Looking back: Letter from a friend

f_rA few years ago after I had retired I received a phone call from a young woman who wanted to talk with me about doing a second degree in philosophy. She already had a degree in business administration and was looking for a discipline that would help her to deal with the “big” questions. My wife and I met her for a meal at a local White Spot. She turned out to be a sharp, inquisitive, well-centered young woman who had a keen intellect and who was serious about further studies. We talked about the department at Vancouver Island University and about the best way to pursue a second degree with the idea in mind of going on to graduate school. She taught Spanish to English speaking Canadians who wanted a tutor. She worked hard.

She indeed enrolled. She excelled in her studies. She was accepted to graduate school at SFU. Over the years she kept in touch with me. Last night [2012] I received a moving letter from her. She has given me permission to post its contents.

Dear Bob,

I lost my catholic faith. I acknowledge that the unwillingness to give it up was about tradition and the fact that my mother holds a very strong faith in the Christian God; in other words, tradition. But now that I came back to live in Colombia, in my town of Socorro (dominated by a spectacular cathedral in the main park and two more big churches in the other parks) I realized I cannot follow this tradition anymore.

One Sunday around two months ago we went to mass as we usually did on Sunday morning. I don’t remember exactly what the priest was talking about but all of a sudden he started talking about a famous TV host here in Colombia; his nickname is “Pacheco”. He was very popular in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Now he is old and retired. The priest said that because Pacheco was an atheist he had been forgotten and was out of the TV business. That revolted my stomach quite a bit and gave me the excuse I needed to tell my mother I cannot take it anymore, I cannot go to these masses where they utter stupidity. She agreed because for a long time she had felt the same way but never able to take a stand and at least stop going to these gatherings. She had questioned many things from the church before. She also studied a little bit of philosophy! She tells me that when asked by a priest whether the catholic church was absolute or relative (what a question eh?!?) she said “well, it is relative as any other church”. Ouch! The father was not happy and they had to change topic. She also hates every time the priests call other catholic churches “garage churches”. She always questioned (in her mind) the actions and doctrine of the church but only now that I am here she is being strong about it. Her friends are realizing she is not going back to church. They keep calling her. These same friends inundate her email with messages that are supposed to be revelations from god or the virgin Mary to whoever is writing the original message telling them what to do to protect themselves from the devil and “the end of times”. The things to do are, for example, leave a little bit of olive oil with two teaspoons of salt in a little plate, and then place the image of some saint above and the same image hanged behind the doors in your house and some other silly craziness. The devil won’t take you when “the end of times” comes. What a joke. We laugh and that is great.

It is very unfortunate that almost every small town in Colombia (and I say South America) was built in such way that Catholicism dominates and will do so for many years. The town is built around a main plaza which is dominated by a big church. They ring the bells loud and clear every time there is mass (one mass each day at least, not counting the funerals, and 4 masses at least on Sunday in every church. Yes, they have customers all right). They burn firecrackers even at 4 in the morning to announce religious holidays. I wrote a petition that I will deliver this week to ask the priests to stop the practice of burning firecrackers.

But if it took me this long; me, a person who studied philosophy, tried to defend religious faith and lost arguments in class and out of class, how long is it going to be for people who are bombarded by church stuff? The truth is this town needs to get rid of this faith, question its history.

My mother still has her faith in God, Jesus, Virgin Mary. But she does not feel she can be part of the catholic institution anymore. I am proud of her.

I remember when I started philosophy at VIU, religious faith was not a problem for me. I had never given it much thought. Since I was a kid I had thought that it was strange that god had created us knowing we would be sinners and then having to punish us, but I never pursued that question. Well, what a strange thing to have never done so!! I cannot believe it. But it takes someone, a teacher, someone to ask a good question, pursue that question and faith is on the line. Philosophy is a beauty. I am happy for this journey.

I wanted to share this event of my life with you. Every day I look forward to your blog postings.