Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My Walk Towards the Light of Reason

My congratulations to everyone who throws off the shackles of religion. I applaud you on your journey. This is my story.

I was raised Catholic in a typical pragmatic religious family. We went to church on Sunday, and went about the rest of our lives the rest of the week. We never discussed, analyzed or mentioned religion. It was not verboten; it was simply taken as an uncontroversial given of life, as routine as getting up in the morning.

For me, all of that changed with two events. The first was the disappearance of my beloved cat when I was 7. For the first time in my life, I sincerely asked God for something, to get my cat back. I was taught in Sunday school that God only answered sincere prayers, and that you should only pray for something when it is really important. Well, getting my Tiger back was important, so I prayed. I prayed every night on my knees for a month. I prayed at least 15 minutes every night. I was sincere.

Nothing happened. I never prayed again. It wasn't a conscious decision. I simply know that I never prayed again.

The second event began when I picked Ayn Rand's Anthem off the shelf of a used book store when I was 13. At 13 I read Anthem. At 14 I read The Fountainhead and told myself I was an atheist. By 15, I demanded that my parents explain their adherence to a religion that demanded their sacrifice on the altar of altruism. When I announced to my father that I was an atheist that year, he declared that I must be insane and threatened to send me to an insane asylum.

Needless to say, after that I couldn't wait to get out of my parents' house, and went to college as soon as I could, even skipping my senior year of high school to go early.

The interesting thing about all of it was that throughout my youth (and continuing to this day), I took religion seriously. I listened to what the priest said at mass; I excelled at Sunday school where I was a top student. I was even an altar boy and relished the opportunity to be closer to the "body of Christ" than anyone else, other than the priest.

Taking religion -- i.e., ideas -- seriously appears to be the leitmotif of those who reject the religion under which they are raised.

I respect anyone who takes ideas seriously, even if they are wrong about the ideas they hold. Because if they do so, specifically if they are open to reason and respect evidence, they are open to the truth.

Many religious people take religious ideas seriously, but they base their beliefs on faith. You cannot reason with them. Many other religious people (most religious people I meet fall into this category) are pragmatists; they don't take any ideas seriously. You cannot reason with them either, because for them ideas are divorced from reality.

The bottom line is: very few people are independent thinkers who take ideas seriously. Those who are can find their way out of the torture chamber of religion, despite its horrors.

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