I can sum up my life-long repudiation of organized religion in four words: "Catholicism" & "The Middle East".
I first questioned made-up stuff told to me as a child when I deduced Santa Claus wasn't real at the age of five (bye-bye Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy, too!). God-fearing Catholic neighbor kids informed me that since I was baptized Catholic but didn't go to church I was surely going to hell. Fear began my brief stint with Christianity. It ended when the protestant church I'd joined dared to propose the idea of allowing gay members to become ministers. Its flock was overwhelmingly against such a crazy idea and with that, I walked out the door and never looked back. The priest sex abuse scandal reaffirmed my decision to never be confirmed Catholic and it's why my raised-Catholic husband was totally cool with my one request about our wedding: I refused to be married by a Catholic priest.
I don't need to delve into details about why I think the Middle East conflict is ridiculous. So utterly stupid.
That being said, I struggled for a long time to fully let go of the idea of "God" in the religion sense because my half-assed beliefs still worked for me. The older (and hopefully wiser) I get the more I see religion for the blinding nonsense that it is. Only recently have I been able to discern a label for myself: spiritual agnostic freethinker. This might qualify me as an atheist and if so, that's fine. I just think these three words more accurately describe my ideas on this subject.
Spiritual, for me, is well explained by Russell Brand:
"Itís difficult to believe in yourself because the idea of self is an artificial construction. You are, in fact, part of the glorious oneness of the universe. Everything beautiful in the world is within you."
You might think I'm a pot-smoking communist hippie but I assure you I'm not. I have been afflicted with deeper-than-average empathy my whole life and for the longest time I hated that about myself. I believed it made me overly sensitive and weak. Now I think of it as a gift. Being able to put myself in someone's place and understand where they are coming from and why they do what they do has, in fact, made me a more loving, less judgmental and more hopeful person. It has also helped me see that much of what is in the new testament is a man named Jesus playing the role of "Captain Obvious" when it comes to how we should be treating one another, lessons many self-proclaimed Christians have yet to learn. This is the only part of the bible that I don't outright dismiss as bullshit because it's not portrayed as fact but as advice. I don't disagree with everything Jesus advised and I really don't have a problem with Jesus the man. I have a problem with his immaculate conception and resurrection.
"The Tree of Life" is my favorite way to describe my interpretation of spirituality - we are connected by our shared genetics and our energy. We detect each other's moods without having to say a word, sometimes we know when something is up without being able to explain why. My theory? We're experiencing energy in some form or another. Mother Nature continuously inspires awe; my sons are a constant source of fascination for me. If there is such a thing as a soul I expect it is a form of energy and one day, I have no doubt, science will be able to prove or disprove its existence. For now, science has far more urgent energy problems to solve.
Agnostic. I realized this about myself during Creighton University's mandatory Ethics class when I got my master's degree. Do I believe in a creator? Not in the supernatural sense, no. Do I believe there is no afterlife? I don't know what I believe about life after death. Can I prove that God doesn't exist? I don't presume to know every single fact there is to know so, no, I can't prove it and there is no way that a believer can prove to me that God does exist. If Jesus comes swooping down from the sky to take some of us back to where he came from I'll rethink my stance but until then, agnostic it is.
Freethinker. Just because someone says so doesn't make "it" so. I'm direct and unafraid to question a claim if it is insufficiently backed up. Telling me that you have to be Christian to be moral without explaining to me WHY that is ... well, you clearly haven't thought through why you believe it. I think most believe because they've been frightened into it or it is ingrained into their family's traditions and culture. I remember asking a Christian why he was against capital punishment and he said "because that's what my religion tells me to think" to which I replied "Right, but what do YOU think?" He refused to budge from the notion that his church decided such things and that was ok by him. I have had debates with Christians who believe that evolution isn't real and when they at least attempt to back up their opinion I can respect them enough to agree to disagree. There are believers that are so indoctrinated that I simply don't have the energy or time to engage in debate with them. I met a woman who was offended when I asked why she believed her recently split Presbyterian Church had become "too liberal" (as you can guess, she stayed with the conservative side of the split.) She launched into an angry hellfire and brimstone lecture about how we are born into sin and must spend our lives proving we are worthy of heaven though the savior, Jesus Christ. This - she stated without a hint of doubt in her voice - was an indisputable fact for all of us and we should consider ourselves lucky to get the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy. Imagine the look I got when I replied: "That might be true for you but it's not for all of us."
If religion didn't directly affect my life in spite of my choice to live a life without it, I wouldn't be so outspoken about it. I'm Canadian and when I came to the United States, I thought I'd seen my fair share of believers of all kinds and their religious ridiculousness. HAH! I stand corrected. Politics and religion are one in the same in America, you simply can't have one without the other and it's terrifying. This is why I choose to present myself to the world as a member of the non-religious club. If we secularists don't show ourselves and how large we are in number, the proselytizers will continue to dominate government and law-making. Having all of us represented in government would be a good start. Mandatory IQ tests if you wish to enter an election is a good idea. Having religion sequestered to its temples and the homes of its followers would be ideal.
It is tough being a spiritual agnostic freethinker sometimes. I'm far outnumbered and some are perturbed to know I'm not with them on this. They suddenly think they don't know me and I remind them that I'm no different than the person they've known for the last decade and that this hasn't been a secret. I often suggest that maybe it is time to consider the idea that perfectly good people exist outside of their church.
"Take the risk of thinking for yourself - much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way."
- Christopher Hitchens 1949 - 2011