Tuesday, 21 August 2012


   It occurs to me that someone in the future might ask how I came to be writing Christian "hymns" in the late 1980s but now profess to be an atheist.  It's not all that complicated.

   I was a callow youth of 22 when I became a Catholic in 1967.  I had lots of time on my hands, particularly in the evenings, first at Muloorina and then Hesso.  I also lacked self-confidence, felt like a round peg in a square hole in the macho world of the "bush", and had no-one to discuss such things with.  I studied religions - Buddhism, Hinduism and so on.  I guess I was looking for meaning in my life.  I remember reading T.Lobsang Rampa's "The Third Eye" but could make little sense of it.  I made copious notes from my Buddhist reading but didn't really get much out of it.  Then at Hesso, probably under the influence of a Catholic girlfriend, I did a correspondence course and became a Catholic, thinking, I suppose, that this satisfied my quest to arrive at the "meaning of life".

   I can say that, as a "convert" and without benefit of the indoctrination of Catholic schooling, I was quite able to ignore any doctrine that I disagreed with or thought was patently absurd.  That this included some of the cornerstones of Catholic dogma such as trans-substantiation, probably fore-shadowed that I would not be a Catholic forever.  From way back at childhood Sunday school, I held the believe that it was nonsense to condemn people to Hell who had never even heard of Jesus, let alone rejected him.

   Anyway, the family arrived in Bairnsdale and Doortje and I resumed weekly Mass attendance, this being part of the kids' education.  It was soon obvious to me that the liturgy was so devoid of language with any sensible modern meaning that it might as well have still been in Latin.  The centuries-old hymns were sung with no enthusiasm by a congregation of blank faces.  I resolved that it was within my power to produce some modern songs with uplifting tunes and sentiments that might appeal to modern thinkers.  The reaction among at least some of the congregation was positive.  Hence the song-writing.

   However, while that was going on we suffered from being newcomers who didn't fit into the norms of a country town.  We were offside with the older establishment because Doortje worked with the Aboriginal community.  People our own age had their in-group as parents of Catholic college kids while ours went to the state schools.  We concluded that the Catholic scene was a social club of which we were not accepted members.

   When we left Bairnsdale we were no longer motivated to be part of organised religion.  This has been followed on my part by a lot of reading which led to discovery of the things that are wrong with organised religion.  For some time I have been satisfied that there is no after-life following death, and everything flows from this because much of the raison d'etre of religion is lost when this belief is discarded.  I think there is no justification for thinking that humans will have "everlasting" life but worms or bullocks won't.  It's much simpler to see humans as animals who suffer the same as other animals.  Otherwise, at what point in the evolution of humans, as they became differentiated from other animals, did everlasting life kick in?  And why?  (I want a natural reason, not mumbo-jumbo).

   I discovered all the prejudices that exist about atheists, mostly held by people who are threatened by any questioning of their beliefs, or by clerics with vested interests in keeping the flock faithful.

   Apparently, many people believe that atheists are awful people.  They have no morals, or they have simply substituted one set of beliefs for another without gain, or their lives have no meaning or purpose. Atheism in fact is a negative construct and no generalisations can be made about atheists except the one fact that they don't believe in supernatural god(s).  As someone said, Christians don't believe in Hindu or Islam gods,  atheists simply believe in one less god than Christians.

   The notion that morals or ethics can only come from Christian teaching is patently false and blatant propaganda.  Morals pre-date Christians by many generations.  I happen to believe now that religion has in fact stymied the evolution of humans morally and ethically.  The natural evolution of human moral behaviour has been at a standstill because the mass of people don't think for themselves and simply accept that they should do what religious doctrine demands to avoid supposedly dire consequences.  It is quite possible altruism among humans would be more fully developed were it not for the stifling nature of religion.

   The other issue is the one of meaning.  Christians maintain that life has no meaning without belief in the supernatural.  I fully accept the premise by Christopher Hitchens and others that life has no meaning, full stop.  The concept that all life and existence has been in the service of humans (and God) has been an extremely destructive force and detrimental to human development, and is now thoroughly discredited, given the state of the world.  "What is the meaning of life?" is not a valid question, like asking "What is the purpose of a stone?"  The only possible answer is that it has no purpose, it simply exists, or is.  I am perfectly happy with that position.  This does not mean that my own life has no purpose(s).  It is whatever I choose to make it- my life and future are in my hands, as they say, and not subject to the rules of some imaginary supernatural being.

   I have to say it has taken a lifetime to reach this position, where I have the self-confidence to accept the way things are, without having to find some supernatural (non-existent) deeper meaning.  I believe I'm just as happy or happier than I've ever been.  

   I also have to say that the good thing about being a Catholic was that without it I wouldn't have gone to New Guinea and met Doortje- the best thing that could have happened to me!

1 comment:

  1. I thought converts take on all the rubbish face-value stuff, because they think they have to, to be accepted in the religion. Clearly that's not true (but as you say, you weren't accepted, coulda been the reason! not 'flock' material). Mum got all the indoctrination that could be thrown at her at a catholic nun school and she seems also to have been a natural at ignoring the absurd. nice piece : )