Looking back over this blog, I’m realizing I really haven’t said too much about my religion (or rather, my lack thereof). It’s something a lot of people are interested in; heck, some bloggers make an entire career out of it (cough PZ Myers cough). So I figure I might as well take another crack at the subject and explain how exactly I ended up where I am now: a complete lack of any faith. But that’s such a big subject area that I’ll focus on a very small area of it in this post, specifically how I maintained certain irrational customs, such as keeping kosher, long after my faith dwindled to nothingness.
But first, I’d be a fool if I didn’t leverage some of my previous blog posts (if for no other reason than having to avoid rehashing all of the same material again). I developed a pretty healthy sense of morality at a young age, none of which derived from religion. Some of the people in my family were once very religious, but that had been mostly eaten away by the time I was born. It’s gotten to the point that our holiday celebrations are almost entirely secular. I’ve had a mixture of experiences in churches, some good, some terrible, though of course most of my encounters with religion occurred in synagogues, which were just boring. I lived in a state of indifference towards religion for most of my childhood until the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, which really focused my mind on the downsides. Then, throughout college, I couldn’t help but keep bumping into more instances of religion at its most exploitative, as well as religion at its ugliest. Those events and others inspired me to take a more active role against religion, which brings me to today.
I have finally, finally, just within the past two years, started eating pork regularly, despite not having been a believer for at least ten. It sounds pretty silly, right? It’s not like we ever kept any of the rest of the kosher rules — prohibitions against mixing milk and meat, checking for that silly “U” symbol on everything, etc. Heck, we even ate non-fish seafood all the time, especially crabs (though living in Maryland, how could you not?). I just had a silly hang-up with pork, and I rarely if ever ate it, with the exception of pepperoni and of course bacon. It’s more because I wasn’t accustomed to eating it than for any other reason, but if anyone ever questioned me about it, my excuse was a mumbled response about keeping kosher. My mom’s parents never served anything pork, and so she never learned to cook it. Thus, it was never served in our house, and I didn’t particularly want it when we ate out either.
Just like how dietary restrictions linger long after the faith is gone, so too do other facets of faith. I’m thinking specifically of the many ways in which religion brainwashes people: to revere “men of God” when the only thing that differentiates them from normal people is that they’re more useless, to have respect for specific cockamamie beliefs but to detest others that are equally unlikely, to distrust empiricism and value a non-rational world-view, to trample the civil rights of others merely because they are different in some regards, and many more. It’s pretty common for people to lose their belief in God but retain most of the other attendant silly beliefs, like pulling the tablecloth out from under a house of cards so quickly that most of the cards remain standing. You just can’t radically adjust your world-view so quickly.
When I was in eighth grade, after I had stopped believing, I remember asking my mother about Muslims (back in those days, we didn’t know much about them). She told me they believed in one God, and that it was the same God as the Christians and Jews. I’m thinking, “Great, just like we do” — except it was a “we” that didn’t include me. A cultural we, if you will. So, silly me, I thought that Muslims were our allies, and began to look suspiciously at my Hindu classmates who believed in multiple gods. I felt more empathy with the monotheistic Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths because that’s what I was raised with, even though I disbelieved in all of them equally. Well, three years later September 11th happened and I quickly stopped thinking of Muslims as “allies” in preference to Hindus — after all, the hijackers weren’t flying those planes into buildings in the name of Vishnu.
And now, over a decade since I’ve been actively calling myself an atheist, the deprogramming still isn’t complete. I still find myself marveling at some of PZ Myers’ attacks on religion, because despite them being so obvious, I wouldn’t think of most of them on my own. I still have all of these absurd ideas in my head that I can easily reject when I consciously think about them, but that color my perception the vast majority of the time when I don’t. I really wish I had been raised in a secular society. It’d be amazing to know what it feels like to be totally unencumbered by religious baggage. But I regrettably did not have that experience, and so every day is another struggle to find all of the non-rational beliefs in my mind and snub them out. And many of them don’t have anything to do with religion. For instance, it was only just recently — when I started watching MMA — that I realized that the oft-rumored, near-mythical powers of martial artists were completely made up. And don’t even get me started on acupuncture or chiropracty.