About the Inquisitor - Redux

(Via Spanish Inquisitor)

Carl left a nice comment here which I thought I’d respond to in a new post. On my About the Inquisitor page, I set forth a short, cursory couple of paragraphs about myself, but now is as good a time as any, after 50 some posts, almost 200 comments and 12,000 hits, to expound on myself a little more, maybe provide a little understanding as to why I have this blog.

Carl, you unintentionally described my life quite well. We seemed to have shared some common experiences. I suspect we are not alone. I know from talking to other ex-Catholics, and reading comments on Internet Infidels and other blogs, that the Catholic experience is almost universal. It clicks for some, maybe most, but not others. It didn’t click for you. Fortunately, it didn’t click for me, either.

I don’t have any specific memories of outrageous Catholic teachings, other than the stereotypical one, probably in first grade, about babies who were not baptized going to hell. I thought that was soooo unfair, that it made me question, or at least not accept, anything else from that point on. If these authority figures thought it was acceptable that innocent babies went to hell because of something their ancestors did, then the rest of what they told me must be suspect also. I never really inquired any further into any other theological questions, just figured it (religion class) was something I had to put up with because my parents insisted I go to parochial school, and in order to learn all the good stuff, I had to learn the nonsense. I didn’t really believe any of it, though at the time, I wasn’t conscious of my disbelief.

Catholicism was more of an identity, for me, rather than a system of beliefs. I knew I was different than my Protestant friends, though I also knew we worshiped the same god. From a Catholic’s point of view, all Protestants were doomed to hell, because the Catholic Church was the “one true church”. I was told that that was because the Catholic Church was the original church, the one founded by Jesus himself, and his Apostles. It wasn’t until I got much older that I discovered that many Protestant denominations thought I was the one who was going to hell, because in their eyes, Catholics were not even Christian. Boy, was that confusing. Of course, it added to my deepening skepticism about all religion. If these people who professed to worship the same god thought others of the same ilk were going to hell, simply because they didn’t attend the same church, while my church thought the same of them, where was the line of demarcation? Where did God really pick and choose from? Who could figure this out?

While trying to remember, and set down, the beliefs of my youth, I feel somewhat dishonest, and it’s mainly because it’s hard to peer back that far in time and reconstruct my actual beliefs. What WERE my beliefs when I was twelve, or 18, or 31? I never wrote them down, and rarely discussed them with others. The fog of 40 years is thick. My memory of that time is distorted, to a certain extent, by my atheist colored glasses. It’s only fair for me to say so here. So can you trust my memory?

I do know that once I went off to college, I shed Catholicism like a snake sheds its skin, and didn’t look back, so I must have been predisposed to do so. I do know it was quite a relief to not have to pretend to a religion that did not really feel right. It’s easy to sit here, 40 or so years later, and say I was always an atheist, but I don’t think it was all that clear cut, so it’s probably not true. In temperament, religious belief was unattractive, even foreign, to me. Discussions about God, or religion, or whatnot, always made me squirm. I was uncomfortable with them, and I think, looking back, that it was because by simply contributing to the discussions it was assumed I was a believer, but my subconscious was saying I was not. At least, I’d like to think that was the case.

It took a lot of reading and thinking and discussing to get to the point where I called myself an atheist. It could have happened sooner. I wish it had. I guess I could say that until about 5 years ago, I believed that a god existed, but only in some general, ephemeral sense, and I attribute that more to the hold of childhood indoctrination, than on a reasoned acceptance of the concept.

I think we are lucky for the Internet. Not only is it a beautiful exposition of the potentiality of science, but it also allowed me to link up with like minded people, and provided a wonderful source for research and information about atheism. The Big “A” was a word, and philosophy, that I previously had shied away from because of the stigma it held for all Catholics. We were taught to fear and loath atheists. It was very hard to shake that. My contacts through the Internet helped that immensely.

It all came to a head after I had become a member of an unrelated online Usenet group, and an off topic discussion ensued about atheism. I was surprised to find that there was a sizable percentage of atheists among the regular contributors. I had previously thought that my feelings about religion were in the very small minority, but the discussion opened my eyes to the prevalence of non-theism. I had never been in such close proximity to atheists and their thinking. One of the contributors made a statement that really sticks with me today. She said that she not only did not believe in gods, but that she did not believe in anything supernatural. I had never thought about belief in god and a belief in a non-natural world as the same thing, before that point. But it made sense! I had always thought of god as natural, because that really is the essence of Catholic belief. It was unnatural not to believe in god. Whole new avenues of thought opened up in front of me. If the supernatural didn’t exist, then the only thing left was the natural world. I think at that moment, I became a materialist. This also dovetailed well with my fascination for all things scientific, and in particular my objection to creationism as it opposed evolution. Suddenly it was all coming together.

At that point I decided that it was time to stop avoiding the question - the ultimate question - about the existence of god. Everything boils down to the answer to that question. If god doesn’t exist, then all religion is a waste of breath and resources. So I started reading: George H. Smith’s “Atheism: The Case Against God” and “Why Atheism?”; David Mills’ “Atheist Universe”; David Eller’s “Natural Atheism”; Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”; Michael Schermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things”; Ruth Green’s “Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible”. Later, Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith”, and recently, Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion”, Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” and Christopher Hitchens “god is not Great”. And countless articles in Free Inquiry, Skeptic and other magazines, not to mention huge amounts of unrelated but distinct information directly from the Internet.

I secured a screen name at Internet Infidels and joined in many discussions, but simply read many more. By the time I was done, in fact, long before I was done, I was a confirmed atheist. If you read up on the subject, in my opinion, you can only reach one conclusion - the probability that god exists is so infinitesimal that it approaches zero. For all intents and purposes, god doesn’t exist. He can’t be disproven, but he sure as hell can’t be proven either, and it’s not a 50/50 question either way. More like a 99/1 question.

Theists will be quick to point to the fact that all of the reading material I relied upon has an atheistic slant. There is nothing religious in there at all. No Michael Novak, no St. Augustine, no Bible. But remember, I was already indoctrinated into Christianity, and specifically into Catholicism. The Bible, St. Augustine, even Michael Novak, or at least his thinking, had been embedded into my religious upbringing from the moment I understood language, long before I could read. I knew all that. Don’t forget that I was only looking for the answer to one question. I didn’t need to re-read theology, all of which assumes the answer to that one question, in order to come to my own conclusion. I wanted the counter arguments, those arguments that were denied me as I grew into my religious being. If anyone reading this honestly thinks that Catholic education explores the question of the existence of god, they are sadly mistaken. It is assumed, under penalty of hellfire, from the very beginning.

So that’s where I am now. I’d like to think that I’ve finally figured it all out, but that would be somewhat naive, not to mention close-minded, of me. My thinking may change, but I really don’t think by much. I certainly don’t foresee a 180º change. An atheistic world view is so liberating, and so encompassing of known facts and so explanatory of reality, that the odds of a different explanation for reality are very slim. Religious explanations usually generate far more questions than they answer. Atheistic and scientific ones do not.

I think I’m here to stay.

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