My Journey from Church to Atheism
(with a stop at Agnosticism along the way)
by Robin Carr
September 17, 2017 10PM (-8 GMT)
Vancouver, British Columbia
Visitors to Canada’s province of Quebec often feel they are in Europe when they find themselves immersed in French Canadian culture. Its two major cities, Montreal and Quebec City, are predominantly French-speaking; although the western end of l’Ile (Island) de Montréal has a quite large English-speaking minority. I grew up in that minority in the 1950’s and 60’s, at a time when the French Quebecois were almost all Roman Catholic and the English Quebecers (French: Québécois) were mostly Protestants. Atheists and agnostics, to the extent they existed, were very much “in the closet.”
When I was in elementary school, my parents sent me to Sunday school every week and then enrolled me in classes to become “confirmed” in the Protestant Church. Always curious and not always tactful, I once asked the Minister a question that elicited a response I will never forget. The question:
“There are so many religions in the world, how do I know this is the right one?”
The response? The Minister stood as tall as he could and his face turned a frightening shade of red. I worried that his head might explode in front of me.
“Because if you don’t choose this one, you will be damned in hell forever!”
I don’t remember if I actually ran home that day, but I do remember my parents consoling and reassuring me that I wouldn’t have to return to those classes. In fact, I never returned to that Church and neither did my parents. That episode began my journey.
The second stop came when I was in high school. Newspapers covered the story of a woman who was pregnant and had been hospitalized with very high blood pressure. Her physicians recommended a therapeutic abortion to save her life, but at that time the Catholic-based laws required the signed consent of her husband. And her husband, a brain-dead Catholic, refused. So she died. My sense of justice took a hit that day and I soon became the first male I knew of to pledge allegiance to feminism.
My eyes were opened further by my first girlfriend, who was Roman Catholic and attended a different school. Her parents felt she was too rebellious, perhaps partly because she was dating a Protestant, so they sent her to a convent for a year to get her back on a more righteous path. I went away to university but I wrote to her several times, although when she received the letters they had always been opened already and presumably read for censorship. She managed to write back several times, sneaking the letters out, and she told me about how some of the nuns were sadistic and seemed to like strapping the girls. Of course, none of this endeared me to Catholicism.
While I found it quite easy to abandon organized religion because of the obvious hypocrisies and stupidity I continued to see, I was slow to let go of the notion of there being a “God.” I think one of the effects of early religious indoctrination is the guilt and fear that arise when you begin to break away. I entered a period of agnosticism, which is like shrugging your shoulders and sitting on the fence, ready to fall to either side depending on how the wind blows.
It wasn’t until I had finished my PhD in Applied Sciences (Kinesiology) that I had time to think about what I didn’t know, rather than what I did know. It is a very human characteristic that we try to explain what we don’t understand in terms of what we do understand. The enormity of the universe, constructed by atoms and sub-atomic particles, makes it difficult for me to believe that an all-knowing, all-seeing being could be in charge. How was this God made? Where is the real evidence for a God’s existence? With babies dying in hurricanes and religious devotees being killed while praying in their churches and mosques, it’s easy to lament, as comedian Bill Maher frequently does, “God f_cked up again!”
As you can probably tell, I have fallen off the agnosticism fence and am now quite firmly implanted on the atheism side. At least until the evidence warrants a change, or the wind blows hard in the other direction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robin Carr has a PhD in Kinesiology from the Simon Fraser University. Retired already, he is a former teacher at Langara College and the University of British Columbia.