This is a brief essay that I published in a Canadian publication (National Post) in a series related to individuals stories about gaining or losing faith.
Faith Lost . . . But I didn’t notice.
I have been an atheist for much longer than I actually realized. I grew up Roman Catholic near Chicago, Illinois, USA. It never really “stuck” though. I never thought the communion wafer or the wine were anything more than (something like) a rice cake and bad wine. I always felt that the body and blood of Christ was a poor metaphor. I now understand that some really really buy into the transubstantiation thing but, back in the day, I would have been incredulous if someone told me they really believed it. Anyway . . . I grew up a good kid, but only went to church because I was told to. Once I was into my teens, I basically stopped going and haven’t been back for the last 30 years (except for weddings and funerals). The Roman Catholic dogma very much stigmatized atheism and likened non-believers to have serpents crawling out of their mouths. I knew that I was just as moral as everyone around me, but church just didn’t work for me. I figured that I would live my life as though it was immaterial whether God existed or not. If I was a good person but didn’t go to church, I figured God wouldn’t get too ticked off when I met him.
This lasted about 20 years. Then I had a child. My mother, who had become more faithful over the years, was mortified that her grandson was not going to be baptized. She then started delivering bibles for me to read. I took the cue and decided to analyze my faith . . . after all; I wouldn’t want to deprive my son of valid spiritual background. It didn’t turn out like she had hoped. Understand that I am an engineer and very analytical. I couldn’t just read one biased document to make a judgment on faith. I had to look at all sides and weight all the facts. Religion didn’t stand a chance.
Still . . . it was a private matter. If faith helped some people, gives meaning to their lives, provides comfort then that is fine for them. Just because I wasn’t religious, doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t be religious if that worked for them. This started to change over the years as I saw dramatic Christian right influence shaping public policy. Another transformative period was 9/11. I soon realized that it wasn’t radical Islam, it wasn’t Islam, it was religion that changed our world that day. It was the perversions of the (purportedly) holy texts that created so much hatred and intolerance. We are fortunate to have a secular government so religious zeal is reigned in. If we became a Christian theocracy, I feel we would be indistinguishable from the Islamic theocracies. I got more and more uneasy with so many people making decisions based on mythology. But still, it was a private matter. I never challenged anyone . . . but I wanted to.
After reading a magazine article that referenced Richard Dawkins “The GOD Delusion”, I picked up a copy and it changed my life. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Dr. Dawkins says or the tactics he suggests, but his basic premises are dead-on. Those premises are 1) Religion should not be immune from criticism, 2) Religion, while there are positive aspects, is a source of intolerance, subjugation, and worse, 3) Religion does not hold up to even cursory intellectual analysis, and 4) the failings of religion needs to be communicated loudly and clearly and publicly and repeatedly. Upon completion, I formally self-identified myself as an atheist . . . and it was liberating. No serpents slithered out of my mouth. No demons erupted from beneath my flesh. I still loved my neighbors and was still the same caring person that I have always tried to be.
I have since consumed a good deal of scholarly research on the matters such as the origin of ethics, the origins of religion, and separation of church and state. In addition, I have read more personal, impassioned writings both in support and opposition of religion. At present, I am a struggling activist trying to find the best way to use my energies to serve humanity by trying to communicate the failings of religion. Do I want religion to disappear? Well . . . that would work for me, but probably not for a lot of people. I just want enough doubt about God so that, before someone chops the head off someone else in the name of religion, they might think twice.