What I Learned in Catholic School

by Pete on September 23, 2007

By Roger A. “Pete” Peterson

7 or 8 me.

7 or 8 yr. old me

Just before turning five, I began attending a catholic church school in Lewiston, Maine. Catechism, or religious instruction, was the first class of the day. Our teacher was an elderly nun dressed in a full habit (black robe and head cover). Her teaching began with the Book of Genesis, the first chapter of the Old Testament, which tells the story of how God created heaven, earth, and “man in the image of God.”

After reading the Story of Creation (excerpts below) out loud, the nun said, to paraphrase her, “By eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil against God’s “command,” Adam and Eve committed the Original Sin. And because all humans are their offspring everyone is guilty of sinfulness.” Finally, she quickly added, “and you cannot trust the flesh because it will always betray you.”

Wow, I couldn’t believe my ears, what an awful thing for kids to hear! With my jaw hanging down to my knees and my eyes wide open in disbelief, I turned and looked around the classroom at the other kids to see how they were reacting to this damning information. Until this moment all I had seen in their faces was beauty, joy, and innocence. Why would the church and this woman* tell a roomful of children that all men and women are bad and can’t be trusted? I was outraged and voiced my objection angrily. She told me to be quiet, so I turned my back on her in protest for the rest of the class. I didn’t want to hear anything else she had to say, which was impossible to do of course.

 *  At the time, I was very angry at this person. Later, as my spiritual development evolved, I began to see her as a friend and ally from beyond the confines of this flesh and bone, earthly existence. Who else but a loving friend would play such a dastardly role unless it was important for us to understand that there is more to life than what we are told, there is more to our role in life than making money and raising children? More than just Being, I think we’re here to live, love, learn and evolve.

The next morning, as we stood in line outside her classroom, the nun stiffly walked up to me and asked, “Are you going to learn your catechism today?” Looking her straight in the eye, I said, “NO!” As if expecting this response, she grabbed the wrist of my right hand with her left and pulled a large wooden ruler out of a fold in her robe. I knew what was coming and tried to pull my hand away to no avail.

Holding my wrist tightly, she began striking my knuckles as hard as she could and continued to do so until I could no longer bear it without crying out in pain. I didn’t want to cry but I couldn’t help myself. What was she was trying to do, destroy my resistance to her awful beliefs through pain and humiliation? Turning my head and looking at my fellow classmates through tear-filled eyes, I felt a great boiling rage rising up in me at the church and this nun for thinking it was their right and their duty to torture children into accepting their view of reality without question.

The following day, as my seven year old brother Dicky and I walked to school, I decided not to go to class. I told him I’d wait in the woods behind the church till we could walk home together. Standing in the woods alone for hours was scary. On previous outings, Dicky and his friends told me there was quicksand in the woods behind the church. As I think about it now, quicksand seems like an appropriate metaphor regarding my experience with church teachings back then.

I knew what happened to people who stepped in quicksand from seeing it in movies. It was doubly scary knowing that I was all alone with no one to help me if I did step in quicksand. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess I pretty much stood in one spot the whole school day. My mother often made Dicky take me with him to get us both out of the house. That was fine with me because it was always an adventure to go places with him and his friends, however unhappy they were to have me tag along. In response, they were often mean and got a kick out of scaring me.

After Dicky and I returned home, I told my mother what happened the day before. I also told her I was never going back to church school again and meant it! When school officials corroborated my story the next day, she gave them a piece of her mind and immediately transferred Dicky and me to the nearest public elementary school. As it turned out, things weren’t that much different there. While the church told me we were all bad and couldn’t trust ourselves, public school told us we were “blank slates” that needed to be written on. That we were children and “children should be seen, not heard.”

For example, when I was asked to get up and introduce myself to the class, I did. I gave them my name and told them why I left Catholic school. Then, I asked my new teacher how public schools treated their students compared to catholic school. His face turned deep red as he stiffened up and he yelled at me, “Sit down, shut up, and do as I tell you. I’m the teacher and I know what’s best for you!”

Yikes! Were all schools prison camps run by bullies or was it just me, bringing out the worst in people? Probably a little bit of both. Fortunately, I met several teachers along the way who I loved and respected greatly. Mrs. Doughty, in the fourth grade, was one of them. She came to my rescue when she overheard my third grade teacher tell me she wanted to keep me back for a year because my reading ability was poor. After Mrs. Doughty got me to promise to work hard with her on my reading, my third grade teacher, who used to babysit my brothers and me, let me move forward to remain with my classmates.

I loved Mrs. Doughty for that and I rose to the top third of the class in reading the following year, mostly, just to earn her respect because I didn’t much like education. I loved learning but I didn’t like being told who to be, what to do, and when to do it. The message I got from Helen (Mrs. Doughty) was that she wanted me to learn how to read and write for my own sake, no one else’s. She treated everyone as though they possessed intrinsic value. She was one of the only people I knew who were capable of loving others unconditionally. Needless to say, she was my favorite teacher and I loved knowing and working with her.

Playing With Ideas and Not Just Letting Them Play With Us

Remember the telephone game in Elementary school? By the time a message is whispered from one end of the classroom to the other, the message that started is almost completely unrecognizable. It’s the same when it comes to how we each interpret the bible or any book for that matter. We all create our own unique version of it. This, despite the fact that we’re subjected to continuous pressure to interpret the bible in only one way and sometimes threatened if we try to see it in any other way. Here is an interesting example of what I mean. If we accept what I’m about to suggest, it would forever change the way we see ourselves, God, and the world.

Excerpts from the Vatican version of the Story of Creation in Genesis, the first book in the Old Testament:

Chapter 2: as the Story of Creation unfolds:

[2:9] Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
[2:15] The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
[2:16] And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;
[2:17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Chapter 3: after Eve is created out of one of Adam’s ribs:

[3:1] Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
[3:2] The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
[3:3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die. ‘”
[3:4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;
[3:5] for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Later, in chapter 3, we deal with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience:

[3:6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.
[3:7] Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
[3:8] They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
[3:9] But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
[3:10] He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
[3:11] He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
[3:12] The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”
[3:13] Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
[3:14] The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.
[3:15] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
[3:16] To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
[3:17] And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
[3:18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
[3:19] By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
[3:20] The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
[3:21] And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
[3:22] Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”–
[3:23] therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.
[3:24] He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

*****

Learning From It

Sample Excerpts from the Internet That Reinforce Mankind’s Belief in Evil

A belief in evil is just that. It’s a belief! According to http://www.christianbiblereference.org/story_AdamAndEve.htm, “God punished the serpent by cursing his kind. They would forever have to crawl on their bellies in the dust and be enemies of mankind. God punished Adam and Eve, and all their descendants, by making their lives hard. No longer could they live in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden. Men would have to struggle and sweat for their existence. Women would have to bear children in pain and be ruled over by their husbands. Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden forever.”

Here is what appears under “Lessons”, on this website:

“This is more than a story about the first man and woman; it is a story about all of us. Adam and Eve thought they would get pleasure and wisdom from eating the forbidden fruit, but they got neither (?). Their lives were ruined because of their sin. We may know right from wrong, but sometimes, like Adam and Eve, we give in to temptation and convince ourselves that doing wrong is actually a good thing. Also, like Adam and Eve, we often find that doing wrong gets us into trouble and other bad results.”

(I don’t know what you see when you read this material; what I see is encouragement for people to blindly accept authority without question: “Sit down, shut up and do as I tell you. I’m the boss and I know what’s best for you!” Why would one person want to encourage another to give up their power? Are we afraid of each other? Are we afraid of ourselves and our own power? There are important areas to explore here. Check out the link to My Recurring Superman Nightmare below. After many years of reliving it, I understood what it was trying to tell me. It was a revelation!)

*****

Exploring the Reality Behind Reality, What is God’s Intent versus Man’s?

The Christian Bible, the Quran of Islam, and the Torah of Judaism all contain the Old Testament, including the Story of Creation. The creation story is the same in all three religions with only  slight shifts in emphasis. If you’ve read the bible or any book, you know everyone comes away with their own unique interpretation of what they read and its meaning. We all perceive our own unique version of everything. No two experiences are exactly the same. Slight variations are always present. It’s like two snowflakes or people; no two people or things are exactly alike.

Now, imagine that you were directly involved in writing, editing and updating the biblical Story of Creation throughout the centuries and millennia. How close do you think the current version of this story is to the original version; remember the “telephone game” mentioned above?

  • How much divine inspiration do you think remains in religion today?
  • How much of it do you think is influenced by what you believe now?
  • How much of it do you think is influenced by the thoughts and opinions of close family members and friends?
  • How much of it do you think is influenced by current cultural beliefs and your institutional affiliations? In other words, how much are you concerned about the truth and how much are you concerned about your job, money, and the approval of others, especially those you work for? In other words, why did you choose to write it or agree to rewrite it in the first place, was it to bring light to the world or help control and exploit it?
  • What is “God” doing in this story and why is He doing it?
  • How much of what He says and does serves His interest and how much serves the interest of His creations? If you’ve been a parent, how much of what you said and did served your interest and how much served the interest of your family and others?
  • Can you and other authorities in business and government resist the temptation to insert your own personal beliefs and desires into literature that is so widely read and respected, especially if you think there is something for you to gain from it?

The intent of the Impulse to Be and Create is to make the invisible, visible, the unknown, known, to create order out of chaos and make sense out of nonsense.

To explore and understand the reality behind reality, whether we’re talking about life itself or this creation story alone, it is necessary to remain open and objective as we look at the world through, what we hope, is God’s eyes. It’s not about looking for guilt; it’s about looking for evidence and what it’s trying to tell us. It’s about seeking the greatest understanding to serve the highest good. So, put your detective hat on and let’s take another look at the evidence in the Story of Creation.

Reread [2:9] Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. [2:16] And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; [2:17] but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Here is where the church places its emphasis: God “commands” obedience and, as we see a little later, man disobeys. Therefore, it is concluded that Man is evil and can’t be trusted. What do you think? Are there other ways to look at God and Man’s behavior as represented by this text? Could this be a setup for something larger?

In Chapter 3, after Eve is created out of one of Adam’s ribs, we learn that: [3:1] Now the serpent was more crafty (could this be a reference to craftiness in God?) than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” [3:2] The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; [3:3] but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die. ‘” [3:4] But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; [3:5] for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

(Again, who’s the “crafty” one here? Is it the snake or God? Let’s read a little further on in Chapter 3) [3:6] So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. [3:7] Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

(Now, who comes along but God?) [3:8] They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. [3:9] But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” [3:10] He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” [3:11] He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Did God already suspect what Adam and Eve had done? Did he know that by telling them about the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which He planted in the “midst” (middle) of the garden, they would not be able to resist the temptation these two special trees presented? Otherwise, why would He plant “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,” unless he wanted them to disobey Him, to give him a good excuse to kick them out of Eden? Without challenge, how can we learn? Are we here just to Be or, are we here to live, love, learn and evolve, to become part of God?

After a little finger pointing (scapegoating) by Adam and Eve: [3:12] The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” [3:13] Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

(Next, God pricks their fear and lays on the guilt nice and thick. Why? Could it be He wanted to give them challenges large enough to help them evolve into gods in their own right) [3:14] The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. [3:15] I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” [3:16] To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” [3:17] And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; [3:18] thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. [3:19] By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Next, God prepares Adam and Eve for life outside the garden of Eden. What a nice guy! [3:21] And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. [3:22] Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”– [3:23] therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. [3:24] He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

What do you think? Is the God in this story an angry, vengeful one, as the church seems to believe (another setup to challenge us?), or is He a loving, understanding God? Did He love his children so much that he was willing to see them subjected to the kind of pain and suffering He went through to become a wise and responsible God? I don’t know about you but the kind of God I love is not an angry, vengeful one but a loving, understanding one. That is the kind of person I choose to be.

See My Recurring Superman Nightmare. It went on for decades, until I built up the courage to turn around and face my fear. When I knocked it of the building, I was able to fly once again.


Side story: One day, when I was three or four, my brother Dicky and I were walking home through the woods behind our house. Hearing strange metallic sounds behind us, followed by a loud thud as something heavy hit the ground, we turned and saw a full grown man dressed in a devil’s costume from the top of his head to his toes. He was staring at us from about a dozen feet away, holding a trident in his right hand and his tail in the other.

Looking for an answer to the creaking springs and the loud thud, we looked above his head and saw a narrow metal bed frame, tied between two trees for support. It was still swinging back and forth. What was he doing, lying in wait to scare little kids like Dicky and me?

Bending forward, he made a circle with his arms and made an awful sound as he flexed his muscles and prepared to chase us. Even though Dicky and I knew it was only a man dressed in a devil’s costume, we both yelled in fear, turned, and ran like hell towards home. As I ran, I wished I was big enough to turn around and kick this guy’s ass for scaring us so much and turning us into chickens. Years later, my oldest brother, Rudy, told me it was his seventeen-year-old friend from high school who loved scaring little kids for laughs.

Pete – https:/realtalkworld.com

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

What others will not or cannot do for us, we must do for ourselves.

Seek the greatest understanding and serve the highest good.

The secrets of the universe lie hidden in the shadows of our experience. Look for them!

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Affirm what you believe! You can always change your mind. 🙂

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