Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why I Turned Away from Christianity - Introduction

It seems obligatory for every atheist blogger, at least everyone who was formerly religious, to do a post explaining why they came to reject religion and become an atheist. So it is only fitting that I describe my journey from belief to disbelief in a series of posts to come hopefully over the course of the next week or so. Fellow atheists who read these posts may recognize milestones or points of commonality in their own path to deconversion, while theists might at least gain some understanding as to why someone would turn away from believing in something that they believe is so vitally important and necessary.

Before I can discuss why I became an atheist, I must first start off with what I was before that. I was baptized and raised as a Catholic, which was the religion of my father. Like all good Irish Catholics, he dutifully attended mass every Sunday and he made me and my two brothers do the same. My dad would drop my brothers and I off at the church for the late morning mass at Holy Family Church, as he always went to one of the earlier services, and my brothers would hang out in the back of the church and not participate in the mass. Sometimes, they would even duck out of church for awhile to smoke cigarettes and maybe even make a run to the nearby 7-11 and come back before dad came by to pick us up.

In addition to mass every Sunday, I also had to attend catechism classes on Saturday mornings. I did not mind that as much as mass, as I got to be in a classroom with other kids my age and more often than not, the cathechism teachers were not all that serious. Like every child in a Catholic family, my life in the church was marked by events like first Holy Communion and Confirmation. But for my elementary school and most of my junior high school years, my religion was more of an obligation than an actual part of my daily life. And while my dad went to mass every Sunday, I don't recall him ever reading the Bible in his free time. Looking back, I get the sense that he went to church because it was drilled into him from childhood that it was just the way things were supposed to be. My mom, on the other hand, was not a Catholic or particularly religious, though I do recall she had some kind of born again phase when I was about five. I don't remember what kind of church it was, but I remember being there when she had one of those baptisms where you get completely dunked in a tank of water.

It was in the middle of 9th grade when I actually began to incorporate my religion into my life and try to model my life as a Christian. I was attending a mass around New Years Day of 1984, and the priest was talking about using the New Year to rededicating ourselves to our faith. I don't remember his exact words, but that was the gist of it, and I remember being moved by what he said. I resolved that I would dedicate myself to my faith. I still went to church every Sunday, just like I always had before, but from then on I went because I actually wanted to go. My dad didn't even have to drive me there anymore. Oftentimes I would walk or ride my bike there. I challenged myself to read the Bible in its entirety for the first time, and proceeded to do so. I ended up reading the Bible from start to finish three times in a row. I'm embarrassed to say that I even went so far as to take my Bible to bed with me at night, as if having it close to me would cloak me in divine benevolence while I slept. I was outspoken about my faith to my friends at the time, and much to their annoyance, when we played Risk, I would even refer to my army as God's army.

While the intensity of my faith nowhere reached the level of born again evangelicals, for a suburban teenager, I took my religion pretty seriously. And my faith remained rock solid throughout the remainder of my years in public school (so much for public schools promoting "godlessness" in children!). As far as I knew at the time, I took it for granted that I would believe in the Bible and be a Catholic for the rest of my life. But as the summer of 1987 drew to a close and my first year of college was about to start, little did I expect that what I believed to be a faith as solid as granite would soon begin to erode and crumble.

8 comments:

Sirkowski said...

army of god... lol

Stardust said...

I did not mind that as much as mass, as I got to be in a classroom with other kids my age and more often than not, the cathechism teachers were not all that serious.

tommy - I don't know about Catholic catechism or Sunday school, but in the Lutheran, Baptist and Presbyterian churches (and I know for certain most Protestant denominations) use only volunteers to teach these things. Anyone can teach these classes with ZERO training...just a love for jeebus was needed. No background checks, no qualifying tests, just come on in and teach the kids whatever interpretations they chose. One teacher's version of a bible story would often be a bit different from another teacher's the next year...sometimes it was radically different. Then some didn't seem to know anything at all and would just have us draw stuff or do crafts. A teacher of any other subject must be certified and have a background check. But in churches, any yo-ho can come in and teach/brainwash.

I remember going to confirmation classes in 8th grade. I had to get up early on Saturday mornings for those (Catholic kids got to leave school on Wednesdays for that). That class was taught by the minister of the church. He was more serious and there were tests which we hated. It was like an extra day of school. But when confirmation time came, and I had on my white robe and walked into the church with bells ringing and took vows to follow god and Jeebus, I felt so holy, I really believed I felt the presence of god. I took my first communion. I was 13-years-old. I stayed pretty faithful till I was approaching my 30s, and I began allowing myself to question things. Then when I went back to college in my early 30s and studied astronomy, and biology, anthropology, mythology, and all those other subjects, my faith did as you said...it crumbled and it was liberating to free myself of all the religious superstition.

Sable Chicken said...

" I don't know about Catholic catechism or Sunday school, but in the Lutheran, Baptist and Presbyterian churches (and I know for certain most Protestant denominations) use only volunteers to teach these things. Anyone can teach these classes with ZERO training...just a love for jeebus was needed. No background checks, no qualifying tests, just come on in and teach the kids whatever interpretations they chose. One teacher's version of a bible story would often be a bit different from another teacher's the next year...sometimes it was radically different. Then some didn't seem to know anything at all and would just have us draw stuff or do crafts. A teacher of any other subject must be certified and have a background check. But in churches, any yo-ho can come in and teach/brainwash."

I totally agree with Stardust that the Sunday school teaching of kids is a bit sketchy. I personally remember just wanting to believe in Jesus dispite the stories of killing little lambs. I wanted to ask questions then...but I didn't know what to ask that would not make me sound like I didn't believe. Most of the time I found the Bible stories to be fragmented and confusing. It was like a daycare for an hour with a little story and than glueing cotten balls down to a cut out paper sheep. Even if I would have been able to read the Bible, at 9 years old there would not have been a way for me to understand it.

I started to bring my daughter to Sunday school when she was 8 years old. And I decided that I would go with her. At first the teacher (who is just a volunteer) tried to get me into the adult Bible study instead and leave her, but I would not go. I wanted to be there, to answer my daughter's questions even if she could not formulate them herself. If I didn't think the teacher was teaching something biblical I spoke up. If I thought the teacher was leaving out an important point of a story, I spoke up. And something really good happened. So much more was gained from this because I didn't want to just drop off my daughter for someone else to take the responsibility that I needed to take with my own kid. And it didn't take long before the teacher was thanking me for being there. It is truely a huge responsibility that also think is taken to lightly.

Stardust said...

Sable...there is a megachurch here that offers hot dogs and candy to kids if they get on the buses and go and spend the day and parents send them...some travel 50 miles each way! These parents obviously just want to get rid of their kids all day on Sundays.

Even though we were xians when our kids were growing up we taught them to never be afraid to question adults if something didn't sound quite right. I posted this at GifS...it really happened (along with other things in our kids lives...but too many to write here in a comment section.)

When our oldest son was around 8-years-old, and his Sunday school teacher told the bizarre Jonah and the whale story, he asked her “what about the digestive process?” She thought that was so funny because he actually started explaining to the class about the entire digestive process starting when food goes into a mouth and the saliva starts the breakdown process, then onto stomach acids, then onto intestinal process and excreting of waste. etc. He basically told them that Jonah would have been turned into fecal matter in about 6 hours on average.

Sable Chicken said...

Stardust...I'm glad that I don't live anywhere near a megachurch. But I use to have nightmares when I was a kid about that Jim Jones, cool-aid guy. 25 years later, I move to a little town, over 3000 miles away from where I grew up. Without knowing it, it just happened to be the place Jim Jones got started. Creepy.

The bizarre Jonah and the whale story, what do you tell an 8 year old about that....that's a good question.

I would say, that's just another example of the way God works, the Rube Goldberg Way of getting his people to preach the word of God to people that you think will not listen. That is why I do what I do.

Stardust said...

I would say, that's just another example of the way God works,

and I would say it is just another tale of that is part of an ancient mythology that humans invented.

Stardust said...

just another example of the way God works, the Rube Goldberg Way of getting his people to preach the word of God to people that you think will not listen.

sable - Don't you find it at all strange that this god needs humans to do everything for him? Don't you find it the least bit absurd that an all powerful god makes imperfect tiny humans to be his little friends when he could make big and powerful ones like himself. This supposedly all-powerful god can create things on a whim and in any way he chooses, yet he creates a man and a woman as his little puppets and gives them sex organs in order to go through nine-month ordeal in order to reproduce other humans when he can do it himself with dirt and breath of his nostrils.

It also seems this god cannot communicate without humans. He needs humans, faulty, sinful and unreliable as they are, to do his all-important work of spreading a message of life and death urgency. Instead of coming down from wherever and giving his all important message directly, he relies on flawed humans who can't be trusted to stay away from a stinking fruit tree. He wants them to spread a life or death message but doesn't even give them a clear cut and dried interpretation to work with. These messengers can't even agree amongst themselves what is the "true" interpretation of this message.

Humans have to find cures for disease, clean up after natural disasters, help the needy and downtrodden, hunt down and lock up killers and those who commit crimes, take care of orphans, help sick animals and a sick environment. Then they have to figure out things for themselves via science and research because this god hates knowledge and will not share information with his little pets.

This god does absolutely nothing ...humans are the ones who are here doing everything...can't you see that sable? There is no magical beings. Your god is a silent god. Gods do not exist.

Theerasak Photha said...

well said