I have written parts of this before, so bear with me, please… A question I have always asked myself is why and how I went from sincerest belief to a position of utter disbelief in about thirty seconds… because that’s what happened. I went from theist and devout Catholic to an atheist who will never believe again, almost instantly. And it wasn’t what I wanted. To explore my thoughts on this, I have to go further back and compare my loss of faith to two other events in my life: The moment I found out Santa wasn’t real, and my transition from cub scouts to boy scouts.
When I was six years old, my cousin Miechelle told me that Father Christmas wasn’t real. (That’s what we call him here. I don’t know why.) My reaction was one of anger. I wanted to believe. But I couldn’t. In the moment when she said it, I knew. I knew that an old man didn’t travel around the whole world in a flying sled with flying reindeer visiting all the children at night. I knew the Santa’s in stores were just men in costumes. I knew. I wanted to go back to my belief, but my cousin with the weird spelling of her name had given me just enough information for me to understand that there was no going back, and suddenly I was separated from the other kids. Suddenly I did not live inside their fantasy world and was no longer part of that fellowship.
When I was around eight years old, my best friend was a member of the local cub scouts. The hall was just down the road from my house, in walking distance. So I joined too. I never did quite fit in anywhere, since my time was spent in my own little imaginary world, mostly detached from others. So I didn’t care for the cooking, merit badges, tying knots (none of which I ever remembered anyway) and so on, but there was one thing I did like. At the end of every evening, we’d all stand in a huge circle, holding hands, and shout out together the name of the woman who was in charge, “Akala, Arrrr kaaay la, Aaaaaaaaaa” and run towards the middle. I loved it. I felt like I was part of something. It gave me a sense of belonging, and was one of the few times in my life that I ever did fit in anywhere, even if it was only for a minute.
But then two things happened… I graduated from cubs to scouts, and my younger brother tried it out. That same hall had an upstairs section, with poles that you could slide down, and rooms on top where the scouts went. I found myself no longer fitting in at all. Suddenly I was surrounded by older boys, who were listening to music and talking about sports and girls while sneaking cigarettes. One of them made fun of me for wearing short pants, while they wore trousers, and “trousers” was a word I did not know. He mocked me for that too. And yet my brother hated cubs. He attended once, came home, and told us about how stupid it was that they all held hands and shouted “Akala”. I was shocked, because he hated the one part of it that I loved. Then I went in early, up to the room and looked down at the cubs. All at once, I felt what he felt, that the boys holding hands were being silly and childish, and I saw Akela as no more than a middle aged woman in a silly brown suit. The illusion was shattered, and I, who no longer felt any sense of fellowship with either the cubs or the older scouts, left and never went back again.
Fast forward to me at sixteen years old. One day a Finnish friend asked me if I was religious, and I answered that I was Roman Catholic. I naively asked what religion she was. She scoffed. She laughed at the idea of belief in god, and asked why we could believe in such nonsense. And just like with my cousin whose parents don’t know how to spell Michelle, I knew she was right. Virgins don’t give birth. Nobody walks on water, changes water to wine, raises the dead, or does any of those things that Jesus supposedly did. Not now. Not two thousand years ago. God doesn’t “speak” to anyone now besides the mentally deranged, and there is no reason to suspend one’s disbelief and accept that it was any different thousands of years ago.
And just like that, my faith was gone, never to return again. I didn’t choose this. It was taken from me. Again, I was angry at first. I prayed. I attended Mass. All for nothing. I hated it. It was like trying to go back to cub scouts. There is no going back. It took me years to become comfortable with my atheism.
And this gets me back to where I started… Sometimes I wonder why. Why did my faith vanish in seconds while it doesn’t work that way for others? My brother is still a devout Catholic… the same brother who in a moment had me see through the false sense of fellowship of cub scouts.
To be fair, I always had my doubts. At six years old when I started Sunday school, the others prayed to Jesus and I would not. I didn’t see how the son of god and his father could be the same person. And a couple of years later when they explained the Trinity, it made even less sense. Maths can be complicated. Science can be complicated, but never beyond comprehension… but to state that something is beyond comprehension dogmatically is the same as saying it is magic and you can’t understand it because magic. And magic isn’t real. It’s made up, just like the complexities of god.
And yet, the process of my disbelief seems quite different to most. From what I’ve read, disbelief in both god and Santa is normally gradual. I even saw that with my son… At first he thought only one Santa in one store was real, and the rest were fake. He came to his disbelief over a period of months, rather than my instant switch from belief to disbelief.
Somehow I have never convinced anyone else to disbelieve. Not that I try… But when I was sixteen, that friend didn’t try either. Her scoffing at the idea of belief was enough. When I hear the faithful, and read their blogs as they tell each other what they want to hear, I see through the illusion. They’re no different to those little boys holding hands and yelling Akela. But most will never know it.
It’s not those people who I, as an anti-theist, have issues with anyway. Their faith is innocent and admirable, something taken from me that can never be returned. But their religious leaders don’t always share that faith. They remind me more of Beaver, the scout leader who married my friend’s mother, and then turned out to like little boys more than he liked women. And I don’t only mean paedophiles… I mean the Angus Buchan’s and Joel Olsteen’s of this world. People who exploit the believers to enrich themselves.
I set out writing this, thinking I had answers that I could simply write down. Somehow the loss of that feeling of fellowship when I was a child helped facilitate seeing behind the curtain of religious belief. Now I’m no longer so sure. Maybe my brain is “wired” a little differently and I was always a critical thinker? I don’t know. I do know that my loss of faith wasn’t a conscious choice. And there is no going back.