The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In Which I Formally Step Away

I was raised Catholic. I went to church every Sunday, catechism one night through the week, and was a youth leader at a spiritual retreat. I believed. Certainly not in a fervent, hand-wringing sort of way, but I knew that there was something called God "up there" because otherwise why were all these adults revering the Pope, looking to the sky in times of trouble, and praying with all their might for sick Aunt Pauline?

Gradually I fell away in my late teen years. It wasn't a rebuking of religion, I just got tired of the repetition of mass (as one comic put it, "I get it - Jesus good, Satan bad") and, quite frankly, I had more important stuff to do, like sleep in and think about girls.

As I got older I started to actually think about what it was I believed and why. The Catholic doctrines were not something I could buy into anymore, not that I ever did because I didn't understand them. At the time, I was living in Japan so I started reading about Buddhism and asking my collegues about Shintoism.

Buddhism was interesting to me with its ideas of anyone becoming a bodhisattva, but ultimately the concept of eternal life fell flat with me. I thought that devalued existence because whatever you do, you've got all of infinity to make amends for it. Actions, on a long enough timeline, lost all meaning.

Shintoism was sort of the opposite of monotheism with its "god in every grain of rice" idea. There are so many gods that it renders the concept meaningless - sort of like the Catholic saints. Plus I felt like a complete fraud standing in front of a Shinto temple, clapping and pulling the rope to get the god's attention - whatever that meant.

So neither of these fit with me. It was shortly after that when I had the thought, "well, why do any religions have to be right?" The conclusion was obvious but I had never stated it to myself - none of the religions have to be correct and, not only that, they were professing a knowledge of absolute truth where there could be none.

Around two years later after having been introduced to Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others, I was a committed atheist. Yes, yes, technically I was (and remain) an agnostic, but on the sliding scale from fundamentalist religious nutbag, to theist, to deist, to agnostic, and finally to atheist, I am as close to the line between the last two as possible. There is no proof of any supernatural creation of the cosmos, hence I act as such.

I became interested in the idea of excommunication from Catholicism. The thought of having a signed letter on my wall with John Paul II's signature on the bottom, all scrolly and formal in his papal hand, condemning me and my children and grandchildren to eternal banishment from the Kingdom of Heaven, was quite appealing. After looking around for a while, I found out that it took quite a lot to get excommunicated. You could always physically attack the Pope, of course, but that was gauche and unpleasant. Also, accessability was an issue. I could join another religion, but that defeats the purpose; why become a Jew so as to not be Catholic?

Then there was the option of writing letter upon letter upon letter to my baptismal church to convince them of my apostasy, only to have them inform me after a year that I was effectively in the wrong queue. I should write to those people and tell them of my activities and then we'll consider your case.

Finally, after much reading and pondering, I realized that excommunication is for the church, not me. They have no "Master List" of all the good Catholics scrolled up under some Santa Claus Bishop's wizard-like sleeve, him keeping track of the naughty and nice all year long. Once you're baptized (as an infant and with no consent), you're one of the flock. I take comfort that at least there was no physical marking of me (read into that what you will).

In that vein, with the Catholic God (or, presumably, some angelic secretary) holding the only microfiche list of names, I hereby remove myself formally from it. I have not taken part in any Catholic ritual for more than a decade and have no desire to resume. I am an apostate, I am religionless, and I am a believer in a natural world. I believe that humans are but one of many millions of species on this planet and we need to work together to advance our standing and eliminate suffering. I believe we do not know, nor will we ever know, everything about our planet, let alone the entire cosmos, and that this is a good thing as it is a source of wonder, education, and investigation. I believe that people are fallable but that we can overcome this weakness with our intelligence to tremendous achievement.

After a decade of clear thinking, rationality, and a philosophy of naturalism and skepticism, basing my opinions on the evidence available and always being open to changing my mind, I release myself from Catholicism and all that it entails; I excommunicate myself.

The happiness, morality, friendship and altruism of a natural worldview are hard to beat. We all live natural lives on a natural planet in a natural universe - let's give up the fairy tales and recognize that the Pale Blue Dot is all we have with which to work. Whaddaya say?

9 Barbaric Yawps:

At 20/10/07 9:36 pm, Blogger Brian said...

Sorry, but you don't have the authority to excommunicate yourself. Face it - you were born a catholic and you'll die a catholic, whether you want to or not.

Your only hope of escape is to become a priest, rise to a position of bishop and then on to the college of cardinals so that one day you can be elected Pope almighty. Then, and only then will you be able to excommunicate yourself.

At 21/10/07 12:12 am, Anonymous medicated said...

Actually, it's quite simple to excommunicate oneself. In fact, apostasy is one of the several ways to do that. Desecration of a eurcharist would do it too. Advise a friend to have an abortion. If she goes through with it, you are excommunicated. There are several others.

It doesn't depend on any statement of the pope in Catholic doctrine. The moment that one of the prohibited acts is completed, that person is automatically excommunicated, even if the church never finds out about it.

Of course the doctrines of the various religions are total BS. Still, if excommunication is what you want, you've already managed it. You have declared yourself to be an apostate, and you (presumably) mean it. You are officially excommunicated.

At 21/10/07 12:18 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to get my hands on an old-school indulgence. It would be like having hypocrisy framed.

At 21/10/07 12:32 am, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

I'd still like the letter, but what can a guy do?

At 21/10/07 1:12 am, Blogger Atheist in a mini van. said...

Ok. Here's the plan. You and I are going to crash a mass someday. When they ask us to exchange the sign of peace, we can hoot and holler and make complete asses of ourselves- maybe even throw a few blasphemous phrases in the mix. Then, we can go up for communion, with those Halloween blood capsules in our mouths... it'll be brilliiant!! ;)

At 21/10/07 9:00 am, Blogger BigHeathenMike said...

That would be the most awesome thing on record. Count me in.

At 22/10/07 2:58 pm, Blogger King Aardvark said...

Awesome plan. I'd like to join, but I was never catholic; I just went to a catholic school. Historically, my family is presbyterian.

Sure beats the alternative of physically attacking the pope. That would have been fine with John Paul II, but with new Pope Benny, you have to watch out for the lightning he'll shoot from his fingers.

At 24/10/07 4:37 pm, Blogger BEAJ said...

If I can be an atheist Jew, you can be agnostic (actually atheist) Catholic.

Atheist remember is whether you believe in God or not. Do you believe in God? No? You are an atheist. Yes, and then you are a believer.

You can be an agnostic atheist, and by definition, all of us are. Agnostic is a position of not knowing for sure. I'm an agnostic when it comes to whether God or Leprechauns exist. But I highly doubt either possibly exist.
Do I believe in God, absolutely not. Nobody can disprove whether God exists or not.

Now there are agnostic agnostics. Those are people who don't know if God exists because they don't really think about it or know enough about it. Like if someone asked me if thought Limberger cheese was tasty, I'm agnostic about it. I don't know, and I don't want to know.

At 24/10/07 4:42 pm, Blogger BEAJ said...

Actually, limberger cheese was a bad example. If asked do I believe it tastes bad, I would say yes.

But if asked if I believe that superstring theory is completely valid, I would have to say I'm agnostic because I don't know enough about it. I couldn't answer yes or no.


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