Free from Religion

atheism8

Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Talking about this is difficult enough, but putting my spiritual story into words has been a challenge. It’s 70 years long. While details are normally important, I cut them out because there are too many. I’ll save the “rest of the story” details for a memoir.

I grew up Roman Catholic–I prefer Irish Catholic. In parochial elementary school (K thru 8th grade), I was taught by nuns (Sisters of Mercy, who had none). That was a lot of church and religion. Then, I attended public high school (9-12).

Around age 13 or 14, I would leave home for church on Sunday mornings. But, I would go play pinball for an hour and then walk back home. Maybe I believed in god as a teenager. Because of the way I lived then, I don’t think I did.

My friend Jack and my girlfriend at the time, both attended the Episcopal church down the street. I started going to the youth group there, but my participation there had nothing to do with religion.

Following high school graduation, I joined the Air Force at age 18; I met and married a girl in Texas at age 19; graduated from college and started having children by age 25. Two years later, I was back in the Air Force and flying B-52s.

While I sampled some other Christian denominations during the 70s, I also ventured back to the Catholic Church for a couple of years. We had our marriage made official (sometimes incorrectly called blessed) in the eyes of the Church.

We had three children in the 1970s: boy, boy, girl. While we played on the Pope’s team, the boys were baptized. The girl was born in 1978, but she was not baptized Catholic.  So we must have stopped going to the Catholic Church before mid-1978. By that time, my wife and I decided that Catholicism was not working for us as a family.  Perhaps the anti-Catholic sentiments in her family contributed to her part in that decision. My wife and I always wanted to have a church home for our family. So, we kept looking.

The 80s decade began with us living on the island of Guam for two years. We seldom went to church there. Then we moved to California where we attended a Methodist church. That went well for a long time, and our daughter was baptized. However, our try at Methodist fell apart after the Methodist leadership decided to write political letters. They had no right to speak for me. Eventually, other distractions overwhelmed us, and we stopped going.

We next moved to San Antonio, Texas, then to Oklahoma. From the mid-1980s through the mid-90s, we participated in no religion. While that time was among the most difficult of my life for purely secular reasons, spiritual help would’ve been welcome.

About 1997, we again tried religion. This time it was the First Christian, or Disciples of Christ, denomination. During that time, I was reading books about, and trying to learn about, eastern philosophy and religious thought (Buddhism, Taoism, etc.). That led to my reading of Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. I was spiritually moved by that book, by him, and by other mystics. I considered myself a searcher in the spiritual sense. I was looking for something and trying to understand what I was going through.

In 2000, as we prepared to move back to San Antonio, I told my wife that I intended to go back to the Catholic Church again. Her response was, “Good. I think I’ll go with you.” We did, and this time she became a confirmed Roman Catholic, which means she joined the Church through the sacrament of Confirmation.

We did everything to be good, active, participating members of our large Parish: pray, pay, and obey, as one guy called it. If there was anything we could do, we did it. We went to every adult religious education class, and we participated in many other “ministries.” I ended up teaching those adult classes and I added several lessons to the curriculum, including a critical one called, The Problem of Evil.

I read all of the Bible and started adult Bible Study classes. I did all the lesson plans and taught every class for years. I also taught children’s religious education classes.

I applied to be ordained as a Deacon, but later withdrew my application for a variety of reasons. One was time, and becoming a Deacon required a multi-year program. For two years, I was a member of the Parish Council, then I served as its President for two more years. We were in the top five percent of financial donors to the Parish. My oldest son was married in the church. We did it all. My wife was also employed as the Parish Office Manager for more than 10 years. After she retired, I applied for and received a job promotion that required a move to Florida.

Before we moved, I began to realize that my twelve year immersion into the religion and church of my youth had crystalized within me what I was trying to avoid. I was deeper in doubt. Oddly, it was like I knew too much. I began to realize that I didn’t believe any of it. I felt unfit for any religion because no matter what I did over the years, I did not believe what I professed. I couldn’t. I don’t do hypocrisy well.

I was not ignorant. By 2012, short of most clergy and some long-time apologists, I knew as much about the Christian faith and many other religions, as any layman–more than most. For the next two years, I pondered my beliefs and all that I had put myself through. I am a… I’m… what?

I no longer considered myself a Catholic, practicing or otherwise. I was peeling away the nonsense and discovering my personal truth. I knew the answer, but I avoided it.

I watched a documentary about former ministers who are now atheists. Some were still ministers. I was in awe of their courage. I couldn’t imagine doing that. I still can’t. That’s when I knew I was going to come clean. But how? When? As what?

I probably have not believed in god since I was about 12, but I kept trying. I couldn’t bring myself to write or to say words contrary to belief. I didn’t want to tell anyone. For a long time, no one asked. About three years ago, I did volunteer to a coworker, “I don’t believe it—none of it.” He’s an apostate Mormon and told me that his father, a life-long Mormon, eventually said the same thing.

Question One1Retiring and moving to the Seattle area provided time for me to consider my beliefs in greater detail. I read more about atheism, and I started to write about it.

Then, a few months ago while meeting with my writer’s group, one lady asked me, “Do you consider yourself an atheist?” I didn’t answer the question right then. After more thinking, I knew that I had to say it. So, days after being asked, my answer was yes–I am an atheist.

I gave up on religion because it never worked. Perhaps it never worked because after I reached the age of reason, I never believed again. I wanted to believe, and I wanted it to work. Now, I know that was impossible. I accept that, and I’m pleased with the outcome.

give up religion

I have few regrets about any of my life-long spiritual journey. However, I do regret that so many people consider atheism a dark, bad, evil thing. It’s not. Admitting my atheism freed me from the last of my self-imposed, people-pleaser bondages. Now, I need to find a pinball machine for Sunday mornings. Free again, at last.

May your spiritual journey lead to discovery of your personal truth. Let no one place limits on your life, so that you may grow and learn. We need not fear the truth revealed to us, by us.

 

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18 thoughts on “Free from Religion

  1. Your journey is inspiring. I’ve enjoyed reading your “search” for truth. We all walk our own path and I find that we are each other’s teachers as well as students. There is much to learn from the journey you’ve shared. Thank you.

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  2. Thank you for this. Your journey was much more intense than mine, and far more of a struggle, yet we both ended up in just about the same spot. You gave it a good fight, though.

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  3. It’s an interesting journey, thank you for sharing it. I think searching spiritually is crucial to good living and thinking, but ultimately religions and churches are not my thing. I think a lot of people attend church for the sense of community and belonging, with little regard for labels or doctrine. Of course, there will always be “cradle Catholics” and the like, faith of a small child and all that, but it’s just not my thing. The word “church” does for me what garlic does to vampires. It’s terrible, I admit. I know and love many religious people who attend church, and I seldom think about it. I more often think of heavily churchy people who, more than love, want to judge and dispense. Bleh.
    Also, why Sunday morning? I enjoy services at my UU church, I really do. But 99% of the time, I don’t rise early enough to make it. I value sleep much more than the service. Apparently. I think I’d go much more often if it was not in the morning.

    Of course, life would be easier if I were a morning person, right?

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    • For most of my life, I did not understand how people can me “morning” people. Now I am one. But no objection to sleep. Thanks for the comment. After Vat. II, Catholics started Saturday evening services. It is based on the idea that the Sabbath begins at sundown. I can relate to all you said.

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  4. I’m praying your journey towards Jesus isn’t done. You’ve come to a place of such honesty- and you are a good man through all your doubts. So strong and true, I’m pleased to know you. And I’m impressed that you refuse to pretend when you don’t believe it. Religion really doesn’t work very well- it’s true. I’ve gotten disappointed in Sunday church and no longer attend myself. (I did have many enriched times there, over the course of twenty years though, and one day might return.) However, my Jesus, how He’s helped me. How very real He’s been- and there for me in my darkest, saddest moments. He’s the one that has to be discovered- God’s word, Logos, His message to us. Where the rubber meets the road, God said to me once. All of the Bible is pointing to Him translating how to come home. True religion is this; love. Everything else passes away, all the rules and accomplishments. Only God loving us, we loving Him and each other. I’m saying all this not because I want to get my hooks into you, or because I’m ruffled by your words and want to prove myself right. I just couldn’t stand the idea of Jesus having no advocate. He’s precious to me.

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    • Thank you. I assume you intended to say that ‘organized’ religion doesn’t work very well, since you follow with true religion is love. I am only describing my personal experiences and in some way, letting people know that I’ve had them. There is much not in that blog. There are more blogs to come, so hold your hooks. We do agree on the “love…each other” part.

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  5. good story, PL. I had a vaguely similar one (info on my blog in the boss’s office). I started as a Presbyterian. Prayed a lot to keep my faith and nothing happened. Then looked into a lot of other religions, from Wicca, to Rosicrucianism, and still no more truth there than in the silly idea of predestination.

    I have had a lot of TrueChristians claim that they are praying for me to become a Christian again and that it *will* work. Alas, their claims are as false as ever. I wonder what excuses they tell themselves. There is no love in that religion, it is a need for external validation.

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    • You ‘prayed a lot to keep your faith’, you said. When that didn’t happen you tried other religions and didn’t believe them either. You sound a bit angry in the way you word this. So I’m wondering. Either you’re A. Angry at God because He didn’t give you faith when you prayed for it, or B. Angry at Christians for making you believe that you had to believe in the first place. If you’re angry at God, then obviously, a part of you does believe that He’s out there. And why wouldn’t He answer your prayer for faith? Faith is ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’. (Hebrews 11:1) I believe there’s a decision behind having faith. We must choose it, in other words, to accompany our belief. Faith can start out itty bitty, like a tiny mustard seed. Everyone has at least that much of it which God has provided. You have to use it to watch it grow huge. If you’re angry at Christians for making you think you had to believe that which you don’t, then I understand your objection. We don’t come to Christ because of other people’s demands. We must come all by ourselves, intimately.

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      • No, I’m not angry at all. Perhaps a bit disappointed that people I trusted told me things that have yet to be shown true. So, sorry, your attempt to claim I still believe in your god fails. Still no evidence for God, no evidence for Jesus Christ and no evidence for any of the essential events in the bible. My own personal experience just confirms this.

        Christians often want to pretend that atheist are angry at the Christian god, and they don’t realize that this claim is silly since it is hard to be angry at something that has yet to be shown exists.

        I love your assuming that I somehow could be angry for this god for not giving me faith when I prayed for it. Since the bible claims that prayer will get what is asked for (the mountain will move into the sea, people will be healed, anything will be given per JC, and that a father will not give child a snake if asked for fish) you seem to be contradicting your bible and your god. Now, would that be, Winney?

        You may believe anything you want but that doesn’t make it true. You claim that there is a decision behind having faith. I think that is also true to a point. One can certainly have faith in things unseen, from your god to Santa Claus, to Thor, to Vishnu, to Allah. Faith is based on belief, Winney. You were told that your god exists by people you trust and that trust has unfortunately been transferred to an imaginary being, just like all theists.

        As for faith being small like a mustard seed, one can also finish that biblical claim and point out that your god promised anyone with a little faith could do the miracle promised they could do in the bible. Now, why can no Christian do those miracles? Why are there still people in hospitals, starving, etc, if the claims of your bible are true?

        And where has your god provided faith, Winney? Per your own bible, not everyone gets faith at all, and your god damns them for not believing in it because it made them that way (Romans 9). You seem very ignorant of what your bible actually says, like many Christians. I’ve read it a couple of times. Have you read it even once? If you obviously don’t know your own religion and holy book, why should anyone think your answers are to be accepted as true?

        If we are to come to Christ by ourselves, then your claim that God gives faith is again false.

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  6. Great story – these personal stories of atheism tend to be the best stories publicly available, and yours is inspiring and deftly told. Beats anything from any writing circle.
    What was your mind doing when it was connected with these “faith” groups – churning against itself, or trying to adhere?

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    • Thanks. I depends on when and what group or church. The last was for sure an attempt to get things right. My mind? I have to agree with what the Catholic Catechism says: the behavior of many Christians is largely responsible for the rise of atheism.

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  7. Clubchadenfreude- Those are some very good points you’ve pointed out! You certainly do know your Bible. I accept that perhaps it was the quick, snippy drop of my post that made you sound angry when you replied. I used generalities and made assumptions and I apologize. Here’s an answer, although I’m no scholar- I’m just a simple person.
    Paragraph one: You say there’s no evidence for God or Jesus. Your personal experience confirms it. Mine, as I pointed out to Bill, confirms the opposite. Jesus has answered many prayers for me. So many I can’t remember most of them over the course of 38 years. Since this argument is subjective moving on.
    Paragraph two: I said you sounded angry at God and how could you do that if He doesn’t exist? We seem to be on the same page. If you’re not angry, okay.
    Paragraph three: Bill and I are writers. We’d love to understand this mystery of how to break into the writing market and actually sell a mountain of books someday. Those who’ve figured out the pathway and put in the labor to do it shake their heads. They can see what needs to be done and tell us it’s possible but for us at the beginning of the effort it seems very far away from us. I think the answer to your question here is the same. Jesus, perfect man as well as God on earth, knows how to pray the prayer of faith like no one else. He tells us these heights of faith and prayer can be reached. But to complete the analogy, I haven’t spent 8 hours a week in marketing. I don’t read 2-3 books a week, or write 20,000 words a week to achieve this goal. I also haven’t tried to become a miracle healer or get everything from God I ask for. Jesus said to come like a child. That’s more my speed. I come to Him when I’m scared, when I’m discouraged and when hard things happen. He said in this life we’d have trouble. He is right.
    Paragraph four:
    I didn’t come to Jesus because of what other people told me. I wouldn’t still be following him if that was the only foundation my faith is based on. I put my faith in Him. He is here, with me. He is! I love Him because when I reach out He’s there. The Bible bank in my head gives me words of comfort. I’ve asked for wisdom and received it, many times. (I need to ask for that a lot.)
    Paragraph five:
    My point about faith being small like a mustard seed just means that if a person wants to have faith he or she can. I’ve talked to other atheists and agnostics who get hung up on this point. There are gifts the Spirit gives. I believe I was given the gift of faith. It’s easy for me to believe and I have even Christian friends who wonder why they can’t like I do. I say the same thing to them. Faith may seem very tiny like a seed so small you can barely see it. But it is there and it can grow. Christians have performed miracles like is done in the Bible. Watch a Christian movie coming soon to a theater near you about one. Of course, you’d have to believe what they were telling you.
    Paragraph six:
    The point of Romans 9 is a long one which Paul is making over several more chapters, concerning the Israelites. Again, it has to do with faith. Or more exactly, faith over working your way to Heaven. Using Pharaoh as an example- the man of old refused to believe no matter that all manner of impossible supernatural disasters were happening all around to prove to him that God existed. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened but as a result, God’s people were set free. In the same way the Jewish people, focused on the law instead of faith, worked all day long and yet saw a bunch of Gentile’s receive God’s salvation. God had a bigger plan involving the salvation of a vast amount of people, who, unlike Pharaoh, do choose to believe. I think that king of old could’ve turned to God at any moment. This is answering the question, can’t God change a heart, to soften it if He can do anything? He can, of course. But he allowed Pharaoh to have a hardened heart, so that He could bring about the salvation of many. God did not make you unable to have faith and then condemn you for it. If you know the Bible, as you say, you seem to have missed the entire point of it.
    I don’t understand what you mean by the last line.
    Anyway, I’m sorry if I was flippant. Your life and journey are valid and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise!

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