Why So Hostile Towards Religion?

March 20, 2011 5 comments

I’ve been asked why I’m so vocal in my disdain for religion, why I don’t just ignore it and let people believe what they want to believe, and why I’m so hostile towards something that doesn’t affect me at all. Here I’ll try to answer those questions.

I used to believe that your (non-)religious choice was your own business, and that I had no right to judge or tell you what you should or shouldn’t believe. In fact, I was almost anti-militant, in that I so hated the constant in-your-face attitude of Christians that I vowed never to be like that, to push my beliefs in peoples’ faces. It just seemed like a shitty way to get your point across, and just really annoyed the piss out of me.

After a while, my view extended beyond my personal bubble. Instead of just questioning the value of religion in my own life, I began questioning its value on a much larger scale. Rather, I wasn’t just asking “how does religion affect me?”, but instead asked “how does religion affect others, and how in turn do they affect me?” So yeah, it’s still a selfish question. Shut up.

It was in stepping back and looking at the world and the roles different religions have in that world that I began to see that this wasn’t just a personal issue. Being a non-believer wasn’t enough. I had to start educating myself. I had to speak up when I took issue with a religious issue. I had to stop believing (ha!) that religion was taboo, and that a person’s beliefs warrant respect and are not to be questioned or ridiculed. Because let me tell you, religion affects all of us. Not just the fanatics, or the fundies, or the moderates – it affects everyone. And if you don’t believe that, it might be time to open your eyes and look at the world we’re living in.

And so, the reasons why I refuse to stay quiet are as follows:

1. Like it or not, religious people run our world.

I think most of us can agree that in the United States today, a man or woman who declares themselves an atheist would not be elected into the office of the President. In contrast, we regularly elect into public office people who believe that the universe came into being 6,000 years ago, that Noah fit pairs of every form of life onto his ark, and that a rapture will occur in their own lifetimes. In this way, religion affects me, personally in very real and profound ways. People that believe that some obscure passages in the Bible – through questionable and dubious translation and interpretation – dictates that homosexuality is a sin, are passing laws that infringe on the basic human rights of these individuals and continues to promote homophobia. The same people sit in courtrooms passing judgement not only based on the word of law, but on the word of an antiquated belief system that has no place in our modern society. These people make decisions every day that affect my life and the lives of the people I love. Wouldn’t you speak up if you felt the stakes were that high?

2. You believing in something doesn’t mean I have to respect it.

The old taboo that religion is something you don’t talk about is bullshit. If you’re going to make unfounded claims and then tell me that your beliefs should dictate how I live my life, you had better be prepared to be called out on it. I can respect and love you, but I don’t have to respect what you believe just because it falls under the umbrella of “faith”. It isn’t my intent to offend, but I know full well that offense will be taken, and I’m sorry for that. I don’t however make any apologies for how I feel or how I express myself.

3. Religion stifles scientific progress and free thinking.

By its very nature, religion is opposed to the advancement and evolution of man as a species. Christianity insists that god created man in his image, that the world was created in 6 days, and that a small cluster of cells present after conception is human and contains an eternal soul. These statements cannot be reconciled with the scientific evidence that is readily available, almost to the point of common knowledge, yet it insists upon making these unproven claims. Further, the very notion of “faith” implies that important questions don’t need to be asked, and that we know all there is to know about the world and our own existence.

Recent efforts to back-peddle into some kind of notion that science and the bible are compatible are only a result of the church’s recognition that they can’t continue teaching these absurdities without some type of science attached to them, so you hear terms like “intelligent designer” being bandied about like they mean anything at all. Many of today’s well-known scientific principles exist today despite religion’s tampering and attempts at silencing them. Science presents us with a world explained through tested and proven theories backed by evidence; religion presents one governed by untestable and unprovable claims, superstition, fear and guilt.

4. Religion denies rational discourse with the “faith” argument.

How many times have I heard a person of faith utter the words “nothing you say will change my mind about my belief in god”. This is a part of what makes religion dangerous. The idea that no matter what anyone says, you are right. I can’t have a rational debate with any of my Christian friends because it will always end with me being told that “you just don’t have faith”. That’s the trump card used to basically end the conversation. After that point there isn’t any point on continuing. And it often (but not always) comes about because the person I’m talking with has run out of rational or logical responses to my questions.

5. Children are indoctrinated without permission or being taught other options.

The idea of being baptized into a religion without a choice, being born into it without a means to decide if it represents the world view you want to embrace just bothers me. This is a delicate point, one I debated even including here, but I felt it warranted being said. I’m hesitant because I can’t say that I’ve fully explored the idea of forcing faith onto children when we already do the same with morality, social norms, etc. I don’t think there is harm in raising a child with the morals and ethics that are common across many religions, I just don’t believe they should be told the reason to do so comes down from a higher power. A big brother in the sky is not required for us to be good, and I believe we do our kids a disservice by telling them that goodness can’t come from within. Again, my opinion here tends to shift, so consider it a “soft” bullet point.

6. People die every day because of religion – in more ways than we realize.

People who may otherwise peacefully co-exist are brutally killing each other over what they believe. More frightening are those that kill because they believe it is the mandate of their faith to do so, that their god commands it. This is the world we live in today. When we talk about faith we don’t think about how it can give cause and excuse to the most vile kinds of violence; there is no better motive for committing atrocities than the belief that you’re called to commit them by a higher power.

The fun doesn’t end there. The church itself is responsible for thousands of africans who die every day from AIDS, because it teaches them that putting a piece of rubber on your dick is immoral and will lead you to hell. Instead of saving lives and providing these people with a means to do so, they instead impose this idiotic belief onto people who don’t know any better, and as a result they die every day. Resistance to stem-cell research is also costing lives that are more difficult to quantify but are no less real.

7. Hiding pedophiles and allowing them to continue to work around children is despicable.

I don’t need to go into the whole scandal here, but I can’t deny that this pisses me off in a huge way, as I’m sure it does most people. How does a Christian come to terms with the fact that the same people who dictate how they should live their lives are the same ones covering up and protecting these boy-touching fucks? I mean, if they don’t have these poor victim’s best interest at heart (and don’t even try to tell me with a straight face that they do), what makes you think they give a shit about you?

8. I was raised Catholic. There, I said it.

For full disclosure, part of the reason I’m so vocal is that it annoys me to no end that I ever wasted a single second considering the fairy tales I was told as a kid, or that I ever worried that if I didn’t abide by some random church directive that I would burn in hell. The range of emotion here goes from embarrassment to shame to anger, and I can’t help but be put off by the thought of all the mental and emotional energy I spent digging myself out of that hole.

I’m not saying that any of the above are fact or truth, or that my opinions on any of them will not change over time; I’m only listing the reasons that motivate me to be more active than reactive when it comes to my own atheism. I’m happy to argue any of my points in the comments below, or through private communication. I’m always open to learning, and I will not shy away from being proven wrong.

I remember how I gained hope and strength in the writings of others who had similarly questioned their faith, and the feeling that I wasn’t alone gave me the will to finally shed the last of my silly beliefs. My hope here is that someone, somewhere gets even a small sense of hope from reading this and takes another step towards rational thought and freedom from being governed by the make-believe.

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Categories: Atheism, Religion

My Journey to Atheism

March 6, 2011 4 comments

I’m often asked how I came to be in the position I’m in now, that of an atheist. Most often it’s a question posed with a tinge of pity or sympathy, as though it is an inquiry about how my mother died, or why I think we just lost the big game. On the contrary, I cannot express just how much better my life is now that I’ve stopped believing in fairy tales. Sadly my “journey” isn’t an action-packed saga, packed with moments of clarity or grand revelation; rather, it’s a slow, unintentional progression from the formidable years of a young boy who was indoctrinated into Christianity through fear, guilt and false promises, to the man typing this blog post free of the need for eternal life, “salvation” or daddy’s approval.

To be honest, it’s really just a happy accident, a process as subject to chance and luck as rolling a dice. A better analogy is that I had the good fortune of sneezing out a giant loogie that had been lodged in my nose for most of my life; I didn’t even know it was there, nor that it was the cause of discomfort, but once it was gone – oh boy! – life was good after that.

Jesus Christ, that was a big one.

I was raised Catholic; that is, I was sent to Catholic school from 3rd grade all the way through high school. (My mother claimed she was Protestant, though I can’t recall ever seeing her pray, read a bible or any of that.) I suspect that she just sent me to Catholic school because it was nearby and we didn’t have a car, and because she equated a religious school with safety and love. I suppose this is the part where most people begin to recount incidents of religious extremism, or nuns beating youngsters with rulers, or of boys being molested by a priest. None of that ever happened. It was a pretty normal school, one I imagine wasn’t very different from the average public school (save for the abundance of crucifixes in classrooms and hallways).

I grew up believing in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, simply because that was the only option presented to me. I knew there were other religions, but if you tell someone that their god is the right god and the only god enough times, they’ll believe it. And so I did. Outside of being required to attend mass with the whole school once a month (and hitting up Christmas mass every few years) I never attended a mass by choice. I guess you could say I was a moderate, in that I believed in God but didn’t do much about it.

Years passed, and I continued believing and not doing anything about it. Ironically the real change in me began when I attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, a Catholic institution (read the bit on their front page about “integrating faith and reason in the pursuit of truth and right living” for a good chuckle), which I attended because I didn’t have to pay tuition. I learned a lot about doctrines, dogma, and about what the bible teaches us. The more I learned, the more I questioned. Can this really be the truth? Can this angry, cruel, jealous god really be the creator and orchestrator of the universe? I would have friendly debates with my buddies (always under the guise of playing “devil’s advocate” for fear of being ostracized) about contradictions of the bible, about the gaps between events and their eventually being written on paper, about the incredible logical leaps and flips necessary to believe in a god who so poorly conveys his messages – and they would all come down to the same thing:

Faith. They had it, I didn’t.

Nope, not feelin' it.

At the time, that didn’t really bother me. It seemed like a temporary condition, like “I don’t have faith right now, but I’ll come around eventually”. But I never did come around. Thank goodness. Because the kind of faith I didn’t have was blind faith. The kind that even reason and logic cannot break. The kind that makes people believe the most ridiculous claims without a shred of evidence, when all signs point to another truth. It became clear to me no amount of fooling myself would make me a believer.

So, I finally took the leap of admitting to myself that there was no god, no son of god, no heaven or hell, none of that bullshit. It was so liberating! But it was also a little scary. Suddenly, I felt alone. All those years of feeling like a god was watching over me, that Jesus was by my side through the good and the bad – all gone. I think that’s the most underplayed element of this kind of conversion, the thing you don’t read about very often, but it’s the one that is most vivid in my memories. That feeling of being honest with myself that once I die, that’s the end for me. It felt good to be free of the mental shackles, but it wasn’t very comforting.

Over time of course I realized that this made me more appreciative of the time I have on this planet, the time I have with my friends and family, and I was oddly infused with hope. A hope that if I can make the leap towards reason and a more humanistic view of life, others can too.

They do. And I am not alone.

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