I was baptized Catholic at an early age, and brought up by Irish and Italian parents, in a predominantly Hispanic cultural setting. It is nearly impossible for me to identify how any characteristic cultural images of Jesus in any of these cultures actually effected me. I chose to go to Mass with my Dad earlier, to have more time to play with the neighborhood kids who did not attend Church. We were sent through our parish Catholic school.
In the same way that I thought it was unfair that the other kids got cooler toys, I wondered if it was unfair that I would have to go to Church. It mattered a lot to my dad, although he could never articulate why. By the 5th grade, I think that I was beginning to believe that religion was becoming obsolete and useless. There were videos we watched in class of a priest explaining the events commemorated during Liturgical year, and the experience was almost as dreadful as his lame sweater. Cartoons were interspersed with this priest’s lectures, but I thought they lacked the quality of the other cartoons I watched on Saturday mornings. Likewise, the happy clappy songs we sung at Church epitomized irrelevance in my childhood world.
I was fascinated by science, the universe, and history. I used to spend hours looking at the pictures and reading the articles in children’s encyclopedia. The wonder of the cosmos often provoked my imagination in defining the games that I played. It was not clear to me how God fit into the universe, but I never imagined that some old white bearded man sat on a cloud somewhere. Further, I do not quite remember how or when I came to a broader more abstract philosophical perception of a transcendent God, it must have been somewhat early. Science had the answers, so I believed. At about puberty a growing dissatisfaction was brewing within me.
Looking back, I think I was dissatisfied with a Darwinian philosophy on life, which saw the weak necessary victims of their own weakness. I think I was also dissatisfied with my materialist beliefs in the universe that saw my existence determined by random accidents. Perhaps I felt excluded because I was not like other kids. My existential loneliness colored everything grey. I was not an atheist, but I had no indication that God took interest in our life, he was more of a scientific creator then a loving parent. I did, however, question the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, and imagined the entire bible to be a complete fabrication.
I really struggled to believe that everyone who showed up to Mass on Sunday to be genuine. I was dumbfounded that the families of my classmates called themselves Catholic as if it had no consequence on their life. Neither was I any more impressed by the libertine lifestyles of the families of the neighborhood kids who did not have a religious affiliation. I think I had a desire to experience someone with a solid, genuine, and visible conviction. I do not believe I was aware, but I was somehow a nihilist who wanted to be shaken out of it. As far as Jesus was presented during his life, he appeared to be an individual of the real kind of conviction that I had hungered for, if he was not a pure fabrication. He was killed for something that I was not quite sure what. He must have upset somebody important. I think I began to become interested in this person, but only insofar as I could eliminate non-scientific things like miracles and the Resurrection. Therefore, I perceived Jesus as merely a moral teacher of some sort, which did not make him any more relevant than any other moral teacher. Therefore, it was quite easy for me to be a moral coward when I approached Jesus, because his message and person were not intrinsic to my life. The Gospel that Jesus Christ was a little too Dangerous for me, and this helped to keep me “safe” from its implications.