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Losing My Religion

My mother would probably have been raised Catholic, had her mother not died when she was four. Being of Italian parentage, it’s the default religion. I’m not even sure if my mother went to church regularly. Her stepmother wasn’t supportive and kept her and her sister outside till ten at night.

By the time I came along, third in the family with a six-year gap, my mother didn’t even bother getting me or my younger brother baptized. I seem to recall a few sessions in some church when I was young but I might have mixed that up with other things. I do know that when the teacher would ask us in class what we did in Sunday school I had a secret shame, because I did not go. I was different.

I did seem to have a spiritual bent because when I was about five my turtle died. I remember having a funeral, carrying the turtle in its little box down the steps in the back yard. A couple of little friends were lined up behind me. Then I buried the turtle against the side of the house but worried that it wasn’t protected. So I placed colored stones in a semicircle around its grave, butting up against the wall of the house.

Then my older brother turned Mormon from when he was around 16-18. (He got baptized twice because they slipped and dipped him a second time. We always joked that his soul needed extra cleansing.) My mother let us be taken to Mormon Sunday school, I think mostly to get us out of her hair for a couple of hours and give her a break. Strangely, I remember nothing of Sunday school so I don’t think we went for very long. My mother would roast the Mormon missionaries that were assigned the Anderson household, asking them why they had no black people in their inner temple (the one in Salt Lake City), why only the rich could go, etc. They must have drawn the short straw to see who would have to visit my mother.

My mother certainly didn’t attend church and she tended to read a lot of Edgar Cayce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Cayce) books when I was young. I read or flipped through a few in my teens and Wiki says he was probably the forefather of the New Age movement. He does seem to be a kind of modern oracle who tried to ease people’s physical suffering.

As a teenager, I went with my mother to a few Spiritualist Church events. They sang hymns, which I didn’t like, but then would do palm or psychometry readings, or aura readings. A little bit of free fun. I was never convinced in what I was told though. I also felt no inclination to follow this path. I remember attending one friends communion around when I was 16. I felt intensely uncomfortable, being unfamiliar with churches and especially Catholic rites. After that I tended to avoid churches because I felt uncomfortable with them and unfamiliar in them.

I did continue to explore and think of spiritual and metaphysical matters throughout my teens. At one point my mother attended an experiment being done through the University of Calgary on psychic energy. In one room they had one of those bulbs that have the light sensitive vanes inside. The bulb was in a darkened room and in another room sat a person trying to move the vanes with psychic energy. I have no idea what the results of the experiment were, but my mother met several people intrigued with this aspect.

I would go with her to these meetings at one person’s house where we would try spoon bending, psychic impressions, psychometry, aura reading, etc. It wasn’t religious or spiritual, just exploring psychic phenomenon. There was one guy when we tried reading each other’s minds where it seemed he was trying to manipulate. Interestingly enough, on the drive home my mother had also got strange feelings about the guy.

Eventually the group dissipated, my mother stopped going and the group sort of reformed as a meditation group. I think we did start to get into some spiritual aspects as well. However, I left the group when it got down to Ouija board practice and asking the “spirits” and how to conduct day to day affairs. It got ridiculous and no one seemed to make a decision with their own brains, so off I went.

I moved to Vancouver, and continued my own explorations into spirituality but it didn’t involve churches at all. When I was 25 a young cat I had disappeared one night. I looked everywhere for her, put posters out, checked the SPCA. Nothing. So then I put out prayers, pleas, bargains, cajoling, threats to any deity that existed. And nothing.

At that point I gave up the last vestiges of being a Christian, and lost my religion. I also realized at that time that our North American culture is so permeated in Christian values that even if a person is agnostic they still are ruled by these values. It shapes our everyday affairs, how we conduct our marriages and families. It is in everything we do. At that point I claimed to no longer be even a token Christian and I also tossed out the belief that we’re guilty until proven innocent, as sits at the base of most Christian doctrines. Jesus didn’t die for my sins. He didn’t know me and in these tenets we’re all bad and flawed and tainted. I didn’t like being painted with guilt and so I wasn’t.

I became agnostic at that point, and believed in nothing (refused to believe in anything) for three years. After that the journey of discovery continued and does to this day, but that’s a tale for another time.

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There is No God

Or is there? An age-old debate that can’t be proved or disproved. But now the atheists have decided to campaign with a poster that first started on the sides of buses in England, with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I don’t know whether they actually capitalized god or not since this was put out by the British Humanist Association. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7681914.stm

Canada’s Freethought Association is running a similar campaign and supposedly the BHA raised more money than anticipated, making their run of ads longer and more far reaching. http://freethoughtassociation.ca/n2ew/ Okay, so atheists don’t believe there is a god, or gods, or divine forces, or mythic animals, or talking snakes or whatever. They have felt a need to champion their side against various ads that have promised salvation or damnation.

This has upset some people, offending some religious groups with “probably” no god. Stephen Green (of pressure group Christian Voice, though I’m not sure what that means) , in the BBC Newsarticle said, “Bendy-buses, like atheism, are a danger to the public at large.” Errr, really? Like Christianity, and Muslim and all those other beliefs in which people have died for not believing or during a holy crusade or pogrom?  I wonder what the danger is, questioning things? That has got people into trouble since the beginning of time: human curiosity.

Of course, one of the star supporters is a writer named Richard Dawkins who said, “This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think – and thinking is anathema to religion.” http://richarddawkins.net/article,366,The-God-Delusion-Review,Barney-ZwartzCBC-News Hmm, this guy starts to fall into the same realm as the religious right (any religious right) where they assume one thing and believe not only should everyone follow their version but if they don’t, they’re blasphemers or worse, should be killed for being unbelievers. Sweeping statements tend to fall into the realm of bigotry and blind faith, whether for believing in a god or believing there is none.

Dawkins is a bit into sweeping statements like the bendy bus guy. Thinking is anathema to religion. Noo, not really. But thinking is anathema to some religious sects or branches, those that tend to like the fundamentalist “our way or the freeway to hell” version of belief. Many religions enjoy and encourage open dialogue and discourse, and if one is firm in their faith, questioning it shouldn’t be a problem. Many theologians exist just to study religions, to ask and discuss questions. Maybe Dawkins is an atheist theologian.

I don’t care if one believes in a beard guy in a white nightgown, a sentient mist, the flying spaghetti monster, a three-headed talking god, sparkling fairies, or in the great abyss of nothingness. Every person should be allowed to believe in what makes them comfortable, as long as they don’t injure another in the pursuit of their beliefs. If any god needs people to campaign for it, then that god  is in trouble. I can see why atheists might campaign and there were some good points of view presented on CBC yesterday by a speaker for the Freethought Association.

I’m not an atheist, nor do I believe in the Christian god, but that shouldn’t matter. I can coexist with a whole bunch of belief systems and think that thinking about religion or there being no god is not a bad thing. And yeah, atheists should get their piece to say as well. Maybe it should be Atheists, capitalized. They’ll help keep a balance and I firmly believe church and state should be separate because power can be abused. There are some exceptions maybe, like the Dalai Lama, but I’d need to do more research into that before I could speak knowledgeably about it.

But I’ve always liked the signature line my brother (who loves to play devil’s advocate) put on his emails: “God hates me because I’m an atheist.”

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