As the offspring of a father who is a secular Jew and a mother who is a practicing Catholic, I had an opportunity to pay attention to philosophical, behavioral, psychological and emotional differences in my parents. A front row seat. Well, more so middle-row due to my birth order in a pack of five. I paid close attention, as is my nature, to which displays by my parents intuitively felt logical. I was so driven by logic that one of my father’s pet names for me was Spock. A term of sideways endearment that when used told me I was on to something worth pursuing.
In my many mutually beneficial debates with my father I learned the art of questioning what is. To this day that remains my favorite past-time. My mother was the perfect product of her upbringing. A second generation Irish-Catholic with five siblings, she kept along the lines of behavior that were conveyed to her by actively Catholic parents. In her attempt to maintain the dogma she was comfortable with we were sent to Catholic school. This is the place where my suspicions regarding religious faith and compliance developed.
I was willing to go along with the teachings of the Old Testament at five and six years old. The Ten Commandments, specifically not lying, stealing or disrespecting one’s parents, not only made sense to me but they also seemed logically digestible as the consequences of doing the opposite were not comfortable. It was around the third or fourth grade that the sequel or New Testament was taught. I began to notice some glaring contradictions. I was compelled to inquire about these teachings and their logic. For example, why after being told to worship one true god was I now being asked to include this baby in my perception of the one true god as being separate but part of? What? So now my new fourth grade teacher was telling me to worship and heed the advice of some human that isn’t really human? Even in this moment I can remember vividly the anxiety that crept inside my body. I promptly raised my hand and earnestly offered the question, “Aren’t we going to be punished if we honor another god”? My fellow students along with my teacher audibly gasped. I was confused although I remained in an anticipatory stance waiting for her answer. Instead she addressed the class as a whole and said, “Now kids, the reason Jennifer is confused about this is because her father is Jewish”. As you can imagine my genealogy became the focus of my fellow students. Mouths were hanging open and the whispers ensued. At that point my teacher went on teaching as if to say, “My work is done on that matter”. Naturally it did nothing to deter me. The whole mess was becoming more illogical and my suspicions only grew. As time went by and the idea of god magically impregnating a woman named Mary and then making her marry another man who she didn’t really love just caused complete and utter distrust for me. I suggested to my parents that maybe I should go to Hebrew school because the original story was a vehicle I could ride. That didn’t get me anywhere for two reasons. One, my father was an atheist and made no attempt to convince anyone otherwise. Therefore Hebrew school made no sense to him. He had a loving relationship with my mom and he wasn’t going to screw it up by arguing the validity of her religion. Second, my mother was so indoctrinated that she was sure her middle child would go straight to hell if she didn’t accept Christ as her lord and savior. I was doomed to Catholic school through the eighth grade and placed in the last row of desks in each religion class for the remainder of my stay. Evidently word had gone around that I was a possible risk to an otherwise obedient classroom.
I’ll skip ahead to high school when my mother became exhausted from having two more kids to attend to which allowed my developing philosophies to fall off her radar. Certainly she would send us off to church on Sundays but we accomplished other things during that hour like riding skateboards and a whole host of typical teenage activities. It was during this time while attending a public school that I became exposed to a gazillion more ways to think about metaphysics – or not. I essentially held on to the omniscient-being-in-charge idea and followed my intuition for moments that required moral judgements. Yes, the presence of a moral compass is not contingent on the practice of or even introduction to a religion. It’s existence is dependent on other variables and not limited to genetics, social conditioning and environmental factors. So I was fine.
As I worked my way through early adulthood I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something. Due to the conditioning elements in my childhood I assumed I was lacking the label of a faith. I was very close to my paternal grandfather who had been raised in a very religious, conservative Jewish household and community. I opened up conversations with him on religion. He had great pride in his Jewishness yet not so much the religious aspect. He felt that exclusiveness was insulting and the world just doesn’t function well that way. He told me that being Jewish means to question everything and find your own answers. Also to keep going and evolving in your understanding because to be satisfied is to be complacent and possibly compliant. I loved that because it was true to my nature and authentic to my personality to delve, research and dig around. He and I discussed this topic and others over time until I was thirty years old. When he died I began to reach out to others that were capable of these same open debates and discussions. That lead me to a local Rabbi who tolerated my relentless queries for a few years. During that time, although I was considered a Jew by his reformed congregation due to paternal lineage, I insisted on going through all the classes and rites of passage that I felt I had missed out on in my youth. What made it easy for me to hang there for a while was the non-requirement of believing in god in any certain way or at all. I was fascinated for another four years. I then began to notice the organization-type factor. The same herding techniques I had noticed in Catholicism. My grandfather’s words were clear in my memory. The sense of exclusiveness coupled with the complete realization of the fact that beliefs are not at all associated with moral behavior, common decency or peace of mind, woke me out of the illusion.
I walked away.
For the next few years I wrestled with the idea that I may not believe in anything supernatural. I was anxious about that. Not even the thought of being “spiritual” instead of “religious” could be entertained. It was all such horseshittery. And I just kept walking. As each year passed I became more relaxed in my own skin. My intellectual pursuits were my focus as they should be and still are. My relationship with reality was now firm and I knew I had reached my goal. I finally got it. There’s nothing to get but facts. Being an anti-theist is healthy and rewarding. It’s delicious, really.
I have many people to thank for escorting me to this understanding. Some are present in my life, some are past and some are on Twitter. I’d like to acknowledge those on Twitter so anyone who is struggling or just needs to connect with likeminded people, here they are: