Image by ::: Billie / PartsnPieces ::: via FlickrI was born in New Orleans Louisiana as a Catholic. I attended Catholic School until I was in the third grade when my parents decided to move to a rural area 1.5 hours north of the city. Though not that far away, the difference in religious belief was staggering. I had entered the Bible Belt.
There were no Catholic churches near my new home and all the friends i had met were southern baptist who's families were heavy into church. I was nine years old and wanted to do what my friends did, so I asked my mom if I could start going to church with my friends. I suppose my mom thought that some church was better than no church, so she was fine with it. Again, I was a kid. I had no idea what the differences between Catholics and Baptists were. I assumed we all just believed in God and Jesus... the basics, so I never claimed to not be a Catholic. Well, this did not sit well with the adults in the church and many of them regularly told me that I was going to hell because I was Catholic. They pressed me to be "saved" and pushed me to do so many many times. I never did because it just felt icky. the whole thing felt icky. I went to enjoy time with my friends. I didn't want to be like the adults of the church. They were hateful people, racist, and very judgmental. Sure they were kind to one another, but the second someone different was around or brought up, the bigotry ran wild. Most of them were not well educated and I could see this as a child. Why would I want to be like hateful ignorant people? I decided to stop going to church.
Later in high school I started dating a girl who was a Baptist. She was very open minded and smart. We were very close. She was also the niece of a fundamental baptist preacher and her parents had raised her to be a non-questioning believer (though i always knew she questioned on her own.) She went to church with her family weekly. Her uncle ran a small church outside of town. I was surprised when i finally attended church with her that most of the congregation (a small one at that) were very.... economically challenged... individuals and families. I had never seen this many struggling families in one place. Most of the churches in town were full of expensive outfits and popular "mainstream" local gossip of the town's "elite." The children were dirty, so were a lot of the adults for this matter. They were delightful people who were happy to be alive and worship god, but at the same time, they were obviously dealt a bad hand. I felt sorry for them. My girlfriend's uncle did a wonderful job of reaching these people and gave his best effort to do so, and though i had many problems with his teachings, I would never dare question the one bright spot in many of these people's lives.
Later I asked my friend about the origins of the little church and I was shocked by her response. Apparently all the members of the church attended the larger Baptist church in town. Her uncle was an active member and was an experienced preacher. At some point the leaders of the church approached my friends uncle and offered him X amount of dollars to start his own church. He was flattered by the opportunity and accepted immediately. They then proceeded to throw on a the stipulations. They would fund the building of the new church only if he would recruit the poorer members who currently attended the church. They didn't want the "peasants" clouding their cosmopolitan social circles.... He still accepted and did what they asked.
I was so shocked by the story that it was the final straw to my hold on religion. Religion instantly became a horrible thing to me. It had proved time and time again to bring more bad to the world than good.
I am a proud agnostic atheist and feel religion is the primary cause for most of the hatred and pain in the world. Good is innate in most of us and we can easily find it if we think for ourselves. We do not need other people or a god to tell us to treat one another fairly and justly.
I would never try and take someone's religion from them, but I will not hide my views neither. I will openly speak negatively of "religious" people who are obvious bigots and are not leading their lives in the man they worship so much supposedly did. I feel I see a beauty in the world and in humanity that can never be seen if you are viewing the world through a religion mask. I can appreciate the wonders of this life. The religious ring will miss the beauty provided for them here because of a completely hopeful beauty in the next.