I was taught as a child that the Roman Catholic Church was the one true apostolic religious faith in the world. Protestantism certainly wasn’t it, and I assume that the various Jesuit, Franciscan, and secular priests who asserted all this were just as unaccepting of other heresies like Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism, Shinto, Baha’i ... whatever.
You were lucky to be born Catholic, and God help you if you ever decided that Rome and its legions were anything other than representatives of The True Word of God.
That was good enough for me. My whole family was steeped in the traditions of Catholicism that had been brought across the great water by my great grandparents from Ireland. The Church provided the social glue to us that it had already provided to millions of other itinerant Irish in the United States. While the pub had been for those original immigrant men the place where business was done, the church had been the place where social contacts were established, children were made to be sociable and rules were handed down to them for proper behavior. My grandfathers and my father spent very little time in pubs (much less than I myself was to spend in such places), but the church colored and shaped my upbringing very significantly. I toed the line until I was seventeen years old.
But then a remarkable event took place in my life, something that basically shattered this faithful acceptance of platitude and dogma, which was that I enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley.
I went to the Newman Center frequently during my first year there, the place where young Catholic faithful prepared to be fed the defense of their beliefs by the resident priests. But I also saw that my scrubbed, clean-cut appearance, and that of my fellow Catholic freshmen, was not the only possibility in Berkeley. For one, there were all sorts of slovenly students walking around in beatnik black, with copies of books like The Communist Manifesto in their wrinkled coat pockets. Other books too, like Howl and Other Poems by Alan Ginsberg (which, as it happens, I had already read), Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs and, the most shocking of all, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. I surveyed the title of this book, which was at the time de rigueur reading for anyone with an anarchist or bohemian soul at the University of California, as it passed by, peeping at me from so many jacket pockets. No one in my teenage circles had ever read such a book, and once I did read it (in secret), I understood why.