I pressed the wrong button on the remote control tonight and instead of landing on the Comedy Channel, I caught a few minutes of the national news on ABC. They were in the middle of an interview with a minister who started reading some contemporary atheist thinking, such as Richard Dawkins, with the intent of being able to refute the atheist arguments. But the research had the opposite effect: they realized that scripture does not stand up well to scrutiny.
This story comes on the heels of a story about a Pew Research Center survey about knowledge of religion that showed that atheists are more educated about religion than most of the faithful.
This does not surprise me. Being able to step back from one’s religion and scripture and look at it thoroughly and in context is not something that is encouraged in most religions. Scripture is studied within the context of unquestioning faith, without ever studying where scripture itself comes from. So the faithful are able to accept absurdities within the confines of their religion—such as people rising from the dead—that they would roll their eyes at in any other context.
I had it easier than the men in this story because it was relatively easy for me to slip from the confines of the Catholic Church the day I moved away from my home, three months after my 12 years of Catholic education were concluded. Although I may have disappointed my mother a bit, I did not have congregations that relied on me to support their faith. In the ensuing years—it’s been over 35 years since the last time I was forced to attend mass—atheism has become such a natural part of my thinking that I genuinely find it odd that anyone still goes to church.
The transition from believer to atheist was not overnight. First of all, contrary to what some believe, Catholicism is not a fundamentalist religion. So although I was taught that the gospels were gospel truth, the tall tales of the Old Testament were presented as myths and parables. I progressed from Catholic to Christian to “spiritual, not religious” to agnostic, and eventually to atheist. For the final push, someone said to me “Why do you call yourself an agnostic? Do you believe in god, or not?” I could no longer hedge the answer to that question.
I now look at believers, and they make no more sense to me than if they believed in Santa Claus. I keep wondering if they really believe, deep down, or if they avoid thinking about it, or admitting that they don’t believe the stories any more than I do. It makes it difficult to have conversations with people when their most deeply held beliefs are based on tales that I believe to be nothing more than tales.