After reading the varied indoctrinations people were subjected to as children and their journeys into blind belief, doubt, and then non-belief, I felt compelled to chime in on my own little journey to being a full-fledged non-believer (a term Sam Harris seems to prefer, as opposed to “atheist” which critics and religious entities regard as just another “belief” system).
I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, which came from my mother's side of the family. My dad had to convert to Catholicism to be married in a Catholic church, but he never really was religious and went to church every Sunday for my mother's sake. It was also more of a social outlet for my folks, and part of a weekly family routine. My dad tended to be ambivalent about being Catholic as he was loosely brought up in a Buddhist household, but not devout by any means. To be clear, I'm not even sure of his family's beliefs as it just wasn't a subject to be discussed in those days. My mother on the other hand came from a deeply Catholic background, but my aunt (her eldest sister) was the pillar of religiosity. I remember being made to say the rosary with the family when we were over at my aunt's visiting. Despite not enjoying the whole rosary ritual, I would pray for forgiveness for all the sins a 7 or 8 yea r old boy was capable of. I was actually a fairly obedient lad and would often “make up” sins when I was forced to go to confessional during mass, which was an oxymoron in hindsight. At this tender age, I was introduced to sexual indiscretions in the form of groping in our Cathecism brother's private quarters.
When I reached my early teenage years, I was still praying for forgiveness for my “sins” which mainly involved sexual thoughts. It sounds humorous now, but back then, I struggled over how the more I thought about confessing those “sins”, the more I thought about those “sins”. It was a vicious cycle, and the Devil always seemed to prevail!
Then came boarding school run by the Jesuits in a small village somewhere in the Midlands, UK. There I witnessed blatant inappropriate sexual advances made by the Jesuit brothers and priests. Still, I purposely tuned out those indiscretions and continued to seek out Catholic groups like the Newman Centers at US colleges which I attended later on. There, I was initiated into some good ol' American TV evangelism and suddenly, Christianity became something completely “in your face” in contrast to the more private and sedate British treatment of religion. It was also the first time I had been exposed to blatant condemnation of certain groups of people such as gays, broadcast for all to see on TV.
My Catholic upbringing was rather cursory and we never really had bible studies or be required to memorize or even read the bible. My teenage years was also a time when I realized I was gay, and was deeply closeted and ashamed to admit it publicly. I tried to make some sense of it all in the Christian context and rationalized that the Leviticus passages that condemed homosexuality was actually mistranslated/misinterpreted from the ancient texts as proposed by religious moderates and apologists.
Somewhere down the line, I was initiated into a Christian fundamentalist group which echoed the sentiments of fire and brimstone for all sinners like me, and around that time, I started doubting the whole concept of organized religion and how the bible could be cherry picked and used to justify just about anything under the sun. If I had known the bible actually contained that much violence and inconsistencies early on, I probably would've questioned and rejected it much sooner. I just could not accept that I would go to hell merely for being born gay. If everyone was God's children, then why did God create us to begin with. And if God was omniscient and omnipotent, how could He have made such a huge blunder? He sounded too childish and evil, like a kid toying around with human lives in an experiment straight out of an episode of Twilight Zone.
By the time I finished college, I still could not give up the whole concept of God so I decided I was an agnostic, believing that there has to be something that made us “thinking”, complex beings. Years of witnessing the horrors of the world done in the name of religion, and the atrocious hypocrisy of some outspoken religious wingnuts (a la Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart, etc), and then finally hearing about Richard Dawkins', God Delusion, I finally erased all belief from my psyche, and at last, felt freed from the shackles of religious indoctrination.
I absolutely agree that religious indoctrination by parents and educators is a form of child abuse, and it has gripped a nation such as the US into psychological submission, not unlike totalitarian regimes such as North Korea where its ruler is regarded as all powerful and God-like. If statistics prove correct that approximately 90% of the US public believe in a personal God and saviour, and the current president believing that God personally speaks to him and commands him on his actions in office, we are in serious trouble, my friends. Deprogramming and deconversion takes monumental effort and does not always succeed, and perhaps there isn't any genetic advantage for humankind to NOT believe; who knows? I am hopeful that with further religious extremism, the public will start to question the role of religion in their lives and organizations will be formed to oppose a once unopposable entity. Professor Dawkins, you are the pion eer and champion in this struggle, and your small cohort of eloquent outspoken non-believers, ie. Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Pat Condell, et al, are truly inspiring some of us to say, NO MORE OF THIS NONSENSE, FOR DARWIN'S SAKE!!! You are all my heroes! Please don't give up on herding those cats – if we can teach them to use the toilet seat instead of the litter box, there surely is still a glimmer of hope!
Albert in Washington