Why I didn’t become Atheist

Why write this?

I read something yesterday on Rebekah’s blog that triggered me to think about how I express things about myself. I decided to write and post this.

Background

Like everyone else, I was born without an opinion regarding the existence of a deity, a spirit realm, death, life afterwards, or any belief in a god. You could say I was born a passionate human agnostic about everything, but neutral about religion. That was 74 years ago to the day (happy birthday to me).

Eight days later I was baptized by a priest in a Roman Catholic Church. This event guaranteed my acceptance into Heaven, if I should die. Otherwise, it was eternity in Limbo, where the unbaptized but sinless souls allegedly went forever.

Baptism added a godfather and godmother to my religious life, in the unlikely event that my parents could not raise me as Catholic. They did.

My status

I was a Roman Catholic Christian whether I liked it or not. That situation lasted for sixty-some years. When I embraced atheism, my status was automatically changed to excommunicated, which means that I am excluded from the rights of church membership. I may not receive any of the seven sacraments. I’ve had six.

While my Catholic membership card is technically cancelled, I may still do virtually everything that is not specifically sacramental. I’ve not been shunned. It’s not a cult.

To undo this, I would merely need to re-claim my membership by denying my atheism. Complete re-conversion would be through the Sacrament of Penance (confession with a priest) and subsequent participation in the Sacrament of Eucharist (going to Mass and taking Holy Communion). I’ve done this process a couple other times in my life due to long lapses in my religious participation, called falling-away, non-practicing, or practical atheism.

When I reconciled before, the process was spiritually uplifting, fun, rewarding, guilt-relieving, interesting, and mildly embarrassing. It was also easy. The saying goes, once Catholic, always Catholic. I’m no longer that, sayings notwithstanding.

No regrets

I hold no animosity toward the Catholic Church or any of its people. However, I am irreconcilably pissed off about the Church’s history. I would still punish many bishops and priests for their culpability during the ongoing sexual abuse scandals.

I know church history well. I fully understand why people are religious. I accept it. I think they are wrong, but they’re not bad people. I wish they could similarly accept my conclusions to the degree that I do theirs.

I’m mindful that in many parts of the world, I could be killed for my outspoken atheism. Those who would do that are supported (and defended) by scripture, either Biblical or Koranic. That’s how religion works.

What I say and what I don’t

I have never said, I became a Christian or I got (or was) saved. I never said there was a day or time when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I have never referred to myself as a born-again Christian as my childhood friend, Jimmy, did.

When Jimmy died his family ensured he was buried as a Catholic. Dead people cannot receive sacraments nor can they resist the desires of the living.

I never felt superior to people of other religions or of none. If anything, living in the south (USA) I was guarded about my Catholicism.

I don’t say, I became atheist. I’ve embraced my atheism and the conclusion that god does not exist. I avoid prefacing things by saying as an atheist. I do not say something all atheists agree on. They do not. Except by coincidence, all atheists agree on nothing. I can only speak for myself.

I’m just sayin’

As with anyone who may have been born into a secular life, I was atheist first.

My baptism made me Catholic. I didn’t become anything. Roman Catholic is my legacy, heritage, and birthright.  I prefer to call it Irish-Catholic. They know why.

I have no issue with anyone saying, I became atheist or became anything. Unfortunately, atheism is one of those words that define people by what they are not more than by what they are. Since atheism means one does not believe in any god, it’s not like becoming Methodist, an artist, a romantic, or depressed.

Bill

The Bible: There is no such thing

The Catholic Mass liturgy includes three Old Testament (OT) readings, a selection from the prophets, and three readings from the New Testament (NT) to include Acts, the Catholic or Pauline Epistles, and the Gospels. During Christmas and Easter, a fourth is added for the evening service.

Growing up Catholic, I never had to read a bible. In the three-year liturgical cycle, I heard virtually the whole of Christian scripture read to me. In my eight years of parochial school, I took mandatory Religion and Catechism classes/courses as part the curriculum. I recall taking Bible History one year with a full-length history book to read.

I was taught the myth of Samson slaying the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (hee-hee, back then) as historical fact. Since it is an OT story in the inerrant word of God, it must have been true.

There was no bible in my home. I doubt if many other Roman Catholics of my generation grew up reading a bible in the sense most adherents of sola scriptura (scripture alone) would understand it. We didn’t have to. A bible was read to us several times over by age 15.

How I became something of an amateur, or layman, bible study teacher (and expert?) forty years later would take too long to explain. But I was the first of such in a large Parish for about ten years. During that time, I acquired several different bibles, concordances, and various other materials that I used for learning and teaching.

The relationship people have with bibles fascinates me to this day. They claim to believe that it is the word of their god. They say it is the most important book ever written. Many have not read one single word of any bible, even if they own one.

Bibles are available for free in book form, electronically, or online. There is no excuse. Read one. Yes, an atheist just suggested that you read a bible.

One guy even used a bible recently as a prop for a political photo op (to evangelical silence, if not bizarre enthusiasm). I bet he never read it, could not say what version he was holding, how many books were in it, or if the religion of the church he stood in front of would approve of the translation.

We say it. We write about it. We talk about it all the time. However, there is no it. There is only them. There are hundreds of versions of the same book(s). I’ve seen the number 450, but I doubt there are so many official versions. It’s not the bible. It’s a bible—one of them.

One reason for this is the many different translations. Another reason is the various canons, or books and scripture, that are (or are not) included as authorized. Some of what may be included is referred to as apocrypha (not really the word of god).

There are no original bible writings that we can point to as the first or even the second copy. While some old scriptures do exist, they are far from first editions.

The Bible? Which one? It’s bibles. It’s them, not it. Confused by holy scripture, version 123.666 and 50 others.

Bill


Most popular? There are more?

 

 

No, but that’s not why.

How Important is Going to Church?

Growing up in the Catholic church/faith and Saint John’s Elementary school, I was taught that if I died with a mortal sin on my soul and did not go to Confession or have Extreme Unction (Last Rites) administered by a priest, I was going straight to Hell. No passing Go and no collecting $200. I’d suffer for eternity along with Hitler, Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and all sorts of evil souls. There’d be no option for appeal or some Purgatorial negotiated deal. Eternity. Got it?

The logical problem with this dawned on me around age 13 or 14. The list of mortal sins was quite long and by that age it was normal for me to have picked up one or two each week. If you had committed one mortal sin, you might as well have done 50. Even a god could not add on more time to eternity. I had not been introduced to the concept of levels of Hell (or Heaven) at that time.

I was also taught that not going to Mass (call it church if you want) on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation was a mortal sin. Interestingly, it was about that 14/15ish time that I stopped going until I was busted and forced to go (I was being watched) because since it was so easy to pick up a mortal or two during the week between Confessions, well, what the hell? One more made no difference. Right?

When I returned to the good graces of the Catholic church thirty-some years later (about twenty years ago), I did so in Titusville, Florida. I was working there temporarily and decided to go through that embarrassment with a priest I would never see again. He had given me a book to read (which I did) and we had a few meetings. When a fallen away Catholic returns to the good graces of Rome, it is done through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is a fancy name for Confession. But it sounds right for this process.

In one of our meetings I brought up the concept of not going to Mass being a mortal sin. The priest told me that it was not a mortal sin. I told him that I was taught it was such an eternally damning sin, and the book he had given me said it was. He said that he needed to stop handing out that book. I suggested he read books before recommending them to others. He was quite a bit younger than I, so giving advice seemed apt. Anyway, not going to Mass when you can has always been a big deal (at the least), in the Catholic Church. But, the whole point of it is Communion or the Eucharist. Catholicism is nothing if not Liturgical and taking Communion is at the core of that obligation.

I don’t know if any other Christian cult/denomination thinks people go to Hell if they do not go to church. I’ve had Christians tell me they never go to church (or belong to one) and that one need not go to church to be a good Christian. Maybe the Orthodox, Polish Catholic, and a few other schismatic holdouts think so, but most Protestants and Catholics I know think church attendance on Sunday is somewhat optional. At worst, a venial (minor) sin, if at all.

Enter a highly contagious and deadly virus of the Corona family. We get this illness (COVID-19) very easily, and Americans are the world leaders in contracting it: over two million known cases today. Since sitting together (and yelling or praying or singing) for an hour in a room with someone who may be contagious may kill us, or at least infect us, church attendance (indoors and closer than six feet to one another) was placed on the list of no can dos until we get our arms around the epidemic/pandemic. Literally, not going to church was healthier than going. I love that irony.

The Jesus freaks went bat shit, fucking crazy. Lawsuits were filed. #45 and other politicians of a certain bent started yelling that church attendance was essential. I must admit, certain groups of Americans wear hypocrisy like a new Sunday suit or this year’s Easter bonnet. It looks good on them while I struggle to stop banging my head against the wall. Going to church on Sunday is, first, not essential for anyone, and second, a good way to cause unnecessary illness, hospitalization, and potentially death.

Churches do nothing for the economy, use government services/resources they do not pay for, and other than some fraternization or potluck/covered dish meals, are meaningless, even if there is a god. Hypocrites, remember? But they are essential politically. At least to some portion of the population. They were not essential six months ago. But now that it is a dangerous thing to do—going to church is vital (and god, strangely, always needs more money).

And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!” yoh.

Even most Catholics do not believe that their god would send them to the fires of Hades if they went to play pinball instead of going to Mass. However, church attendance is the only active measure we have to determine the degree of religiosity in America. It also contributes big-time to the core concept of the mega church (go fund us). More religious and political bull shit.

Bill

Do You Believe in Something?

I favor separating my discussions regarding the existence of god or gods from those about religion or religious denominations and sects. This is partly why.

I would have thought that, are you an atheist? and do you believe in god? were two versions of the same question. Apparently not.

In America, when someone asks if I believe in god, what do they mean? When I answer, what am I claiming? Are the inquisitors asking the same question I think I’m answering?

According to PEW Research, it is not always as simple as yes you do, or no you don’t. As we know, and as PEW suggests, within specific religions or religious denominations, members may not agree even though they admit to a belief in the same god and claim to practice the same religious denomination.

PEW did two surveys, one here and one in Europe. In the American survey, (view article here) wherein they worked out some clarity, the researchers claim that while 80% said they do believe in god, one third of that “yes” group does not believe in the god of the Bible.

Only two-thirds of that “believing” group believe in the god of Abraham. That’s 56% when you apply the sample to the total, or slightly more than half of the USA population. That does not mean, however, that the other 44% does not believe in god.

While 19% of the respondents said they do not believe in “god,” almost half of those who said no (9%) correspond with about a third of the people who said that they do believe in god. In other words, overall, one third of Americans, whether they profess a belief in god or not, think there is a higher power or spiritual force of some kind, according to PEW. I find that interesting.

PEW thus claims that according to their survey only 10% of Americans believe there is no higher power, spiritual force, deity, or god. We can split hairs regarding definitions of belief, disbelief, doubting, skepticism, and all of that. What PEW is suggesting is that while many of us claim not to believe in god, about half of those do believe that there is “something.”

It’s different in Europe. There, this number of nonbelievers is multiplied by 2.5 (about 25%) since a much greater number claim no belief in the higher power/spiritual force.

I think these surveys are interesting and have some merit. They are more in the food for thought category than good answers because people lie all the time. The whole social survey construct must be viewed with some degree of skepticism. Culture and human nature play into the answers. In the United States we are more likely to say we do believe in god when we don’t. In Europe, the reverse is likely.

A Jew, Christian, or Muslim might see someone who dismisses the god of Abraham but suspects a higher power or spiritual force exists as Pagan or even atheist. On the other hand, an avowed atheist may see the same person as a believer, just not in the Biblical sense.

I know people who claim to be Wiccan or Pagan. I have had discussions with some who use the terms Universe or Nature in the sense of a higher power or spiritual force. That makes sense because when we say god, most believers assume we mean what they believe, the god of the Bible, for example.

So, if someone asks me if I believe in god, my answer is “no.”
But maybe it should be more like this…

Please explain your question.
What do you mean by god?
What do you mean by believe?
Why do you ask?

While my accurate and honest answer is, I do not believe in any god, higher power, or spiritual force, perhaps it’s not a question for which I have such a simple answer. If the water is muddy or cloudy for the likes of PEW Research, it is a communication quandary for me. It’s as complicated as we are, but that is why it’s so damn interesting.

Bill


Credit – Linked Pew Research article.

A to Z Challenge 2020 (J=Justification)

Justification is a concept I don’t recall being in my metaphysical pandora’s box or my highest theological concept. I still don’t care, but I needed a word for J -day.

In the Jesus brand of theology, justification is god’s removing the guilt and penalty of sin (call it hell). If you spin your English just right, you get to go to a good place instead of the bad one. But you must have faith and believe. To Christians, this makes sense.

Since the Protestant Reformation, and probably before, justification was and area of significant disagreement. It is also an area of significant theological fault that, to this day, divides Roman Catholicism from the Lutheran and Reformed traditions of Protestantism.

Catholics, Methodists, and Orthodox distinguish between initial justification, which occurs at baptism, (ala infant baptism) and final salvation, accomplished after a lifetime of doing what you’re supposed to.

In Lutheranism and Calvinism, righteousness in the eyes of God is viewed as being credited to the sinner’s account through faith alone, without works, which maybe fodder for W-day.

My point here is that all these branches of Christianity, supposedly one religion, have fought over this woo-woo hair-splitting nonsense for reasons none of us probably care much about.

Atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindu, and Buddhists need not worry. There is no justification for any of this.

Bill

A to Z Challenge 2020 (I=Ignorance)

Ignorance is lack of knowledge, education, or awareness. When I hear or see the word ignorant, I seem to want to interpret that negatively, as a lack of intelligence, for example. But, it’s not. All people, intelligent or not, are ignorant of some things. Some very intelligent people are ignorant of fundamental cognitive biases hindering their own critical thinking.

I’ve heard the idiom; I don’t know what I don’t know. The fact remains that there is a great deal of knowledge of which I’m ignorant. I know what some of it is. I don’t know, for another example, if I go to a church on Sunday and sit with hundreds of other people for an hour or more if I will become infected with a virus that will end my life in less than a month or two. I do know what happened to the ignorant folks who went to choir practice several weeks back. What they did not know infected many and killed some. What I don’t know can kill or injure me or others.

Willful ignorance is not defined the same way. The adjective changes everything. When people today go to choir practice, or to church, or have gatherings in their homes thinking it is a safe thing to do; or when they rely on a medication they are taking as a preventative measure, unlike the choir members who were infected out of ignorance, the new group is being willfully ignorant. They have been provided the knowledge, education, and awareness needed to be safe and to not endanger others. They are choosing to ignore it. Are they so brain-washed by religion, a minister, or family member that they flaunt their beliefs in the face of death to themselves or others? I think so.

But, like so many atheists (agnostics also), I like to say I don’t know when I don’t. I say it often. It turns out there is much of which I am, and shall remain, ignorant. That does not seem to trouble most others. Yet, some folks demonstrate considerable irritation by my confession, and they suffer even more dissonance when they try to apply the phrase to themselves.

I know what I think. I think I like staying home.

Bill

A to Z Challenge 2020 (F=Fire walking)

I was watching one of those HGTV home buying shows. This lady needed to make sure that her property ($millions), as glorious as each one was, had enough size and location to construct a pit or platform for fire walking. She was a shaman or something.

I have seen many shows where the main criteria were enough yard for the dog to take a shit and run around, or maybe a garden for granny. I only watched one where the buyer wanted space so her clients would be able to walk through fire.

In some parts of the world, fire walking is part of a religious ritual associated with mystical powers of fakirs (love that name, but I must be mispronouncing it). They really do walk on burning coals. The lady buying the house really does do that. I could not stand to walk on coals that were room temperature or under water without shoes. Walking on burning coals has never been on my bucket list and it will not be.

In the USA this event has gone New Age as a self-empowering experience. Some see it as overcoming fears and phobias. This is not fake. People really do this. If you ever watched it, you probably noticed the brisk pace of the walker. They do not tarry in crossing. Nor do they want to fall. That is fire down below.

It is possible to walk on fire, or least on a bed of burning wood coals and not get burned. But burns do happen. The proper wood and charcoal must be used and the person building the fire needs to know what they are doing (shaking my head “no” as I wrote that).

I have no idea how this works physically or what psychological gain there is. But it’s physics: thermo dynamics, probably. And well-padded feet soles don’t hurt. Fire walking is neither magic nor magick, spirituality, religion, or some form of holiness. It is not the Universe blessing someone. But it’s also not fake.

Bill

Everybody is wearing shorts.

 

A to Z Challenge 2020 (B=Backmasking)

Backward Satanic Messages come from playing musical lyrics backward, not that many music lovers would do that. I do listen to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven sometimes, but I am never inclined to ask Pandora to play it backwards. The people who believe nonsense like this are those who cannot see or hear anything without trying to figure out how Satan plays into it (SNL Church Lady).

Someone has so much time on their hands that they listen to music, play it backwards, and hear messages (satanic or whatever), then manage to convince others of their discovery.

…Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

There’s a feeling I get
When I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who standing looking

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it really makes me wonder….”

I have so much time on my hands, I write about it. To be clear, I think this back-masking nonsense is more religious crap that no one, even most religious folks, should believe.

Bill

How’s That?

“Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theatre, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love, and the wonder of birth. That’ll do for me.” ― Lynne Kelly

It seems that for some, if not most, being a thinking conscious creature is not enough. I have no idea what anyone thinks, let alone most. I try to accept what others say they think at face value, but even that is often filtered information, which is probably just as well. I don’t want to have this discussion with any believers (an event also shunned by Kelly), but I do want to highlight my personal experience because it was something I did not expect.

In the Lynne Kelly quote, reality is depicted as cold and dull by the believer or god-worshiper point of view. My experience was the reverse. One day everything was possible because god did it. Eh! Yay god and all that, but I also felt like saying, So what? If god is so omni-amazing-everything, what’s the big deal? Surely a god can do better than this. Right?

After I’d cleared all the god stuff from my world view and how I envisioned or saw the universe, everything became wonderous and amazing, just the opposite of what Oprah Winfrey thinks about how atheists must see the world or universe. She doesn’t know, but sadly, she thinks she does. Yes. I was more in awe of magic without gods (or woo-woo), than I ever was as either a believer or seeker.

I appreciate the fact of life, existence, and my personal reality more than ever before. After standing up as atheist (which simply means god isn’t, in my case), I discovered how amazing everything is, even if it means a universe that is on its own and random. I am pleased to be me, unbeholden to any spirit, god, guardian angel, patron saint, or talk show host.

But to make a couple of points here, I have never in my many years had anyone tell me how embracing their atheism made them sad. Indeed, some miss church socialization and fellowship stuff. I get that. I never missed it, but I understand how others might feel that loss. My experience was probably due to my personal circumstances.

Second, while I accept that everyone has a dark side, most people seem wonderful to me. When I encounter some jerk on earth, I need to remember the nine or more good people I also met.

So, with a nod to Lynne Kelly: me, too. I’m not in the business of contributing to deconversions, but I would if I could. That is because my experience was better. What I can do is share my personal experience, strength, and hope through an awareness not given through any religion.

Like Dr. Phil is wont to ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” It feels just mighty fine.

Bill

Some things just are.

Essay: Learning Reality

I’ve lived most of my life thinking god is either likely or unlikely. I suppose that’s normal for many people. Did I believe in a god? Who was I trying to please by playing along?

At times, I have said something about being agnostic. However, I never said I did not think a god existed until a few years ago. But that’s what I thought. The only conversations on the topic that I recall were with people who claimed to believe not only in god, but who also thought their religion was correct.

While I tried to believe that a god existed, I considered virtually all religion as nonsense regardless of whether any god existed. In the case of Christianity, some denominations seemed more looney than others. That was my point of view even when I acknowledged only the good side of religion. Now I more clearly see the dark side of religion. My opinion feels balanced.

Over the years, I probably worked harder at not being a nonbeliever (which I seemed to be) than I did at being a believer (which I wasn’t), if my double negative comments make sense. That is for me what religion is all about, at least on the surface. Oddly enough, I never had much of a cognitive dissonance issue with this conundrum. I assumed that I wasn’t getting it.

This back and forth (or on and off) went on for a long time. During the last twelve years of my experience in the deep end of the Christianity pool, I was all-in; meaning I was on a mission to fix my 40+ years of personal doubt. What happened was the opposite. I changed from a quiet (keep it to myself) skeptic going through the motions. I became an outspoken atheist who loves to say there are no gods. Prove me wrong if you can. I’m justly called cantankerous for less.

When I was silent (practicing religion or not), I was never asked to prove anything. I was never asked to provide a meaning for my life. No one asked me how humans and animals came into existence, even though I’d reconciled evolution with Genesis. Others seemed more willing to inform me of how the Universe popped up from nothingness (whatever that is), than to ask how I thought that had happened.

One does not need to come out as either atheist or agnostic. But we should when it’s safe. Depending on the situation, claiming to be deist might work. Or, one can also simply stay away from religious practice and admit to not having a church ‘home’ or no religion: to being a none. But that opens the door to proselytization.

Many folks make exactly that choice, and no one hates or fears them as with an atheist. I know some self-proclaimed Christians who are a party of one as far as proclaiming denominational alignment. They claim to be anti-church or anti-organized religion. Maybe it’s complicated.

My wife and I have always had friends, family, neighbors, or workmates who were involved with religion. That social aspect of our lives may account for several efforts of accommodating various Christian denominations. All of which fell apart for some legitimate reason.

My search has ended. I find it interesting that I spent such effort, time, money, and talent trying to be (and apply) something that was never a serious intellectual or mindful part of me. I thought I was missing out. While I never felt a spiritual loss, I was socially missing something. Something I now scoff at.

Unfortunately, some folks don’t understand why I have no regrets about trying. Others seem to proclaim regret for a religious past. Perhaps it was psychologically damaging to them, or maybe they regret wasted time and effort. I learned things about myself and human nature during those years. It is a reality of my life. How can I regret learning about reality?

Bill