If I could have been an altar girl, maybe this never would have happened.

My best friend from high school asked me in the comments on the Faitheist post about the catalyst that moved a former Catholic to atheism.  I haven’t really told that story yet – so I thought I’d bring it out of the comments and make it a separate post.

I wish I could point to something specific, but to be honest there isn’t one thing. I questioned the Catholic dogma pretty early on, and no one was willing to take on my questions. The Catholic Church is not exactly a great place to argue whether animals are capable of love (the Catholics say no), whether it is important to memorize the Ten Commandments in order (I refuse to believe that matters), why girls can’t serve on the altar during Mass (a practice that has changed in some parishes) or whether homosexuality is really wrong. And yes, as a kid I found all of those discrepancies between my own beliefs and the Catholic church to be equally important.

The truth is that I don’t think I’ve ever really believed in God, as much as I wanted to at times. There is a lot that I love about religion and spirituality as a matter of ceremony, structure and discipline – but as much as I tried, I always felt like I was just playing along.

Within the past ten years or so, I have gone through this period of being really angry at “religion” for the hate and rhetoric that tears our country apart. Interestingly, I never blamed Islam for terrorism – but I blamed Christianity for homophobia, racism and misogyny. And in the end, it’s all just misplaced blame.

The word “atheist” scared me for a long time – because it scares so many other people. But one day I just decided that I was tired of dancing around the word. It was true, so I was going to own it. (I have a few very close friends who are atheists, and they owned it first.) But I knew that if I was going to use that word, I needed to be educated and articulate about why. So I started to read a lot about religion. (The Evolution of God is a fantastic book. The author, Robert Wright, is not an atheist, but it’s a wonderful historical view of God. I have a list of other resources that are great, if you are interested in reading more on the history of religion.) The more I read, the less I blamed religion for all that is wrong with the world, and realized that it might just be religion that will ultimately be able to repair some of the wrongs.

Where am I now? I love thinking about God and religion from a historical and social perspective. I can’t deny the impact that the idea of God has had and continues to have on society. More importantly, I have no desire to change anyone else’s mind about their belief in God. If that belief is something that helps you to structure your life, educate your children to be wonderful people and gives you a stable, strong community – go for it. I’m just not going to be playing along.

2 thoughts on “If I could have been an altar girl, maybe this never would have happened.

  1. Chris, I’m so delighted to have influenced one of your posts with my question. I really respect your position and the time you have put into researching religious history. (Because what librarian doesn’t respect an individual who does research for purely the chance for personal growth and enlightenment?) I have to say that my husband and I continue to question some of the positions and stances our church takes on some of your aforementioned social issues. It’s quite interesting when we sit down and discuss those with my mother-in-law who is a Methodist pastor! (I always make him lead off the discussion BTW) But I truly believe that there isn’t a perfect religion. Individuals just choose which one works best for them and how they view and choose to worship God. I try to honor people’s choices and have never been a “recruiter” for God. Perhaps I would be called out by many as not being devout enough if I am not willing to evangelize in the name of my God….but too many times I’ve seen that push people away from organized religions. It’s the judgements people pass on each other that bothers me most. I try each day to be respectful and hold my tongue when I see someone I feel isn’t leading a so-called “righteous” life. But I am a human who falls very far from perfection. I’m just hoping that by taking part in organized religion, I will have the platform to instill compassion, kindness and caring in my children. If my boys take that away from our Sunday routines, then I will feel I’ve had some success as a parent!

    • I really love that you brought up the topic of human imperfection. I think that is what is at the core of my issue with Catholicism. They’ve institutionalized the idea that the church leaders are infallible, but humans are imperfect.

      Obviously my opinion on whether you are devout “enough” or not is likely of little consequence, but I know that you live your life to create a world for your children that is a little better today than it was yesterday. I’m not really sure I can imagine anything that is more righteous than that.

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