04/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Being Still in St. Patrick's Cathedral

As opposed to years ago, I am no longer religious nor would I define myself as spiritual, but I do sometimes find myself sitting in a pew at St. Patrick's Cathedral when I'm in Manhattan and have some time to kill between meetings. I suppose I could shop at the number of retailers nearby, but instead I am drawn to that impressive house of worship. The question is, why?

I was raised in a Catholic household, one that required me to go through the motions, but I never did believe in the Church's rituals or teachings. Maybe in part it was because my mom had been a Methodist before she married my father. Being madly in love with him, she agreed to become a Catholic at his insistence. But as the years passed, even though she still loved my father, she was less comfortable with the decision she'd made when it came to her faith. I am sure it was more difficult for her when her children began asking prickly questions about the religion, questions that didn't have a satisfactory answer; she wanted to honor her husband's faith, so she tried to offer explanations that would sit well with my father, but it was obvious her heart remained elsewhere.

Maybe that is why when I was at an impressionable age, I began to search for spiritual answers and ended up in a fundamental-believing, Bible preaching church, something contrary to my upbringing. I had the opportunity to participate in a religion my mom could not and she enjoyed it when I shared my experiences with her. My father, on the other hand, was very angry with my decision. Several years later, though, after years of serious Bible study behind me and witnessing a congregation that liked to hide behind a belief that was judgmental and arrogant, I broke free. Even though I was just as sincere leaving that church as I was when I joined it, Mom was disappointed with my choice, but it certainly wasn't one I took lightly. After all, all those years being immersed in the fundamental beliefs, I was threatened that if one stopped believing, one would go to hell. That's serious stuff. Anyone who saw the Jeanne Tripplehorn character in Big Love going through a meltdown when she was told that she would be cast into outer darkness because she was a polygamist got a view of how I felt for quite some time before I realized that I had been a part of something based in fear. Fortunately, the more I came to terms with the contradictions and hypocrisies, the less real hell became.

Yet, why does religion rely so desperately on the fear factor? Why does it have to use threats of eternal damnation instead of showing real joy? In all fairness, sometimes religion uses heaven as an inducer, but it's not nearly as dramatic as fire and brimstone. In other words, it's easier to keep a tight rein on people when using frightening tactics. I tried to sort it all out by writing Of Little Faith, a novel inspired by my spiritual journey. And now, years later, without fear of hell or a desire for heaven, I find it comforting to be in the grand cathedral where the whispers of prayers echo all around me. If my mom were still alive I'm sure she'd wonder why. It's not as though I light candles or even pray while those around me may be there to cry out to their god while others are tourists simply admiring the amazing handiwork. Me, I just dwell in the stillness and, occasionally, relive one particular scene from my novel that actually takes place in St. Patrick's, but it's a scene that was inspired by authentic reasoning. The thing is, it's nice to no longer chase after angels or run away from demons, but simply appreciate the journey.