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Saturday, 11 May 2013

I Am An Atheist

I am an atheist. I am not an agnostic. I am an atheist. If you are interested as to why I came to believe what I do read on. If not, skip on to one of my other stories. I know this is not a topic that everyone is willing to take a look at.
Like most atheists I believe that everyone has the right to believe in whatever they want to as long as those beliefs do not cause harm to others without the same thinking. I also believe that by far most people who adhere to an organized religion do so because of how they were brought up. Whether we admit it or not, our parents have an extraordinary influence on us.
I grew up in a non-religious household in Montreal in the 1950s. Both of my parents were atheists. We never went to church and I never attended Sunday school. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about religion at the dinner table. From time to time my father would talk a bit about “pie in the sky” but that was about it. We celebrated Christmas and Easter but there was no religious connection to those days.
At an early age, I was aware that some of our neighbours went to church on Sundays and that some went to synagogue on Saturday mornings. Back then, Catholics went to Catholic Schools and Protestants, Jews, and “others” attended schools that were part of The Protestant School Board. The 50s was a conservative time and most parents didn’t want to rock the boat. Your family may not have been believers but in a de facto kind of way you identified as being a Protestant. I guess you kind of had to be something.
For the most part, people of different faiths got along. Religion was rarely discussed outside of the home. One reason for this is that it could cause a lot of unneeded trouble and even jeopardize an adult’s livelihood. There was no mistaking that one’s religion was often a large part of a child’s identity. Kids tend to hang around with those that go to the same school as them.
Back then, Protestants seemed kind of white bread in that they may or may not have been regular church attendees but you would have a tough time identifying their beliefs other than being for things like law and order. There were two kinds of Jewish people, the ones that strongly believed in their religion and the others that identified more with their heritage. Some of them never went to synagogue other than for a wedding or a bar mitzvah. Catholicism was a very powerful religion with a lot more demands than being a Protestant, the priests, the nuns, the beads, the fish on Fridays etc.
Parents may not have wished to discuss religion outside of the home but many had a clear direction that they wanted their children to follow. In a lot of homes the kids were taught that their religion was superior to others. In the sanctity of one’s home distrust of other religions could also be expressed. There were and are derogatory terms for the “others”. From time to time these thoughts could spill out from homes and occasionally kids would end up in fights. Added fuel could also be the French/English differences. All parties had their factions who had their prejudices.
I went to an elementary school called Willingdon which was part of the Protestant School Board In Montreal  Although it was not listed on our report cards we did have bible classes. We learned what the 10 commandments are. We recited the 23rd psalm. We even sang spiritual songs like Swing Low, Sweet Charriot. We were told about the birth of Jesus, Moses in the bulrushes, the parting of the Red Sea, and the 40 loaves of bread and the 40 fish.
I never really bought into any of it. The stories were kind of interesting at that tender age but a lot of it seemed very implausible. To me Aesop’s fables made more sense. Personally, I think by the time a child is 5 years of age they have a good sense of right and wrong and adding another dimension like religion isn’t needed to cement knowing the difference.
For the first few years of grade school there was a miniature manger with the 3 wise men at Christmas. I can’t recall any kid associating Christmas with religion and Christ’s birthday. It was all about the gifts and Santa Claus.
I can’t recall talking to other kids much about religion. Mostly it was TV cartoon shows, dirty jokes, sports, and the latest fads like Davey Crockett and yo-yos. I do remember sitting on the front door steps at a Jewish girl’s house and her telling me and others that we were responsible for Jesus’s death. Me? Really?
For the most part I never really had much of a clue what others were up to when they went to church on Sunday or the synagogue on Saturday. I had a Jewish friend who disappeared after regular school to go to Hebrew school. I think the first time I ever set foot in a Catholic institution was at a school called St. Malachy’s when I was about 10 years old. It was some kind of open house kind of thing where you could shoot basketballs or play floor hockey in the gym. What left a lasting image was the sight of some boys in raggedy clothes who appeared to come from poor families.
For some reason I can remember some conservations I overheard between a few older Jewish boys. I can’t recall the details but the talk involved questioning some things that we had taken for granted. It was as if they were at a higher plain than I was used to. You might call it intellectual. Whatever it was, it left a lasting impression on me.
As mentioned in another one of my stories, I was a bit of a TV addict in the 50s. Unbeknownst to anyone else I would watch religious programs if there was nothing else on. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was quite popular at the time. He would tell matter of fact kind of stories about people. He was always dressed in a religious robe and had very strange eyes. His stories were always parables that seemed to end up with him saying you were going to fry in hell if you didn’t smarten up.
I watched evangelicals like Billy Graham and Oral Roberts. Even as a kid I was amazed that one man could influence so many. The theme was pretty much the same all of the time. Right and wrong and the bible and a belief in god being the absolute only answer to any question.
When I was about 16 I went to some Sunday night meetings at a nearby United Church. I think the group gathering was called Hi-C and later YPU (Young People’s Union). I went purely for social reasons. Some of my friends brought me along. I didn’t believe in god but was impressed with the church. Occasionally at the meetings I would voice my disbelief. I’m pretty sure some others took this as a means to get attention. It wasn’t. I have to give the parents who oversaw the group credit for not asking me to leave immediately. I appreciated their tolerance. One of the things I also liked about the United Church was that they didn’t seem to be overly judgemental. They seemed progressive and devoid of evoking fear.
I am sure there are some who remember their younger years as being blissful and look at their twenties as a walk in the park but the reality is that almost all of us have had difficult times in our lives. In life, some of us have been luckier than others. Sometimes misfortune is something we have no control of. There are dark moments in everyone’s lives. Some days are just not that sunny. Sometimes we need to distance ourselves from the picture in front of us. An effort often needs to be made to change whatever for the better.
I’ve never sat up in the middle of the night praying. There were times when I was a kid that I was frustrated that I had no control over a number of events. I couldn’t use that excuse as an adult. In life, resilience is what kept me going. More than once things seemed a bit futile or that progress wasn’t happening fast enough. I knew that nothing was ever going to be perfect but if I could get to 80% or so that would be pretty decent.
I don’t have an exact philosophy about life. I could care less about how the earth originated. I believe we only have one life and that that there is no prize at the bottom of the cereal box called heaven. I’m grateful that I have been able to have a full life.
I have a value system. I fully appreciate nature and our ability to enjoy so many aspects of being a living human being. I also believe in a balance, that there is time to go fast and a time to go slow. We are always evolving and although the past is our history our destiny often requires adapting.
It is quite apparent that there are a number of brilliant people who believe in god. Many of these people have stuck with one religion throughout their whole lives. Most have grown up with the faith that they have. I can’t really argue with their choices. What I can argue with is the common hypocrisy.
If religion is a club or organization you belong to, why is OK to repeatedly break the rules with no intent of adhering to the rules? Something like 90% of Catholics use birth control for instance.
When one religious person with a position in his or her church spouts hate why don’t others of the same faith or a different faith speak out about this damaging vitriol?
Why do many Christians condone breaking the 10 commandments?
#1 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  Hasn’t money and wealth become a god to many?
#2 Thou shalt not make unto thee any craven image. There are churches with all kinds of statues of saints aren’t there?
#3 Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain. Heard any gawddamits lately?
#4 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Know any Christian business owners that keep their businesses running on Sundays?
#5 Honour thy father and thy mother. Do all parents really deserve to be respected? Even when they have done horrific things?
#6 Thou shalt not kill. This isn’t a multiple choice thing. People have been killed for land (American Indians), for the oil they have, because they have a different religious belief. Wars have been started against people who have been of no threat. Millions have died over the centuries because of religion. Innocent women and children have died. Is this OK?
#7 Thou shalt not commit adultery. There isn’t enough room here to print all the names of famous people of faith who have committed adultery.
#8 Thou shalt not steal. Stealing isn’t just breaking into someone’s house or robbing a bank. Stealing is avoiding paying income tax. Stealing is when corporations and their officers get no jail time for stealing from their clients. Stealing is paying off politicians.
#9 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Just think of all of the lies that have been told by people of faith, some out of pure dumbness, other times just to stir up fear and distrust.
#10 Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s house, his wife….Society today is saturated by people who want what someone else has. Some of the very rich do not need more but want it anyway.
The world is an astounding place and life is an astounding thing. I am as curious as the next person. I don’t need all of the answers. What would I do with all the answers if I had them?
I’ve been on this planet for almost 66 years. I know some things. I know what a con is. I know that there is a reason some religious types want to scare you. I know that for some the end justifies the means. I know that religious types who ask you for money on TV are mostly living very extravagant lives. I know that there are many who choose others to do their thinking and never question anything.
I also know that when you bend all the rules that the rules no longer have much substance and can become meaningless.
Certainly nobody is perfect but it seems to me what used to be the golden rule still applies…do unto others as you would be done by.
I am not writing this to try and destroy your faith if you do have a faith.
The evidence is out there. We know the difference between right and wrong. Bending facts is simply delusional.
Atheists are not a formed group. We have almost no power in our non-beliefs. Like any other faction, some of us are a real pain in the ass. What we generally have in common is a large amount of tolerance. In some areas it would be almost impossible for us to get elected. I also know that there are a lot more of us out there than some would think.
Statistics about organized religion can be confusing. Something like less than 50% of Canadians and Americans attend a church weekly. Agnostics sit on the fence betting on both possibilities. More and more people are choosing spiritualism which often seems to be whatever you want to make up to suit yourself. You have to wonder if the two biggest religions in the world are Christianity and Islam how one god could or the other could have failed so often.
There are about 2.1 billion Christians in the world.
There are about 1.5 Islamists in the world.
There are about 1.1 non-religious, secular, agnostic, and atheists in the world.
Did you know that about 42% of the population of Vancouver, BC has no religious affiliation?
So…let me tell you what having no religion in my life has done for me.
I’m a pretty happy guy almost all of the time. I don’t stay up at night worrying about things. I am often in awe of nature. I enjoy a wide variety of things. I believe in ying and yang and balance. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I laugh a fair amount. I don’t take myself too, too seriously. I almost always try to make the best of things. I’ve had an interesting life. I’m not worried about dying and what happens to me.
In closing, I thought I would jot down a bit of a list of some famous people who believe or believed that they were only along for one ride.
Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Michelangelo Antoni, Kingsley Amis, Fred Armisen, Isaac Asimov, Francis Bacon, Kevin Bacon, Bela Bartok, Sarah Bernardt, Norman Bethune, Simone de Beauvoir, George Carlin, Bon Geldof, Billy Joel, Charlie Parker, Giuseppe Verdi, Frank Zappa, Julian Assange, Dave Barry, James Baldwin, Charles Darwin, Henrik Ibsen, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, Arthur Miller, Harold Pinter, Marcel Proust, Phillip Roth, Gore Vidal, H.G. Wells, Virginia Wolf, Billy Connolly, Phyliss Diller, Sergei Eisenstein, Peter Fonda, Dave Foley, Paul Giamatti, Katherine Hepburn, John Huston, Larry King, Burt Lancaster, Fritz Lang, Charles Laughton, Bill Maher, Mike Nichols, Gene Roddenberry, Ray Romano, Andy Rooney, Sarah Silverman, Matt Stone, Clarence Darrow, Pierre Curie, Thomas Edison, Carl Sagan, Alfred Nobel, Larry David, Lance Armstrong, Davif Feherty, Pierre Berton, Johannes Brahms, James Cameron, Arthur C. Clarke, Noel Coward, Richard Dawkins, Marlene Dietrich, Stanley Donen, Jodie Foster, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, John Landis, Geddy Lee, Seth MacFarlane, Jawaharial Nehru, Fredrich Nietzche, Joyce Carol Oates, George Orwell, Linus Pauling, Ivan Pavlov, Brad Pitt, Daniel Ratcliffe, Ron Reagan Jr., Keanu Reeves, Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Diego Rivera, Richard Rogers, Bertrand Russell, Margaret Sanger, George Santayana, Jean-Paul Sartre, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Dmitri Shostakovich, David Suzuki, Matt Tiabbi, Emma Thompson, Pat Tillman, Kurt Vonnegut, Roger Waters, Gene Wilder, Tom Wolfe, Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg.

If you want to see an interesting video on YouTube...Google....Jerry Dewitt on his transition from pastor to atheist.   As a former Pentecostal preacher he has some interesting viewpoints on religion.

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