This is something I’ve always wondered about… How come I rejected my Roman Catholic religious upbringing (along with all other religions), while others, including family members, did not?
The closest I’ve ever had to an answer came to me yesterday, while taking part in an online debate on a local atheist group. The debate had started with the leading question, “Is god male?” and then been side-tracked into a discussion about why Catholics pray to Mary.
I shared about my own experience at Sunday school. (Apologies to those who have read this anecdote before.) I still remember my first day quite clearly… I was six years old, and my father drove me there. I arrived two or three minutes late, and the teacher – affectionately known as Aunty Peggy, was leading the other children in song. They sang, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” and I immediately felt out of place because I didn’t know the words. Also I hated singing. Plus seeing people so fucking happy and cheery always left me with a knot of nausea in my stomach – yes, I was a miserable child at times. Anyway, that feeling of not fitting in only got worse over time.
The other thing that struck me as weird was that they prayed to Jesus. The son. I couldn’t get my head around that. Why pray to kiddo when DaddyO is god? At some point they explained the Trinity, one god in three persons, and then I was really confused. I couldn’t understand it, and with the realization that there was no deeper knowledge to understand, I figured the reason for not understanding it was that it was nonsense.
By the time I was eight years old, I had to do my first confession. And of course, I found myself not believing in that either. I didn’t tell anyone – because the answers given when others questioned things were not sufficient – I just sat there quietly in disbelief. I mean, if you can pray to god, why tell a priest your sins and have him pray for your absolution? That makes no sense.
By the time I was ten years old, I had a teacher named Patrick, a red haired Irish South African who was likeable and passionate about his religion. He not only drummed all the prayers and the creed into our little heads (and I can still remember them), but he was also passionate about apologetics. It was he who explained why we pray to Mary (something I never did despite knowing the words – heck, I still refused to pray to Jesus). He explained this so that we would be able to debate anyone who claimed that Catholics worshipped Mary. You see, we pray to her so that she can intercede to god for us. Kind of like a middle man, which happens to be the same role of the priest in confession. Likewise, I did not accept this because it made no sense.
So yesterday, while discussing this, the truth of the underlying psychology occurred to me… A couple of years ago there was a widely publicised study on our tendency to credulously accept pseudo-profound sounding bullshit. Sorry, I can’t find the quick take on it I read at the time, but I do love David Gorski’s writing…
What it comes down to, as I understand it anyway, is the way we respond when we hear statements that we do not understand. Most of us, when faced with something that seems at face value to be profound, tend to assume that it really is profound, even though we don’t understand. That is, we presume there to be some hidden wisdom that’s beyond our understanding, even if it’s pure bullshit.
I don’t do that. It amuses me because I always credited my father with helping me to learn to think critically. I always regarded myself as gullible, and I remember that throughout my childhood, I’d become angry (with myself) when finding out that something I had previously believed turned out to be untrue. And yet, the lessons on critical thinking from my father came when I was much older than six, eight, or even ten. They came when I was a teenager. So maybe I started out a critical thinker after all?
I do happen to understand most things I’ve been taught, right away. That’s my main strength. It’s why I’m a computer programmer – because I understand abstract concepts easily. But there is plenty I don’t understand. I do not get quantum mechanics at all. I struggle with relativity. Yet in those cases, it is obvious to me that there is knowledge I am missing, genuine hidden wisdom that I do not have. I understand that those subjects (and philosophy too) are subjects that I don’t get, but are also valid subjects. They are truly profound, unlike religious mysterious and dogma which I have been asked to accept without question and cannot do.
The point is, things like Mary interceding to god on our behalf, god having three persons but still being a single god, a priest praying for us at confession, the Eucharist changing into the “body of Christ”, and others, are obviously nonsense. I rejected all of those as a child simply because they don’t make sense. There is no hidden wisdom in any of those things… There is no special knowledge that anyone who studied their religious book, has gained. They just learn the innermost details of the shit that men made up about gods for thousands of years, while accepting that all those things are “mysterious”.
And that’s it. That’s why I don’t believe in god but my brother does. My bullshit detection skills developed earlier than his did, and maybe that’s why he is religious and I’m not, even though both of us have IQs well above average. (So we’ve been told.)
Edit… I do pity stupid people. Presumably there are plenty people out there who are stupid enough that they fail to understand most things. Such people would then tend to assume stuff like religion is true, because it’s just like everything else that they don’t understand. I suspect those folks are the theists who frequent atheists versus theists debate groups… judging by the quality of the “arguments” they make.