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My Atheism Story
I am going to be away for the next week. I will have access to a computer, but not much time to blog during this time. My next new blog will be Sunday Mar. 18 (unless I am able to sneak one in this coming week). I started this blog in late January. Since that time it has been a great success. I have a bunch of loyal readers who comment and/or email me daily. I really appreciate that and ask that you continue. Your comments and participation are a large part of why I view this blog as being successful thus far. If you are a regular reader and have not yet left a comment, I invite you do so. I wanted to take this time to write a little bit about me and my road to atheism. I do not have a specific “a-ha” moment, but rather a series of things that led me to atheism and eventually to blogging.
I was raised in Catholic family on the outskirts of Boston. Both of my parents are practicing Catholics. They go and have gone to Church every Sunday since they were children. In the spirit of that tradition, I was trudged off to mass as well. Somewhere around age 8 or so, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to become an altar server—so I did. I actually enjoyed it as it gave me something to do during the masses other than just sitting in a pew. I was too young to listen or really care about what was being preached. Life was good.
I am not sure what age I was, though I was surely between ages 10 and 12, when the then Cardinal of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law came to say mass at our church. (As a side note, he is now the infamous Cardinal who swept all of the abuse cases under the rug in Boston and was promoted to a post at the Vatican for his efforts). At our church I always performed my role as an altar server with a girl named Natalie—every time. We had female lectors and eucharistic ministers as well. When we learned that Cardinal Law was coming to say mass, I was chosen to be the altar server. My parents were quite proud, I suppose I was too, it is always nice to be chosen for something. It was at this point that I had my first issue with the Church. As an inquisitive kid, I naturally asked “how come Natalie can’t do it with me?” The answer I received was that because the Cardinal is here, no women are allowed on the altar. No female altar servers, lectors, or eucharistic ministers. Though I was young, this immediately struck me as very wrong. I told my parents so, and was told “that is just the way it is, to do my job and be quiet” so I did. This never sat well with me and within a year I was no longer an altar server. This was the seed that started me on my road to atheism. The Cardinal’s visit taught me two things: 1) the Church is not always right and 2) question the Church.
I may have gotten out of the altar server thing, but I was still required to go to mass every Sunday. By the time I was in high school we had a priest at the time, Father Dilorenzo. He was militantly anti-abortion. Every week, that was the topic of his sermon, except on those rare occasions where he lambasted the Catholics who do not come to church weekly. (I always wondered why he did that. If those people cared, wouldn’t they have been present?) He is also a pivotal figure in my move away from the Church. He was routinely arrested for his pro-life protesting efforts. I had two thoughts on this. First, I questioned why he kept getting arrested. At this point, I knew enough to realize that people could protest and not get arrested. He must be doing something far worse than just standing there with a sign. (I later learned that he would impede people from entering the clinics by physically standing in their way or even by grabbing and pulling them back). I came to realize that he was a fanatic and his way of dealing with the situation was poor. I learned that even priests can be poor role models. The second I learned was a great deal about the abortion issue. He preached his particular version of intolerance so often, I was naturally curious to learn what the other side of this issue was. Upon closer research, I came to learn about women’s rights and from that point on was vehemently opposed to his views. I made sure that I let my parents know exactly where he went wrong in his weekly sermon.
I went to a Catholic High school. This was in part my choice, but I was certainly steered that way by my parents. I wanted to go there for the simple fact that my two best friends were also going there. Religion did not factor into my decision at all. I had a great time in high school, but once again I found myself at odds with the Church. Each year, we had to take a religion class. The first two years were focused on the bible and were taught by nuns. I was horrified by what I read. As many of you know, the Old Testament is a particularly brutal book. I made some small arguments in class, but quickly realized that would get me nowhere, so more or less kept my opinion to myself. The last two years of high school the classes focused on moral theology and social justice. These classes were taught by laity. I was able to say much more and even take the opposing side of the church on issues. Don’t get me wrong, my teachers did not care for my attitude, but I was not alone. Many classmates shared my views and I started to form the more adult ideas that I have now in relation to Church teachings. This is important to note. Had I gone to public school, I would never have thought about church teachings at this age, and do not know when and if I would have. I would like to think that I would still be where I am today, but I cannot say for sure. The anti-Catholic ideas that formulated in my head at that time were strong and very much influenced who I turned out to be.
I do not want to make much of the following, but it is also important to note that I had a serious problem with Church telling me that what I was learning about my own body and that of my girlfriend’s (we dated all four years) was very very wrong. That in fact, I would be going to hell. That never sat well with me and further drove a wedge between me and the Church.
With the dissenting views I already had towards the Church it is important to point out that the thought of atheism never entered my mind. I never questioned the existence of god; I questioned what his “representatives” on earth were saying. That changed in college. It may surprise you to learn that I also went to a small Catholic liberal arts college. Again, religion never entered into the equation when making my choice. I liked the school, there were a handful of classmate also going there, and it was a couple of hours from home. Perfect.
My first semester at college is when things drastically changed for me. First, I stopped going to mass. I did not like what priests had to say and no one was there to force me to go. Second, I had to take two classes on religion in order to graduate. That first semester I took a bible study class. This time around, I was able to argue, and did so quite effectively with the many biblical objections I have. The lay theologian who taught the class was quite open to these types of discussion. I began to learn that there may be something to my thoughts.
Second semester I took another religion class to fulfill my requirement. The class I took was Moral Theology. Things were much different here than in my bible study class. This course was taught by a priest who was a practiced apologist, and had written some books on the matter. We read his books, as well as stuff like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. All of it resonated as bullshit to me. I spoke up in class and had my arguments with the apologist Priest. He welcomed the discussions, but was a much better debater than I. I was allowed to get away with nothing—that is where it differed from previous religion courses I had taken. To this day, I disagree with much of what he said and argued in support of. However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that his class cemented many of my objections to Catholicism and taught me how to argue the points effectively. I also decided that I liked this whole “philosophy” thing. It would not be my major, but I took enough classes to minor in it.
There is one professor of philosophy that perhaps had the largest impact on my life of any teacher I have ever had. He was enrolled in the seminary, graduated, and then proceeded to leave the Church. He had a PhD in Philosophy as well as masters degrees in psychology and biology. To this day, I am not sure if he is an atheist. What I do know is that he is reason that I am. He was the first person who required me to question the existence of god and the purpose of religion. He, as a good professor, argued both sides (which is why I still do not know where he personally stood or stands). I took four classes that he taught over my four years. The best class I had with him was: Creation vs. Evolution. One of our evolution texts was Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life by Daniel Dennett. The whole god and religion thing collapsed like a house of cards. My major was Political Science, though I focused on political philosophy. Between those courses and the numerous other books I read, I learned what many of the great minds of the past thought, but more importantly to think for myself. I left college an atheist.
The next 15 years of my life were pretty quiet as far as atheism goes. I went to grad school and got a Masters in Political Science. I am happy to say that I married someone who shares my views. It is a nice thing to have a wife who sees eye to eye on religions and god. I more or less kept my thoughts confined to my house. Things started to change for me last year. With the continued rise of the Christian Right I felt the need to become a bit more active. Once the Republican candidates for President started speaking, I really felt the need to speak out. That is why I started this blog. This blog is my platform to speak up. It is my soapbox to point out all that I find wrong and offensive about religion, particularly in relation to the political scene. That is what I will continue to do.
As I will be gone for a week, I would like to invite all of you to introduce yourself and tell your stories. I really enjoy hearing stories of how others came to atheism. If you don’t want to use your real name, make one up, and tell your story. I think you will find it an enjoyable experience to write about. I know I have. My comments section seems to react poorly with Internet Explorer and long posts. If you are having trouble posting, break it up into smaller sections. I really look forward to reading what you all have to say.
Thanks for Reading. I look forward to your stories.