If you’ll indulge me . . .
I was baptized Catholic, and was raised as a Christian; at leastÂ until I was old enough to decide for myself about going to church. The odd thing is, I don’t really think I was ever a believer. Maybe my mind wasn’t equipped, at that time,Â toÂ contemplate theÂ stories andÂ theirÂ place in reality. Or maybe my youth and my curiosity about things in the natural world around me superseded any desire I may have had to investigate the religion further. What ever the case, I never really thought about theÂ supernatural elementsÂ that members of the church areÂ expectedÂ to believe in any critical fashion.
I was, however, highly aware of theÂ things I was supposed to do and of the things I was not supposed to do. After all, there were live, flesh and blood adultsÂ in the church and in my communityÂ re-enforcing the dogma, especially the ideas of sin and punishment. Through attrition, those ideas worked their wayÂ into my little boy brain.
And that coupled withÂ myÂ desire to please my parents, and the other adults, was enough to keepÂ me in line.
It was only after I had stopped going to church, and actually started studying the various world religions, that I turned a critical eye toward the supernatural elements and theÂ legends I’d grown up with. And of course, a good critical, unbiasedÂ examinationÂ reveals that there is no magic. It also exposes theÂ stories as merely re-hashedÂ ancient mythsÂ and, by turns, renders religion itself quite useless to progressive people.
It wasn’t long before IÂ found myself comfortable with the labels “agnostic” and “atheist”.
But a strange thing happened. I wasn’t happy.
Armed with a fresh, newÂ worldview, I realized that a lot of my writing (and my part in a lot of discussions) was taking on a decidedly anti-religious tone. I seemed angry. I seemed to be attacking religious people for the simple fact of their belief.
This concerned me a great deal, becauseÂ I really like people. I enjoy interaction with everyone, despite their beliefs. I didn’t want to be making enemies,Â so I had to try to understand my anger.
And after a lot of reflection, the answerÂ became obvious. It was simply that IÂ held a grudge for being made to feel guilty for certain things as a child. I was made to feel fear for no good reason. I hadÂ been forced to accept nonsense, as well as to spend a lot of timeÂ engaged in activities that kept me from doing things I really wanted to do. And all of thatÂ had stemmed fromÂ what amounted toÂ one bigÂ lie.Â I sensed injustice in that, and I was pissed off about it.
Fortunately, with understanding comes healing, and I decided I didn’t want to hold grudges anymore. I didn’t want to cultivate anger. I thought it best to let it go.
And so I did.
Now, of course,Â the religions of the world still do things that make me angry, and I write about them here on occasion, sometimes with more vitriol than is probably called for. But it’s no longer personal, and I don’t hold the anger for long. I say my piece, and thenÂ I move on.
And I feel that from an intellectual standpoint, I’m happier now without the anger, and certainly happier than I ever was as a member of a church.Â
It’s not that I think religious people are unhappy. The opposite is most likely true; at least on some level.
But I think that once one learns that life is not about placating an unseen deity, but about enjoying, studying, growing within, and sometimes even fearing the human condition, one finds the size of the flock has expanded well beyond the confines of any church walls.Â The neighbors, the waves and handshakes, the smiles, the laughs, the tears, the births and deaths, the good times and the bad are more numerous andÂ more substantively varied. It can beÂ a catharsis, a wonderful,Â beautiful thing to step away from religion.
And for me, it was just a matter of getting past the anger to fully enjoy it.