My best friend tells me she still remembers the day I told her that I was renouncing my faith in the Catholic Church. The conversation that day ended somewhat like this: "well, if you’ll excuse me now, I’m going to watch some porn!"
I’ve wanted to write my "deconversion" story for a while. And with the release of Steven Hawking's new book, I thought now would be an epic time to come out (post scriptum: I wrote this a while ago but never had the courage to publish it before today). However, I have to admit, coming out and say I don’t believe in “god” anymore is a little harder then I thought it would be. I’m concerned about acceptance: the first time I spoke against “god”, i was promptly asked by my non-practicing boyfriend to quit my “religion bashing”. I’ve been stunned and reluctant to bring the subject back up around him ever since I was so surprised he’d react that way! Also, I have relatives that are religious. I’m ashamed to admit that *grumblegrumble* I was wrong about religion for so many years as well. I consider myself now an atheist-skeptic, training my mind to rational thinking. However, that didn't happen over night and after renouncing my faith in Catholic dogma, I looked for alternative beliefs and had a rebound experience with -GASP- the Secret, climate change denial (thanks to Michael Crichton’s bloody novel “State of Fear”) and a certain mistrust of Big Pharma and doctors in general (I still mistrust doctors, but you need to know more about my medical baggage to understand and appreciate why).
But before I tell you about my deconversion, maybe i should begin with my conversion story first.
Fear was at the basis of my faith. I remember sitting in my maternal grand-mother’s couch, reading the apocalypse as a child, which put the fear of “god” in me. Later, I became sick with Crohn’s disease and religious fervor grew and thrived in such idealistic conditions of fear, helplessness, desire for comfort and control over my life, etc. I fell in an out of faith a couple of times over the years though. Until I really latched back on to it hardcore after high school, again in a time of much needed comfort and reassurance that someone out there was looking out for me.
I truly, deeply believed. If faith could move mountains, I would have the Kilimanjaro in my back-yard. I praised him, wrote poems, spoke to him in prayers and letters. I prayed and for a time even went to prayer meetings at church and went to communion daily for a period of time. I suffered for “god”, tried to convert others trough prayer and fast. I tried following some of the most hard to follow rules of the religion such as no sex before marriage. Well... I tried! At least for a while. And for that matter, I was watching porn way before my deconversion (hormones are a bitch, you know). I also fostered intolerance towards homosexuals and spewed my fair share of nonsense on the subject and on issues such as abortion. Although, I could see the shades of gray in life, in the peripheral of my consciousness, I had trained myself to view the world only in black and white.
But things are so much different though from the outside looking in. And I have to appreciate the cleverness of religion. It’s a well honed mind trap. Everything about religion is designed to seduce you, lure you and once you’re in, make it hard for you to leave. It’s truly insidious. And I agree with Dawkins, it's dangerous!
Like anyone else in the faith, I had my doubts from time to time. But I grew up hearing that doubt and temptation were a product of the devil (which to me, seemed a little stupid but oh! That feeling is produced by the devil so quick, push it away). I even had mantras when doubts and temptation showed their ugly head.
The reason why I remained faithful for so long in the RCC is because of the desire, the hope of going to Medjugorje to see the place where a bunch of kids back in 1982-83 claimed to see the Virgin Mary, which allegedly still is said to appear to two or three of these children, now adults. The funny thing is, these apparitions are not yet recognized by the Vatican as being legitimate. I could say a thing or two now about what I think of that, but it didn’t matter at the time when I was desperately latching on to something that might pass as proof of the existence of “god”... and help keep the persistent devil at bay.
A combination of factors led to my deconversion.
Isolation: even with other practicing members of the faith, I felt isolated. Everyone seemed to have their own little way of seeing things, some more extreme then others, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the inconsistencies. I always believed that faith should unite people, not divide them. After all, that's what we were being taught as Catholics. When I had questions to disperse my doubts, I was often met with scorn and disapproval. I was a sheep with no guide. But that's what the church wants though: sheep! Humility is a celebrated virtue in Catholicism. The feeling of isolation was worse with friends and family that didn't share my catholic views and I worried sick for the souls of my loved ones. I prayed for a spiritual guide to help me with my doubts and issues. Prayed and prayed. That's what a good Catholic do, right? Yet, nobody answered. And I wasn't asking for my arm to be grown back either!
Depression: this was my biggest grudge with “god”. It made no sense. Some apparition in Medjugorje asks us to pray daily and pray to the rosary and promises to help us in our prayers, etc. The thing is, I became plagued with depression. And when you are depressed, it does nothing good for your concentration and prayer became quite difficult for me. I always wondered why “god” would send me a disease that would prevent me from praying to him. Ultimately, I sank deeper into depression, trapped in a catholic nightmare.
Weed: I’m not sure I remember how I convinced myself that it would be ok to experiment with weed and somewhat find a way to reconcile it with my faith. But anywhoo, it’s only one of the many things I ended up doing that the church would not approve and this as a result of me feeling isolated. The first time I tried it was during college in Woodstock while I was living in a student residence. Nothing happened, really. I felt relaxed but nothing more. Nevertheless, the memory of us college students, locked up in a room, sharing this experience: that was the shit right there. That’s what I was craving. A piece of hash: worth a modest sum of money. Bonding with other human beings: priceless!
When I moved to St-Andrews, I lived alone with my cat. The first person who befriended me was a notorious pot-head (bless her soul! - I mean hmm... never mind). I wasn’t really comfortable with her habit at the time, due to my religious belief. But I am so much more tolerant then “god” (something else I came to begrudge him) and me and Jen became fast friends. And soon after that I was smoking with her as well. I still didn’t feel a thing, which aggravated me and made me wonder why people smoked weed at all. I still shared the experience though for the human factor.
And then one day, when I least expected it, I got high (just like the song says).
Apparently, and this is purely anecdotal, it doesn't always happen on the first few puffs. But exploring with weed a little more, I began an inner journey that would lead me further away from “god” as it gave me a totally different perspective on life and myself and it helped me make associations that I otherwise couldn't make sober. Still, from the beginning of this journey, it took me a year to reject my faith, although I had become more of a passive believer.
I remember one time sitting at a bonfire, laying back in my chair and looking up at the starry night sky: I fell like I was falling towards it and got thinking of all that space out there, of how insignificant we are truly and how arrogant we are to assume that all that space is just for us.
During that year, a few other things happened. I was still suffering from depression. I had sleeping problems, a leg problem that prevented me to enjoy my line of work, which was gardening and landscaping at the time. I had to quit my job because I was working with pain on a daily basis. I felt pained also by the godlessness of others, the way people swore and said “god’s” name in vain and how a lot of folks hated him and thought I was weird. There was a time when I thought I’d go crazy from pain, depression and stress. I found another job and soon got fired. It was a month before I started working somewhere else. And by then, my faith was crumbling. Where was “god” when I really needed him? So much pain and anguish... I was raised to believe that he sent us only hardship we can withstand and that we could count on him in moments of need. Bullshit!
RCC cover up of pedophile priest: well, this one speaks for itself! How can anyone justify this in their right mind? How "god" can allow this to happen in his church? You know, I'm so tired of hearing people say "oh but priests are just human". What a fucking lame excuse. Seriously? We're talking about the Catholic Church here. The same church that claims that it's pope and priests are infallible. So fuck you!
Lack of evidence: I was loath to admit it when I was a believer, but the lack of convincing evidence always irked me a bit. Sometimes I'd see some cool headline about evidence to the veracity of the holy scriptures and get all hyped up and then see the images and think... that's it? I watched the movie Expelled as a believer and was hoping to find solid evidence of the existence of "god", but soon realize that it was a conspiracy movie about dubious evidence. I also remember wondering what Charles Darwin had anything to do with the holocaust. A special edition of the Time with pictures of the places mentioned in the bible was also a disappointment. Also was the shroud of Turin, that I've seen with my own eyes by the way back in 2000. It pissed me off that people actually still thought it was the real thing even though carbon dating scientifically demonstrated that it is not that old. Oh, and why would the damn thing be threatened by fire so goddamn much (that is the thing that bothered me the most I think).
So when I decided to watch Zeitgeist, I had already made up my mind about “god”. I just needed something to give the notion a proper farewell. You know, a blasphemy to give it the proper send-off! I could've made a video where I renounce the holy spirit, or throw a consecrated cracker down in the garbage, but no... I chose to watch Zeitgeist, which is mostly about conspiracy theories with shoddy evidence. But at the time, the part where it compared Jesus to other mythological figures and the part about the planets and stars: that really hit home. Ever since I was a kid, I love stargazing. It really clicked with me and following the conclusion and agreeing with it was easy. The following day though I made some research on the Internet and found out that the truth was stretched out a bit. But still. It was done. With that act of blasphemy, I put “god” behind me.
I had a few rebound experiences with alternative beliefs, until I rediscovered my interests in writing and science (which I'd neglected). A colleague at work also introduced me to skeptic blogs. One, in particular, Bad Astronomy, is the first skeptical blog I latched on to, followed by Pharyngula and Skepchick. Now I have a whole bunch of different skeptic blogs in my Google Reader feed.
Things just got better from there.
I still have bouts of depression, but nowhere near as bad as they used to. I see the world differently. Whereas before it was vain, full of god-hating sinners and bound not to end very well. I thought a lot about the possibility of going to hell or witness the apocalypse or would think of my poor misguided relatives who seemed unaware that hell is a pretty hellish place to be for the rest of their spiritual lives - whatever that is. I now see that humans are really awesome and brilliant when they put their mind to it. I see the beauty of evolution and the cosmos and appreciate myself better. I am here! Seeing things that the past generations could only dream of. And now hoping to live more to see what other great wonder and secret of the universe we will uncover. I get excited about things like when I was a kid, we had no Internet (can't wait to tell that to my nephews when they grow older). Also, a lot of pictures of the solar system were black and white in books and I’d never imagined that the moons of Mars could be red. Seriously, the first time I saw a color picture of Phobos with it's red hues, I was awestruck. I always thought they were gray, like they were in the pictures and our own moon. Astronomers have found and photographed planets from other solar systems. New solar systems are discovered at an increasing rate. Why I am here doesn’t seem to matter anymore when I think of the mind boggling dimensions of the cosmos. Why would a tiny speck of thinking organic matter in the vast Universe, amongst many more specks of organic matter, would feel the need to have a purpose so bad to invent “gods” and have abusive relationships with their creation made creator. Although Carl Sagan said something truly poetic in the matter: We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
And I find that’s quite enough for me and it makes me a calmer, happier person.
I wish I still had the notepad files that I wrote just after it happened, when I decided to renounce my faith. I was euphoric. Unfortunately, I live with a compulsive operating system re-installer who likes to wipe my computer every couple of months and I’m afraid those files are lost forever. I am trying however to determine the precise date when it happened as it changed my life and the way I view things in a tremendous and positive way (so I can plan an anniversary celebration. I think this happened around the 15th of December, two years ago - best Christmas present ever).