Sunday, September 16, 2012

Religion's tangled web - Or how atheism made me a better person

Obviously I am an atheist now. But I had to shake off the spell of religion before taking a firm grasp on logic and reason. People like myself, is who this post is mostly directed toward. I was one of those people that actually bought in to the superstition I was fed in my youth. When you are a follower, you obviously believe in God. But on other issues there also tends to be a 'party line', so to speak, that followers also have a group consensus toward. For some a differing opinion in these areas may have been part of what planted your seed of doubt, and for others these views may have changed during or after 'loosing the faith'. So I ask of these people, has becoming an atheist changed your views in any other area other than just the existence of a God? I know it has for me, so I'll start:

Homosexuality:

Once upon a time I hated gays. They were vile, dirty, unnatural, etc. It was as if they were sub-human and unworthy of consideration. Gay rights? I would have considered that a laughable notion in my past. But if you were to ask me why I thought these things (I was never vocal of this opinion in public mind you), I wouldn't have been able to offer any justification. I'd simply say that, 'that's the way it is'. But why did I hold this opinion? Simple, it was the church. I was young and impressionable when I still believed. And the view the church was selling is the same one I formerly held. That homosexual are walking sin, and they know it. A view that I can now clearly see was one full of hate and oppression.

Luckily when I was shedding my former religion, I made the wise 'internal audit' to see where else this fairytale had clouded my thoughts. I was shocked and appalled at how unjust the opinion the Catholic faith had tried to plant in me was. I was ashamed, but at the same time happy that I was able to see the world clearly now. Now I recognize that homosexuals are people just like you and I. Requiring the same basic needs as everyone else and deserving of equal respect and rights as everyone else. I have gay friends now as well. While I am ashamed of my past, I proud that I have shed the past religious influence that caused me to blindly follow and accept what I was told was the 'truth and the way'.

Abortion:

Okay, I didn't have much knowledge of this issue before I started forming doubts, but there has been a change still. I briefly held the belief that abortion was 100% wrong, 100% of the time. Why? 'Because the church said so'. But it wasn't long until I started learning about the life changing aspects of having a child. Financial, dedication needed, time needed, etc, etc... And if a woman were raped and became pregnant, wasn't it wrong to force her to have a child she never asked for? Or what if birth control failed? They were never intending for that outcome, so why must they have the child if they actually tried to prevent it?

 I realize that even atheists fall on both sides of this issue, but I'm sure some have gone pro-life (anti-choice) to pro-choice due to shedding religion. My view now is one that abortion is a hard issue and one that isn't just black and white. I cases of rape or failed birth control, I think it's okay. But only if it is taken care of early. If you wait too long to decide, I feel you pass a threshold where I would no longer be in favor. The question is where to place that threshold. I feel that the current 'line in the sand' that allows abortions up until, but before what is considered a 'late term' abortion is a good one.

Additionally, I do not agree with those that carelessly have unprotected sex and simply use abortion as their form of birth control. I am in favor of family planning and people having safe sex. So please, think things though and take some responsibility into consideration before making things much more complicated than they need be. This is part of why I feel that real sexual education is so important, and the church's opposition is so nonsensical. Teach kids about safe sex, and more of the kids that have sex will practice safe sex. The more that practice safe sex, the less that will get pregnant by mistake. The less that get pregnant, the less that will get abortions. So if the church really cares about abortion so much, I feel they should hand out condoms rather than pamphlets that simply plead that sex is bad and a no-no.

Sex:

When I was younger I was pretty shy. This is part of why I was a late bloomer when it came to relationships. I was shy, sure. But I was also terrified by the prospect of sex. In the church teachings, I was given the impression that the body is a dirty sinful thing, and to act on any 'urges' prior to marriage was just plain disgraceful. So for the longest time what was my deterrent from 'temptation'? Simply avoiding relationships entirely! I hid myself away and looked down on anyone who engaged in any premarital 'activities'. Arrogantly judgmental of others... that was my game.

 But now I have shed that controlling view of a simple, natural and emotional activity. It's actually something that is quite beautiful when done with true feelings... regardless of marriage or not. After I was officially and atheist I was way behind the 8-ball when it came to dating . I was years behind! My shyness was getting better, but was still a major deterrent. I tried the online thing and had little luck. Stood up, friends matched me with someone who was seeing someone, tried for a girl that I was unaware was unavailable, talk for a while just for them to disappear, etc.

Trouble was, that online I was open about the fact that I'm an atheist. After that shoe dropped, that's as far as anything went. Then out of the blue this one girl contacts me and actually thinks my atheism is cool. She, a Wiccan at the time, felt that if anyone would not be instantly judgmental toward her beliefs, it would be an atheist. Well, we talked a good bit, had a first date, a second, third, we made out, made love, and grew closer and closer as time passed. Eventually we were engaged, and were married! In my personal story I feel that losing my faith was actually a big part of what opened the door of love to me. It's hard to explain why. But, prior to loosing may faith, I never felt I would be good enough for anyone. I was resigned to a solitary existence, and never dreamed that I'd be married. And look at me now! I couldn't be happier.

Politics:

Another area that changed for me was politics. I used to be a hard line Republican. If Fox news didn't say it, it was wrong, twisted and full of bias. The irony of that former opinion is especially amazing. When it came time to vote, the question wasn't who stood for what, it was, who did Fox (and my fellow faithful) say was the person for the job. And when it cam to local elections, did I look up the candidates to see what they said on the issues? Nope! I simply looked at the list and blindly voted for whoever had the 'R' next to their name. I was not a very well informed voter, and am embarrassed to say that I voted for G. W. Bush in my first two times being eligible to vote. Granted, his opposition still won my state both years anyway, but I can't help but look back on that personal history and shake my head.

Why did I follow that party line? Because the GOP was the party my family followed, and the party any 'good Christian' voted for. When I shed my faith, this was another area where I stepped back and asked myself what I really thought. If you've read this far, you can guess that I quickly decided that the GOP was not for me. What I did find was that I am a mixed bag as far as politics go. Progressive in a most areas, but still conservative in a few. Due to this fact, I am now registered as an unaffiliated voter. Now when an election comes along, I ignore the 'R' and 'D' (and even 'G' , 'L', etc) as best I can, and instead focus on the issues. Once I am informed, I will decide which candidate best speaks for what I feel and believe. Because of that personal audit I ran after becoming an atheist, I am now a vastly more informed and responsible voter.

There are more areas that I could talk about, but it's getting late here and I'd like to hear others stories as well. In short, loosing my religion actually made me a better person. Incredibly judgmental and close-minded, to open-minded and accepting/understanding. Plus personally, it showed me that I wasn't a dirty sinful speck. I do realize that I am still a speck in the cosmic perspective, but that interpretation fills me with wonder, rather than the former self-loathing. I am worth receiving the love of another, life is worth living the best way we can and everyone is equally entitled to live a happy fulfilled life.

-BH


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