Jason’s Ranting & Raving

Those who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.

Losing my religion

Posted by jaystile on March 23, 2009

The Beginning

I was raised in the Catholic tradition. More specifically the Polish Catholic tradition. That means everyone was nucking futs over Pope John Paul II. We ate paczki (PAUNCH-kee) on fat Tuesday (the last day before the start of Lent, 40 days before Easter). We gave up things for Lent to make us better people. We kicked off Lent by putting ashes on our foreheads to signify that we are sinners. We didn’t eat meat on Fridays. We attended midnight mass on Christmas eve and attended the Easter Vigil. For those who are not in the know, the Easter Vigil is like 3 hours long and starts with a bonfire. Afterwards, we would get together all 500 relatives and eat kielbasa and sauerkraut until it came out our ears while great uncle Leo would play polkas on the concertina. The uncles would drink and play cards and the aunts would get together and gossip and get into everyones business. This was also the time for the ‘outsiders’ (our significant others) to undergo the modern Inquisition by the Aunts. We had a good time.

The Transition

I ended up moving from the Midwest to the Western United States with my wife for work. I’m an engineer by trade so I work with a bunch of highly educated professionals. The first step on the road to atheism for me was to that of skepticism. I have to attribute this huge turning point in my life to one man who asked me. “Do you believe that aliens have visited Earth?” Like any good geek, I answered with an enthusiastic, “Yes! Absolutely”. Then I went on to quote all the Roswell evidence that is being suppressed by the government. He responded with, “Yes, like so many other people that we work with. I’m surprised that so many people can believe without any evidence. You know its OK to be skeptical.” That was it. Just a little thing. It’s OK to be skeptical.

I Was Setup!

As our relationship grew we had many more discussions about the non-existent. A lot of people believe in ghosts, but again, there is no concrete evidence for ghosts. We also discussed religion. He grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, the kind where the Holy Spirit overcomes you and you shout stuff out in church. But the stuff you shout is all in the style of the King James version of the bible. His stance is that he is agnostic. Which is the politically correct way of saying he leaves open the possibility of religion but hasn’t seen any evidence to support it and doesn’t want to offend you. Anyway, we started talking about books he had read and he recommended The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. I was being setup. We talked about ‘The Blind Watchmaker’ in respect to evolution and how it destroys any argument for the need for creationism. For those not familiar with Richard Dawkins he is an evolutionary biologist, atheist, and outspoken critic of religion. In the book about evolution Dawkins takes well placed shots at religion. My friend was trying to convert me to agnosticism through evolution biology.

Deciding for Myself
With my newfound skepticism a few things changed. First off, my belief in aliens that visited the Earth went away. I firmly believe that life exists on other planets and that we will never see it because the distances are so vast. The basement and dark places got a lot less unnerving because there is no possibility of ghosts. By what physical mechanism would they travel through? The ether? Scary movies lost a lot of potency. So I asked myself why am I Catholic? Well, that was due to brainwashing I received since I was a baby starting with my baptism. I don’t blame my folks, they were just doing what they thought was best for me. Why were they religious? Because their parents were and raised them that way. That tradition goes back a really long way. Most people do not choose their religion, it chooses them through their parents. I finally, determined that religion was just silly. But do you how hard it is to kick off years of dogma that was taught to you as fact since before you could speak? Do you know what I had a hard time with? The Blasphemy Challenge. I had to do it the first time in private. It took me fives minutes to let it all go. It seems silly and weird now, but back then it took a lot of rational thought to overcome my upbringing. I accepted the challenge.

Coming Out
The first person I had to talk to first was my wife. She was raised in the Polish Catholic tradition too. She had an even larger family and they were more devout Catholics than mine were. My wife and I hadn’t missed a mass since we were married. We attended the Catholic mass on the cruise ship on our honeymoon. We stopped in York, Nebraska on our way moving out west to attend mass. We parked our car full of possessions and walked inside the church a half hour late. You get the point. Once we started talking, it turns out my wife was very conflicted too. I made a deal with my wife which I stick to today, I will always go to church with her if she wants to go. I would not be doing it for god, I would be doing it for her. We haven’t gone in a very long time now. You know what is great? Sleeping in on Sunday mornings or doing something like going for a hike instead of sitting in church and wasting half your day.

I was getting pretty comfortable in my point of view of being an atheist. But we hadn’t told our family. Then something happened. I updated my myspace page from Catholic to Atheist. It turns out people actually read those things. My myspace page was listed in my e-mail signature and my mom read it. She was pissed! She called me up on the phone and bitched me out. It was bad. I stayed calm and responded to her insults and barbs. She said I was repulsive like atheist Hitler and Stalin. Additionally, she threatened to call the police and get them to take my children away. Next, my brother was on the line. At one point he was considering to be a deacon. He is still very active in the church. He is convinced that you cannot love without Jesus in your heart. It turns out he is wrong. So everyone knows now and they do not appreciate it. They try not to talk about it, but my mom brings it up on occasion.

A few years later I was having a conversation about Infidel (read my review) with my mom. I bought her the book for Christmas. In the book Ayaan gives up her Islamic faith. Her father writes her a very nasty letter denouncing her. It was pretty painful to read. My mom could not believe that a father would treat his daughter in such a way. I was thinking, “Do you remember calling me Atheist Hitler and threatening to take away my kids?” Instead, I just said, “Yes, I cannot believe a parent would treat their child that way.”

What is it like now
Those who are open to other points of view might ask, what is like now that you are an atheist? To be honest, not too much has changed. I still love my family and am a good citizen. I feel the same. Life goes on. But let me tell you a few things that have changed. First, I enjoy life more. I am more open to new experiences because I know this is the only life I get and variety is the spice of life. Second, I try to take better care of myself because I want to stretch this life out as long as possible. I’m still overweight, but I managed to get a long bike ride in and go for a run this weekend. Specifically, I was running when I would normally have been at church. Next, I find it difficult to write in sympathy cards. Instead of the generic Christian “I’ll pray for you” response, you need to think of something real to say. Finally, the biggest change is that religious people really bug me. I attended mass while my sister-in-law was in town as a favor to my wife. The priest sounded bat shit crazy. All the religious texts register as pure utter nonsense. People tend to be blissfully unaware that their over the top Jesus loves you crap is really annoying.

Parenting
I am a parent now with my daughter attending preschool where they say the pledge of allegiance. All I can say is, fuck the Knights of Columbus and their anti communist crusade for putting me in the position that I have to teach my daughter to either abstain or not say the words under god in the pledge. She is only 4 for Christs sake. The pre 1951 version was just fine when we were ‘one nation indivisible’. Now 15% of the population says we don’t agree with you. Wheew… I kind of went on a tangent there.

The challenges of being an atheist parent mostly revolve around the holidays. Yes, we are still celebrating Christmas and Easter. Want to know why? Because kids love to open presents and be with their parents and color eggs and eat candy. That is good enough for me. It is important to form your own traditions. And no, we are not teaching that Santa Claus is real. He is only in books and on TV. Some traditions do die hard, I could go for some polka, paczki, and kielbasa.

Conclusion
I actually have a lot to say on this subject, but I doubt anyone has even read this far. Don’t waste your time praying for me, life is short, go enjoy it.

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2 Responses to “Losing my religion”

  1. Robert said

    Thank you for an enjoyable read. It’s funny, the way you see religious belief is exactly how I see it. We’ve even used the same term to describe it.

  2. Tom Moninger said

    Jason,

    Justin forwarded your site and it is interesting. I sometimes think that religion got started by a group of folks who wanted to ascend Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and all the political, king, queen and dictator jobs were taken. How cool this will be, we can play good guy bad guy (do what I say or God will get you.) Just try controlling a group of Jews in a desert by yourself!)

    The Muslims got there stuff together really well: A guys club interlinked with government. Not only will God get you but so will the government. “It is good to be king.” Mel Brooks.

    I enjoyed going to church as potluck diners are the best. A lot of good people. I got in under honest dialog and affirmative action: The honest dialog: Do you accept Jesus Christ as Your Savior? I told Father Bill, that I wasn’t there yet. He asked if I renounced evil? That I could go with. He said you are in. Now for the affirmative action (which I detest as discrimination at best) part: I was the only guy who could fix the lawnmower in the congregation.

    My Dad had it down pretty well, at least I accept this: He believe in as yet an undefined supreme being; God, Electro, Boom, creator of the big bang, whatever name you like; explains infinity, and the Golden Rule sets pretty good conduct model.

    Enjoy your intellectual trip and conduct yourself honorably.

    Hope to meet you sometime.

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