Religious Un-Programming

Steve and I had dinner with our friends Deb and Dave recently – it was a lovely evening, as it always is with these two. Somehow the conversation got onto religion and I know I didn’t start it, because I learnt long ago that while I might be really passionate about this subject, most people couldn’t give a shit or give a VERY big shit, and thus, I only get going if someone else starts it and make sure it’s kept amicable. If you get into it with the wrong person, it can definitely get nasty very quickly, so sometimes it’s just not worth going there, but most of the time, I find these discussions fascinating. In this case, I’m pretty sure it was Dave who started the convo, because Deb had no religion in her upbringing at all and Steve had a tiny smattering that has left him very nonchalant about the whole topic… well probably until he met me.

This is Dave

Anyways, it turns out Dave, who’s a couple of years older than me, still says a prayer every night before he goes to sleep and has not been able to fully reject the Catholic beliefs he grew up with. That got my attention because he’s not exactly a model of Catholic virtue J – see photo. Dave’s given up on most of what he learnt, but that final reckoning, no. I asked him why and he said it’s basically insurance, because if all of the fire and damnation stuff we both grew up with is true, he wants to make sure he’s well positioned to go up rather than down. I completely understand why he has never made that final leap of faith, because I also faced that decision. I was in my 20s and I’d gotten rid of most of the (what I believe was) crap, but that final decision to throw it all away and not believe any of it anymore… well that was not an easy chasm to cross. For anyone who’s faced the decision and pulled back or faced it and thrown themselves off the proverbial cliff, you’ll understand what I mean.

I threw myself off the cliff, free falling and not knowing what would happen in the long run – it was the hardest decision I ever made, and also the most liberating. But there were some key teachings and beliefs in the Catholic Church that gave me that final push – aside from all of the hatred and contradictions I’d personally witnessed. For example: how can the God we are told to believe in be both all loving and vindictive? Would he really ask us to kill another in His name? If so, he’s definitely not the sort of God I want to believe in. And the belief that a baby will go to hell if it hasn’t been baptized. Come on! Something so pure can suffer eternal damnation just because it missed out on a ritual?

Then there was the whole women are inferior issue. I watched my mum every week in her role as a ‘lay priest,’ giving out communion and wondered how the hell can you support an institution that says you are inferior? Women not being allowed to be priests, the whole Mary Magdalene was a prostitute idea, Eve the evil temptress, how women are represented in religious history (virgin or whore) and all of the other bollocks all religions (not just Catholicism) throw around about female inferiority – well that pretty much counted me out.

The sex scandals in the Catholic Church certainly didn’t help, neither do their rigid rules that impact – in disastrous ways – people living in poverty, e.g. the spread of AIDS in Africa, the right to abortion, the right to divorce, etc, etc, etc. The Church is screwing A LOT of people and countries up in my opinion. But it’s not just the Catholics; organised religion, as a whole, constantly brings us to the brink of disaster and I can’t see it changing anytime soon.

There are many more examples of why I chose to move away from it, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about the actual programming you go through when born into a religious family/society. I went through hell (no pun intended) trying to sift through my belief systems, questioning them, accepting some, rejecting many, and with a lot of trepidation, I was finally able to make the final jump. Dave has not made this jump, which is fair enough because he’s happy with that. He’s not alone. I’ve watched countless others go through this process – tearing themselves apart because FEAR is huge when it comes down to rejecting your faith. What if? is a very large part of the process, and many times I’ve watched people really screw themselves up, often turning to another type of faith because they needed something to replace it. Stepping away completely is no easy task, suffice to say.

It’s messy and powerful shit, often completely confusing to people who’ve never been in that world. Religious education is so consuming and such a massive part of your life and thoughts, that when you get to an age where you start questioning everything, well hold on tight, because it’s going to get bumpy. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get to the bottom of it, but religious dogma is so old and confusing, I believe it’s practically impossible. So many beliefs and practises come from something or somewhere else, relevant to the time they were created in (often having nothing to do with religion at all) and have been constantly interpreted and reinterpreted to suit the time we live in today – a resulting mish-mash of stuff with the fundamental threats of horror if you don’t follow the rules…

For me, I find it hard to get to the essence of what it’s all about. Some aspects of faith are good – nice moral guidelines for humans to follow, or good lessons about doing the right thing or forgiving people for being dickheads. It’s certainly not all bad, but then it’s common sense too. However, that big picture perspective of what it all means, side-by-side with the continuing destruction big religion causes around the world in the name of God? Well that doesn’t make any sense at all.

The problem is there is no belief system that does make sense to me. Is there nothing? Is there everything? Sometimes people ask me what I believe and I honestly do not know. I do believe there is something unexplained, but only because I’ve experienced a lot of weird shit. I don’t know what it is, but I also know that there’s not a single person living on this planet that does know for sure. Everyone has ideas, philosophies, faith, or whatever, but no one knows everything, and I find that pretty interesting. The great thing about this time is people are really questioning – deeply questioning –and I reckon it’s great we live in a time where we can question. A couple of hundred years ago we would’ve been burnt at the stake, or not so long ago we would’ve been kicked out of the Church. But they don’t all kick the faithless out – many people live in places where questioning their faith can result in death…

I remain interested in this topic because the world still revolves around this stuff. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my chat with Dave, so figured I’d put a bit of a blog together. I’d love to hear from others who have thoughts on this and while I really appreciate that this can be sensitive stuff, please keep it sweet? We’ve all got the right to believe whatever we want to believe, because we were given free will right? Oh yes, free will – another whole topic of conversation. One question on that subject always enters my mind when it comes to organised religion – if you can’t have free thoughts how can you have free will?

Deb and Steve DEFINTITELY have the easier ride in this equation. They just couldn’t give two shits about it because no one ever told them that they should. Life is certainly interesting don’t you think?

Yours, without the bollocks

2 Responses

  1. Well put, and thanks for sharing. I've always found the contrast between religious dogma and the behaviour of its adherents (and authors) very instructive. That's not to say religious people can't be any fun, but the extent to which they observe the letter of religious laws as distinct from the spirit varies considerably. And it's not all about fun – there is definitely a place for being serious and thinking deep thoughts. It's just that religious deep thoughts always lead to a place that reinforces faith over reason, and I'm afraid I'm an inherently sceptical person.

  2. Darls, love your insight. Reason was certainly lacking when I was asking the questions growing up. So many times I was told to have faith, but that didn't make any sense to me – how about an answer sometimes? I don't regret having a religious upbringing, because it opened my mind up in many wonderful ways, but the way I think certainly isn't what my Mum had in mind…. Big kisses for you

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