I really do love the gothic history and architecture of the Catholic church; I could sit and stare for hours at the statues, paintings and stained glass if the pews weren't so damn hard and I could understand a word of what they were saying
But really, I wish I could-- 'cause my daughter attends a very costly Catholic high school, and I know I'd be saving a bundle if we converted.
And to answer Heather's question (and remember, you DID ask): when I was a kid, I was a natural born atheist. I had a gut feeling that Jesus and Santa Claus were invented by our parents to trick us into good behavior, and in my deep conviction, I told every kid in my Sunday school class from age 6 on. I was a stinker, and eventually I shamed my mother into letting us sleep in on Sundays.
But, in retrospect, I never gave Christianity a chance. I had no idea what it was really about-- I grew into adulthood thinking it was about shame, fear, and the old "tricking us into good behavior" bit. My spiritual thought processes hadn't evolved one iota from my 6 year old misperceptions…pretty sad, if you think about it.
Spiritually lost, I wandered through young adulthood, taking the Modern Intellectual's standard journey thru the alternative traditions: shamanism (lived on an indian reservation), Wicca (my firstborn was "Wiccanized" at a Pagan Gathering when she was a baby—but please, keep that under your hat), was a whiz at the Tarot, and even visited a Rainbow Gathering or 2 (eek! Don't ask...)
I ultimately thought I'd discovered the best of *all* worlds when I stumbled upon the Unitarians, who provided a really good pseudo church-like experience with all the standing, sitting, singing and other vaguely familiar rituals that simulated a religious experience fairly well, without all the messy responsibility of committing to actually BELIEVING or worshiping anything in particular (other than your own cleverness at being able to circumvent the "rules", tee hee.) My spiritual growth came to a standstill under the guidance of the Unitarians, where I came to realize that singing praises to the "Spring Flowers" and "Winter Spirits" while dancing the Jewish dance and singing the "Rainbow Connection" wasn't bringing me any closer to an understanding of God or my place in the world. So I quit going.
But when your kids get old enough, it's fairly common to get freaked out about how insane the world is and try to find answers; ways to protect your kids from harm and from making the same stupid mistakes you did. Wandering aimlessly thru life is not a terribly productive way to spend your adult years, and I was hoping to spare my children the legacy of confusion I had wrestled with since childhood.
Eventually I grew tired of making up my values as I went along, realizing that I didn't have the first clue how the world fit together, completely stymied at how to convey our values--right from wrong--to my kids, when I had no idea what they were. So life, being the cyclical journey that it is, pointed me back to the beginnings of my spiritual quest. I had explored the alternative belief systems and found them lacking (the naked wedding at the Pagan Gathering was pretty much a "no Wicca" deal clincher for me), and thusly decided to give the religion of my forefathers a genuine chance.
I church shopped for a long time: I began enthusiastically with my childhood church, the Lutherans, and everything was familiar and hunky dory until I realized that I had not the slightest clue what any of the traditions were, not even the most basic ones. Why were they randomly quoting from the Bible? Why couldn’t I understand what the Bible readings were all about? What was the creepy reason behind drinking Christ’s blood (and eating his body? Yecch!) And when I mustered up the courage to ask the minister what "communion" meant, not only didn't he understand the depths of my ignorance, but he could barely explain it to me!
It was at that point that I realized I was on my own; I had negotiated myself thru doubt and pride into my atheism, and only I could wrangle myself out of it. Instead of continuing to use my intelligence to stunt my growth, I decided it was time to break free from cynicism and learn actually learn something USEFUL, dammit.
I realized early on that I needed a church that explained everything, pretty much word for word-- sort of a "Christianity for Dummies" kind of experience-- which was only to be found in a non-traditional church. In my efforts to read and understand the Bible on my own, I was lost, utterly lost. This eliminated the Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc, and anyone else who expected me to yodel hymns written in another century or another language (I can’t sing).
I also wanted to avoid the snake handlers and tongue speakers, thankyouverymuch, which took quite a number of churches off the table as well.
(to be continued...)