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Monthly Archives: September 2013

I was born a Catholic. My mom had a brother that was a Franciscan priest. Her other 3 brothers were Catholic deacons.

My mom married a divorced man. The church excommunicated her condemning her to the fires of hell for eternity. When I was old enough to understand my moms plight , I begged her to divorce my dad so she would not have to go to hell.

My mom told me that the priest told her as long as she continued to support [financially] the church and go to mass there was a way she could beat going to hell.

As long as my dads first wife dies before my mom. The church then could bless my moms marriage because my dad would no longer be married to his first wife [the church did no recognize divorces]. As it turned out my dads first wife did die before my mom so it all turned out OK.

The reason I’m writing this is that I just need to tell you that my moms fate depended on the death of someone. The whole story revolves around the luck of someone dying or living. At the time when I was a little kid , it all made sense to me because I went to a catholic school and mass 6 days a week. The church said it and I believed it, no questions asked.

As a child I was always fascinated by dinosaurs and anything that had to do with space and the sun. I always wondered why dinosaurs weren’t still wandering around the world today, every adult I would ask would never have a clear answer. I would watch shows like Captain Planet or Bill Nye the Science Guy and would be glued to the TV; this was information that I wasn’t taught anywhere else.  Science was calling to me and I didn’t even know it yet.

Growing up in an extremely religious household I was forced to memorize bible verses every Sunday and go to church 3 times a week. This was exhausting and it seemed that I never would memorize the verses in time.  My younger brother and I would frantically cram these archaic words into our heads on the ride to church.  I would recite these sentences week after week and never really remember a single one for longer than that week; I never really saw the point.  If you really enjoy something as a child you will remember that moment your entire life and you want to pass that experience on to your own children.

I was taught that missing church was a sin. If we did, God would do bad things to us as a result of our unfaithfulness.  This instilled fear into my mind from a young age – I was taught to never question God or the bible.   One occasion I remember being extremely sick and asked my Dad if I could stay home from church that day.  I was told that if I prayed really hard on the way to church that God would heal me, so I did as I was told.  While standing during praise and worship, I felt so nauseated that I asked to be excused to the restroom. I made it about 10 feet before I heaved all over the church isle.  I was slightly embarrassed but more scared of what God would do to me now that I have changed the color of the carpet in His church.

Years later, my brother had a similar experience where he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed.  My father gave him the 3rd degree, explaining to him all the things God would do to him if he didn’t come to church.  Reluctantly, my father eventually asked my mother to stay with him as he whisked me up left. I don’t remember my Dad saying one word to me on that car ride. I was convinced that my brother would be going straight to hell if he was lying.

In my brother’s mind, he had to show my father evidence that he was really sick. So sick in fact that he really did vomit and when he did, he made sure he kept it in a cup and left it on the back porch as evidence for my father; such a lovely thing for a son to feel compelled to do to escape the wrath of a vengeful Father and God.

In my Father’s defense, he was raised Catholic and sent to a Catholic school with nuns that literally and stereo-typically punished him with rulers and forced him to say his Hail Mary’s. If anyone grew up in a world that was constantly controlled and ruled by fear, you would submit wholeheartedly due to the repercussions of standing against the word of god. I actually applaud his amazing amount of patience he endured during this time period, because I would have completely fought the system demanding my freedom.

When I turned 16, I got a job and had to work on Sunday’s.  At first I was overwhelmingly scared at what God would do to me for missing church. Then a Sunday went by, then another and another.  Life went on and God was, in fact, not punishing me for missing church.  My boss asked me which days I would like to have off and I replied “Can you work me every Sunday?” Puzzled my boss said, “Ok sure” but he never asked why.  Man, it was a good summer!

Due to the persistence of my father I finally asked off a few Sundays and “found the time” to go to church. I sat in the teen section to “relate” to other teens as I did not know the real reason why I was there.  I remember during praise and worship that a fellow teen actually fell over and went into a seizure. Screams overpowered the songs of praise that filled the sanctuary, I was scared out of my mind. Did he fully become engulfed in the holy spirit?  Was he so overcome with god that he started to shake?  Elders of the church leapt into action, moved chairs out-of-the-way and lifted him out of the service almost if it was synchronized, I am sure they have removed people before today.  He was in the middle of singing and praising god’s name. Why wouldn’t God stop him from seizing?  I sat quietly trying to make sense of the events that just took place. The band kept playing as if nothing had happened.

The church soon found out about a month-long “revival” happening in Brownsville Florida. They added a second collection plate to cover enough money to send my brother and myself, along with 30 other teens, in a charter bus to Florida. I brought a cassette tape filled with Weird Al Yankovic songs that made the 16 hour trip “bearable”. Weird Al, you have no idea how you kept me smiling through this time.

After the longest bus ride ever, we arrive in Florida. It was scary at first being so far from home. We stayed at a local church where they had a teen center. Pool table, Air Hockey, and ping-pong were the highlights from that week. Then bused to a “revival” where I had a pastor try to push me down with his palm in my face just as he did to the other teens around me. I had a new girlfriend who I’m sure watched that I didn’t go down easy. I fought the pastor and did not want to be pushed onto the floor. However I gave in to the situation and fell because he was very persistent.  So this is God? This is the reason people come here? I felt like such a fool.

I tried to make conversation with my girlfriend on my way back home from Florida.  Her words exactly, “I think I need spend more time with God right now”. As a 17-year-old not knowing much about life, I blamed myself and was crushed. Did I do something wrong? Did I not let God into my heart as the others did?  As I do with most of my relationships, I always blame myself as to why it ended.  If only I could go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self the things I know now.

I finished college at age 20 with a degree in computer science and over the next 4 years I moved from my small hometown in rural Ohio to Columbus, to Atlanta, and then to Los Angeles. I never really thought a lot about God and just lived my life. I met some awesome people that really helped me open my eyes and learn about the world around me.  If you don’t ever leave your tiny mid-eastern town, your views and opinions rarely change about life in general. Mainly I went from being a rather conservative Republican to a Liberal Democrat (But that’s another story in itself).

At age 26, I landed a job back in Ohio which really made my parents happy. I also was glad to be back, it really showed me the importance of family. However being back home means I didn’t have much excuse for missing church. So I rented a room a few houses down the street. This allowed me to miss my parent’s call on most Sundays.

Eventually I moved into an apartment with a girlfriend. That lasted almost a year until I found out she was still married to a man out-of-state.  I shouldn’t have to ask “Are you are still married?”, yet as always I blamed myself.  Severely depressed, I start attending church with my parents more regularly, trying to find direction in my life. As I sit in my chair, listening to our pastor, I block out everything around me and daydream about things that would make me happy in life.  Winning the lottery, playing video games, trying to find someone to share my life with. I am completely distracted from the real concerns in life, politics, earth, space, and science. I never cared about these things until I was in my 30’s. I never had a reason to, until my best friend, who as luck would have it was going through his own departure from Christianity, helped me piece together the holes we found in religion.  We started to discuss some of the faulty logic we found throughout Christianity – in fact we came to believe the entire concept of religion was, at its foundation, built from faulty logic.  A bronze age explanation for things that science does a much better job at.

Fast forward into the present, with the information I know, I must be very gentle on how I explain certain things in life that most people are unable to process. I can’t even imagine how to explain that you have been taught a lie your entire life. It’s like The Matrix quote, “Most people aren’t ready to be unplugged.” That is the most accurate statement towards religion that I have ever heard.

I truly love my wife with all my heart, we have been together for 5 years now, married for 3. Most fights boil down to religion even if isn’t the reason why we are arguing in the first place. It’s not healthy for anyone in this situation and so to achieve peace, I have moved out. I told myself that I cannot keep living a lie.

With my new-found understanding of life, this knowledge comes at a great cost. Most every relationship I have built around me to this point in my life, cannot fathom facts and evidence that contradict their belief system. I don’t understand why it took me 32 years to understand logic that has been smacking me in the face the entire time. I shouldn’t expect many of my friends and family to follow me along down this path.

Where do I go from here? I don’t know but I’m excited of the possibilities that lay before me. I want to learn all about science and the world around us. I want to see humans “Boldly go” and explore every place we haven’t been yet.

I found a quote on the internet that really stuck with me and wanted to end on this note.

“People who surrender their religious beliefs must be counted amongst the smartest, bravest people in the world, because they set out to find the truth, despite the threat of eternal damnation.” ~ Unknown

Jake Farr Wharton from the Secular World Podcast interviewed Martin S Pribble, organiser and moderator of Not Alone Project, to highlight the Not Alone Project. It’s about 20 minutes long, and gives an overview of how the project came about. Please take a few minutes to listen to this podcast, and give feedback in the comments below.

Or download the MP3 here.

I never knew why we ran away, holding hands, but we did. We ran and ran and ran that mile like little kids running from the boogey monster. The 3 of us were wearing our signature, deep-blue-safari-suits with big white stitching and lapels you could swing off.

The blue safari suits were our Sunday School outfits. I was 6, my brothers: 8 and 3. It was my older brother’s order that we had to run away, all the way home. Our mother was gobsmacked when we appeared at the front door, out of breath, and still holding hands.

We never went back to church again. To my parents, I am thankful for that in hindsight.
To this day I never knew what happened to my older brother, but he was spooked. He was in a separate part of the Church with the older kids. I don’t remember the priest either because he was always in that dark, dusty room too. Us younger ones were looked after by volunteers. I’ll never forget the smell of the church, the wood varnish, the dust, and the eerie atmosphere.

Even now, 36 years later, I’ve still never been back to church, except reluctantly for friends’ weddings, the occasional funeral, and one ‘God-awful’ xmas eve when I was living in London when my now ex-girlfriend dragged me kicking, screaming, and drunk, to Midnight Mass in Paddington.

Not long into the service, it was her turn to kick and scream as she dragged me out of the church this time, because of my broken-tractor-like, beer-snoring that she claims, brought the crowded service to a halt; I wouldn’t know, I was fast asleep.

Despite going to a relatively secular primary school in suburban Melbourne, we still sang “God Save The Queen” at the weekly assembly, the last reminder of our tainted colonial background. We never sang our national anthem. I never knew why. Whilst singing God Save The Queen out loud, we’d all proudly salute our bastardised British flag and thank the Lord Jesus Christ Amen for our great Queen and country.

Being a six year old was awkward for me. 1st it was running away from Church, then it was discovering Santa clause wasn’t real when I watched my parents wrap my Christmas presents through a gap in the loungeroom door, then, finally, it was the discovery of “The Great Porn Stash”

Whilst exploring the nearby grasslands on our BMXs my friends and I found a bush hideout. Well-hidden and well-constructed, it was partially submerged and made out of timber, dirt, corrugated iron and old car parts. In it, was a stack of maybe 30 or more porn magazines, hardcore ‘xxx’ ones.
It was the 1st time I’d ever seen adults performing lewd, grotesque naked assaults. I didn’t know my pee-pee had a 2nd purpose in life! Sticking it inside a woman’s front bum (and back bum according to the endless photos we poured over)?. I’d never even heard about this. We were shocked.
“Look at the vagina on that woman… it has no hair?”
“What’s that white gooey stuff all over her face?”
“Is she crying?”
And so the conversations went.

My friends and I could never work out if the ladies in the magazines were in pain or enjoying being assaulted like that because their faces were contorted. Years later, as a virgin teenager, this still remained true because I could never work out why everyone would scream “OH GOD!!!” in porn movies. Again, was it pleasure or pain? And why “God”?

The magazines were covered in dirt and many had pages stuck together which tore as we tried to open them. We never knew why obviously. Do now.
We went back to that hideout every day for weeks on end pouring through them over and over, til the lads who owned the mags found us. We sprinted away on our BMXs and never returned. But it was too late. Our innocence was already long lost.
By the end of those few weeks at least a dozen of us local kids, all under 10, had seen The Great Porn Stash.

6 year olds should not see what we saw.
From that moment on, any reference to Love, Marriage, the birds and the bees, Adam and Eve, or God was tainted forever.

It was the catalyst for me spending almost my whole life as an atheist.
So many lies, distortion, and deceiving, right from the start.
And how anybody could actually believe that Mary gave birth to a son WITHOUT being wrestled by a naked man like in those magazines is fucking kidding themselves.

My kid turns 6 next week.
She told me santa wasn’t real yesterday.
And she knows how to use google.
And so the cycle goes.

As a child I was always fascinated with dinosaurs and fossils. I was captivated by the idea of early life on our planet, and would happily listen to anything having to do with archeology or paleontology. I would sometimes wander around the woods for hours imagining what it must have been like to be an early human, surrounded by creatures of all shapes and sizes. As I got older these ponderings started to drift to thoughts about the subject of religion – especially the fact that no one could ever tell me where the dinosaurs fit in with the bible story.

Around the age of 10 I remember having a profound thought about the church and religion. I had just learned about how clouds form and turn into thunder storms. I thought about what cavemen must have thought about thunderstorms. When we were early observers we were vulnerable to everything: thunderstorms and earthquakes; plagues and famines and drought; poisonous critters and disease. Everything must have seemed so frightening and outside of their control. It seemed logical to me that religion was the best we could do when we knew nothing about the physical world around us. We had to come up with ways of making sense of it all. So we decided there must be a god, or gods – something we can’t see but that has the power to control everything around us. After all, at that time we couldn’t see what makes rain or earthquakes or invisible microbes that cause disease either.

I remember being electrified by this train of thought. I felt like I had just stumbled upon something of profound importance – and almost immediately I was struck with the most disabling sense of dread and fear. I repented and asked god to forgive me for questioning the bible. From then on I lived in a constant state of conflict between my emerging brain and my “good Christian upbringing.” Still, my mind would not be quiet and I returned to these ideas over and over throughout my young childhood. Every time I learned something new about the world around me it seemed to contrast with what I had learned in the bible and I would be filled with the same feeling of dread. Over and over I would apologize to god and promise not to ask questions anymore. Eventually the only way I found to relieve the conflict was to blindly accept what the bible and the church said. Somehow I found nobility in saying, “I don’t know how it all works, but I believe, and that’s enough for me.”
That became my mantra. Whenever someone would bring up babies born with horrible genetic defects, or three-year olds dying of cancer, I would say (to my ever-living shame) “I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but god loves them and is in control.”

Years later, just when I was starting to think I might have silenced those internal conflicts for good, I stepped off a plane and into the Iraq war. There I saw religious fervor rise to a whole new level of scary. Not only were there people everywhere intent on blowing themselves (and me) up because of their religious beliefs, but I saw the same absolute nuttiness in our own people as well.

“God put me in this war to take out as many ‘rag head Muslims’ as I can.”

“It’s gotta suck when they wake up in hell and realize the only true god is Jesus, after I put a bullet in their head.”

“It all goes back to Cain and Abel (or Jacob and Esau); you’re either on the side of good, or the side of evil. We are here to do god’s will.”

I remember watching as two young Marines bitterly fought each other because one had said he thought all Mormons were going to hell. They repeatedly punched each other in the face, stomped on each other, strangled one another, even tore at each other’s faces and necks with their fingernails. I remembered thinking to myself as I watched this madness: “We’re all about die out here. We’ll be buried right next to each other in the same plot of ground. The only difference will be the shape on the top of our headstones” There we were in a hostile foreign country, surrounded by people so convinced of their beliefs that they were willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve their goals – and these two were fighting each other more passionately than I had ever seen people fight before. What I saw during my time spent in that country was embodied in that tangled mess of emotion and rage: the true power of religion.

I went to grad school and was introduced to all manner of philosophies and ideas. I read Dabrowski and was immediately fascinated with his theory of Positive Disintegration. He described the levels some individuals develop through, away from behaviors and beliefs that are socially or culturally prescribed, towards ones that are individually chosen and reinforced. I remember reading this brief description about the theory and thinking how perfectly it summed up my struggles with religion:

“In Dabrowski’s paradigm of positive disintegration, personal growth is indeed much like scaling a mountain rather than a sequential unfolding of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Imagining personal growth as ascent of a mountain, encountering danger, facing tests of courage, and forging on with perseverance suggests that not everyone has the strength, endurance, and determination to climb far; few manage to reach the summit. Moreover, not everyone is interested in climbing and may prefer to remain in the valley. Some may not even be aware of the mountain.”  – Michael Piechowski

It all made so much sense to me. Some people are willing to accept what they had always been told, and they never think to question. There’s no reason to challenge what they were taught. They happily live within the confines of their chosen paradigm, and that’s that. Others seem determined to push forward and question everything. They are eager to learn and grow. They relentlessly probe and search for the unknown, inspired by a fascination with logic and mystery. And still others don’t seem aware or concerned with much at all.

The more I read and studied in school the more I became aware of personal opinions and beliefs that I had never really questioned or even considered before – many of which were beginning to seem more and more insensitive, biased, bigoted, and judgmental. There I was, being pushed by the educational enterprise to develop critical thoughts and a discerning mind, and all the while I carried this dread that I would somehow be “discovered” as a fraud because of the suitcase of inherited beliefs that I refused to get rid of. I rigorously applied the scientific method to everything except my own “faith”. And the more I allowed myself to open that door of inquiry, the more I realized that those beliefs were held firmly in place not by devotion or conviction, but by fear.

Later that year I spent three months away from my family, living in a hotel in San Diego while I attended a certification course in Substance Abuse counseling. There I encountered the most caring and mindful people I had ever met. It was such an eclectic group – everything from a Native American spiritualist to a certified Buddhist priest, and everything in between. Despite the variety of beliefs, they were so accepting and caring. It was as if they had taken the universal components of their religions – mindfulness; fascination with the unknown universe; deep connection to the earth and all living things; thoughts about our existence and purpose – and left out the rest. And while I enjoyed this unique expression of religious tolerance and acceptance, at the same time I couldn’t help but wonder, “If they all share so much in common and can agree to leave out the judgmental and condemning dogma, then why have religion at all?”

This was the pivotal time for me. I had only been home from my experiences in Iraq barely five months, and my mind was a flurry of conflicting thoughts and ideas. A lot was changing. It wasn’t that I was angry with god. I didn’t come home with a chip on my shoulder. I wasn’t scarred from the scenes I had experienced while I was there. It was quite the opposite. I was filled with a deep reverence and respect for life. I saw everything through a new lens of appreciation, and I vowed to take nothing for granted. The most pervasive thought I had was that by all rights I should be dead- but since I wasn’t dead, I had better reconsider everything very carefully because I had been given a second chance. There were many who stepped on that airplane with me as we departed who never came home. In some way I felt like I owed it to them to make the most of the fact that I was still above the ground. The tightly wound ball of firmly held religious beliefs was beginning to unravel
and I was no longer willing to blindly quiet my inner concerns and inquiry.

By far the most disturbing experience of returning from war was whenever someone would say something like, “God has plans for you. That’s why you came home safe,” or “You were under god’s protection,” or “It was because so many people were praying for you.” Every word cut like a dagger. I couldn’t believe how inconsiderate and offensive such well-meaning statements could be. All I could think about were those poor guys who god apparently didn’t have plans for, or for some reason weren’t under his protection. They died miserably in a foreign country away from their families. I guess they didn’t have enough people praying for them back home. Nothing made me more upset than comments like that.

Today I work as a scientist, and I am paid well to think critically and ask discerning questions. I am surrounded by others who, though they don’t explicitly share their beliefs with me, obviously share similar opinions about religion and its hazards. It is refreshing and empowering to know that thoughts and ideas like those I had when I was 10 years old are no longer taboo; that there’s nothing wrong with me for asking difficult questions and demanding proof of answers. I am thrilled to learn new things and meet new people who have open inquiring minds. It is like color has been introduced to a scene that was previously only grey. Endless possibilities fill my imagination with wonder, and I am eager and excited to branch out and expand in all areas.

Still, the conflict now is more about how to “come out of the spiritual closet” , so to speak. The majority of my friends and family all came from the church. More importantly, my wife, whom I have been married to for 12 years and who is a wonderful mother to my two beautiful children, still believes fervently in Christianity and insists that our children grow up in the church. I wrestle with the isolation; I mourn the loss of some relationships; I fear the rejection of others. But I also recognize – that just like religion itself – this is a prison of my own choosing, and the longer I continue on bowing my head in an attempt to appease others, the more I am living a lie.

Everything I have experienced tells me that the only supernatural force present in my life is my willingness to make decisions, act upon them, and accept the consequences. To me this is a luxury that I deeply cherish. It is the source of my energy; it is a living memorial to those who died and were never given the chance to come home; and unlike religion, which serves to separate, it is what binds me to all other human beings.

Half way into high school I went to camp for the first time in my life. It was a Christian Science camp which would be a very odd choice if not for the fact that I was a Christian Scientist. The camp’s selling point to my parents was the promise to re-up my faith and to provide leadership opportunities as a Counselor-in-Training. The camp’s selling point to me was a canoeing trip in Canada and a three-day capture-the-flag tournament. That, and I just wanted to get out of the house.

I feel like a little background in Christian Science is needed here. CS is a religion that teaches the works of Jesus did could also be done by us providing that we have enough faith and live free from sin. In the Bible, the disciples healed and performed other miracles after JC’s death, the same premise applies to here. The implication is that, as Christian Scientists, material medicine should be avoided because using it diminishes our faith to heal thyself through God. If you need to see someone, CS has their own kind of doctors called “Practitioners” who basically talk the patient through the disease with prayer. The avoidance of medicine and the word “Science” in the name is why Christian Science is often confused with Scientology. This used to bother the hell out of me, but, in retrospect, I had little reason to be upset. The beliefs involved are no less crazy. Christian Science just seemed less crazy because it followed the legacy myth of Jesus rather than the start-up myth of aliens.

My first (and only) year at Camp Leelanau off the lovely coast of Lake Michigan happened to come at the transitional age between camper and counselor. Much of my days were spent in preparation of returning the following year as staff. Of course, that didn’t pan out, but all-in-all it was a better experience than I imagine it would have been as a proper camper. The camp’s official Practitioner was from my home church in Georgia. Both he and his two daughters were regulars of the camp and played no small part in my recruitment. I also noted upon arrival that the camp had a nurse on staff. Not so much a faith healing nurse as a nurse nurse. I remember thinking that was as odd addition. It turned out she was present to help with injuries during the camp’s more physical activities–broken bones, poison sumac rashes, the kind of stuff that leaves a mark. Although Christian Science teaches that God can heal anything, practically, it’s best to leave the invisible deity to the invisible ailments.

My class of CITs (counselor’s-in-training) was unusually small–five guys, myself included. This allowed for a tighter-nit fellowship and by the end I considered at least a few of them good friends. It also allowed for a more intimate adventure. We went to the middle of the Canadian wilderness where we canoed and camped all week. We never saw a trace of another human while we spotted wild moose, and had to hang our food and gear in trees nightly in case of bear (why we didn’t also sleep in trees is beyond me.) Every morning we’d hit the river, tie our canoes together and read from the bible and Christian Science’s companion book, Science & Health. I honestly didn’t mind the bible readings. Reading from a book about angels and demons made the trip seem more epic. Science & Health reads more like self-help than a holy text so it lessened that mood.

Long story slightly less long, we returned to camp and one of my new-found friends was hurt. He was cut up pretty bad while cutting wood or some such thing. I remember him rushing up the the nurse and being out of commission for almost the rest of our time in Michigan. Visits weren’t really allowed except for the Practitioner who, judging from the time my buddy was away and the very conventional stitches he returned with, did nothing in the way of faith healing. I imagine campers were discouraged to go see patients because the whole spiritual health scam would take a backseat to, “oh, hey, God isn’t doing anything for this guy.”

The camp experience was supposed to re-up my faith, but it only showed me reality. During one of our last Sunday meetings, a counselor enthusiastically testified that being a Christian Scientist was like being a Jedi; making the analogy that both we and the Star Wars heroes are small segments of the population who know how to demonstrate the power of their faith. After seeing failed demonstration after failed demonstration, I concluded that the real similarity a faith healing Christian Scientist has to a Jedi is that they are both works of fiction.

Read Grundy’s blog at Deity Shmeity, or follow him on Twitter at @deityshmeity

My mother and father were atheist, though probably didn’t advertise this too much, as we grew up in a very religious town in South Africa–a place with an average of 40 churches per square kilometer, if that tells you anything. I attended a normal grade school and eventually high school with the typical Christian-, Bible- or religion-related classes, and their obligatory pseudo-Christian seals/mottoes/invocations and other bullshit that nobody paid any attention to.

Not that I cared, mind you, because none of it was relevant to a young boy mostly interested in bike-riding, Legos and the acquisition of sweets. It didn’t register at all. At one point, growing up, I stayed with friends of my parents for a few months; a strictly religious family who “prayed” before bed each night. I had no clue what kneeling at the base of my bed was supposed to accomplish and what the fuck I was supposed to be asking for with my hands pressed together. Honestly, Father Christmas was more real to me.

Only when I was about 13 did I once casually remark to my dad “What religion are we?” He scrunched his face for a second, then said “Anglican, I think, but only your grandmother still goes to church.” I think I must have mentioned my consternation about all the god hubbub because then he asked:

“Do you agree that everything has a cause?”

“Yes, I guess”, I said.

“So”, he asked, “then what caused god?”

An easy evasion for a modern goddist practiced in lame god myth defense but, at the time, that was enough for me. The logic was simple and uncomplicated and confirmed much of what I had already come to find suspicious, unanswered and ultimately insufficient about all the stories I’d heard. Fish don’t self-replicate. Snakes don’t talk. People can’t walk on water or rise from the dead. God is not real.

Satisfied, I mostly forgot about it. In high school someone once described god as an emotion, which I found quite accurate, given the effect it had on believers, but otherwise it didn’t cross my mind again for years. I didn’t know the word “atheist” yet.

A couple of years later I emigrated to the States and went to college in Phoenix, Arizona. Religion central. Big trucks, big guts, big hats and big bibles. Outside of school I quickly became aware of a general sense of academic illiteracy; a kind of artificial intellectual apathy that manifested itself in a comfortable, affected acknowledgement that Jesus is behind all this.

I was studying music theory and composition and became fast friends with a close group from the choir. All were devout Christians. I instantly became very good friends with one person in particular; he came from deep Southern Baptist roots. Not that I knew what that was. We ended up as roommates in our very first apartment together and it soon became clear that whatever religious choke hold his family may have had, he was certainly not of that type. He was curious and scrappy; he didn’t back off big questions and was a gracious debater. Not at all an Arizonan.

I didn’t know it at the time, but his later writings would reveal an “awakening” in progress. A tadpole made it out of the shrinking puddle; good for him.

In Arizona I instantly knew I didn’t fit in; you can’t say “hell” or “damn” and certainly not “Jesus” or “Christ” unless you said them together, nicely, like “amen”. These words were staples where I came from, so it took some work to eradicate them from my curse word repository. Our little group of choir  friends had fierce midnight existential discussions, more often ending in uneasy stalemates, and once in a tearful admission by one that our debates were making her question her faith. So we stopped.

When you study music, you commit yourself to its performance. Most “venerable” traditional music literature is rooted in religious scripture and ceremony, particularly choral music and, thus, one comes to expect a great deal of meaningless mumbo-jumbo, even when the music itself is sublime. I even spent a year employed in a professional choir at the Saint Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix, where the Pope himself once stood. There I now stood, Sunday mass after Sunday mass, surrounded by gilded magnificence, breathing in noxious incense while glorifying a bunch of utter malarkey. I didn’t care; I was a good tenor and it was an easy paycheck for a student. And the people were nice.

(Ironically, one of the most skilled and prolific contemporary composers of liturgical choral music, John Rutter, whose works appeared, almost without fail, in every choral program I performed for those 6 years, is an atheist. Everyone needs a muse, I guess.)

I moved on to Los Angeles for my graduate studies, and away from the grip of ignorance and the vacuum of critical thinking that I had come to identify in almost all of the Arizonans I had encountered in my time there. It’s much like Neo in The Matrix: with myth-colored glasses, the world can but only appear wondrous. California and the East coast have been less innocent and more prone to scrutiny and suspicion. More human.

Here I sit at 41, reading the endless, wickedly misguided assaults on education by the “Texas Taliban” and the like, Christian, Muslim or otherwise, and the apoplectically stunted thinking of the religious bloggers, radio hucksters and Tweeters–the so-called “warriors for Jesus” who confuse ignorance with insight and fiction with fact – and I wonder to myself: is this where my little girl is going to grow up?

The horror. The horror.

I’ve concluded that the only defense against this intellectual apathy, this persistent, flawed folklore, this onslaught of stupid, is education. Or god help us.