By Ned Reucmada
Through skepticism and humanism, I keep meeting the most amazing people and, well, in many ways, even with some major physical health issues, my life is better now than it’s ever been.
I mean, people talk about all the benefits of religion, but fundamentalist Christianity served to traumatise me pretty badly, and the main teaching was that I had to bottle me up deep inside, and never let people see the true me, who doubted, who had opinions, and who really didn’t think it was fair that, just by not having heard about him, people went to hell, and knew enough history to know that Christianity slowly spread out from Israel over thousands of years. Did God just not care about, say, Native Americans, or Chinese, or Sub-Saharan Africans until such time as he bothered to send missionaries? Should an entire group of worshippers of a supposedly loving god be so damn excited about the end of the world?
Of course, it gets far worse than that. Did you know that children in fundamentalist Christianity are taught that anything you do that isn’t for Christ should be? You feel guilty about reading books that aren’t Christian. IF you’re creative, it’s supposed to be directed at spreading the good word. Yes, I know now that 90% of the stuff they taught they didn’t actually expect anyone to do (and began to suspect that more and more as I got older), but as a young child, without counterexamples, I felt horribly guilty for having interests outside the church. And yet, I could not bring myself to become what they said they wanted me to be: a soulless automaton, who never thought of anything but Jesus, converting others, and the wonderful, soon-to-be-forthcoming End of the World.
The real me got bottled up, and the only people I ever felt I could trust to let see it were on the internet, where I knew the people I was talking to couldn’t find me. And that’s not to say that my internet friends aren’t some of my best friends, who have been with me through thick and thin. But even there, I only really started telling them some of the deeper secrets five years ago or so, only if I had really grown to trust them… And the ability to run away was the only way I could talk to them honestly and become friends in the first place, because I found it very, very hard to be honest with anyone I met in real life about my views.
It wasn’t until I joined the skeptical and humanist communities that I had ever, in my life, had a group of friends I trusted enough to tell, to their face, anything important about me. I crack jokes about being gay at skeptical and humanist meetings. That was something I had told maybe ten people before I joined them, and when I did, it was as a a deep, dark secret. I’ve given mini-talks about giving up Christianity. Before skepticism and humanism, maybe two people knew I was agnostic.[*] And, of course, I used to be terrified of talking to people whose work I really respected, feeling myself unworthy. Now, I call a lot of them friends
I think this is pretty near my first year anniversary of joining Edinburgh Skeptics, which I joined just after the first QED. I really don’t think there can be any doubt. Falling into this community was the best thing that ever happened to me.
[*] I love the term agnostic. First of all, as Huxley originally defined it, it was about coming to disbelief in God from rational principles, which he compared to atheism before Darwin, which could only be an emotional rejection, as there was then no good explanation for life. Secondly, if you’re so pedantic about a false definition of agnosticism that you get annoyed by people using it, I probably want to annoy you.