I was born and raised in the Bible Belt of the South. In the American South, as well as in Christianity and in any other religion for that matter, the absolute worst and most shameful thing a person can do or be labeled with is “being uppity”. Being a Christian in the American South gave me a double dose of that soul-crushing pile of crap.
My family was Episcopalian and tended Mass every Sunday and major holy day, but we were very exposed to more fundamentalist versions of the Christian religion. We had Bible class taught by a fundamentalist once a week, on school time, with repercussions like missing recess if we didn’t memorize our verses for the week, and this was at a PUBLIC elementary school.
We grew up down the street from that school and lived next door to a Reformed Jewish family from New York. As a result of the latter, we had Jewish godparents in addition to the godparents we had at our baptisms.
In terms of thought, my family and our immediate friends at our parish were from the school of Episcopalian thought known as the High Church or Anglo-Catholic wing. That’s the wing that is much closer to conservative Roman Catholicism.
I did have a bout of Dissenter fundamentalism when I was 13 and attended an unaffiliated Baptist church until I figured out that the preacher was full of shit. After coming back to PECUSA (Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA), I attended the Bible study classes at our parish whose members were mostly charismatics, Episcopalians aligned with many aspects of Pentacostalism, for about a year.
Oddly, it was during this same time that I decided I was called to be a priest. And no, as I have frequently explained to those who think all priests are Roman Catholic, that wouldn’t mean giving up sex and marriage. Episcopal clergy have always been allowed to marry, even after ordination.
One of the reasons I chose political science as my major at university (I minored in psychology, religion, and history) was that canon law recommended a social science or liberal arts degree for aspirants to the priesthood. Even though my course of study was officially poli sci, my declared major was pre-seminary.
And so it remained until mid-spring semester my junior year. The priest with whom I’d been working in the process of getting into seminary had decided to become a Methodist minister and we’d gotten another priest to replace him. He proved to be something of an autocrat who related better to what he called the “Scotch and soda” crowd.
Which should have warned me ahead of time: who the hell would fuck up good (or even bad) Scotch with soda or anything else, including water or ice? Well, I am gonna try Scotch and Dr. Pepper one of these days, but only once.
Anyway, in my first meeting with him as my “guide”, he suggested strongly that I go into business so I’d have something to fall back on if things didn’t work out. Since I’d always thought the Church should be run on faith rather than pragmatism, that ended my aspirations to the priesthood, at least in PECUSA.
That didn’t stop me from laying the groundwork for the Chattanooga parish of the Anglican Catholic Church, which I helped establish during one of the periods I was home on leave from the Navy. But that’s another story.
At the time of the flowering of my disillusionment with PECUSA, I had been attending Sunday evening Mass at the Catholic Student Center on campus for nearly three years anyway, as I mentioned in a previous essay, “A Big Chill, or Fuck Forrest Gump” (http://notesfromtheninthcircle.blogspot.com/2011/12/big-chill-or-fuck-forrest-gump.html).
Since I already had long considered myself more Catholic than Protestant, it wasn’t that much of a leap for me to convert. I didn’t go all the way until I got to Holy Family Parish at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, though.
I have only good things to say about my experiences there and the people I got to know there. I attended rosary and Mass every day, even when I was in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and had to stop taking Eucharist for that period. I joined the Knights of Columbus and made it through the Third Degree after my confirmation. After that, I became a lector, a lay Eucharistic minister, and chairman of the community outreach committee upon which sat two lieutenants, three captains, a major, two lieutenant colonels, and a chief master sergeant…and I was a mere petty officer third class.
Since my wife, whom I met much later, was from a very Protestant, in the anti-Catholic sense of the word, my activities were curtailed to the point of nonexistence. It wasn’t until our son, David Nicholas, was born that we began to talk about church. We compromised on the Philippine Episcopal Church and became active members. We were at a teach-in which the vicar of the pro-cathedral was conducting for the whole parish on a Saturday when he dropped dead in front of us and forty other people. I helped revive him on the way to the hospital, but he eventually died permanently a couple of hours after I went home.
Grace was one of two people being confirmed in the PEC the very next day, and David was being baptized. The bishop of the PEC had to take over. Everyone was in a daze and we might have all gone completely crazy if there hadn’t been David to focus on.
That, too, was another parish for which I have only fond memories, except for Brian dying, of course. Pardon the digression, I just needed to give some background on why I ended up Episcopalian again. Back in the States, our little family became founding members of a new mission of PECUSA along with the rest of my family and remained there until the dissolution of my marriage.
And still, I kept going. I eventually switched to the parish of my childhood and youth then back again. Included during this time was a year-long attendance at a conservative synagogue in which I went to services every Shabbat, First Shabbes dinners every month, and inquirers’ class.
During another period I also went to prayer services at a Hindu temple, including Navratri festivities one year. Had there been a mainstream Muslim mosque, I doubtless would have attended that too. There’s no Buddhist pagoda either, but I had been in tune with aspects of Buddhism, especially Zen, since I was in 6th grade.
My next-door Jewish godfather attended Midnight Mass every Christmas Eve, so I saw nothing unusual about attending Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim services.
At one point, my sleep cycle finally got so out of whack that I needed sleep on the weekends more than I needed superficial social contact at the facilities of a religion of which I was only going through the motions of believing. Besides, my son wasn’t really into it either and that had been the main reason I’d been going, at least to church.
With nonattendance decided upon, I had time to think. Not just time, but freedom from interference with my clear thinking. With that I came face-to-face with the self-imposed credulity upon which all religions base the structure of their ideology. In streets terms, I had to clean off my face and stop bullshitting myself.
The arguments among fans of Star Wars and Star Trek and between the two sets of groupies are nearly an exact match in tone for those within any one religion and between believers in different religions, and the basis upon which they base their arguments is equally lacking in validity. In logic terms, all religious arguments are fallacious because all religious arguments are an appeal to authority. Just like arguments between Trekkies based on Star Trek canon for the Star Trek Universe or between their mirror images in the Star Wars Universe or the two against each other.
Religion needs to be called out for what it is: literary fantasy and science fiction. With the twist that most religious texts as we have them today, in ALL religions, serve the purpose primarily of upholding the interests of a society’s elite. In other words, look not to Mount Olympus or the equivalent for your true gods, look to Wall Street or its equivalent, such as Eretz Israel in the case of the sectarian Jewish State or the mullahs of Iran in the Islamic Republic. Not truth but conformity is what religion teaches.
As for our innate sense of right and wrong, that inside voice we hear even when our culturally and/or religiously ingrained voice is screaming at us to do the opposite (say, for example, in the white supremacist American South that went virtually unchallenged until the 1960’s), that has come from millennia, even meganni*, of evolution. If that innate, evolved moral sense, rather than the superficial moral sense of religion, were to ever triumph, humanity would have the world-wide socialist economy it needs to survive, one where the needs of the many outweigh the greed of the few.
(*A megannum is one million years.)
But I digress.
One thing I hate above nearly all else is historical fiction. Not the literary genre, of which I happen to be a fan, but political, religious, and social historical fiction. As I mentioned before, my 12th grade American government teacher first introduced me and my classmates to the idea that we had been “lied” to. Historical fiction is the bane of every religious believer, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, Jain, Wicca, New Age, etc.
A predisposition to credulity accompanies every system of religious belief because humans have to suspend their disbelief in order to believe some of the absurd hypotheses religion teaches as fact. Sometimes, however, a mountain of misinformation reaching up to the heavens falls down upon a believer and the stench forces him or her to face the truth.
The character of Jesus as the protagonist of a persecution-death-rebirth cycle story is anything but unique as several writers known as Church Fathers themselves relate. In fact, some used this similarity as proof that their own doctrines were real.
These other deities—Isis and Osiris, Cybele and Attis, Adonis, Dionysus, Orpheus, Demeter and Persephone, and Mithras, to name the most prominent versions—had stories and tales that were indeed remarkably similar to that of Iesous as formulated in Egypt. Some parts of their stories are incorporated into the Gospels with almost no change, such as the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John. In Roman Judaea, there was no town of Bethany; Bethany derives from “Bet Anu” or the House of Anubis. I don’t know about a parallel for Martha, but Mary, sister of the dead guy, bears the same name as one of the titles of Isis. Lazarus comes from El Azar, Osiris.
Gnosticism is not a heresy of early Christianity; it is a movement that developed in parallel with early Christianity, both most likely originating in Alexandria.
As for the actual history of early Christianity (first century Judaism for that matter, and the Mystery Cults), therein lie the pitfalls of believing only what you are told to believe and ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Hadrian Augustus’ letter to Consularis Servianus in 134 CE recorded in the Historia Augusta makes it clear that the common modern day view of such things holds water about as well as the RMS Titanic after its pilot backed it away from the iceberg:
“There those who worship Serapis are, in fact, Christians, and those who call themselves bishops of Christ are, in fact, devotees of Serapis. There is no chief of the Jewish synagogue, no Samaritan, no Christian presbyter, who is not an astrologer, a soothsayer, or an anointer. Even the Patriarch himself, when he comes to Egypt, is forced by some to worship Serapis, by others to worship Christ…Their only god is money, and this the Christians, the Jews, and, in fact, all nations adore.”
A few years later, Bishop Marcion of Sinope (Pontus, Asia Minor) appeared in Rome with his Evangelikon (Gospel of the Lord, an early version of Luke) and Apostolikon (epistles of Paul: Galatians, I & II Corinthians, Romans, I & II Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, Phillipians, and Philemon, plus Alexandrians and Laodiceans). He also brought with him his Antitheses, an explanation of his own ideas contrasting Jesus of the New Testament with the “Jehovah” of the Old Testament. Antitheses also prohibited allegorical interpretation of any Scripture.
Considering that Marcion has been declared one of the earliest heretics of the Church for eschewing the Jewish Tanakh, it is ironic that his Pauline Epistles have been preserved as presented (except for the last two) and in the same order. His Gospel was heavily interpolated and renamed the Gospel of Luke.
At about the same time, a manual of prayers and religious practice was being passed around Roman Asia known as the Didache. Within the Didache is a set of prayers for the communal meal; modern-day Christians are stumped by the fact that there is a prayer over the cup BEFORE the prayer over the bread.
What they don’t realize, not knowing Jewish practice lasting even to today, is that first there is an offering of the cup to sanctify the meal, followed by the breaking of bread to bless the meal, and another cup after the meal to give thanks. This tripartite offering is actually preserved in the account of the “Last Supper” in the Gospel of Luke, which even the Gentilist Marcion knew about since his Gospel of the Lord was its forerunner and source.
Excuse the aside, but it does show how diverse and unlike our conception of it in its time early Christianity actually was.
Even if the above were not the case, Christian history has been swamped with “pious fraud” endorsed by, perpetrated for, and acquiesced in by Church leaders that Christianity itself has not one shred of credibility left to it. The Shroud of Turin, debunked in 1988, and the more recent fraud over the sarcophagus of “James brother of Jesus” are but two examples that come to mind immediately.
Clearly, Christianity developed out of the ferment of the 2nd century BCE to 2nd century CE that produced the numerous Mystery Cult religions. But whereas the adherents of Isis-Osiris, Demeter-Persephone, Dionysus, Orpheus, Adonis, Cybele-Attis, etc., knew that the stories about their deities were allegories that told a greater truth, some Christian, somewhere in the Mediterranean world, decided that the version of the story he believed in was the literal historical truth. Perhaps it was Marcion, Bishop of Sinope.
Anyone who has been in a Star Trek or Star Wars chat-room or e-list can easily see that happening. Many of the stories from the Star Trek and Star Wars Universes provide useful, or at least amusing, anecdotes to our everyday life. But neither should be a framework by which to organize our lives and our very system of thought, much less our laws by which to govern each other. Nor should any religion ever propagated by humans.
No amount of polite historical fiction can make me ignore the fact that this Universe is 213 duovigintillion km3 in volume, with Terra, our planet Earth, only a mere dust speck by comparison, hardly the be-all, end-all of existence in space-time. At least not anymore.
Yes, I confess that I was once a religious believer, and that I truly and devoutly believed and sought out the truth of what I believed with every fiber of my being. My absolution is that I saw the light, an epiphany to which I was ironically brought by my own ardent seeking for confirmation, and gave up that misbelief.
It was easier after I’d had a conversation with my ten-year old son and learned he thought most of what he “learned” in church was ridiculous. Previous to that I’d been reluctant to come of the unbelief closet, kind of like a parent pretends the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus are real.
At last allowing myself to judge Christianity as it is without giving it the benefit of doubt it does not deserve, my first reaction was anger. Anger at myself for bullshitting myself for so many decades, anger at all the people who’d lied to me over the decades (yes, lied; even if they were lying to themselves like I had been, they were still lying to me) directly through personal interaction or indirectly through their writing, anger at the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity over the centuries, atrocities I and every other Christian are or were complicit in by virtue continuing to adhere to the ideology of mythology which made such atrocities possible.
Rage is a better word than anger. Rage like I haven’t felt since the rage which made me leave the Philippines out of fear of what I might become responsible for if I remained.
Just imagine, I had not even suffered under the same kind of theocratic hell that my unfortunate fellow humans in the Islamic Republics of Iran and Afghanistan have been enduring for decades. Nor was I molested by a pedophile priest protected by an allegedly celibate male hierarchy. Nothing but the mundane crushing of human spirit, freedom of thought, and psychological health that is the everyday business of an institution whose main purpose in fact is to keep people in their place. Nor am I a woman, which would make me a victim no matter what religion I was in.
So, why am I an atheist?
Because I think fairly tales should be kept in their place, and that is exactly what the scriptures of any religion are, fairy tales.
Because I believe in thinking for myself and not persecuting other physically, socially, or even in my own mind because “Authority” tells me I should.
Because adhering to any set of beliefs formed by others is a lie, and doing so also automatically cuts me off from the overwhelming majority of humans.
Because I do not believe in any Master Race, whether formed by conversion or genetics, that has any right to claim precedence above the rest of humanity.
Because there simply is no deity.
Because I am a Terran, a citizen of Earth, because the whole world is my home, and all its people my brothers, sisters, and cousins.