I remember two times in my early youth that made me totally rethink everything at a very young age.
The first one was when I slowly realized that Christianity in Ireland was merely a veneer that the Irish Celts placed carefully draped over their pagan religion.
Roman Catholicism was the religion of pretty much everyone I knew growing up.
And I recall being slightly obsessed with religion as a kid. Not that I was spiritual, I was just kind of into things from the past in general.
And I started to notice A TON of similarities between Roman catholic celebrations and those of our pagan ancestors.
I remember once seeing an ancient celtic cross from the 8th century AD.
It had snakes creeping up around Jesus and hounds at the base of the cross. Clearly pagan influences.
This was four centuries AFTER St. Patrick was reputed to have converted the entire island to Christianity in 432 AD.
A likely story!
More likely it was a slow adoption over time.
Growing up in the west of Ireland, i saw remnants of paganism all over.
I remember once questioning the widespread practice of burning bonfires on the Summer solstice (!) and being told it was for “St. John’s Day”.
St. John’s day my ass!
And the omnipresent adoration of Jesus’ mother Mary, (not Jesus!), I found hilarious.
The Celtic earth goddess clearly was simply recast. The urge to worship a female form was handily replaced.
It was like the Roman catholic church was this somewhat flexible franchise operation you could tailor to your desires. No wonder it worked!
Yet when I would point this out to my parents and others I was met with odd looks and denials.
This puzzled me and made me kind of question everything I was told.
It was kind of obvious to me.
The second thing that made me question everything happened in 1981.
IRA prisoners went on hunger strike in Northern Ireland.
And these guys meant it.
They starved themselves to death to get recognition of political prisoner status.
And as they starved, Margaret Thatcher, the UK prime minister, let them die to prove how tough she was on terrorism.
And a deep and fundamental scar was scratched in the nation of Ireland.
And we all went a bit nuts.
The British embassy in Dublin was torn to pieces by hand in a riot.
What had been extreme suddenly became acceptable.
My mother put pictures of the dead hunger strikers under the big picture of Jesus in our kitchen.
The adults were losing it!
An entire nation was on the boil.
It was kind of exciting as an eleven year old kid.
I remember being actively encouraged to march in a protest march by all the adults who just months ago had been boringly moderate politically. And the march was about as highly charged politically as you can imagine. There was a very real and palpable threat of violence underneath it.
And it made me realize that civilization is just a veneer.
It was kind of disturbing to be honest.
But both these things made me realize how transient and superficial that thing we call civilization really is.