Monday, October 15, 2007

religious taint

We are all born atheist. A fortunate few go through their whole lives never having believed in a super-natural being or phenomena.

I was not so fortunate. I was raised Lutheran and taught to believe in heaven and hell, god and the devil, original sin, prayer, divine intervention, and constant supervision by an all-seeing being judging not only my actions but my innermost thoughts as well.

I was also taught that god allows bad things to happen to test my faith, but that I would never be given more than I could handle. Bad things happen because the devil is at work in my life, but if I pray hard enough, anything is possible- if I have faith.

To this day, I find myself occassionally struggling with various fading remnants of my childhood indoctrination.

* I've found myself wishing, waiting, and hoping for someone to come to my rescue.
* If too many good things happen, I wonder how bad things will get in order to even it out.
* I find myself holding back from enjoying the really big things in life because I don't want anyone to know how much they mean to me, that way they won't be taken away from me.
* If I tell someone that I hope they are having a great day, I sometimes worry if that will jynx it for them. Then if they actually have a bad day, it is somehow my fault.

Some of these thoughts seem to be holdovers of the "Lutheran Guilt" that is taught so thoroughly and even made fun of in regional jokes. The reality is an ongoing battle with the idea that good is bad and bad is good.

Having reasoned my way to being an atheist, with no doubts lingering in my mind, I find myself frustrated with the emotional taint left behind by almost 25 years of indoctrination.


King Aardvark said...

I wouldn't be too hard on you for your leftover taint. Actually, most of what you list there is pretty standard stuff for anybody, religious or not. It's just typical human superstitious thinking, familiar to any sports fan - even those who are completely rational in other aspects of their lives.

Richard said...

It sure can be tough to rid oneself of the deep sense of life issues that religious brainwashing inculcates.

I implicitly believed that God was watching me while I went to the toilet or lusted over a woman that was not my wife. It was the most wonderful day when I realized I was not subjected to the constant scrutiny of a such a powerful and yet unpredictable Being. Moral reasoning then made everything more clear and often removed unnecessary stress in such decisions.

One night driving home at 2:20am I came to a yellow stoplight that I knew was going to be an interminably long red. As I stopped, there was not a car in sight. It was a country intersection surrounded by fields and one small corner store (no white lights anywhere). My first thought: "if I drive through God will know I have sinned". I had to re-think the issue consciously and reject the absurdity of God watching me.

The light at that intersection, and a few other lonely stoplight intersections, no longer delay me. I treat them as four-way stops.

I never do it if another car driver might see me do it. I don't want to risk the possibility that the driver is an idiot who might pick up the idea and then run red lights irrationally, perhaps harming or killing others.

Thank goodness there is no God. Thank Aristotle, Aquinas, Bacon, Galileo, Locke, Jefferson, Rand and my own conceptual faculty, that there is reason.

Poodles said...

Ok. Let the Taint fun begin...Visit my blog please!

Poodles said...

You must frequently wash your religious taint or it will smell bad.

King Aardvark said...

richard - My brother occasionally does that (re: treating reds as four way stops) even during daylight hours. It's not intentional, he's just absent minded sometimes.

tina said...

I feel so lucky that I didn't grow up with religion. :) I'm one of the lucky ones...Aw oh, did I jinx myself? :)

Richard said...

Hey King Aard,

I'm not so sure I like the absent minded thing :-(

Speaking of "religious taint", I picked this off your blog (Ontario, ay):
"the bible doesn't say what size of stones to use."

The Koran sure does! It specifically says (from memory) that stones should not be so large as to kill quickly, nor so small as to leave no harm. Ya gotta love those Word-of-God books.

I can just see a boy living by the Koran: "Jewpig! That stone is too small." then "Jewpig! That stone is too large." and finally in frustration "Mom, this is my first stoning and I can't find any stones the right size!"

"That's alright dear, you can have some of mine."

Now he knows his Mom will support him in times of crisis, and he will get over the childhood frustration of not being able to find the right size of stones. That's not "religious taint", just good parenting with strong religious values. Perfect for Dubya's America. He and his fundie supporters just aren't as far along as they would like, yet.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

I often find the hardest opponent is myself. Other peoople can help me, reassure me but it comes down to whether of not a can break away the conditioning/faulty formation of my concept of self.

Anonymous said...

I tend to think we are all born agnostic, rather than atheist.
It takes some degree of thought to be atheist.

I'm with you on the difficulty of letting go of all that indoctrination.

Starhawk said...

A little over 10 years ago I started questioning my faith in the Christian God. In all that time I still call myself agnostic, but perhaps atheist with a self-confidence problem would be more appropriate.

Now that I think about it, most of the agnostic's I know may fall under that category... hmmm might have to call a few of 'em out on that one.

Richard said...

To be agnostic is to be "sitting on the fence" between two pastures, so to speak. Which one has the greener grass? Except it is worse than that, it is a bit like being undecided between a green field of poison ivy and a rich green field of grass. Sitting on the fence gives too much credit to the poison.

The calf is not born to eat poison ivy as a possible alternative, it must and should eat grass.

Starhawk, your admission is awesome for its honesty! You wrote that you were an "atheist with a self-confidence problem". That nicely exemplifies a point in my "religious taint" ,
"What subliminally bothers true believers is that they don't trust --no rewrite that-- they fear the dangers of the reality which surrounds them. They need a better reason to live than their own frightened little selves."

Thank God :) you are not a true believer. Now to eliminate that "taint"; you're smart enough to live without it and be even happier. (I obviously reject the mindless mask of happiness worn by fundies).

Richard said...

I did something odd with the tags above. I'm pretty sure I checked it before I hit Publish too! Wish I could see what I did, but it was definitely an inadvertent typo. Weirdly, it starts under the comma!? SAT

Fiery said...

Richard, I'm not savy enough with coding so I can't open up the html code to see what happened. The underline bits both link over to the comments on "god is impossible".

It showed up in the email the same way.

Starhawk said...

I'm still exploring the spiritual options Richard, haven't quite thrown in the towel yet. I guess pessemistic agonostic would also be appropriate, I'm running out of religions to study :)

Richard said...


Pessimistic agnostic is a new one on me :-)

Ask yourself what you really need to know that is knowable in order to decide Absolutely!

Three key points:

1. From Nothing, nothing comes.

2. The Uni-verse is One, and includes All. It can have no 'outside' that could be referred to as 'super', as in "supernatural".

3. Thus, any super being is merely a part of the Universe, cannot have created it, and is a member of the sentient population, which means he is one of us. This in turn means he is no more your boss or mine, than we are of each other. He's just a smart alien, and nothing like the biblical God at all.

4. Your mind is sovereign. Nothing else controls its contents, decisions or actions. You are free to do whatever you like that enhances your life rationally. Nothing but disobedience to the laws of reality and your nature as a conceptual being, can stop you.

Number four is, however, a very complex matter.


Starhawk said...

Looking at all 4 points you bring up Richard, I can find nothing wrong with those statements. I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I still seek that "really smart alien". I haven't entirely let go of the idea that there is some design, some pattern, to existence that is beyond my grasp right now. I know the bible inside and out, I've read large portions of the Koran, I've had long conversations with Jews and Mormons. I even trained under a High Priest and Priestess of the Wiccan religion. Hell even the Norse and Egyptian Pantheons held my interest for a while. The biggest gap in my study of all things irrational would be Asian philosophies and spiritual beliefs.

Pessimistic agnostic translates into a thorough agnostic that's running out of spiritual options. Perhaps you Atheists have something... give me a few years I'll get back to you, let you know if you're right.

Snave said...

This is a great weblog! It is great to read all these comments! I have a lot of that leftover religious stuff going on, too.

My parents never forced me to go to church when I was a kid, and I'm very glad for that. Dad was a believer, and Mom still is, but they didn't/don't force it on anybody. I got involved in our liberal local Methodist church when I was 15, stayed with it until age 20... then when I moved back to the ol' hometown got involved again from age 32 to about age 40.

It was about ten years ago at age 40 that I was diagnosed with a moderate level of obsessive compulsive disorder; I got some counseling and got on some meds, and it helped me realized that all my superstitious behaviors having to do with number rituals and counting were very much like the behaviors I engaged in at church most every week... by doing something inane like reciting a litany with the entire congregation I must have thought it was the right thing, that it would ward off bad things, and that it could give me a greater degree of control over all the uncontrolled things in my world somehow.

Frank Zappa once said something about raising healthy kids, and one of his first points was to keep kids as far away from churches as possible. I think that's great, but that it also applies to adults. If an adult is undertaking a spiritual journey or is into the "seeker" mode, I have come to believe that such groupthink crap as organized religion is just about the worst thing a person could do to himself or to herself, and/or to the people around them, i.e. friends and family.

I can't quite call myself an atheist yet, but at age 50 and after not having set foot in a church for almost 10 years... and after finally allowing myself to admit that I don't believe in a resurrection, salvation, immaculate conception, holy trinity, a "god" as told of in the Old and New Testaments, etc. and feel GOOD about not believing any of that stuff... I'm getting much closer. Very helpful to me have been Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Sam Harris' "Letter to a Christian Nation". And it has been good to see such books by free-thinkers on bestseller lists at Barnes and Noble and Amazon! Free Inquiry magazine has also been a great help. For responding to fundamentalists, the book "Why People Believe Weird Things" by Michael Shermer has an entire chapter devoted to how to respond to creationist... if you have never read it, please take a look. All of the above items reinforce REASON, which is "what the world needs now", IMHO. The fundies can read their LaHaye and Jenkins, etc. but I'll listen to George Carlin and read my Dawkins, Harris, H.L. Mencken, Ambrose Bierce... anything that is curmudgeonly toward organized religion is something my mind devours.

How did America get headed back on the road to Stupid-dom? How has all the magical thinking gotten such positive press? The religious right (which is neither right, nor religious) seemed to begin its ascent in the late 70's (do any of you remember all the "I found it" bumper stickers?) and more so in the early 80's when Reagan fostered the marriage of the Falwell crowd to the Republican party. Even though I was a churchgoer at the time, when Bush Sr. made his infamous comment about how the Democratic party is "missing three letters, G, O, D!" I knew things were going down the toilet, that the Republican party was becoming the nation's first religious political party.

Anyway, thanks for your blog. It is inspiring to me to see other people like the rest of you who have had similar experiences!

Fiery said...

A very warm welcome to you Snave! And thank you for saying such nice things about my blog!!!!! I am always stunned when people discover and delight in my blog, leaves me feeling smiley and shy.

And what a great personal introduction! There is indeed something comforting in finding that you weren't the only one who escaped from the clutches of faith based thinking into the freedom of rational thought.

I get positively giddy when I think of the wonderful little community of free thinkers that has grown up around my blog. MINE! Who would have thought it? Certainly not me.

I think Frank Zappa was absolutely right to keep religion from children, and that is unfortuantely one of the very first groups of people that they target. *sigh* Impressionable young minds corrupted at such a young age, twisted away from reason, turned towards faith.

Come back and visit again soon!


Johnny said...

tremendously honest posts. I totally agree with Richard's thoughts on agnostisism, having said that I think I was purely thinking of agnostisim pertaining to Abrahamic religions where the alternative to not believing is the eternal agony of suffering in hell. The logical option there, if you truly can't decide, is to be on the safe side and believe so you don't suffer for eternity!
Snave, great post I am personally in awe of people like you and seemingly a lot of others here and whom I have encountered on various atheist orientated sites. I was not brought up religiously at all and have therefore not had to "de-programme" myself. So I have always been free to think critically about new concepts on the nature of existence, kudos to you and all those who are in your position, I think atheism gives us a wonderful freedom.

Johnny said...

Pessimistic agnostic translates into a thorough agnostic that's running out of spiritual options.
One true religion? I have always thought if there were one true god why would he make himself (herself, itself) so obscure? Why would there be evil? I just don't agree with the dichotomous concepts that religionists hold...if there is good there has to be evil....if there is heaven there has to be hell....if there is a god there has to be a devil, it just doesn't logically follow! Can we not imagine a world where there is only good? Heaven? Why not cut out the middle man and just create heaven?
Perhaps you Atheists have something... give me a few years I'll get back to you, let you know if you're right. Hahahahahahaha nice one hahahaha in your own time Starhawk hahahahaha

Starhawk said...

*Tip of the hat to Snave* Glad to see more good folk in the community. Those books are on my list of things to check out next time I'm at Barnes N Noble. A list that blogging has made unmanageable, you people read too many good books :p

Harry Nads said...

Welcome, Snave.

This is a good group of people here and I think you will enjoy yourself around these parts.

Richard said...

Hi Snave,
Join the fray! Kudos on getting the Hell out ;-)

So we now have a list of atheistic authors. Dawkins & the others that were named don't provide an alternative... they set us adrift without REASONable guidance to how to live morally, happily and with considerable reliability.

Okay, here's a pitch for the best of the lot. Fifty years later the book, even though its author has been dead for 25 yrs, is still on the best seller list, and is second only to the Bible in influence. As of now, the book is #157 on Amazon.

I'm going all out and recommending Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand... the nightmare lady to both the Left and the Right. With Atlas you can enjoy fiction, and wrestle with arguments that spell out atheism and host of other things more clearly and in fewer pages each.

With all the benefit of new-book marketing and the present rise of religion, "The God Delusion" (Dawkins)is #148, and "God is not Great (Hitchens)is #77. However, they will not and cannot last for 50 years! Neither of them make the point as profoundly as Atlas Shrugged, and are nowhere near as fun to read.

The story is exciting and the characters are anything but wooden (as critics argue). They are stylized and their trips to the local supermarket (to make them seem human) are deliberately left out. Who needs that? Good readers can imagine them, without having to be told.

You will benefit more, if you read very carefully, alert to metaphors, allusions and the like. Sometimes, you will run into a statement or event you can't understand, or can't see why it's there. Often she soon tells you why, but through the story itself. If you read too lightly you will miss great chunks of the books depth. Many people have read it five to ten times, getting new ideas each time.

It is probably the only book ever written where a paragraph in the first chapter is repeated word for word in the last chapter, and evokes a completely different meaning. Not a sentence, a whole darn paragraph.

People criticize its length (1000+ pages) but many readers finish it in three or four days. They cannot put it down. If you do read it that fast, you are obligated to read it again in two to three months. Obligated, to your self, that is. If you read it more slowly, then pick it up again within six or seven months, and don't forget. You will be amazed at what you missed the first time.

On that second reading, set yourself a task or two to focus on (in no particular order):
*figure out every metaphor -how often does light get used that way, and with reference to what;
*grasp the connection between each chapter and its title;
*what events were influenced by the man Eddie spoke to in the cafeteria;
*the relationship between faith and force, or collectivism and force, in all its variations;
*morality without god;
*principles of science;
*principles of child raising;
*the nature of words;
*the role of the doctor;
*the role of the musician;
*the role of the philosopher;
*legitimate and illegitimate force;
*the nature of government;
*the nature of politicians and bureaucrats;
*principles of romantic love;
*depraved romance;
*long term goal setting;
*human parasites... the list is enormous;
*identify and locate remarkable paragraphs, sentences or speeches.

Get the paperback. It's ten bucks. Wear it out! You will want more, and it is available.

Watch out for arguments against what she writes. I haven't met one that held up yet, in 25 years. Find her response to whatever contradiction to her work someone has said. There are tons of good resources, but some sucker 'newbies' by posturing as valid sources when they are NOT.

Starhawk said...

Wow Richard! Quite the pitch. I've already read the Fountainhead and found that to be an eye-opener. The same friend who gave me that book also gave me Atlas Shrugged, though I am remiss in my philosophical reading as of late. I guess I've been too busy talking to you guys :)

After my friends recommendation and yours I would be guilty of mental negligience if I didn't start reading it, it'll take me a while. I read fast but I usually do it at work, this sounds like something I should give my full attention. I'll keep your advice in mind and let you know what I think as I attempt to understand the tome before me.