Dear RDF and my fellow converts,
I come from Poland, a supposedly ultra catholic country. Statistics claim that almost 90% of our nation is roman catholic. I suspect it is significantly less, since anybody who was ever baptized is considered being catholic. It doesn't matter if you leave the church later on, they will forever claim ownership of you. But even a nation wide poll would not give you a true picture. Religion is so deeply connected with our tradition that many atheist do not realize they are atheists. Those people, if asked, will often describe themselves as "non-practicing believers" which means they don't even go to church, forget about praying. Some cling to the idea that there must be something greater than us, although I suspect they could be convinced otherwise. But here's the thing; even if they realize they do not believe in a god, it seems they just can not admit it! And by not doing so, they reinforce religion. It frustrates me somewhat. Atheists really need to speak up, break that mental block which was placed in their brains during early childhood.
My father was one of those "non-practicing believers" whereas my mother is a strong anti-cleric. I'm almost 30 and it wasn't until recently that she told me why. As a young girl she was sexually abused by a priest. Surprisingly it is not her most traumatic memory. It is this: one time in church the priest was checking her "knowledge" of the Bible and she gave the wrong answer. She said Jesus was born in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem and then she fainted and fell to the ground. Imagine a child being so afraid, so stressed, that she lost her consciousness! That day she scared the living hell out of her mother and refused to ever go to church again. And by saying "refused" I mean she was getting a panic attack whenever asked to go!
Consequently my path to atheism was really easy. I was neither encouraged nor forbidden to attend church and occasionally I did go with my father, but I must say my mothers attitude and her sarcastic comments towards church and clergy did rub off on me significantly.
And then there was the obvious silliness of biblical stories. For a child it is all very literal. If you allow children to draw their own conclusions, they tend to be quite logical, unspoiled by the thinking routines of adults. So there I was watching an illustrated book, Adam and Eve on one page, Cain and Abel on the next one, Noah some pages further.. My first questions were about the apparent inbreeding that must have occurred. My father was an M.D. and very early explained to me the dangers of this. I was lucky (again) to have parents who used every opportunity to share their knowledge and promote logical thinking while I was very, very young. They were never condescending, did not dumb down any answers. My mother told me she was dumbfounded when I was 4, sitting in her lap on a late tramway ride and asked her why the moon stays in one place while we keep moving. I do not remember this, but I imagine she did her best to try and answer accurately. I think that's the way to go.
So unsurprisingly religion became a source of questions without answers. If there is a merciful God, why is there so much suffering? If a dog kills a cat is he evil? But then again, cats kill birds and mice, so are they evil too?
To be fair, there was a time when I tried to believe in god. Once I almost convinced myself that I heard him speak in the wind. So yes, I've intentionally tried to delude myself. But then again, I tried flying too.. so do not hold it against me ;)
A big part of my conversion was thanks to the church and it's traditions itself. I was repulsed by the idea of eating the "body of Christ" or drinking his blood, metaphorical or not. As well as by confessing my sins to a complete stranger. And I did not understand how repeating a prayer 20 times could absolve me of any sin, seemed inadequate and irrelevant. If someone hurt me, I wouldn't want them to get off that easily. Moreover, I didn't understand why women couldn't be priests. Priests seemed to get all the respect while nuns just kind of lurked in the shadows as if they were sorry to be alive. I was a girl so this injustice just pissed me off. And then there was the odd feeling of being guilty by default, constantly apologising for something I didn't do. The sinister atmosphere of a church.. everyone so sad and quiet. I didn't like it, who would?
So I declined to receive communion when I was 8. I remember asking my friends why they wanted to do it. The girls mainly wanted to receive their traditional golden medallions (to wear around the neck) while the boys were more interested in getting a digital wristwatch. Yep, good old bribery :)
In fact I remember wishing that I was never baptized in the first place, but apparently my mother gave in under my grandma's pressure. My grandmother, a lovely woman who was so afraid that my immortal soul would burn in hell.. I remember she was regularly visited by a priest, who always left with an envelope full of money. It angered me.
I wish I could proudly say that I became an atheist completely on my own, but that is not true. I owe it to my parents. And ironically to the clergy too.
Nowadays my beef is not as much with the concept of a deity as with the direct impact of religious organizations on politics, education, progress of science and human rights. Regretfully I can not say I'm being very graceful nor articulate about it, I am just infuriated.
How can clergy preach morality? How can a priest with no experience of his own on the topic teach a class in "Preparation to family life?" How can a nun teach a couple about how to lead a successful marriage? (required to attend before having a church wedding). I've heard many stories about those classes showing the ignorance, hypocrisy and sometimes mental instability of these "moral role models". One of my friends was told that she should move out of her fiancee's flat about one month before the wedding, so the neighbors wouldn't gossip. Another girl was told, that if her future husband cleans the house but does a bad job, she should thank him, then wait until he leaves for work and clean again without him noticing, as not to hurt his ego. Because "men are like this, you know?". The best story yet was that of my colleague from work, who was told by a priest "every time you masturbate you should collect your semen into a jar and take it to the cemetery, for you have killed millions and committed a great sin". How sick is that?!
And why does the church always ask for money? How dare they parade with a collection plate? Not only do they get tax exemptions, but in Poland the church is funded by the general income tax. Everybody, every single working person is paying 1% of their taxes to the church, including me. I wonder how many people would leave the church if this tax was dependent on your declaration of faith (like it is in Germany).
It is hard for me to restrain myself from radical words every day. I do not want to be one of those raging atheist, although deep inside that's exactly what I am. I'm pro choice for abortion, pro homosexual marriage (or at least another bond giving same social benefits, incl. child adoption rights), pro stem cell research and pro euthanasia. Yet on a daily basis I am bombarded by evidence of how church is distorting our politics and shrinking minds of people.
Curiously, I still can't quite decide what annoys me more, the harmful restrains of "cleansiness" that religion forces onto believers or the hypocrisy of priests who actually break the very rules they preach by driving ridiculously expensive cars, abusing alcohol and paying for prostitution. Out of my pocket nevertheless.
Again, I am lucky. I live in a large city, know many like minded people, have access to internet and any source of information I please. I have a choice where so many do not. My conversion was easy, but I have yet to acquire the skills of articulating my arguments in a gentle manner, so to help others wake up. Until now I was only alienating religious people, which I regret. But I'm slowly getting there :)
And here my many thanks to Richard Dawkins!
For being so active, outspoken, courageous and intelligent about it. And for all those wonderful books! I'm currently reading "Climbing Mount Improbable" having read the previous books and leaving "The God Delusion" for dessert :> I must say that "The Selfish Gene" was so absolutely fantastic, that I kept running up to my friends reading passages to them and probably annoying everyone terribly :)
So thank you and keep writing, please!
With warm regards,
ps. To Mr Dawkins: My respect for your strength to "debate" (if one can call it debating..) creationists. I could never ever do that, hearing them speak just paralyses me.