I wasn’t always politically conservative. Somewhat ironically, it was losing my religion that was a major part of the change.
I was born and raised in Saskatoon, where I lived up until about five years ago, when I moved to Calgary for work. The household I grew up in was Catholic and fairly leftist. My dad–retired now–was a staunch trade unionist. My mother is in a union, but she doesn’t like it much. She was moderately pro-union, I guess, or neutral for my formative years. I went to Catholic schools through to university, and I was involved in my church, pretty much right up until I left it.
Except for pro-life stuff, I was in situations where the causes we supported were leftist causes, predominantly poverty- and service-organisation-related. Gay marriage wasn’t an issue during the time-frame, so it never came up. Gay issues were just revolving around equality under the law, and in the Church, it was all about loving the sinner and hating the sin: one was allowed to “be” gay, as long as one didn’t have gay sex. [Hypocrisy number one.] However, women priests and married priests were off-limits suggestions, despite repeated reports of how the priestly rolls were continuing to decline every year. For the Church hierarchy, some people were still more equal than others. [Hypocrisy number two.]
Tangent: I should probably explain that my natural alignment tends to be “lawful neutral”, although I’m sometimes “chaotic good”.
I would also see week after week how religion was largely lip service, even for the weekly attenders. In many ways it was like “what happens outside here stays outside here, unless you bring it to the confessional”. It was presumed that if you went through the motions, you were seen as a good, pious congregationist. And then you see these people in other settings, and they act nothing the same. And no celestial punishment befalls them, and they never get called out on their behaviour. [Hypocrisy number three.] The primary source material on which the religion is based is contradictory and unclear in many places; it’s so bad that scholars over tens of centuries have churned out volume after volume after volume of “explaining” what exactly the primary material meant. It’s a pretty classic example (IMO) of what happens when a potentially good idea becomes bogged down in government and regulation. As the source material would have it, the central teachings of the Christ figure are: do unto others as you would have them do unto you; love the god with all your heart, soul, and strength. “And, you know, I wouldn’t mind if you’d remember me at supper time.” And from this, we have the monolithic Church, plus all the other churches, most of which have rigid hierarchies and labyrinthine rules and regulations about what is and is not “true” teaching. [all in all, hypocrisy number four.]
The presence of so much evil in the world and “God’s” reaction to it. Ultimately, this is where religion broke on the rocks for me, because I have a hard time reconciling a so-called “loving God” with the events that occur in the world. I was agnostic for a long time after leaving the Church, and recently, I think I’ve become full-on atheist. Even now, I’m still not sure some days. Some people say agnosticism is just laziness, as is atheism, but I think a lot of people mistake atheism or agnosticism for a belief in nothing. They aren’t. Atheists may not believe in a god, but I’m sure most of them have a pretty strong moral code. Most would be law-abiding, productive citizens in their native lands. Agnostics struggle constantly to understand their place in the cosmos. Just because they haven’t decided whether or not there is a god does not preclude them from having other strong beliefs. Arguing against atheists and agnostics on these grounds is a losing proposition. It becomes belief system versus belief system, which is no different than religious superiority complexes that have been plaguing civilization for thousands of years and causing millions of deaths.
For myself, I largely believe (and I’m not interested in unsolicited proselytizing, so just don’t) that a supreme being (as western Christians/Jews understand such, which is the tradition in which I was raised) must exist in one of four states, because of the state of the world: it doesn’t care what goes on here (or it would be more obvious in its interference); it cares, but is entirely uninvolved (either can’t or won’t); it is actively interfering here in negative ways (i.e., evil); or it doesn’t exist. In all four of these cases, organised religion is worse than useless, because it propagates a useless, false mythology and turns people into stupid sheep that expect an invisible super-hero to save them. There’s a reason for the sheep/Shepherd metaphors.
- It doesn’t care: if it doesn’t care, then nothing we do matters to it. Praying, doing good works, etc have absolutely no soul-saving qualities, though good works are good for society, generally.
- Uninvolved caring: again, if it cared, it would get involved in response to prayers from “good” people. It clearly does not, at least not on any useful scale. If it chooses not to be involved, that implies to me that he could help, but doesn’t; in which case why is this being deserving of any human respect? If it can’t get involved (i.e. somehow actually prevented), that means that this is not a supreme being, and is again not what the religions have taught us; it also implies that there is something more powerful than “God”, and perhaps we should find out what that is.
- Direct involvement: This would show that the “God” is itself evil or weak, because that means that it’s involved, but evil continues to increase, either in spite of or because of its involvement. That means prayers etc are useless, from whichever perspective you use, and again implies forces stronger than the so-called “God”. I mean, seriously, don’t you think a supreme being would be a little peeved at being misused as an excuse for slaughter, or that some group was slaughtering its “chosen people”? I would be, or I wouldn’t be much of a protector.
- Does not exist: this is the most likely case, and we’re stuck with physical, rather than metaphysical, laws.
So, the weight of hypocrisy and confusion chased me out of the Church. I just couldn’t deal with it and be a believer anymore. It’s been twenty years since I made that decision, and I don’t think I regretted it. For the first ten years I used to refer to myself as a “recovering Catholic”, and I think there are several points of congruence with going through a twelve-step program. I don’t generally think of myself that way any more. I just used to be Catholic. And over those twenty years, I largely remained agnostic, except perhaps in the last couple of years, wherein I’ve been effecting the change to atheism. In that time I struggled on and off with figuring out whether there is a god or not, and some days it’s hard to believe that the beauty of nature and the cosmos is random. But one of the reasons that has been helping convince me against that is that humans exist. There is so much evil in the world and in men, that I don’t think the Christian conception of a god can exist. If we are created in its own image, as the texts say, then all the evil in the world can be laid at the god’s feet. Original Sin is a Catholic-only teaching, is it not? Well, guess what…if the snake existed, it was a creation of god, as was the tree of knowledge. All things in the heavens and the earth, remember. If god exists and created us, and if we are evil, then god created evil. Why should I worship such a being? And if the “end times” are also true, then that means the world was created only to be destroyed, which would require the destruction of billions of innocent inhabitants, plus all the “lesser” species. How is that not evil, especially since it was known in advance? And just to make it interesting and capricious, say that only a certain number will be “saved”, but our loving “god” will condemn all others to eternal hellfire? What loving “god” would issue that sort of condemnation to its “children”, even if the world weren’t ending?
So, in my view, “god” either doesn’t exist, or it exists and is either passively or actively evil, or it exists and is weak enough to be defeated by other forces.
Tangent: one thing I find amusing is that the primary source basically states that there is more than just the Judeo-christian god. It doesn’t say that there are no other gods, but that no other gods shall be worshiped before it. How does that get reconciled? And that leaves out all the murder, incest, rape, and mutilation that goes on, including that which takes place at the being’s behest.
Even if one allows the veracity of the source material, the modern expressions of religion certainly do not have that as the basis of their operations any more. They all have their own views and interpretations and lists of transgressions and means of expiation thereof. And then there are the religions and philosophies that are inimical to those of the West, but that’s a different blog.
Suffice it to say, I’m a long way away from where I was as a teenager, when I believed…or tried to maintain it, at least.
In “Part 2”, I will attempt to describe my political transformation over the years.