I’m not exactly sure at what age that the very concept of a God started making no sense to me, but it was probably around the first grade, possibly earlier. The explanations of the Holy Trinity, the omnipresence of God and how he can see everything and knows everything, even before it happens, was a hard sell even for a 5-6 yr old. Whenever I would ask questions, to try and wrap my head around the idea, I’d get the standard answers (that made no sense) and if I probed with more questions, it was always something like “It’s one of the mysteries of our faith” or “We are not supposed to be able to understand it all, because it is much greater than ourselves” or similar vague answers that first told me that it is truly a faith, and that you just have to trust that these things are real. Throughout the following formative years and beyond, I called myself a believer out of respect for my parents and what I was taught. Somehow, I know that if I expressed the doubt I had, it would possibly be punishable, but more than likely, it would have hurt my parents. All the while, my doubt was growing into disbelief. My respect for my parents kept me proudly calling myself a Catholic. I would go to church when they wanted and would go through the motions of praying out loud, but I was only going through the motions, just as I had at the age of 3, when I had no concept of anything, really.
Once I reached my teen years and early adulthood, the regimen of going to church every Sunday had slacked off a bit, so the pressure of my parents’ belief had also slacked off, in my mind. It was still at the point of being gigantic doubt, as opposed to outright disbelief. My son was born and, since both sides of his family were both Catholic, the upbringing was a logical progression. He was to be raised Catholic. I was already beginning to say the words in my head that this is all a sham, but would never say it out loud, or let on to anyone. My respect for my parents would never allow for me to say anything to anyone, lest it get back to them. I was ashamed to even think it, truthfully.
I began telling people, when the subject of religion ever came up, that “I don’t discuss religion, because it’s too easy to offend people”. While that was and is true, no matter what their belief was, it let me off the hook.
At this point in my life, not only am I not ashamed to say that I am an atheist, but I am proud of it. That doesn’t mean that my mother knows yet or that I try to preach it to my son, but my son now knows. He told me a few weeks ago that he thought the whole thing was a fake. I told him that “it just so happens I agree with you”. I pretty much left it at that.
MY CURRENT UNASHAMED VIEWS
I am absolutely amazed that, in the year 2008, there is still a vast majority of human beings who still believe in some sort of supreme being that rules over us, knows our thoughts, and promises us an after life full of riches and happiness. WOW! I attribute this to weakness, both mental and emotional.
The mental weakness - I believe this stems from the same experiences I had growing up. It’s what they were taught, it’s what they’ve always heard, and they just accept it as truth. After all, there are almost 5 billion people on this planet who believe some variation of the same concept of God/Allah. There must be something to it, they assure themselves. “Then what happens to you when you die?” and “Where does your spirit go?”, I often hear. They can’t imagine an alternative thought process. It’s so deeply ingrained into their psyche that the very idea of their just plain dying, and nothing else, is inconceivable. The answer of “I/we don’t know and may never know” to many of life’s universal questions is just plain unacceptable to most of them, so a supernatural, omnipotent, mysterious creator fills in all of the blanks, and makes a neat and tidy package for their brains to accept. Now the world makes sense to them.
The emotional weakness – This is more complicated and speaks to an inherent characteristic of mankind as a whole, generally speaking. Because we are the intelligent creature on Earth, our minds tell us that there must be something more out there. “This can’t be it!” they think. It’s just too depressing for most to believe that all that they have done, do now, and strive to do, is all for nothing, and that when it’s over, it’s over. It’s far more comforting to believe that there is a reward waiting for them on ‘the other side’, and that their spirit lives on, watching over their survivors. It gives them hope that, no matter how bad things get here on Earth, eternal life in heaven awaits them and their loved ones.
Just like some children, it is also essential for believers to have an imaginary friend, who watches over them, gives them strength, and protects them. They can also “speak” to him telepathically, they believe, and he listens to them and guides them in the right direction.
This supreme being/imaginary friend also serves as a moral compass. Especially for those who can’t decide right from wrong on their own, they can use from the teachings of this god to decide for them. It also serves as a deterrent when the urge strikes to do the “wrong” thing. Almost all of them tailor and rationalize their moral code to fit their own set of the indiscretions and tastes (i.e. money grubbing, sexual “misconduct”, mass murder, basically all 7 of the deadly sins). In other words, just about all of them are posers, so to speak. Their hypocrisy is seen on a global scale, on a nightly basis. It is also seen in everyday life, on a minute-to-minute and day-to-day basis, with your friends, co-workers and neighbors, who claim to be Christians or whatever. The claim “I’m not perfect” is the perfect “out”. It excuses them, (in their minds) to carry out whatever indiscretion, sin, or crime against their god, humanity, or their fellow man, that they wish, without fear of retribution, because they are not expected to be perfect, they think. It also keeps them from having to strive for perfection, because they will ‘never reach it’, they tell themselves.
All the while, they will tell me, an atheist, how awful it is that I deny God. They also, almost invariably, tell me how sad it is, and how they “feel for me”. How insulting is that?! Every time I hear them spew out this pathetically and intellectually bankrupt idea of a god, my IQ drops a point or two. I suppose they figure that, once they get it down enough, they’ll be able to sell me on anything (God, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc). If I ever get to the point where I actually consider the possibility of this garbage, please put two bullets in my head, because I will obviously have lost my power of reasoning.
I live a cleaner and more moral life than most of them could even visualize themselves leading. I do it from a strong sense of right and wrong that I draw from my innate basic human decency. I don’t need a book or a clergyman to tell me these things, and I don’t need the thought of some omnipresent being to keep me in check. I, too, am not perfect, but my striving to be a good man is more diligent and honest than just about every believer of any religion that I know. I don’t make excuses and I don’t try to rationalize my crappy behavior with “God will forgive me”. I let my conscience guide me and always try to imagine what impact any or all of my deeds has on my fellow man/woman. I put myself “in their shoes”.
If we all did that alone, we would eliminate most of the need for this laughable notion of a God, Allah, Buddha, or whatever new ones are out there. Inner peace comes from within ourselves and has nothing whatsoever to do with these imaginary security blankets that mankind can’t seem to help keep coming up with. It’s mind-numbing. When will the human race intellectually evolve out of this pathetic need?
I relate a lot to your story, David, though I believe I was somewhat older than you when I finally decided to stop pretending religion made sense and just accept that Atheism makes more sense of the World than anything else.
I suspect it will take a long time to get to the place where there is no longer a contingent which needs to believe in imaginary creatures to survive day-to-day life. I also think that there are many who need the fear of burning alive or the promise of streets of gold in order to do good, and perhaps that motivation is the lesser of two evils. After all, if the notion of god is eliminated, what will U.S. politicians use to manipulate/motivate their voters?
After all, if the notion of god is eliminated, what will U.S. politicians use to manipulate/motivate their voters?
Wisdom that stands the test of time.
"The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the wise as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful." - Edward Gibbon, 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', 1776
Thanks, Mayank. I feel your "get the fuck out of here" pain, whenever I'm dragged to church for weddings, funerals, etc. My mother, suspecting my non-belief, once told me "I don't want to hear any of you guys (my brothers & me) to ever tell me you don't believe in God". Well, she's 80 yrs old and, unless she forces me into it, she won't hear it. The subject is left alone.
I can't say I've noticed "God will take care of...." as an excuse for sloth, but I do see that attitude used as an excuse for passivity. Whenever I hear someone say "I prayed about it", with regard to decision-making, I always laugh to myself and think "WTH does THAT mean?!"