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More as I age, this time of year in even-numbered years seems to find me ramping up the 'thinking and seeking' part of my continuing journey of self-discovery as an atheist. The harmony this time around seems to be the idea, though not a perfectly elegant one, that there are two kinds of "religious". Maybe it's better to say that this is one way to categorize religious belief into two types. I'll get to why this is very significant (to me, anyway) in a minute or so. First, a little of the melody.

My dear lefty ex-Catholic stepmother sent me a review recently of a documentary (http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/11/the-vaticans...), and it contained a bit about how the Vatican’s corruption

“has effectively created two Catholic churches in America: those few in the pews who still listen to the bishops and those who exist almost in a parallel church, focused on their own parish, their own priest, and their own faith, which remains, for many of us, undimmed.”

I went back to some notes I made on my own split with Catholicism when I came out as an atheist to my family back in 2010 along these same lines: “I saw two types of Catholics: the fundamentalist mega-church kind and the compassionate kind, with the former dominating the dialog and representing us [I was writing about 2004, when I was still Catholic] all, with disastrous results…”

I watched how American Catholics voted for Obama twice and continue to support (or at least use) contraceptives, despite the thinly-veiled threats from the pulpit of 'complying with intrinsic evil' equaling a ticket to Hell.

Recently here, JamesBrown wrote of how conservative politicians out to demonstrate their religious devotion focus on the politically-charged highly divisive issues, not on how much they’ve helped the poor, disabled, or elderly.

And in the “Santa” discussion, MetroChick wrote of the "magic" of the season. This concept, which resonates with me and rhymes almost perfectly with the overall attraction to religion the silent majority appears to have, is a great example of how Christmas is a pretty good little snow-globe model of the bigger overall Christian picture. How that lump of coal represents eternal hellfire, a new bike is eternal paradise in the afterlife, and actual people being good to other actual people without considering what they get in return really is the whole point of the exercise.

The dichotomy of two religions sets up like this: There are those on one wing who get their giant Pharisee undies in a Gordian wad over little issues and proclaim this and preach that, much of it diametrically opposed to the bronze-age “wisdom” they profess to follow, telling everyone how to live (and vote) as though such proclamations guarantee their soul’s rescue. Then there are the rest, who, it appears, are primarily interested in the proverbial presents that await Christmas morning, driven by the promise of a paradise reunion with dead loved ones in the afterlife and, to a lesser degree, fear of being punished forever, which is apparently a really long time. This latter group still believes in the “magic” part of the whole thing, even if they also believe those are really just fables, those miracles probably didn’t happen the way the books said they did, science and evolution are basically solid, and living one’s own life by the rules is probably enough. They WANT to believe, so they just do.

Apparently, those in the first group acknowledge that there could even be another major schism over this distinction. I don’t have a link for that at the moment—it’s something DW said a few weeks ago.

Back to why this is important to me. This year, I think I finally realized that I don’t have much of a problem with the second group (it’s where I was comfortably situated). They basically keep to themselves. It’s the POLITICAL version of religion that I rebelled from. However, tracing back to my own recollection of the history, I came to see that I didn’t really leave the Catholic Church. It left me.

That hard turn to the right in 2004 (that's when it first affect me in a big way, and I'm looking at you, Archbishop Chaput), with its seeds in the early 90’s in Protestant Kansas, and before that in the late 70’s and early 80’s, was not I knew or needed Catholicism to be. The rest, my reaction, was the journey to atheism--a gradual but fairly steady unwinding of the whole ridiculous edifice, for better and for worse. The hardest part was that when that veer to the right happened, the church took my wife with it, almost completely. It's not a Christmas thing for me at all, but sometimes it’s difficult to say that I’m better off on balance. Very difficult.

-n8
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