Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Why I stopped believing

I first started to question the validity of religion when I was a little girl driving home through the countryside with my mother after a visit to my grandmother's house. There were cows out in the fields all along the highway, and for some reason I started wondering what happens to cows when they die. I asked my mother, "do cows go to heaven when they die?" She told me that they didn't. When I asked why, she said "because they have no souls."

Now, this brought me right up short. What?? Cows have no souls? This was big news. But of course, dogs and cats have souls, right Mommy?

Nope. No souls.

Okay, now that's just not right, I was thinking in my little kid head. This is just wrong. Cats and dogs have to have souls! Otherwise they can't go to heaven and be with their families when they die! But Mum insisted it was so, so it must be so. Mum was always right, after all.

My belief began to die that day, when I was just a kid, because animals couldn't go to heaven.

Then there was the fact that my Mother and brother and I converted to Judaism when I was nine. Going from believing in the god of the Christians to believing in the god of the Jews didn't really do a lot to help in the soulless animals department. I mean, if you can just switch from one god to another, it doesn't really help when it comes to really believing in something. It's a little fickle, isn't it. Mum always insisted she converted because she believed in the Jewish faith, and because she's my Mum, I believe her, but I always got the feeling that most people I share the story with assume she converted because she wanted to marry a Jewish man (because she did marry a Jewish man). So if you can change your religion simply to marry someone, it doesn't seem to give religion a lot of cling in the stickiness department.

So, doubting on two fronts, I was totally primed for what happened when I was sixteen. I wish I could remember it better, but memory has never been my strong suit. I do remember sitting on the kitchen floor, talking on the phone with my boyfriend at the time, who had just started med school at Carleton University. We spent hours on the phone, like all teenagers do.

This particular conversation was about religion, and I remember the thoughts going through my mind. I remember thinking how I just couldn't grasp the concept of some old white-bearded guy sitting on a throne up in the sky. It just didn't make sense to me at all. My boyfriend of course was doing his best to encourage this train of thought. And suddenly it was like there was a *click* and all of a sudden I didn't believe anymore. Just like that.

Kinda like the way I quit smoking when I was 23. I ran out of cigarettes at work one day. I was the only one in the office, and I was seriously considering leaving the office empty for up to half an hour so I could walk to the convenience store down the street and buy more smokes. All of a sudden I realized that cigarettes were running my life. How stupid was that? So right then and there, I quit, and I've never had a cigarette since. (Rather a good analogy don't you think? And true!)

Soulless animals, religious conversion and a convincing atheist boyfriend may not be very compelling reasons to give up religion. Certainly not very dramatic. But young people don't need compelling reasons to do the things they do. The important thing is that I've never wavered in my lack of faith since it left me. 31 years it's been, and even without a god I'm still a good person for the most part...at least as good as any god-fearing folk are, if not more so. I haven't suffered for the lack of a personal deity in my life. In fact, my life has been unusually free of suffering and want. I don't ascribe that to any choices I've made. I'm just lucky. My Mum always said so.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I just stumbled on your blog entry - interesting.

As for myself, I definitely DO believe in God. I have had many losses while finishing up my biology degree at college: my father, grandmother, and two uncles passed away within a few months of each other. Without faith, I can't honestly say that I would be where I am in my life at this moment.

I have no animosity whatsoever toward you or other atheists, but I also know that many other religious folks do. I'm sorry for that. The God I believe in teaches tolerance and love.

For the record, I believe that animals have souls. I also believe in the "Big Bang" theory and evolution. Seemingly contradictory (I know), but the fact remains that I believe something more than chance was responsible for all existence - our consciousness, our love, the miracle of life.

I sincerely hope you find something bigger than yourself, bigger than the world. Much luck and love.

Patti said...

Thank you for your gentle words, Anonymous. I wish all theists and atheists could get along so well. I hope you're finding comfort in the memories of your lost loved ones. Thanks for commenting on my blog. Hope to see you back here again.

IndianaJesusfreak said...

Your mother spoke of things she did not understand. I tech Children's church and I had an 8 year old girl educate me on this subject. She asked me, Do cats go to heaven when they die?"

I told her that I didn't really know, but I don't think so.

She informed me that her Grandmother had told her that the bible says that, "The lion shall lie down with the lamb...." Now if lions and lambs go to heaven doesn't it make sense that cats would go too?

She had a good point, so I started searching the bible and I came to the conclusion that there may very well be animals in heaven.

King Solomon was the wisest man ever to live and he didn't know either:

Ecclesiastes 3:21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”