Chapter 3 – My Favorite Catholic Trivia

I’ve asked these questions to Catholics tens of times, and not once has anyone gotten all answers right. All Catholics are “bound” by the Church to participate in mass every Sunday and “other holy days”. Unless excused for a serious reason, “those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin”, and “Grave (mortal) sin deprives us of communion with God, and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life” [1]. In other words, missing a Sunday or holy day immediately puts a person at risk of going straight to hell if they die before confession… do not pass go, do not collect $200.

OK, trivia, here we go. No cheating!

Question #1: What are the “holy days” established by the church for obligatory attendance in addition to Sundays?

Hint: there’s only three of them.

Hint: One is Christmas.

Another is New Year’s Day… What is the third?

Answer: December 8, the Day of The Immaculate Conception.

Question #2: What is celebrated on such an important day that would prompt the Church to declare that any human that knows of it and fails to attend risks spending eternity in hell?

The day Christ first appeared in the Virgin Mary’s womb? Nope.

The Virgin Mary’s birthday? Try again.

Answer: It is the day the Virgin Mary was conceived (the moment where she transformed from sperm+egg to embryo). And why is this event so important? Because she is the first human since Eve to be conceived without original sin.

There’s nothing in the scriptures that mentions any of this, and the belief was questioned and disputed for a long time until Pope Pious IX declared in 1854 that it is true, mainly citing “Sensus Fidelium” (sense of the faithful), which basically means: because it feels right. The way a priest explained the Pope’s rationale to me was: “Is it convenient that she was conceived free from sin? Yes, then it is so”.


 [1] Catechism of the Catholic church, Art 1472

chapter 2 – through the rabbit hole

Midway through 2007, my first encounter with the God Delusion had moved to the back of my mind, but my faith in the Church as a guiding light for my life was pretty much gone.

Even so, my belief in a higher being held steadfast. I didn’t know exactly how, but I had no doubt that some god created everything and gave souls to humans and kept in touch with us through some kind of energy. And for those of us who sincerely tried to be nice and unselfish, to seek truth and learn and work hard, we would be connected to this higher being, and this connection would continue after we died, forever.

My reasoning was that the Catholics and other ancient religions may have gotten the details wrong, but their general perception was right. They all probably experienced a similar feeling of connectedness to nature, to each other, and to something higher, then tried to make sense of it and resorted to a story that kind of made sense and started telling it to their kids, who told it to their kids, until someone eventually put it in writing.

Many uncommunicated religions came up with relatively similar stories of how things started and then bridged that to how people should behave, this seems to further support the idea of connectedness. Even in modern times it seems people are still going through this process with new religions… Scientology came to be in the 1950’s and has some pretty far out stories about extraterrestrials and pure souls creating the world we know, and of course a path to enlightenment and eternal happiness. The fact that they got a relatively large number of people (25,000+ in the US according to Pew Research Center, 8-15 million according some Scientologists) to believe in this and back it up with investing money and time in it says a lot.

But how would I separate what these religions were getting right and what was bullshit? I definitely was done with blindly following Catholicism, but how could I find out how our creator really connected with me and how he wanted me to live life so my soul could live happily ever after?

Lucky for me, I received a double whammy of explaining god through science: the book The Tao of Physics, and the documentary “What the bleep do we know!?”, along with other sources full of experiments that seemed to prove that the supernatural not only existed, but could be proved with science.

Tao of Physics goes into quantum physics phenomena that point to a connected universe. One chapter explains that when two electrons of the same atom are in the same energy level, one will have a positive “spin” and one will have a negative “spin”. When one of them changes its spin, the other will change it instantaneously, even if they are separated over a long distance… proving there is an energy we cannot see but keeps things connected. Other similar experiments in the book convinced me that there was a scientific way to explain phenomena that pointed to an energy that connected objects, and that our own energy could affect other people or objects.

The documentary seemed even bolder. One experiment explained that the wave-particle properties of quantum particles could be manipulated by the observer. So depending on what the observer was looking for, the particle would change its behavior.

Another experiment showed a Japanese physicist (Dr. Emoto) that took water samples, froze them, and observed the ice crystals that were formed. He found that crystals made from water that was taken from peaceful places formed more beautiful crystals than those from water that was taken from stressful places. Water from test tubes that were labeled with words such as ‘beauty’, ‘peace’, and ‘love’, yielded beautiful crystals, while water that was labeled with ‘hatred’, ‘suffering’, and ‘fear’, didn’t produce crystals.

Another experiment had a computer randomly sending clicks to a right or left earphone. A subject would be asked to bring consciousness to either side, and then the number of clicks of each side were measured. When measured, the scientists found that humans could statistically influence or predict which side the next click would go to.

Finally, there was the Ganzfeld experiment, where two people were put in separate rooms and then one would send images to the other via telepathy… when given the chance of choosing one out of 4 images, the recipients were able to identify the correct one 32% of the time.

This was great! Scientific proof that god existed! Maybe not exactly as described by our religions, but if a force that can be altered by human thought exists, that would go a long way in explaining why religions exist. Maybe people with special sensitivity would feel these forces and use metaphors and allegories to explain it to their friends and their children.

I went online and shelled out $25 (plus $15 in shipping, handling, and duties to Guatemala) for the What the Bleep extended version: more than 5 hours of footage and in depth looks at the experiments that proved that the supernatural exists, and that us humans are special in this energy and can change it and influence it. Like the Jedi.

This made so much sense to me: we are all made of protons and electrons, the energy is passed from us to the environment and back, we are one. Kind of like the bible could be interpreted: this energy spurred evolution and out came us humans with our great brains and, more importantly, with the power to harness this energy and communicate with it, and through it to others!

I was extremely excited by my new discovery! Why was this not known by everyone? It’s science! And not that difficult to understand. The water crystals are proof that the environment feels us and reacts to us, the tape experiment evidence that our brains can manipulate the environment, the Ganzfeld experiment showed that we can communicate telepathically.

So, for the next couple of months I kept reading on these topics, very happy and convinced that I had finally found enough evidence to stop doubting the existence of god. “Dad! I’ve been learning about these experiments that seem to prove that humans can communicate telepathically, and there’s this one where people influence random clicking sounds that a computer makes.” “Great, son” a bit of an eye roll… he was not amused. I would’ve thought he’d be happy because in a way this would validate his catholic beliefs, but on the contrary, he seemed upset that I was looking outside the church for truth. He completely downplayed it, the way parents do to teenagers when they get overly excited with some rebellious cause (except I was 28 at the time). I was a little offended that here I was dedicating time to finding how god worked and he thought I was wasting my time.

I was on my way to finding happiness through new-age science religion, determined to merge it with the good parts of the catholic religion. I say I was on my way, and if this was 1997 I probably would’ve gotten there, but this was 2007. And where in 1997 weak arguments could pass as strong for a long time, in 2007 weak arguments were destroyed in seconds by the greatest weapon smartasses could ever ask for: Wikipedia.

I don’t know why it took me so long to look for outside opinions on my new beliefs. Looking  back, I’m a little ashamed that I was supposed to be the great seeker of truth, but here I was reading this stuff and taking everything at face value. When I finally did go online to validate my sources, it took only minutes to completely destroy every bit of confidence I had on the Tao of Physics, the Ganzfeld Experiment, and my $40 investment in What the Bleep Do We Know… Down the Rabbit Hole, Extended Version.

The Tao of Physics is trashed by respected physicists for oversimplifying the similarities between physics and Buddhism, and for sticking to some theories included in his book that have since been disproven. My favorite quote criticizing the book comes from Jeremy Bernstein, professor of physics at Stevens Institute of Technology: “At the heart of the matter is Mr. Capra’s methodology – his use of what seem to me to be accidental similarities of language as if these were somehow evidence of deeply rooted connections. Thus I agree with Capra when he writes, ‘Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science but man needs both.’ What no one needs, in my opinion, is this superficial and profoundly misleading book.” (Wikipedia, 2016)

The Ganzfeld experiment has been widely criticized for its faulty experimental practices and has not been replicated with clear success. (Wikipedia, 2016)

What about What the Bleep Do We Know? Where should we start… it was co-directed by three members of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, a spiritual sect established by JZ Knight, who claims to channel a 35,000 year-old being. The “experts” quoted in the movie include JZ Knight, “scientists” from weirdly-named institutions such as Institute of Noetic Sciences, Maharishi University of Management, an anesthesiologist, a couple of theologists, and one pissed off actual scientist that was “outraged at the final product” because he felt the film was edited in such a way that it misrepresented his views.

Oh. Shit.

So here I was, a little disappointed that I had put all these hours into going deeper into Catholicism, into the basic pillars of Christianity, then into new-age religious pseudoscience, and the more I delved in, the clearer it seemed that none was based on true foundations. I was scared shitless… how was I going to continue living and being happy if there was no god and (especially!) no afterlife? But also, how the fuck did I not see any of this before? Why do religious people not see that their beliefs are based on things that don’t make sense?

I don’t know about rest of them, but I can tell my story.

chapter 1 – the god delusion, part 1

“The truth shall set you free”

Jesus Christ

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:

  1. The first commandment refers to believing/loving this one god portrayed in the bible and catechism.
  2. 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…”[1]

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.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church – Article 8