Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Why I'm an Atheist: Part 2

Post #1 is here.

OK, so I'm an atheist, and now you know how I came to that path. Simply stated, I'm the son of an insurance salesman who was also a gunner's mate--guns on a destroyer in WWII. The guy knew people, and had a fine detector for BS. I like to think it rubbed off on me.

But anyway, back to where I left off: "Why do you hate the Catholic Church so much? " To which I reply, "Don't take it personally...I think all religions are full of it." But in fairness, my other posts on the subject have been awfully bitter, so I feel I owe a bit of an explanation of my feelings toward Mater Roma.

It's complicated, but here goes. Yes, I was born and raised into a Catholic household. My mother was born, bred, and raised Catholic to the point where she's a true believer. She wouldn't be able to see any other point of view if she wanted to. Doesn't make her good, bad, or indifferent, that's just how she is.

My father was different. He was born and raised Lutheran, and converted to Catholicism upon marrying my mother. I've known a lot of converts of all denominations who embrace the movement with both arms, and then there are those who are "in the picture," but not necessarily the true believer. I'm not really sure which type my father was; he died when I was 15, well before I came to understand my beliefs better. But I know this: he was clearly the more open-minded of my parents, and I looked up to him for that reason (and again, I'm not trying to disparage my mother in any way; she's a fine woman. But we all have one parent with whom we have a closer relationship).

Part of the reason I rejected Catholicism is practical: it's staggeringly boring, period, full-stop. I can't tell you how nauseatingly intolerable it became for me reciting the rosary. What was worse, my mom used to like to do it in the car driving up to see her mother and sister in Marshalltown. With me at the wheel. And I have a tendency to fall asleep while driving; great combination.

And I'm convinced that the droning nature of Catholic ritual is deliberate: it goes back to simple conditioning: the more an organism is subjected to a stimulus, the more accustomed it becomes to that stimulus. Furthermore, humans are creatures of habit and community. They take comfort in routine and like-minded individuals (more on that later).

But there are those of us whose minds cannot be stilled. I'm one of them. One of the reasons I love bicycling so much is that it's a captive environment in which my mind is so benumbed it is forced to flee to more creative endeavors. And when this type of person is confronted with the seemingly illogical, eventually you start to chip away at the face value of what you're being taught. I would go over pieces of doctrine in my mind and think, "What does that really mean?" Then it progressed to "That doesn't make any sense" to "That's illogical" and finally to "You've gotta be kidding: you expect me to believe that?"

Of course, it didn't help that my brother, Greg, died when I was very young, the summer before my 6th birthday. Seeing my entire family grieving (of which I did more than my fair share, trust me) planted the seed of confusion and dissent in my brain, to flower years later. To wit: If Greg's spirit was supposed to live on after he died, and if he was supposed to have been taken to Heaven to begin an eternity of bliss, why was everyone so heartbroken?

Of course, as one of my still-church-going family members said, the promise of eternal life doesn't automatically override the sorrow of losing someone near and dear. True. But my point is this: that was the first time I became aware that unquestioning belief was not always possible.

Of course, this is all seen through the lens of the past, with my current critical thinking system. At the time, I internalized the grief. I'd been taught that God is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-everthing. If I was suffering, it was for a specific purpose. And maybe, just maybe, Greg's death had something to do with me.

Preposterous. Absolutely. But how else is a 5-year-old supposed to think?

It didn't get any easier. Like I said, my father died when I was 15, right smack in the middle of adolescence. I needed him, and suddenly, he wasn't there. Why? What had I done that was so awful that my father was taken away when I needed him so badly?

By this point, I couldn't so much as hear the opening strains of certain hymns in church without my throat closing up. "Let there be Peace on Earth," "The Prayer of St. Francis," and others make me cringe to this day. I'd heard them too much after Greg died, and the bad association has never left me. I not only couldn't find comfort in ritual, it had been turned on its ear and become a source of agony. Classical conditioning. Pavlov's dogs started drooling at the sound of the bell. I start tearing up at the sound of hymns.

By the time my brother, Tim, died when I was 24, I'd had enough. I realized (several years before, actually) that where the Church wasn't boring the snot out of me or bringing up bad associations or confusing me with its whacko doctrine, it was downright disgusting me with its hypocrisy. This is an organization that is supposed to be about forgiveness, compassion, the Golden Rule, you name it.


Tell that to gays, women, and altar boys, just to name three.

I've already vented about the Church's stance on sexuality, so I won't repeat myself. But simply stated, the Church is out of touch with not so much the modern world as the real world. George Carlin:

As soon as (members of the church heirarchy) have gone through their first pregnancies and their first labor pains, and raised a couple of children on minimum wage, I'll be glad to hear what they have to say about abortion. But in the meantime, they need to tell these priests who took a vow of chastity to keep their hands off the altar boys!
Of course there are good deeds done by the Catholic church and by individual Catholics who use their faith as an affirmation of goodness. And of course there are other institutions who are using their social status to commit crimes against their followers. Cult of Scientology comes readily to mind (RUN, KATIE HOLMES...RUN!). And one of my favorite columnists, Dan Savage, has a regular blog feature called "Youth Pastor Watch", in which he blogs to news articles about ministers and priests of ALL denominations who are getting their freak on with the underaged.

But it just grinds on me that so many people are willing to buy into the Church's bullshit apologies when nothing of substance really changes. I guess it's a case that I despise hypocrisy and false piety with a passion, and while there are plenty of examples, the Church is the target with which I'm most familiar.

This post has gone on too long. If you're still reading this and you still give a damn, I'll have more on the source of the anger next time.

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