I believe in God. But I feel that means less than I’d like it to. I’d like to be a better Catholic. But I don’t put much effort in. I’m probably too in my comfort zone. I feel I should pray more often or go to church at least every Sunday. I feel that I only pray when things are difficult and I need God. But when things are okay, or if I think that I can handle things by myself, I tend to forget about Him.
When I was a child, I heard this story that, although simple, really affected me. So there’s this criminal. He’s in prison and he’s there because he did something awful. He killed many people or robbed many people or whatever. But every night, before he goes to sleep, he says one little childish prayer that his grandmother taught him when he was three years old. When he was younger, she’d sit in bed with him and they’d offer that prayer every night. And now, he repeats it every night as if by rote. He’s doing it not because he believes in God but because he really loved his grandmother. And because she told him, “you have to offer this prayer every night before you go to sleep”. And so the question is, when he dies is he going to hell because of all the bad things he did in his life, or is he going to heaven because he loved someone and spends every night honouring her? And I believe he’s going to heaven. He stepped out of his comfort zone every night just to honour her.
That story shifted the way I think about belief. When you’re born into the Catholic church in Prague, you go to religion class every week. And so I went for maybe ten years. And during my teenage years I was full of rebellion. And because I had to go to this religion class, I would intellectually compete with the religion teacher. I wanted to question everything he taught us. I wasn’t questioning God but was questioning how humans could know what He wanted. The Bible, after all, was written by man. I spent hours and hours fighting with him.
So my teachers were teaching me a very traditional understanding of Catholicism. This is good, this is bad, you need to follow these rules, you can’t have sex before marriage, you need to go to church every week, you need to pray every night, you need to confess every month. And life is incredibly difficult to live through because there are all these rules to remember. And life is difficult. And then maybe one day after you die, you’ll be happy.
I realised that I see so many people in church apparently following those rules, sitting in the frontline kneeling and praying so that everyone can see them. But because I know their kids, I know they’re beating their wives or cheating on them or doing other things that I disagree with. I just can’t stand this kind of surface Catholicism.
That made me quite cynical. And I’d like to think that I don’t need to do all those things, and like that guy I’ll still go to heaven just because I do one good thing a day. So I’d like my relationship with God to be stronger, without the cynicism – but also without the hypocrisy.