On Being An Atheist In A Religious World
I’m an atheist. I have been since the age of about fifteen. In religious parlance that is called the Age Of Reason.
When I was fifteen, I was an alter boy at St. Michael’s Catholic church in Fort Erie. I was also something called a Columbian Squire, which the junior version of the Knights of Columbus, which you were very much expected to become at about the age of 18.
When you are young you don’t actually realize what’s going on with organized religion. But its manifestations really do get inside your head. Especially when it came to the sins that would damn your soul to eternal hell fire.
Every time you looked a girl with nice breasts you felt yourself committing the sin of lust. Every time you swore, and I swore a lot, you were pretty much taking the lord’s name in vain, because besides the word ‘fuck’ my favourite curse was “Jesus H Christ”. Variations included “Christ On A Crutch!, Christ On A Cracker, and the super deluxe “Jesus Fucking Christ!”
My tally of venial sins for taking the Lord’s name in vain alone would have been a slam dunk for a very overheated bachelor pad in hell.
One day, I was thinking about the whole concept of Heaven and Hell. As young Catholics we had a pretty elaborate vision of what that would be like.
But on this day, a freshman in the Age Of Reason, I started to realize that these concepts may have just been metaphorical. But scary enough to keep the early peasants fearful and faithful to their religion, which in turn, helped the churches of the time grow wealthy.
The other question that occurred to me was that if, as my religion taught me, God was omnipresent, why did I have to go to a special place to worship him or her? Why, in fact did I even have to worship God at all? Isn’t just belief enough?
I never acted on the revelation right away. But felt very strongly that atheism would become a modus operandi for me in life, so I held it in my head and let it sit there for a while.
I was smart intuitive to know that this was the way atheists thought, and I also knew that if I followed through with becoming one, I would essentially be cutting myself off from a rather large part of my life at the time.
Gradually, over the next two years, as I made it into high school, I phased out all the Catholicism out of my life.
Surprisingly, my mother, who was a real card carrying member of the Catholic faithful, understood when I quit the Squires, retired from the alter boy gig, and eventually, some three years after, completely let go of the last vestiges of Catholicism.
To Each His Own
I have nothing against people who are religious, regardless of who their God might be and goodness knows there are enough of them.
It does bother me a little that some religions are so tightly intertwined with people’s lives, like Judaism and Islam. But I have read enough to know that people derive a good deal of strength and inner peace from their religion and I would never presume to have any real deep understanding of cultures other than the one in which I was raised.
What does bother me about religion are the astonishing number of so called religious leaders who use people’s faith and willingness to follow them as a way to become rich. The cynicism and hypocrisy of that is something I saw in the early days of Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. And it seems like there has been an unbroken line of them right up to guys like Robert Schuller and Joel Osteen.
And it seems like the older I got, the more transparent their hidden agendas became to me.
Then again, a lot of people take solace in being part of those large congregations. And it’s still a free world. Pick your saviour and worship away.
When I was young and the world was a simpler place, the Christian ethos was very much in force. It was difficult to escape its influence, either Catholic or any flavour of Protestant.
And I get it. The big questions surrounding our existence can be scary. Religion helps put them into a kind of perspective that most people can wrap their heads around.
Then there are the rest of us who revel in the mystery of it all. Who believe that we are just bits of energy in a carbon shell and when the shell is used up after 80 or 90 years if you’re lucky, off our energy goes to find another carbon shell or be part of a bolt of lighting or dung beetle or whatever.
Because the energy that currently powers us can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed from one form to another.
That works for me as well as the concept of God works for others.
And so it goes. Because the nature of faith is to believe in something. And we all need something we believe in.
My belief is that we are all little bits and piece of the God that is the universe. We are molecules in the magnificent infinitely large eternity. It gives us life and the ability to enjoy it, and then it takes it away and puts it somewhere else. We may have a moment or two of other lives, but they are difficult to distinguish from dreams.
Needless to say, we all need to make the most of this life, because you just never know what’s coming next.
That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.
Jim Murray (that's me) is a writer, art director, marketer, editorialist. reader, sports fan and TV watcher. I have been actively posting on social media since 1998. I am also a former ad agency writer and art director & ran his own creative consultancy, Onwords & Upwords, from 1989 until recently when I closed it and opened a freelance enterprise called Murmarketing. I live with my wife, Heather on the Niagara Peninsula work with a small group of companies working to make a positive difference in the world.
My Current Blogs Include:
Brand New Day (Environmentally Conscious Products, Services & Processes) • MurMarketing (Communications Advice) • Muritorial (General Interest, Politics, Human Nature and all the rest of the stuff I'm interested in)
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