I was born and raised Roman Catholic. My family was a practicing Catholic family. We attended Sunday Mass each week (Mass was only on Sunday in those days) and we always attended Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. During my childhood, when possible, my parents sacrificed greatly to make sure we were educated in parochial schools. Our education was far superior to that available in public schools. I attended high school at Crespi Carmelite, which billed itself as a college preparatory high school. I have always appreciated the quality of the education I received, but there were a few teachers at that school that I feel left a lot to be desired, particularly in dealing with a boy such as myself who read a lot more than most people around. When I was 16, my parents split up. That event really shook me, causing me to question the Church, because, at the time, divorce was considered a mortal sin. Looking back, I realize that I went into a depression that lasted about 4 years. But at 16, I started asking questions about the Church. Particularly in religion class, my questions were unwelcome, often went unanswered and, at times, got me in trouble because I was viewed as just trying to cause trouble. It got so bad that during my senior year, the teacher, Father Albert (who was also the principal of the school and rector of the rectory) treated me with obvious disdain and refused to call on me when I raised my hand. As a result, I quit attending his class. After 2 weeks of that, he contacted my parents and I was told I had to attend class. At that point, if he would not call on me, I would just blurt out my questions, which caused him to send me to private religion lessons with Brother Eric, the vice-principal of discipline. To Brother Eric's credit, he recognized that I was not asking questions just to be disruptive. He saw that I had serious questions caused by my situation and the reading I had done. He would research my questions, but soon found himself out of his depth, so, on a weekly basis he started having the head of the Jesuit Order in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Monsignor... (I can't remember his name). The Jesuits are the theologians of the Catholic Church, so I felt then, and still feel, that I got as good an answer to my questions as Catholic theology had to give.
The questions I had then were numerous, and I only remember a few, but before I list them, a little about my approach. Since I was 16, I was at best an agnostic. I didn't then and don't now believe that atheism is a tenable position, since it requires a flat statement that God does not exist. While I strongly doubted the existence of God, I knew enough about logic that I knew proving God did not exist was probably impossible, but I felt motivated to try. My thinking was that God either existed or He did not. If He did not, and I could comfortably convince myself of that, I intended to cease the loneliness and suffering of this life by ending mine. But if He existed, I was fairly certain He would not approve of suicide, so I needed to be sure.
If God did exist, I was certain that He would want people to know about him, so I assumed that there was a religion that taught His truths. The questions I had were pretty much around what I felt those truths must include. It is important to remember that my questions arose from my background, and, after I determined that Catholic doctrines were incorrect, I had to adapt them to the theologies of the other churches I looked at. As far as Christian churches went, all seemed to believe in God as a continual creator, who created a human soul with each person. The major difference here was exactly when that creation occurred. For example, Catholic doctrine teaches that each soul is created at conception. One protestant pastor I talked to told me that the creation of the soul occurs at birth. Everyone else was somewhere in between. When I talked to teachers of other religions, most didn't even talk about souls, or felt that souls were reincarnated. Immediately, if a religion taught that there was no immortal soul, or it taught of reincarnation, I saw that as equivalent to there being no God at all. If there were no resurrection and final judgment, then, in the end, what we do in this life really doesn't matter at all, so any choice I made had no lasting consequence. For my purposes, that was the equivalence to no god at all. In determining this, I am not saying there is anything wrong with these religions or philosophies, I'm just saying that in the absence of lasting consequences of our actions, that religion or philosophy was useless to me for self improvement or for the long-term improvement of humanity in general. There are really long philosophical arguments around this, but that is not the point of this post.
So, for me, the following questions are what I asked about their beliefs, if any question could not be answered definitively, I crossed that religion off my list and moved on:
1) Is there a God?
2) Does God have requirements for individuals?
3) What about those who never heard of him?
4) What's my relationship with God?
5) What happens after the resurrection?
6) What about my current relationships?
8 years ago