Saturday, April 14, 2012

Religious Bigotry

Religion to me has been a conundrum for some time now. I was raised Catholic and as a little kid I was a true believer. I bought into the mythology completely and without wavering. I knew there was a heaven and hell and just as surely as I knew my own name (it's Mark by the way...see? I still remember!). There were rules about what behavior was good and there were specific things you absolutely could never EVER do. Not only did I never doubt their authority, it never even dawned on me as a child to question it. I went to church every Sunday as well as CCD (a.k.a. "Sunday School" although it was never actually on Sunday. It was usually during the week and at night). The ritual of the sermons and the repetition of the odd little play that we put on every week at church with the priest – here's where he will stand up there in that shiny dress thing and he will say these words and then we will all respond in a monotone with this phrase. Then someone will ring a bell thing or play one sharp chord on the organ and then we will stand up or kneel or something en masse. Wash, rinse, repeat – it was comforting. I liked the structure of the mass and how the building was so physically intense. It must be the truth if they went through all this trouble right? I even liked confession and would sometimes make up stuff just to see if I could get more Hail Mary's assigned to me. I think you will agree that I may have misunderstood the concept a little.

As I got a little older, maybe 12 or 13, I started to have some serious doubts. The cracks in the stories became too large to ignore and the very same ritualistic nature of the Sunday mass that I used to look forward to began to irritate me with its repetitiveness. I couldn't understand the point of saying the same things over and over again, week in and week out. It seemed absurd. About this time I had convinced my parents that it was perfectly ok to let me go to church on my own. I would get up early on Sunday so that I could go to the early mass (which was like 9am or something like that). But instead of actually going to church, I would ride my bike downtown and just goof off for 45 minutes. After the service was over, I'd ride by the church to see which priest had been giving mass so that if my parents asked who did the sermon, I could rattle off the name. Not a terrible lie in the grand scheme of things but I do still feel bad about the cowardly deception all these years later.

Why didn't I just tell them that I didn't want to go to church anymore? After all, my dad had kinda fudged on going regularly by this time so the precedent had been set. But my mother was still a firm believer (and remained so right up to the end) and I'm pretty sure she would have said "No way, kid. You're going to church. End of story." Things were not "discussed" at our house. Things were decided and you had to play along. I don't mean to make that sound like such an ominous thing because it really wasn't. It just ... was. And I would still go to church occasionally. Maybe I was experimenting (as I now understand it) to see if my waning faith could be reclaimed, that maybe it was only a temporary lapse and by going to one more inspiring mass I'd be re-calibrated or whatever. But nope. It didn't take. I couldn't get past the idea that the priest was just some guy. He couldn't POSSIBLY know 100% for sure that all of this wasn't just complete nonsense. Why then was he so adamant in trying to convince others that he was right?

By the time I entered high school I was no longer going to church and had entered the lapse Catholic phase. I didn't know what I thought about religion or god or spirituality or anything really. If someone asked me about religion, I still identified myself as Catholic but all the strength behind that word was gone. I just wanted to live my dumb life and not address the subject of faith and honestly it was really easy to avoid. I guess I was an agnostic at this point because while I didn't think organized religion (of any kind) had the answers, I still had doubts as to whether or not there was/is a higher power/god. I simply didn't think about it that much, if at all. I was too wrapped up in my own day-to-day drama and narcissistic to think beyond myself in any capacity. In other words: A teenager.

After I moved out of my parents house I would have some discussions with friends about the subject of religion and while I don't think we really thought we were solving all the world's problems with our meandering drunken blather, I did find that these conversations moved me further away from what my parents and the church had steadfastly taught as the absolute truths. I liked talking to people who had had different backgrounds and interesting perspectives on what it meant to be religious. It helped me work out the confused thoughts and nagging doubts I had been ignoring for years. I didn't want to think that all of the stuff I had been taught was wrong, but it was looking more and more like this was the case.

It took me a few more years to ramp up the courage to admit to myself and others that I don't believe in god, the afterlife, miracles and all of rest. I became an atheist. And it wasn't a bad thing either. It was liberating. I grew up believing that doubting god's will or daring to flat out deny his very existence was not only unfathomable but downright impossible. You could insult god by not believing and in turn incur his wrath. Why would you doom yourself to hell by thinking these thoughts? Ok, the stories are a little dated and maybe there was some creative license with a few details but why not play it safe and hedge your bets with the ol' agnostic route? You can always reverse yourself at the last minute before you die and wind up in heaven with a quick "forgive me Father" prayer. Right? Isn't that basically what the guy who was crucified next to Jesus did? But no, I can't. I won't. I don't know how to fake it.

The problem that I have had with all of this is as a born-again atheist (is that possible?), was that I have been struggling with really strong opinions about people who identified as religious. I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with them. I was condescending towards their beliefs and while I've never actually said anything to right to their faces, I certainly was judgmental and probably somewhat arrogant towards them (I'm a terrible actor). I was wrong to do that and basically I was being a religion bigot. If that's not a thing, it is now. I had to reconcile my own belief system (for lack of a better term) and how it shapes my world view as a newly formed atheist, now that I was "out of the closet" (so to speak). Should I "turn the other cheek" about religion or would I be a zealot and bang the drum loudly for the atheistic view? Well I certainly can't be a dick about I've taken the "live and let live" approach. Because if I think that the priest is just some guy who doesn't really know if what he's talking about is really true, then who's to say that I'm not exactly like him? As I have shown time and time again, I'm a huge dummy.

Where am I going with all of this? I guess I'm not entirely sure. I've been thinking a lot about this subject lately and with religion AGAIN coming into play this election season, it's really been bothering me that there doesn't seem to be a voice of reason. I do not want religious beliefs to be a deciding factor in policy issues. I'm tired of hearing from wingnuts on both sides of most political debates that our country is doomed and the only way to regain our former glory is to fight over issues like gay marriage and a woman's right to choose. I'm simplifying here of course but for fuck's sake I thought we were all equal in this country. How is it that some groups are more equal than others? I hope that most people who are religious don't think the way that the politicians and pundits on TV seem to believe, but this is making me nervous. Please tell me that social conservatism isn't as widespread and prolific as it appears to be. I can't get my head around that concept. Who the fuck do you think you are if you think you can impose your beliefs on others? Is that what your god would have wanted? I thought it was all about loving each other for who we are? Or was that just a bunch of hippy bullshit?

If you do think that way, then I'm pretty sure by oppressing your fellow human beings by imposing your archaic religious dogma on them is a one-way ticket to hell. Luckily for you though, it's all made up. But for reals, get religion out of politics and let's fix some goddamn potholes.