Monday, October 25, 2010

My slide into non-belief

At one point I was very much a believer. My mother was a former Catholic and my dad was a non-practicing Presbyterian. They didn't really like the Presbyterian Church in town when they first moved here about fifty years ago, but because she married outside of the Church, they couldn't go to the Catholic services either. As a result, my brother, sisters and I didn't really go to church at all growing up. Christianity, however, was still the default position, though I always have had a sneaking suspicion that neither of my folks was truly that sold on the whole proposition of religion at all.

I would pray and do all the things a Christian is supposed to do (outside of going to church) most of my life, but my real knowledge of what Christianity (or any religion, really) taught was limited to what I saw on television or read in books. That changed when I met my wife Dolores. She was a Southern Baptist (a fact that shocked everyone in my family as they expected a second generation Mexican to be a devout Catholic) and I started going to church with her.

Oh, did I get into it.

We went to Sunday school every week. I studied the Bible. I listened to Christian radio to and from work each day, and I made a point not to miss James Dobson's Focus on the Family addresses when they came on. We also made some friends in the church and had some good times with them, though even then I never really quite got the proscription against dancing. That really bugged me, as it was the 80s, and I looked sharp in my white jacket, pants, pastel T-shirt, and deck shoes sans socks.

We moved back to Pennsylvania when my mom started going downhill after holding her own against her cancer for over a decade. One of the first things we did, of course, was try to find a new church home. The Baptist Church in town was…nice…though it was tad too geriatric for us, so we ended up going to a smaller church outside of town. It was a huge change for us; we were used to the Hoffmantown Church of Albuquerque which sported congregation just about as large as the population of my hometown. Now we were at a church where everyone could probably fit in my house if nobody tried to sit down.

Though they were friendly enough, we were appalled by what was being preached. The pastor would talk about KNOWING certain people were going to hell as if he had an inside track on these things, and Patrick's older brother and sister were terrified of Sunday school because they were being told to make sure they were "saved" before the Russians nuked us into oblivion...and that could be at any second. That was when I realized how much religious indoctrination is centered on FEAR. Take away the fear, and there's really nothing left. Gradually, all the incongruities and flat out logical inconsistencies I'd encountered reading the Bible and glossed over as the work of an unfathomable God came back to nag me more and more urgently. After a number of years of wandering around calling myself a deist or an agnostic, I came to terms with the fact that I was truly an atheist.

Since then I have not prayed, nor have I wanted to. I've certainly wished there was a way out of some predicaments that I couldn't see available, but at no time have I prayed. I guess the only way to describe it is that it may be similar to wanting something I can't afford, but still not being tempted to write a letter to Santa in hopes of getting it because I recognized the futility.

I'll likely be touching on my atheism quite frequently here, though I stop short of saying this blog will be dedicated to discussing it. I don't claim to be an expert by any stretch, nor do I think I'll necessarily be able to say things with any greater clarity than others who have been plugging away on the topic for years now. All I'll be able to offer is my own spin on the subject. I do welcome discussion and honest debate on the subject from friends, acquaintances, and those who feel differently.

The doors are open, so come on in. Foods on the table, and if you want to dance, knock yourself out. I don't mind.


  1. Now this is cool!!! I get to be the first to make a comment on your post.

    Anyway, I just wanted to comment. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church right there in T-Vegas. I knew everyone that went there and many of the people there helped raise me in sorts. I was very close to God and had a close relationship with him for my entire school career. Then, as you may remember my father passed on. It only strengthened my relationship with God...until I left town to move to Utica and went to college.

    I just couldn't find my niche in the church community there. I wasn't a huge fan of the Presbyterian church in Clarion and well, I didn't see any other option. My relationship fell to the wayside. I haven't really thought much about it. I still believed but I think I was still angry, frustrated and upset at God. I felt like it was his fault.

    I guess in a way I was indifferent to religion for all of college. I can honestly say that I am consciously trying to get back to where I was. I have always believed but I have been holding a huge grudge and I guess now I am getting over it. It still hurts to think about how things have changed so much but you just have to roll with the punches.

    When I read this, it made me think about my own journey and now that I am starting to get back into the Christian thing again, reading your post got me thinking. Thinking about what I really believe and making it my own and not something that was made routine by years of "going to church," but finding a reason to believe.

    I know that the church seems corrupt and I'm sure there are many that may preach a message of fear but not all churches are like that. The churches I have been attending all of my life have never given the "hell-fire and brimstone" kinds of sermons or bible school classes like the one you described. I am mortified and ashamed that there are churches that preach that kind of fear campaign. It shouldn't have been like that and I hope that you would one day find it in your heart to give it another chance.

    I don't know if it was just the fear campaign that scared you away from the faith or there were other reasons. Not all churches are like that, I can attest to that. There are many good people that are Christians and there are many churches there in T-Vegas that are much more accommodating. I guess what I am suggesting is that you should give it another try. If you still don't like it then you can go back to what you are doing and you will never hear me preach to you on the subject again. Just saying.

  2. Thanks for your response, Allison. I guess I didn't clarify it enough in the post; I didn't stop believing because of the opinions we encountered in that church. That was merely the point where I took off the rose colored glasses and started looking at religion objectively. I'll be touching the specifics in coming posts, but suffice it to say that trying it again really isn't an option.

  3. Nice to see you blogging again, Rich.

    And particularly to see you (re)launching your blogging with so articulate an exploration of deeply felt and considered a topic.

    I'll be interested to see where your explorations lead you -- and your readers -- in posts to come.

    It does seem to me that your clarification is important. I hear often from people who tell me that I "just haven't found the right church" (or denomination, religion, etc.).

    While I have large sympathy for their feelings, it has always struck me that the "my church will change your beliefs" both speaks poorly (if probably accurately) of their sense of my beliefs, and comes close to likening a church to a bank that offers lower interest rates or a store that stocks your favorite variety of a product, and the enthusiasm of their customers for the experience they have and that "you really must share."

  4. Welcome back to the world of blogging, Rich! Good to see you back around.

  5. Welcome back, Rich. I went through a lot of the same type of questioning you did, though, as you know, I came to a much different conclusion. :) I'm looking forward to reading more.