I hope this isn’t too boring. This post is just me being introspective… wondering how and why I came to be the atheist I am now, instead of a believer like everybody else in my family.
Every now and then I see a meme that really makes me laugh out loud, not because it’s especially funny, but because I identify with it in a meaningful way. Today I saw this one:
The moment I saw this, I heard those words sung in my head by a group of happy six-year old’s, and that is what led me to laugh out loud, though the meme itself isn’t that funny. The reason I say this isn’t that funny is that it isn’t group psychosis. I don’t think the meme is fair. But group dynamics could come into play. It makes sense, because religious indoctrination involves the teaching of small children to believe in god, and in a particular religion. It works not only because children are young and impressionable, and hence do not question what their parents tell them, but also because indoctrination happens in groups.
Consider a typical “Christian child”. He or she attends Christian church as well as Sunday school with other children of the same denomination. They sing songs and partake in what appears to be children’s entertainment. It isn’t harmless entertainment though, but is instead a mechanism to deliver and reinforce the message of Christianity… God created you as well as the whole world and mankind… Man turned away from god and had to be punished… Then god sent his only son who died for you… It’s a victim mentality, that you are broken and need to be fixed/saved, which can only happen by accepting Jesus. It’s a message that is absurd and would likely not be accepted by an already critically thinking adult. But drum it into a child’s brain and they will very likely grow up to drum it into their child in turn.
They become part of a community where everyone believes the same thing, and are taught not to question their belief from an early age. They’re even taught that all good things come from god, even though they learn their morals through their parents and local culture; then grow up convinced that the religion taught them good things. The belief and the religion thus becomes an important part of the identity of such a person, of how they see themselves and the world. And even when such a person does question what they are taught, they don’t see the bigger picture… That is, someone might question why they can’t see god, or why other people believe in a different god, but might not realize that the only difference between them and others is that the others were indoctrinated into a different religion because of their births into a different culture, and might not even consider the question of why they believe without question that a god, or designer, would even be required to create the universe in the first place. (Never mind question the entirely fictional concept that they need to be saved. If you think you need to be saved, you’re already way down that rabbit hole.) That part of the teachings sinks in so deeply, it becomes part of the psyche, part of the identity and worldview of such a person.
My son is about to turn eight years old, and thanks to the last few years (up until recently) of him being raised by someone else, he already assumes that a creator is required. That belief isn’t inherent – it was instilled into him for as long as he can remember by people who were completely unaware of the potential harm such a belief might cause. (Ironically, he thinks church itself is boring, as is the Bible, even though it is the source of the religion he is supposed to believe as a “Christian child”. To me this means that is is not too late for his deconversion… he has been seduced by the “entertainment” part of indoctrination… the children’s Bibles, the despicable children’s DVD’s like Psalty Psalms and so on. His brainwashing was not yet complete.) But I digress from today’s subject…
The meme above brought back a vivid memory for me, something I hadn’t thought about for years… It was my first day of Sunday school and I was six years old. My father drove me there and dropped me off, but I was a few minutes late. Only a few minutes though, was enough for me to walk into the class after they already started. They were singing… “Jesus loves me, this I know; For the Bible tells me so”… I had never heard the song before, and rather than being taken in by the tone – they were all singing with gusto, in their childish little voices that sounded so happy… Rather than joining in and feeling like I was part of something, I felt alone, excluded, isolated in a strange place filled with stupid people. They knew the song already, and I hated that kind of fake cheeriness, just like I hated the overly cheery Disney movies I was forced to endure at the time, such as Freaky Friday (The old one, not the one with Lindsay Junkie Lohan. I can’t explain it, but there was a certain tone in all the movies I saw at that time; the way the people spoke and acted, that was fake and overly cheerful in a creepy way.) So to me, Sunday school was creepy, just like those old movies.
I’d forgotten that experience, although in a way it came to define all the years of my Sunday school. In a way, I never got over those first few minutes. I made a few friends there in the way that every child does, but none of them were close, and although I went through the motions, I never did fit in. I pretended to be sick to avoid my first confession at eight years old, not because of being embarrassed to have to tell a priest my “sins”, although I was embarrassed, but because I thought the idea of confession was stupid. I did have to go the next week though, and I think I went to confession three times altogether: That time at eight years old, once when I was a little older, and once before my confirmation when I was around fourteen. (The time around fourteen was puzzling. For want of something to say, I told the priest all about my masturbation, and tried to find out why I had a smoking fetish. He didn’t understand that I was asking about a fetish, but assured me that wanking wasn’t a sin. I knew that. I just wanted someone to explain why the hell I got an erection every time I saw a pretty girl lighting up, because I was wondering if there was something wrong with me.)
I’ve often wondered over the years, why things worked out as they did. Specifically, I’ve wondered why I became an atheist while my brother remained a Roman Catholic believer. We have much in common. Obviously we were brought up in the same home by the same parents, and went to the same church and Sunday school, as well as the same schools, separated by only two years. Besides that, since we both had worse than average allergies, we went to the same hospital (Red Cross Children’s Hospital) where we were treated by the same allergy expert. Of the many tests done on us, IQ tests were included. So our parents knew before we even started school that both of us had IQs above average. (I don’t know how far above average, but it was expected that we would perform well in school, which we did with ease.) We are also both sceptical, and do not accept what we read, see or hear without question. Him more so than me, I think.
Yet he ended up a believer, and I did not. And thinking about it, this meme highlights the difference between us. My brother never felt the isolation that I did. When I started attending Sunday school, our parents had not been going to Mass, except for special occasions like Christmas and Easter. (So they were non-practising Catholics.) I attended Sunday school alone, and was told that Mass was a “celebration”. I attended Mass alone for a few weeks, and was sorely disappointed, but did convince my parents that we should all attend Mass together. (Thus the family became practising Catholics, ironically because of little six-year-old me who didn’t like attending Mass alone.) At that stage I was six and my brother was four years old, so his experience was quite different to mine. From his viewpoint, the family always attended Mass together. And he was never an introvert like me. He was always captain of the sports team, leader of the group of his friends, altar boy, prefect and so on. He was always a participant, but more than that, he not only made himself part of the community but was a natural born leader, someone respected and admired by his peers who stood out among them. Whereas I was always alone, outside, observing but not participating. Looking on, viewing, and questioning why I had to do what I was told; not out loud but in my head. Detached.
When you’re detached, you see the world differently. It can be lonely when you self-isolate, and actually I’ve learned from rehab a few years ago as well as from NA meetings when I used to attend them, that this is a character profile that often leads to addiction, and maybe depression. But it also has its advantages. When you detach, you take a step back, and see the world as it really is. You question what you are taught, even from those who teach you to question. (People like my father, who was the one who taught me not to accept what I read, heard or saw on TV, but who was disappointed on the day that I told him I didn’t believe in god any longer.) You enquire, you research, and you have the capacity to learn and understand the truth behind what others accept blindly on a level that they never can. Hooray for us introverts! We are so much more than you know…