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Dear Dr.

My name is Vikram from Malaysia. I'm a cradle Catholic and I'm 30 years old. When I was 26, I lost my virginity to my ex-girlfriend. I dishonored her by using her. She willingly conceded and we had regular physical intimate moments over the course of 2 years. When I left overseas for my further studies (for 1 year), we communicated via MSN Messenger and had online chat sex. But throughout the whole relationship, I felt it was sex-based. There was nothing that would indicate a future together. I felt really guilty. When I came back to Malaysia, I slept with her again and later broke up. It was painful.

I totally regret what I've done and gone for confessions after confessions but the pain is still there. The pain and shame has always haunted me. I decided to make amends my way by studying the Word of God and researching on the Marriage Covenant. But the memory never left me. I prayed for a wife to love me and give me the opportunity to love her in return. I've listened to a lot of talks on Christian Marriages, including Marriage Works in Christ (EWTN).

But no amount of research could cover that pain. I wish it never happened. I wish I could turn back time and undo it. Recently, God has, in His Mercy, given me a girlfriend. I cherish her a lot. I know my role in my life is to bring her and our family to Heaven. I learnt that from my Catechism of the Catholic Church sessions with Fr. John Corapi. It's really helped.

However, just last week, we came honest with each other. She confessed she had slept with her ex-boyfriend whom she was so in love and wanted to marry. They were very close and had discussed marriage. She gave herself to him. But something happened and they broke up. We spoke about it and we believe it was God's grace that they broke up. This happened to her 3 years ago. She has no sexual feelings for him nor does she think of him (accept when friends talk about him or updates her about him). I in return confessed my premarital sex sin, and I told her my whole story. Since it was the past, it was ok for her to accept it that I'm not a virgin.

I do not expect God to give me a virgin bride after what I've done. And I love her dearly, despite her past. And I know true love absorbs a spouses' shame. I'm open and committed to her. But what I'm struggling with is the guilt. Guilt of my own sins and of hers.

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I want to know how I can come to terms with our past mistakes and how can we live our lives together with this memory embedded in us. I'm scared one day, Satan will use this memories to attack us and destroy us a family.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is great. But it doesn't remove the fact we did it. It doesn't bring back our physical virginity nor does it erase that part of history. I believe God is teaching me something about His mercy and love. But I just can't understand it because of my immense guilt for what I've done and what she has done.

I now can't give the one precious gift to her and neither can she. I believe there is redemption in the Cross for we are one in Christ (Romans 8:1). But the memory stays. The fact we can't get back our physical virginity remains. I'm depressed because of this. And I can't get out of my mind the fact someone has 'defiled' my girlfriend, the vivid picture of them in the act. I blame myself totally for this for it is because of me, I did that too my ex-girlfriend I am being punished and made to suffer.

I don't know how to deal with this. Please help.

Regards, Vikram

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Hello, Vikram--

You have asked me to please help, and I will try. But be advised before you start reading that on this website I do not mince words or beat around the bush. When I am asked a direct question, I try to reply as honestly as possible. I do try to be gentle, but not if that gets in the way of a sincere and truthful answer. So before you continue, ask yourself if you really want the views of a person who is skeptical of the claims of religion—not just Catholicism, but any religion.

I assume that when you call yourself a "cradle Catholic," you mean that you were raised Catholic from birth. In other words, your parents believed in Catholicism, taught you to share their beliefs, and you ended up trusting that their faith in Catholic dogma was not just what those particular people—your parents--set store in, but that their beliefs were somehow true, factual, and beyond question. In other words, I assume that you believe that God (in the form of the father, the son, and the holy spirit) has given human beings rules to follow. I assume also that you are convinced that if you follow the rules properly you will spend an eternity in heaven with Jesus, but if you break the rules, you might end up damned in hell with Satan. I am not a Catholic, so I hope I have this correct.

Well, I wonder if ever in your life you have questioned all those ideas, beliefs for which there is no evidence whatsoever besides words in a book. I wonder if you ever have asked yourself why you should believe such things. If you say you believe them because you were "raised that way," I consider that to be a foolish remark. After all, if you were raised to believe, as many people are, that human beings of a race or nationality different from yours are somehow inferior, does that mean you should simply accept those ideas without question, live by them, teach them to your children, and look down upon anyone who is not the same color or nationality as you? In other words, Vikram, to accept ones childhood conditioning without ever questioning where it comes from or whether it is true or false is simply foolish. A fool believes what he or she is told without ever asking for evidence.

Now, judging from your letter, you may be starting to wonder at this point if I am actually Satan speaking to you in the guise of a psychologist, and, if you do think that, there is no way my words can help you. However, since you have chosen to write to me, I owe you an honest answer. Here it is:

I do not believe that having sex outside of marriage is "sinful" per se. It may be "sinful" if force or coercion is used to get it, or if one of the participants is too young or not mentally competent to choose it, but otherwise any sexual acts between consenting adults, married or not, of the same sex or of different sexes, is, in my view, perfectly OK. Please notice that by my definition certain sex within marriage may be "sinful." Suppose, for example, that a wife does not desire sex but her husband forces her to submit to it. That would be rape which I consider a "sin." By the way, I am putting the word "sin" in quotation marks, because when I say "sin" I probably do not mean the same thing that you mean when you use that word. I assume you mean that committing too many "sins," could result in loss of heaven. But since I believe in neither heaven or hell (except as mental/emotional states which we suffer or enjoy not in some future time, but in this very moment), for me, a "sin" is simply an ethically wrong act, not something which damns you forever to "loss of heaven."

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In my view, Vikram, your problem is not that you have "sinned," for I do not see that you have sinned (and, by the way, I hope you enjoyed that sex with your previous girlfriend, for you certainly have paid enough, and continue to pay, for it!). I do not consider that having sex with a consenting person is a sin, as I just told you. Your problem—and I think in your heart you really know this—is not "sin," but guilt. You feel guilty, as I see it, not because you have "sinned," but because you were taught from the cradle to feel guilty. Catholicism is a religion of guilt and shame, particularly sexual guilt and bodily shame. Masturbate, you are guilty. Have sex for any reason other than procreation, you are guilty. Use contraception, you are guilty. Even think about sex, you are guilty. To me those ideas, not the actions to which they refer, are "sinful." Those ideas are sinful! How sad to teach a child--too young to know any better--that simply to live a natural life like any other animal on this earth is "sinful." I consider such teaching to be a form of child abuse.

You were taught that God has rules and that you will be punished if you do not follow those rules. But how do you know that? If you say you know it because you were taught it, then how did the people who taught it to you come to know it? Don't you see, at some point some human being came up with these ideas and they have been passed down through the generations, causing guilt among all who accept them. I know, you believe that the ideas came from Jesus who taught them to his disciples, and that since Jesus is God, the ideas came from God. But how do you know that? Please ask yourself honestly, Vikram, you may believe it, but do you know it? How?

Now, your question to me was this: "I want to know how I can come to terms with our past mistakes and how can we live our lives together with this memory embedded in us. I'm scared one day Satan will use these memories to attack us and destroy us as a family."

Vikram, let's be honest. You could have chosen to put that question to a priest, but instead you have chosen to come to me with that question. Apparently the priests have not been able to help, so, on the theory of "any port in a storm," you turn to a skeptical psychologist instead. Notice please the meaning of this. You claim that your catechism sessions with Fr. John Corapi "really helped," but when guilt becomes overwhelming--when you are really frightened--you have been forced to admit that you can depend neither upon the sacraments of your religion, nor on the advice of Fr. Corapi for help, for those sacraments not only fail to relieve your guilt, even worse, they serve only to deepen it, and the catechism along with its mindless repetition is what instills guilt in the first place. The very idea that you have sinned, must confess your supposed "sin," and then must do penance simply authenticates the fantasy that you are somehow guilty for being a normal, sexual human being, and that you have been guilty--"original sin"--since the day you were born. You have tried the "fathers," and their techniques have failed, so now you turn for help to me, not just a non-Catholic, but a non-believer in any religion. Sorry, but I must point out that I, this person to whom you now appeal for help, am the same person whom you and your priests believe is damned to an eternity in hell for my "sins." How ironic; you must be really desperate.

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OK then, here is my advice:

Begin by calling into question everything you have been taught and now believe about God, Satan, and all the rest of that stuff. Just put it aside the way you remove your clothes and stand naked before taking a bath. Be naked
mentally—without the heavy clothing of Catholic dogma for a change. Open your mind, Vikram! Open your mind! Your mind has been closed for too long now, Vikram, and that is the source of your suffering, not anything you have done with your penis. Open Sesame. Once you have your mind open, try to read some points of view that are not those of Catholics, not those of religious believers, but of skeptics like myself. Expose yourself to the points of view of people who resist believing ideas just because some authority (like a parent or a priest) demands believing them, or just because large numbers of people believe them, or just because the ideas are somehow "comforting" (there is no death; we live forever in heaven), or because the ideas come from a so-called "sacred book." Read these new ideas with an open mind, not a mind guarded and defended against them as if they were the words of Satan designed to tempt you from your faith, but a mind open to the possibility that some new ideas might help you to resolve your guilt more effectively than your faith and its sacrament of confession seems to have done.

Question your faith. Ask yourself why you believe such stuff although there is absolutely no evidence for it besides some words in a book which, through circular logic, claims to be the word of God. (When I say "circular logic," I mean that since the book, according to itself, was written by God, it cannot be doubted. Now, since the book, which cannot be doubted, says that God wrote it, God must have written it. This kind of argument, I think you will see--I hope you can see--is ridiculous on the face of it. With sincere questioning, perhaps you can come to understand that your "faith" is not a fact, but simply a set of opinions—and not even your opinions, but ones which came to you through conditioning and repetition applied to your infant mind when you were too young to question anything—brainwashing, in other words. If you can get that far, perhaps you will be able to get beyond your guilty point of view and gain enough compassion for all of us human beings to be able to forgive yourself for being human (sex included).

Be well.

p.s. Vikram, if you would like to try to understand more about your beliefs, where they come from, and why they do not deserve unquestioned acceptance, here is some recommended reading:

1. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

2. God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

3. Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

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