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Recently I created a bit of personal online drama when I "unfriended" some folks from Facebook, including family members. My reasoning was this "family" was mostly extended (though did include some immediate members). I receive a kind letter from my mother, edited below as a response and I wanted to share my thoughts to her in a post as they seem pertain to many atheists who often hear the words, "you're just angry at god or the church."
I enjoyed your blog about death and dying. I started a comment, but I lost it before I finished.
I know you care about humanity. You are compassionate.
I feel you are angry about where your life has taken you thus far. Hasn't been easy I know. Do you think the Catholic Church lied to you and made you beleive in a god and forced its rules on you?
I know you dislike being judged and so do I. I do not care that you are gay and atheist. However, I worry about anger. I know you are a good man, love yourself.
My response to my mother:
I'm sorry you have the impression that I'm angry with where life has taken me. I think you must be reacting to my recent strongly worded reply to a Facebook post you liked, the one about sharia law as posted by a religious right Christian group based in Arizona. What makes me angry is when people, even people like yourself, repeat rhetoric they've heard.
I'll give an example of this that you and others have all expressed in the last few months via liking posts on Facebook or directing posting graphics on the topics of Islam, Muslims, in which these "memes" imply that in some way Muslims and followers of Islam or their basic beliefs are wrong or bad, and that they wish to cause harm to Americans, to Christians and are actively trying undermine society.
My "anger" about this comes from blatant ignorance. My point in responding to you as I have is that you are espousing and repeating opinions given to you by others without your own critical evaluation of the information as it is presented. The truth about the specifics of Islam is that most Muslims, like most Christians, seek peace, love, happiness and security for themselves and their families. They find this through their communal worship of Allah-just as Christians do through communal worship of Christ.
It seems we have been taught as American Christians (most of us) that our enemy is any person or persons who do not espouse Christian/American beliefs. So yes, this way of thinking does make me angry. Not because others don't have a right to their opinion, but because the distrust comes from something someone else told them and this information is often accepted blindly and without critical review or thought. If we all made the effort, as Americans specifically, to better know and appreciate cultural and religious differences we would be more at peace and ease with those differences between us. In fact, we would embrace and encourage these differences.
You're right to assume I can be more critical of Christians in America, of those close to me such as yourself and the family. I am more critical because I myself espoused those opinions and beliefs at one time, based simply on what I was told, taught and how I was raised culturally as a Christian and an American. My assumptions once held were not based on what I learned or studied but were simply assumed to be true.
I simply am at a point in life where I cannot tolerate hypocritical thinking and erroneous belief as a part of my life or to influence me. This perhaps makes me seem angry. But I am not angry at religion, faith or belief systems. More at intolerance and bigotry those systems can lead one to embrace.
I hope you do not think I am regretful of where life has taken me . Indeed, I have met some of the most wonderful and interesting people from all walks of life and from all faiths. My journey from boy to seminarian to priest to married man has been glorious. Perhaps I do feel some regret in that I did not study zoology or physics, topics I have always enjoyed. I wonder how things would have been different had I not chosen to study philosophy and theology. Still, instead of letting regret make me bitter I'm using that energy to study and learn those wishful things now. Who knows, maybe someday I'll have the chance to study primates or learn more deeply about quantum theory. My point is this, I have discovered that I must avoid my own hypocrisy and that I must be true to myself and my own formed opinions and notions. Ideas presented to me by others deserves review and evaluation before acceptance or rejection.
The Catholic Church didn't lie to me in that the beliefs espoused by her members, you and I included (me at one time), are the result of theology and philosophical evolution on the theories of a universe created by a god; indeed for those theologians and philosophers, these theologies go beyond theory and become their Truth. I was raised and indoctrinated in this theology much as you were; being born into a society that simply assumes much of, if not all of, its tenants and beliefs to be true without personal critical evaluation, critical study or review. I suppose that this is the dark side of a cultural theological community such as ours. It was when I began to study religion and philosophy at Conception Seminary College I was amazed to learn from the educators, from the monks, that religious belief was globally diverse. I learned that Christianity had only been practiced for less than 1% (.008%) of human history (we as a species has existed approximately 250,000 years or so). Learning that much of the world, if not the majority of the world is in fact not even Christian, well, what a revelation! My mind immediately questioned the validity of the belief system I had been culturally raised in and I discovered that evidence for and of the system of belief I had been taught and raised in was simply and totally hearsay based upon theological and philosophical theory. This realization was the seed of my atheism.
Now of course as a young man and young seminarian I thought, "but my whole family believes this so it must be true and that "faith" would give me insight." So I continued to live in and attempt to embrace the Catholic Christian Faith. Now, looking back, I deeply regret my ordination to priesthood because at the time I was ordained I knew I didn't believe in god, Jesus, or faith. But still my hope was that by emerging myself into a Catholic community of the faithful as a priest that faith would awaken within me. That didn't happen and instead found myself more at odds with Christianity and theological belief. It was cemented for me visiting Jerusalem. There I witnessed a place of pure hatred stemming from theology. Jews hating Muslims, Christians hating Jews, and Muslims hating Christians and all visa versa. It was shocking to my naïve eyes that these three faiths which all teach a system of belief in peace, love and harmony so outwardly act from a place of hatred and anger toward each other because each insists and believes they are the full embodiment of Truth as they see revealed to them as their god showed them.
Once back home from Israel I spent my days listening to Catholic Christians confess petty sins such as pride, doubt of faith, white lies, sexual fantasies while at the same time they refused to help the poor, the disenfranchised, the lonely (my story about Sandy at the mental hospital had years before been my first taste of Christian hypocrisy). Even at the Abbey of St Walburga the nuns often confessed to me the same petty sins as folks in mainstream society: gossip, lies, backbiting, fear, doubt of faith. Their faith did not make them more spiritual, it, like any closed community of like minded believers, gave them the chance to escape the general population and find community and comfort, "bird of a feather." The more time I spent amongst Christians the more I realized their belief generally was a habit, not a religious or education awakening of the mind or spirit, but an excuse to indulgence ignorance - "if I know God through my church what else do I need to know?"
This does not make me angry. It awakened in me a great curiosity. For if religion or faith is a construction of society then what is the nature of the universe? This has been my awakening. The desire to better know the fundamental nature of reality around us. I have found that science does not rely upon cultural dogma created in a manner that is unchanging or not evolving based simply on tradition. Science does not seek just to provide answers, it also asks questions. So no, my lack of belief does not make at all angry, it gives me hope; for my departure from belief I have found the ability and the great desire to ask a simple question - Why?
It does make me a bit sad that you think I'm angry. I think most of my friends describe me thusly - "eccentric, quirky, funny, smart, silly, artistic, fun-weird." That you are worried these are not qualities in me and that it is anger which drives me, well that means you simply don't know me. Perhaps it is fear that I discovered a truth many believers fear, that is all that which they have believed may in fact not be true. My experience with our family, both immediate and extended, is they are intolerant of divergent thinking. They judge others based on the last moment of interaction. Did you know in the last nearly 20 years since I left the priesthood not a single person who is a member of our family has ever asked me why I left? They assume it is because I am gay (not the reason). Most of my "family" stopped interacting with me or it seems, would refer to me in the context in which they last understood me, which was when I was a priest or seminarian.
So I'm not angry, but I don't, as my husband likes to remind me, suffer ignorance. It was my own acceptance of belief, that is my cultural upbringing in faith where I was told and taught how and what to think without critical evaluation, well this lead me to become a priest and in so becoming discovered it was something unfair to myself, to you and dad, and the people I served as a priest. That personal act of ignorance gives me pause and regret but not anger. I don't dwell in that regret but am now trying to better understand how or why I walked that path for so many years, feeling and knowing that I didn't ever really believe it. It seems I am asking that great scientific question - Why?
You are a marvelous woman mom. I love you. You're powerful and intelligent.
Always ask that question - Why? And then ask it again and again and again. The world and this universe are incredibly marvelous- even without the cultural experiences of faith.