75 % Atheist and 25 % Percent Agnostic

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I grew up in an Italian Irish family.  What else would I be except a devout Catholic?  The bigger question is how did I go from being a Catholic to an Atheist or at least a 75% percent Atheist?  I now claim I am seventy-five percent Atheist and twenty-five percent Agnostic.  I will explain this formula later.

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Well, my journey from one God to no God started many years ago and perhaps mimics the trajectory of many a lapsed Catholic.  Went to a Catholic school.  Lots of Catholic theology.  Bible study each week.  Surrounded by priests and nuns.  Confession on Fridays followed by ten “Our Fathers” and twenty or so “Hail Marys.”  Church and communion on Sunday.  Back to being bad, masturbating and thinking dirty thoughts about the girl in the pew next to me on Mondays.  She kept wearing skirts that hiked up above her knees when she sat down.  The nuns kept telling her that her skirts were too short, but she somehow ignored their admonitions.  I was personally awfully glad that she did.

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Sounds a little bit like I should have been a priest.  Sadly, I did not even make altar boy. Along the way, my questions about God received the standard answer.  Question, “Who made God?”  Reply, “God always was and always will be.”  Just before my 12th birthday, a godly priest damned me to hell for taking an unauthorized ride at a carnival that was set-up for a Catholic fund raiser.  Between bull-shit answers about God, condemnations for horny thoughts and being damned to hell, I decided to leave Catholicism for (as they say) greener pastures.

HuffP1-1Like Dion DiMucci’s “The Wanderer,” I spent years wandering from church to church and religion to religion to explore other venues for spirituality.  Dion was my favorite pop singer in the sixties.  As I write this, he is still alive and performing.  One of his most popular hits was a song called “The Wanderer.”  The lyrics grabbed every guy I hung out with, and we all dreamed of being macho and tough like the guy in the song.

Oh well I’m the type of guy who will never settle down
Where pretty girls are well, you know that I’m around
I kiss ’em and I love ’em ’cause to me they’re all the same
I hug ’em and I squeeze ’em they don’t even know my name
They call me the wanderer, yeah the wanderer
I roam around, around, around.

Oh well I roam from town to town
I go through life without a care
‘Til I’m as happy as a clown
With my two fists of iron and I’m going nowhere.

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I suppose I had somewhat of Dion’s attitude towards religion.  To me they were all the same.  One God, their God, their rules.  You bought into their shtick, or you did not belong.  The price of admission.  Sell your soul for their traditions, their beliefs and their theology and you will be saved and adored and admitted into the flock.  Ask any questions, challenge any favorite tropes and excommunication and hell fire awaits you.  Their God always reigned supreme, and any other Gods were fake.  That is why the term for parishioners as a flock is so appropriate.  Most people are like sheep who flock together and have little stomach for questioning authority.  I have to say most, or my spouse will jump on me for a really gross generalization.  She helps to keep me in line when my cynicism towards the world outruns reality.

After not finding any religions that met my standards of objectivity and open-mindedness, I came to reject organized religions as evil and dangerous.  Witness the many wars fought in the name of someone’s God.  I started defining myself as an Atheist.  I despised all religions.  I sought out other Atheists but paradoxically found that I did not fit in with the Atheist groups that I met.  Atheists profess a strong orientation towards science, logic, and evidence as a basis for spirituality, but many of the Atheists I met were narrowminded, bigoted and worst of all made decisions without sound evidence or data.

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My faith in Atheism was shaken many times by highly religious people who had more in common with my beliefs than the Atheists I had met.  For instance, when Sister Giovanni was interviewing me to teach at Guadalupe Area Project, I informed her that I was an Atheist.  She replied, “I don’t care what you are as long as you are a good teacher.”  I still could not find any evidence for God, heaven, hell, or an after life not rooted in hopes and dreams but nevertheless my Atheistic roots over the years have continually been shaken.

Some of the things that have shaken my beliefs are the many good people who passionately believe in God and their religious obligations towards others.  Jesus said:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” — Jesus Christ, English Standard Version (Luke 6:27–31)

I have met people who follow these beliefs in a variety of religions.  I came to accept that religions have done much good as well as much bad for the world.  Not being God, I have no way of knowing or proving whether the bad or the good outweighs the other, so I have simply stopped judging most religions.  I say most because there are still some religions that I see as hypocritical and even evil.  The idea of a “Prosperity Gospel” strikes me as a justification for greed and selfishness.

Another finding that has shaken my moorings as an Atheist are all the really smart people who believe in a God.  I weigh myself against such people and come up noticeably short.  If these people are so much more intelligent and accomplished than I am, maybe, just maybe, I might be wrong.  How can I sit here and argue that they are wrong?  It would be arrogant to think that I have all the knowledge and information to assert that “there is no God” when much greater thinkers than I have affirmed and argued a belief in God.

I started calling myself an Agnostic to reconcile some of the above dilemmas.  The definition of an Agnostic is, “A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”  Being an Agnostic, I could go happily through life never having to attack or defend my convictions concerning the existence of God.  This position has certain benefits, but it is not without constraints.  The biggest constraint is being seen as a copout or wishy washy.  Someone who straddles the fence because they are afraid of taking a position.

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I want to avoid being seen as wishy washy but some days I feel like an Atheist and other days I feel like an Agnostic.  If there were a continuum between Atheism and Agnosticism it varies from day to day for me.  Today, I feel like I am 75 percent Atheist and 25 percent Agnostic.  Tomorrow I might be fifty-fifty or sixty-forty.  Life is a process that is continually in flux.  Change is inevitable.  Our moods change, our likes and dislikes change, our aches and pains change, our joys and sadness’s change.  It only makes sense to me that my affinity for one religious position or another should change.

So, if you ever want to know what religion I am, it will probably be somewhere between 100 percent Atheist and 100 percent Agnostic.

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”  ― St. Thomas Aquinas

“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one can prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”  ― Bertrand Russell

The Little Boy Who Believed in God

The following story was inspired by a Charles Dickens story called “A Child’s Dream of a Star.”

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Once upon a time there was a little boy who believed in God.  Every morning when he woke up, he would look out the window and thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the sun, the beautiful day, the flowers, the trees, the water, the birds and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.  Every night when the little boy would go to bed, he would look out the window and again thank God for his blessings.  He thanked God for the moon, the stars, the planets and most of all for his mother, father, sister, brother and grandparents.

Now the circumstance of a little boy believing in God might not seem strange but in this case, it was very strange.  You see, the little boy’s mother and father and older sister and older brother and even his grandparents were all confirmed Atheists.  Not a one of them went to church or professed a belief in any type of a higher entity.  In fact, his father and mother were very worried about the little boy.

Father:  “Honey, I am very worried about our little boy.  We have told him that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and God are all myths.  He accepted the reality for these fictions except for the greatest fiction of all, a higher power called God who supposedly created the universe.  Where do you think he got this idea of God from?

Mother:  “I don’t know. It is very strange.  The schools do not teach God.  His brother and sister do not believe in God.  His grandparents do not believe in God.  None of our friends believe in God.  Most religions do not really practice what they preach.  Most people who say they believe in God are really hypocrites or liars.  I am as mystified as you are.

Believing in God might not have been a problem for the little boy as he had very accepting parents.  However, the little boy found out that whenever he tried to talk to any of his friends or schoolmates or even teachers about God, they did not want to discuss the issue.  The little boy would ask questions like “Do you think God is having a good day today?”  “Do you think God worries about the evil deeds in the world?”  “How can we help God to bring more joy and happiness in the world?”  His teachers and friends would puzzle at such questions and try to ignore him.  They would shake their heads and hope that he would stop asking about God.  His wanting to discuss God made most people very uncomfortable.  God was not a subject for polite conversation.

God-is-good-Article-TemplateAs the little boy grew up, he became an even more devout believer in God.  Everywhere he went, he saw the hand of God.  In the clouds, in nature, in the weather, in the oceans, in good times and in bad times he believed that God was present.  The little boy thought how hard God must have to work to try to keep life sustained.  Each night he would pray to God that when he grew up, he would be able to help ease God’s work somewhat and do his share to help make the world a better place.

The little boy became a social worker and devoted his life to helping other people.  He met many other social workers who became cynical and skeptical.  One told him what a fool he was for believing that a God existed who cared about the human race.  Another told him that if a God really existed he would not have allowed people to be so greedy and corrupt.  Most of the social workers he knew eventually quit to become investment bankers or insurance salespeople.

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Time passed.  Aging became more salient in the little boy’s life.  His grandparents died.  His mother and father died.  His sister and brother died.  All his friends passed away.  Every time one of them died, the little boy would thank God for the time he had been able to spend with his loved ones.  He would ask God to take good care of them until he could see them again.

Many years went by and eventually the little boy stood at death’s door.  It was his last hour on earth.  He had few breaths left.  A nurse and a doctor waited at his bedside.  They heard him say before he passed “Thank you God for the life you gave me.  Thank you for the trees and the sun and the moon and the stars and the oceans and the forests and the sky.  But most of all, thank you for all the wonderful people that you put in my life and who I will now meet again.”

Time for Questions:

What do you believe in?  Why?  What role does faith have in your beliefs?  Do you think that there is a God?  Does he/she watch over and take care of humanity?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” — Gilbert K. Chesterton
 

 

 

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