MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., March 1, 2012 — Living in Colombia in my early years was a guarantee of being a Catholic. It wasn’t a matter of just religion, our whole culture, history and politics were permeated with the Church. Most of us wanted to become priests and were all defenders of everything Catholic. So how was it that I almost became an Atheist?
In our early years many of us became altar boys, learning a good deal of Latin to do so. Even private lay schools had mass once a week and we were all required to attend and, better yet, take communion. A priest would show up the day before to give us confession. As I grew older I became a “Knight of Mary” in charge of younger boys (very few schools were coeducational), to make sure they did their First Friday duty and observed other requirements.
In history we learned that as bad as the devil were Martin Luther, Calvin Henry the VIII and Elizabeth I. Protestants in general were evil people, but pagans (any non Christians) were to be pitied.
As we learned about evolution and as I became interested in paleontology, the Church had valid explanations for the apparent disagreement with Catholic dogma. We were told that many of the Bible books were symbolic and that while the Earth wasn’t created in six days, all of what science taught us was part of a Divine Plan. Catholics then in Colombia were not allowed to read the Bible. We all took Catechism and “Holy History,” which was an interpreted version of it. We were told that reading the Bible without being an expert, would lead us into misinterpretation.
The Clergy’s Misdeeds
Anyone with even a small sense of observation couldn’t ignore the fact that every day there were signs of misdeeds by the clergy. Pedophile and philandering priests were very much there for everyone to see. This was explained as part of weak human nature and not a problem with the Catholic Church, if those sins were confessed. Obvious questions as to the reason for celibacy in the clergy were always answered by sexist remarks against women and their lack of judgment related to the internal life of the clergy, including the secrets of confession.
In high school we started taking courses in subjects like logic, metaphysics, world history and biology. As we advanced in our studies there were obvious disagreements between our religious teachings and historical and scientific facts. The combination of logic and science was explosive to anyone that could comprehend these subjects and could compare them with our religious beliefs.
Soon we also learned of episodes like the Inquisition, the treatment of Native Americans and their treatment under the European conquerors, and the use of Africans as slaves. These factors started us thinking that maybe not all of the religious “facts” that we had learned, and were supposed to defend and cherish for the rest of our lives, were not based in truth.
I have to confess that when I came to the US and was drafted into the Army Infantry and sent to Vietnam, some of my logical, scientific questioning of my faith crumbled. While in the field I tried to attend services whenever I could.
Later in life I reasoned that this was the result of finding myself in a situation that could cease my existence. In simple terms, I was afraid and didn’t have any solution to my predicament.
After becoming an engineer, probably because I had to learn to look at facts and use science to solve problems, my belief system took a definite turn away from religion. I had an Atheist friend who, whenever we discussed current events, mostly war, would always say, “Another triumph for organized religion.”
I soon found myself seeing how a great number of negatives that took place in the world were either the result of religion or people using religion to further their own interests.
Even then I still believed that this had nothing to do with God. All these actions were performed by humans and the result of Free Will. However, at the same time I started to realize that most of the religious dogma that I had been fed was not really based on logic or science (yes, I am a slow learner!). I also found that faith could not fill the vacuum left by irrational narratives.
Atheist or Agnostic: The Difference
To solve the conflict I started reading everything I could about religion. One book that probably put it all together was “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins (2006). He clearly explains the need of human beings since time immemorial to explain phenomena they cannot understand. He traces back the history of our current religions and ties them back to ancient ones. The conclusion is that religion is there to fill a need in man, and nothing more.
Even before I read Dawkins, I had started calling myself an Atheist. This is until a very smart friend remarked to me that Atheism itself indicates a specific set of beliefs and commitments; beliefs that in fact I didn’t have and commitments that I couldn’t accept.
That simple comment saved me from being an Atheist. I realized that I am really an Agnostic. I cannot say I believe in a divine being, but I am open to the existence of one, and accepting evidence of his/her existence if provided.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, environmental engineer, Colombian-born, freethinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist at Communities @WashingtonTimes.com. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.
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