Those fifteen friends . . . I should mention something about our religious backgrounds.
Eleven of us came from families that were more or less Catholic. No one’s family seems to have taken religion too seriously, though. I was the only one that had attended Catholic schools. Catholicism had never really taken root in any of us.
Of the other four, one came from a nominally Lutheran family, one from a non-religious family that had at one time been Eastern Orthodox, and two came from Jewish families.
The Lutheran family had been churchgoers when my friend was small, but he had received little or no religious instruction, and his only supernatural interest as a teenager was in the occult.
The Eastern Orthodox family had long since abandoned any interest in religion at all. My friend’s parents had been born in the Ukraine, and their experience of Soviet Communism, famine and war had been rather intense. All of that had left them with the firm opinion that we are on our own in this world, and they sought no assistance from prayer. My friend had, I believe, never heard a word about religion while growing up.
One of the Jewish boys came from a mixed family. Mixed in several ways, actually. His dad was Jewish, but secular. His mom was substantially black, from a family that was quite blended, and generically Christian with Catholic overtones from Irish progenitors. He had hardly heard a word about Judaism while growing up, and his attendance of Catholic grammar school was a matter of geography and convenience. It was the closest school to his home. By the time that I met him he was vigorously anti-religious in the French style (he was quite a Francophile). “Tax the church,” etc. He had never received Jewish instruction, and he had not been Bar mitzvah’d.
My other Jewish friend came from a semi-secular family of Reformed Jews. He had received religious instruction as a boy, from two religions in fact. The family lived in Puerto Rico for several of his high school years and while there he had attended a Catholic high school. He did have a Bar mitzvah as a thirteen year old. By the time that we were all hanging out, he was no longer interested, if he ever had been.
All of this was somewhat interesting to some of us; less so to others. My Reformed Jewish friend was interested in Catholic practice, a holdover from his days in Puerto Rico. He was curious about confession, for instance. I explained the process to him and taught him the formulas, and he actually did show up for confession once or twice. We came up with a few sins for him to confess, and he recited the formulas and “confessed” those sins. He was particularly fascinated by his “penance,” a list of prayers to recite. He also took me and a couple of others to temple once or twice. We wore our borrowed yarmulkes and sat respectfully. It was all very interesting in a social science experiment kind of way. But not for us, we all agreed.
For the friends that I am still in contact with, religion has remained a mystery best left to others. It is possible that some may have passed on their Catholicism to their children.
I am only informed about one friend that found religion later on. At some point, my “Lutheran” friend chose to become a Catholic. He was drawn in equal parts by the ritual aspects of Catholicism and the writings of Catholic mystic Thomas Merton. I think it all gave him some comfort, and I’d be happy about that. He had pretty severe hereditary health issues that finally killed him a little on the young side.
For my part, I did not deliver my children to any particular religion, but neither did I bad mouth religion in their presence. I took them, as boys, to a variety of religious services, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. I was leaving the decision to them, religion or not, up to you! Neither of them has found a need to include religion in their lives. They are both married to Christian women (one from Indonesia and one from Kenya), and we’ll see what happens with the children. That one is too early to call.
I remain non-religious, bordering now on being anti-religious. I would tolerate it better if religion was merely a harmless diversion for fearful, confused people. It certainly is that for most adherents, but for many it is a fever that causes much mischief in the world. Many of the religions themselves have, over the centuries, generated a lot of mischief and terror on their own motion. I find it all unforgivable and quite unnecessary.