by Connie Torrisi
Long before I understood the meaning of such terms as freethinker, agnostic or atheist, I knew I could not buy into the concept of religion. I was only thirteen when I intellectually separated myself from the Catholic Church and its mumbo-jumbo dogma.
I hated parochial school with its emphasis on religion and the supernatural. Pointed questions about religious teachings were waved off with non-explanatory responses such as “God works in mysterious ways.”
I resented the Church’s attitude regarding girls and women. Emphasis was placed on what was assumed to be God’s plan: girls were to grow up to be mothers and housewives. Boys, on the other hand, were destined by God to explore, create and achieve. Long before the women’s liberation movement began, I was outraged by this overt discrimination against females.
Throughout my adult life, I rarely gave religion much thought except when it was involuntarily forced into my consciousness.
One day, after a discussion about the existence or nonexistence of God, a friend and I decided to embark on a quest, of sorts, in an attempt to discover the truth about God and religion. We began our individual quests and occasionally provided each other with brief updates on our progress toward personal enlightenment. About ten months later, – my friend reported that she had completed her quest. Her conclusion was that she was unworthy of salvation and condemned to hell.
“I’m going to hell because I’m gay,” she said woefully. “The bible says so. God hates gays.”
“But you always say that God made you as you are,” I said. “He made you gay.”
“Yes, but, you’re supposed to fight against being gay. You’re not supposed to act on it sexually. If you do, you fail God’s test.”
“Isn’t he stacking the deck by creating you gay in the first place?” I asked.
“I guess so, but God has his reasons.” she replied.
“It doesn’t make sense,” I said.
“It’s not supposed to,” she answered.
My friend ended her quest, but I went onward, taking courses in religious studies and reading authors like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchins. I even read parts of the bible, only to find myself continuously disgusted by the bible’s depiction of women, not to mention the violence and questionable measures of justice. Eventually, I reached the point where I was no longer on a spiritual quest, but rather a search for others who shared my vision of a world without religious superstitions and dogma. While I don’t claim to have reached full enlightenment in all matters, I do believe I have found the answers I was seeking regarding religion.
Before I began my quest, I saw religion as detrimental to individuals and society as a whole. Religion placed too much emphasis on dependency on supernatural beings such as gods, angels and demons. Religion caused people to focus on the promise of an afterlife, rather than living in the present. Religion encouraged people to hate one another because of the “my god is mightier than your god” collective attitude. And, sadly, religion destroys the individual’s ability to think and to reason freely. Religion creates lazy minds; it is easier to accept on blind faith than it is to use the power of reason.
Religion is a destructive force in human history. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch hunts were all part of human intolerance for diversity and freedom of choice. In modern times, religion is the force behind 9/11 and many of the subsequent acts of terrorism that are becoming more frequent.
Reaching the point where it no longer felt freakish identify myself as an atheist hasn’t been easy. Friends have not always reacted well to my anti-religion sentiments. Coming out as a nonbeliever often draws a stronger negative reaction than does coming out as gay or lesbian. In the twenty-first century, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists, are the latest sub-group to be subjected to hatred and hostility.
History has shown that t intellectual laziness leads to the abuse of power. When people do not use their ability to think and reason they often become victims of that abuse of power by those who seek to maintain political, religious and societal control.
Human history is filled with examples of religion-based crusades and inquisitions that resulted in the torture and murder of millions. Such slaughters cannot be allowed to happen repeatedly. The way to prevent history from repeating such horrors is to encourage the demise of superstition and belief in the supernatural. Instead, our focus must be geared toward promoting critical thinking, starting in the schools. Just as religious leaders know that they must install their dogma into young minds, critical thinking skills must be taught at an early age in order for children to grow into free-thinking adults.
The fact is that our educational system does not teach critical and logical thinking. Students are not taught to evaluate the facts and form their own conclusions. Instead, they are handed ready-made conclusions that society expects them to accept without question. This is especially true for religion, where faith is valued above reason.
To be a Freethinker means to stand away of the crowd, not inhale religious nonsense and a host of silly superstitions. To be a Freethinker is to accept having only one life to live, and that is the life we are currently living. To be a Freethinker is to let scientific evidence be the basis for drawing conclusions. And to be a Freethinker is to form opinions based on reason, not based on fear of retribution from an invisible supernatural being.
To be a freethinker, then, is to be truly liberated from the chains of religious dogma.