Being half Italian, I come from a long line of Roman Catholics. My uncle was even a Catholic Bishop in the Vatican and wrangled it so that I was baptised by Pope Paul. I was raised in the faith, became an alter boy and was, at the age of eleven, convinced I was going to be a priest (or an astronaut – I wasn’t too sure). For me, being in a church and praying to God made me feel something special inside. As I grew older (and decided not to be a priest) I didn’t attend mass as often as I should, but still found time to pray.
After I had done my first tour in Bosnia I lost my faith. Many of my colleagues were mentally scarred by what was happening at the time, some suffering long term, never to deploy again. I simply decided that I no longer believed that there could be a God. Upon my return to the UK, I spoke to my Commanding Officer and told him that I wanted to change my religion. Being a catholic, I had to be seen by the ranking catholic priest before they would process my request and so I dutifully reported to the priest and underwent a series of philosophical and theological debates. At the end of it all, I became all the more adamant that I no longer believed in God.
I told my mother who was devastated. I had become an atheist, something worse than Church of England to my devoutly catholic mother. My family thought it was just a phase I was going through and were convinced that I would come to my senses after some time. So, they didn’t press the matter and I continued with my life. The only significant difference being I no longer prayed and I never thought about God, heaven, hell or anything.
There were ramifications. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot switch off being a catholic. It had been a significant part of my life and now it was gone. No longer could I wrap myself in my belief during times of hardship and pray for the strength to continue. In it’s place I had nothing but the belief in myself to overcome these obstacles.
Nearly seventeen years on, I am still an atheist. I am respectful of an individuals faith and it’s not something I advertise.
So, why the post if I don’t advertise? Bear with me and all will be made clear.
Time has the effect of changing things. I never once believed that I would live to be past forty. Due to the nature of my career, I believed that eventually my time would be up and it would be all over. I never once believed that I would be injured in such a way that I would no longer be able to care for myself or that I would be in so much pain all day, every day. That is exactly what has happened and I feel totally useless most of the time, it is so incredibly frustrating.
It is only now that I understand why people are content in their faiths and beliefs. During my lowest points, I become introspective and often wished that I was dead. I can no longer muster the courage or determination to believe that I can overcome this obstacle. I know my body is damaged and that there is very little current medical science can do. Sometimes I rally and muster the will to try and not be depressed and defeatist, but those times are becoming fewer and farther between. As I write this, I am determined to overcome this, but it wouldn’t be unusual for me to feel totally defeated and depressed in a few hours time.
What I no longer have is my faith. I still don’t believe in God but sometimes wished that I could. It’s not something you can just switch on to. Faith and belief is deep rooted like a glorious oak. It will stand the test of time and take all the battering you can give it and still stand tall. It’s roots keep it solid, delving deep and securely. But once you cut that tree down and uproot it’s foundations, the tree is dead. No matter what you do, there is no way you can regrow that particular tree.
Some people have revelations and have renewed faith and belief. They can regrow a new tree and, in some aspects, the new faith can be stronger than the previous. They will be able to experience the strength and conviction that their faith gives them. As I felt when I attended mass, they will feel that special, indescribable feeling that true faith gives. I no longer feel that and wish that I could. I have not had a revelation and my experiences have further convinced me that there is nobody watching over us.
Sometimes I wish I did. I want to feel as if some benevolent deity is watching over me and carrying me when I am at my weakest. I want to relive the special feeling I used to experience. I want to believe in miracles.
I don’t and I doubt that I ever will. I am reaching out in desperation and wanting to find relief to my suffering but find that I only have myself to believe in. I cannot bring myself to change my belief just because I am in need of something. Perhaps that is to my credit, not being false to myself or anyone else. I don’t know, perhaps it’s being stubborn because of my past experiences.
For those of you with faith, be you Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever, cherish it. I am, in a way, envious of your belief. People take it for granted but until you have lost it, you don’t realise that it is a gift. It’s a pity people abuse it or misuse it. At the end of the day, it’s something you can all fall back on. In this way, you are all of one mind. The differences between you are insignificant in the overall scheme of things and maybe, one day, realization will come.