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David A. Schwinghammer

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The Road to Agnosticism
By David A. Schwinghammer
Last edited: Thursday, June 14, 2012
Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012



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Recent articles by
David A. Schwinghammer

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• Missoula, book review
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           >> View all 153
Why I stopped drinking religious
Kool-Aid.



I recently ran across a review for a book entitled ATHEIST VOICES OF MINNESOTA, edited by Bill Lehto and published by Freethought House of Minneapolis/ St. Paul. “Funny thing” I thought. “Nobody asked me what I thought about the subject.” But people do ask me what I think about religion on a regular basis.

So then, what would I have said if I had been asked? How did I get to be an agnostic, leaning toward atheism? I was born on a farm outside a small town of around 800 people, 98% of whom were Catholics. The others must’ve been completely irreligious as there was only one church. I went to a Catholic school in grades one, two, seven and eight and a Catholic high school. When a religious movie such as “The Song of Bernadette” came to our local theater we went to watch it as a class. There was no public school, although there were secular classes taught in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades in the Catholic elementary school. Who knows how they got away with that.

I began to lose my religion in the navy. I was stationed at Polaris Missile Facility outside Charleston, South Carolina, way out in the sticks. But we did have a church. It was about two miles from our barracks. I actually went a few times and nobody was making me, but I was the only one from the barracks who went, and I soon stopped going. With five brothers, church for me was always a communal activity. Ironically I completely lost my faith when John XXIII called the ecumenical council, doing away with the Latin mass, the kneeling rail for Communion, and abstinence from meat on Fridays. All the charm seemed to be gone. So, you could say I was a conservative when it came to religion. But I probably would have lost it anyway since I went to college after I was discharged and actually began to read about comparative religion. Education bodes the death knell for religion, which may be why Christians and other organized religions are so opposed to public education. I mean, I used to believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to thousands of people at Fatima, Portugal, and when asked for a sign, the sun came down from the Heavens drying the drenched populace below. That’s a little like believing the dinosaurs were co-existent with early man. I also believed in the Immaculate Conception and other religious drivel. That was probably a Greek influence. If you read about Dionysius, he sounds a whole lot like Christ. He also sounds quite a bit like Mithra, the son of God according to Zoroastrianism. Mithra even had a star foretelling his birth and at the end of the world Mithra will judge the living and the dead, just like Christ.

The more I read the less I believed. Recently I read BEFORE THE DAWN by Nicholas Wade, which traces our DNA back to fifty hunter gatherers who crossed the Red Sea on the south side, traveled along the coast of Saudi Arabia to India and dispersed from there to all the corners of the earth. The oldest genetic marker belongs to the San tribe of South Africa, which would make the Garden of Eden a myth, or if it existed, Adam and Eve would have been black. It would also make the ridiculous notion of original sin a man-made notion that has caused more grief over the last two thousand years than war, drought, and epidemic combined. If you look at the story of the Garden of Eden carefully you will see the misogynistic aspects of the myth. It was Eve’s fault; she tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. That’s not just a coincidence; The Jews were defeated by the Babylonians and held in captivity for seventy years, during which time they were subjected to Persian sexism on a grand scale. When they were released, the Essenes, who just happened to be celibate, brought it back to Israel. We see the remnants of Zoroastrian misogyny in the modern Moslem religion with its treatment of women. Another seminal book is JESUS INTERRUPTED by former fundamentalist preacher Bart Ehrman. Ehrman maintains that Christianity was hijacked by St. Paul. According to Ehrman, the apostles did not believe Jesus was God. So then this holy trinity stuff, which Christians stole from Zoroastrianism, was really just a public relations ploy. Ehrman says seminary graduates know this, but they don’t preach it because their parishioners don’t want to hear it.

The notion of sin itself is an attempt to keep people submissive. I remember going to Confession once a month or so and repeating the same sins over and over. I recollect two: disobeying my parents and having impure thoughts. Every kid disobeys his parents at some time or another, and you’re not normal if you don’t have sexual thoughts. Religion and politics seem to work hand in hand. The kings of the Middle Ages ruled as a matter of Divine Right. Henry VIII could divorce his first wife and marry Ann Boleyn because God had anointed him and he could do as he pleased. The serfs were told to bide their time, that they would be rewarded in Heaven, just as the Republican party would have us believe that eventually corporate profits will trickle down to the workers.

Evolution has also been influential in my road to agnosticism. Instead of emphasizing the monkey aspect, Christians might want to actual read Darwin’s ON THE ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES. The finches of the Galapagos island are especially instructive. Their different beaks show how they adapted to their environment. Bacterial response to antibiotics is further proof that evolution does exist. The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria adapts. You can practically see it happening through a microscope. Since the first Scopes trial scientists have also discovered fossil fish with legs and dinosaurs with feathers, the so-called missing links. Coincidentally I also taught “Inherit the Wind” during my student teaching assignment. I could not believe the fundamentalist Christians in that play actually existed. These people were speaking in tongues, handling snakes, and rolling in the aisles. I thought it must be fiction, until I heard about the Creationism museum. Once again education should come to the rescue. Anybody who reads the transcript of Scopes III should set their mind straight. The judge was appointed by George W. Bush and recommended by Rick Santorum; yet he ruled that Intelligent Design was a religion and should not be taught in a science classroom. The evolutionary scientist testifying for the teachers who brought the suit was asked by the judge why his contentions were not well known. The expert blamed it on science textbooks who have been downplaying evolution since the first Scopes trial. And it doesn’t help that Texas is the center of the textbook universe.

What stops me from embracing atheism totally is the incredible complexity of the universe. Could this all have happened as a result of the ability of a single celled entity to mutate? And what about human self awareness? Why do we, of all creatures, have the ability to examine our own behavior, choose from among several alternatives and come up with a productive decision? Where did that come from? Other animals certainly don’t do that. I don’t think most agnostics and atheists would argue that some form of religion is necessary, perhaps a secular version such as Siddhartha’s original form of Buddhism. People want to know where they came from and why they’re here and they yearn for an afterlife. The problem is that organized version of an afterlife is so simple-minded it suffers in comparison to life on Earth. Why would you want to go there? Buddhism was all about compassion, meditation and anti-materialism. In other words, make what we know is real as good as it can be. Science also offers some hope concerning an afterlife. Some scientists claim that we may be a hologram of what really exists on the edge of a black hole. Others say that there are multi-universes, one of which could exclude death. I rather doubt either of these is true . If there is a supreme being or beings, I like to think he/she/it intended for us to strive to be better. And we are. Less people are hungry than ever before. We have discovered the secret of life in DNA and mapped the human genome. How long before we find a cure for cancer? We have gone to the moon and we have landed an unmanned vehicle on Mars. Private companies are developing space ships to realize a manned flight to Mars. The one thing that can stop us from realizing our potential is to become stagnant or, worse yet, regress. Remarkably there is an American political party that caters to those beliefs.     

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Reviewed by Jane Noponen Perinacci
What you write here is why I am a fan of Zeitgeist! Fertile fields both! Thank you.

Jane Noponen Perinacci

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