did.
Some side notes on the Ten Commandments:
Oh those Ten Commandments. One might think studying them should be easy, since there’s only ten of them, but that’s not the case. For one, it’s actually very difficult to make out what the Ten Commandments really are. For example, the Commandments that I learned as a kid were a bit different than the ones my mom learned, and those were a bit different than the previous generation, and so on.
They also differ in substance when translated to other languages. The current official version of the first commandment (highly relevant when one considers a book with the words “god” and “delusion” in the title)is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”, but in Spanish, it is “You will love God over all things”. They are pretty similar, but when it is the number one commandment that rules the actions and priorities of billions of humans, shouldn’t a high level of cohesiveness be expected?
The Catholic bible says “I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me”. So this one is pretty different from the one in the Catechism, as it doesn’t mention loving at all, it is explicitly about prohibiting the “having” of other gods. And with this one, I have a few bones to pick with the church. First is the cohesiveness argument: why have one set of commandments in the bible and one set of commandments in the Catechism? If the answer is “the Catechism clarifies to people what God really meant”, I would counter with “If God meant to say ‘you shall love your god over all things’, why didn’t he write that into the stones?” It’s actually shorter this way, so the argument that there was limited space on the stones is inadmissible. What other explanations can there be for having two different first commandments in official church books?
Second, if God says “you shall not have other gods besides me”, how does the catholic church explain being OK with people kneeling down and praying to portraits of Saint Anthony to get them a partner? Or wearing a scapular that they think will get them out of purgatory? One answer might be “you are not praying to the Virgin, you are praying to God ‘though the Virgin’” what is that? If she doesn’t have special powers, why would people pray to her instead of God? Why would it be more effective to pray to the virgin than straight to god? Why would the Virgin help us out with something that God wouldn’t? To me, it doesn’t make sense.
The Catholic’s Bible first commandment also differs from the Judaism first commandment, which reads “I am the Lord Your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”. Again, why should there be a difference between these two bibles if they are supposed to be the same one? Did Catholics remove the “Egypt” reference to separate the text from Jewish history? Did the Jewish add in the Egypt reference later? There was, at most, one Moses with one final set of stones, and that one either said or didn’t say “Egypt” so either the Jewish Torah changed, or the Catholic were changed.
It gets really confusing, but thankfully the Catholic Church has someone that has the direct line to God and can help us clear things up. Or maybe not.
In 2013, Pope Francis said in a sermon: “… ’But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there”. Some people interpreted this as “there” being heaven, and thus that the Pope was saying that atheists could go to heaven by doing good, this, of course, would be contradictory to what the catechism has to say:
- The first commandment refers to believing/loving this one god portrayed in the bible and catechism.
- The ten commandments are the bar which the church uses to define if a sin is “grave”; these are sins that “if not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell…”
Others argued that the Pope omitted “and if they repent from being atheists”, which should have been implied. Sadly, there was no further word from the Vatican to clarify what was actually meant.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church – Article 8