An oldie from January 2013, but wanted to repost this for my newer readers. As always, comments are not just welcomed, but encouraged.
I’m reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion right now, an excellent book for atheists, agnostics and nonreligious folk alike. In it Dawkins says something very poignant, something that speaks to our disillusioned minds about how we ever got to be religious in the first place:
“Just as feminists wince when they hear ‘he’ rather than ‘he or she’, or ‘man’ rather than ‘human’, I want everybody to flinch whenever we hear a phrase such as ‘Catholic child’ or ‘Muslim child’. Speak of a ‘child of Catholic parents’ if you like; but if you hear anybody speak of a ‘Catholic child’, stop them and politely point out that children are too young to know where they stand on such issues, just as they are too young to know where they stand on economics or politics.”
Such a crucial distinction this is that Dawkins reiterates the point in plainer, don’t-fuck-with-me English:
“That is not a Muslim child, but a child of Muslim parents. That child is too young to know whether it is a Muslim or not. There is no such thing as a Muslim child. There is no such thing as a Christian child.”
If only I had had The God Delusion, instead of a much much much different book, bed-side with me at eight years old. Turns out I’m one of the billions they got wrong, who they labeled “Christian child” over and over and over again in my impressionable youth. Stumbling across the above passage the other day, I thought to myself, “Wow. What a sad state of affairs, and how lucky I am to have really seen-seen the booby trap, to renounce that shit and get the hell out of those white robes (figurative and, most unfortunately for me, literal).” I officially became an apostate (a person who abandons his/her religious faith) when I was 16. Only seven years have passed, but in thinking back I’m amazed at how completely disjointed my religious past life feels from present day. Do you ever feel that way about certain things in your own life? Like someone else was steering the brain back then; who or what exactly you have no idea–but you search now and the one-time conductor is nowhere to be found; s/he’s prolly been left for dead in a ditch somewhere, and survives only as an occasional, incidental memory of what used to be. Such is 100 percent my case, and if you’d allow me, I’d like to take the stroll to show you just exactly what used to be.
When I was a one-year-old little crying Asian shit, my parents separated. We were in Queens, NY, and moms decided a move back to Lansing, MI, where my Lola and Lolo lived, would be an auspicious change of scenery. So we said goodbye and that was that. We moved into my Lola and Lolo’s house, and for the next four-plus years the old folks had a tremendous hand in raising me.
As old-school, traditional Filipinos who still to this day believe staunchly in things like courtship, they were paragon Roman Catholics. They raised their nine kids this way, and predictably the lot of them continue practicing their hand-me-down faith today. Just as predictably, they began imparting to their newest tenant the same ways of Jesus Christ immediately. I was a tiny infant, kicking it in my tiny basket, going to church on Sundays; I was two years old bowing my head, locking my hands together, closing my eyes before dinner, saying, “Amen”; I was three years old, clutching my Lola’s rosary at her bed, repeating the prayer coming from that immutably gentle, tender, make-you-want-to-melt-it’s-that-delicate voice: “Bless my mommy. Bless my daddy. Bless my Lola and my Lolo, etc. etc.” What it meant to “bless” these people I had no idea, but there I was in my footie pajamas, parroting my grandma in her bed until I could do the routine all by myself.
Things continued this way till 1995, when my Lolo and Lolo decided the Michigan cold was too much for their arthritic frames; they moved to California, and moms and I said goodbye to them in heartbreaking fashion. Soon after my mom got a job at the-then Red Lion Hotel in Bellevue, WA. (Sometime between 1989 and 1995 I was baptized.) We too packed up and migrated west to a beautiful suburb just east of Seattle that was to be my home for the next 12 years: Kirkland, WA. (425, holla at me!)
We settled into our Forbes Creek apartment nicely; not even two full weeks later and moms found us a new church to attend: Holy Spirit Lutheran, at the bottom of 124th and 100th. I was in 1st grade, only five years old at the time. I remember sitting with the congregation, eyes taking in the overwhelming altar before me, when Pastor Mike called attention to make a special announcement: “I’d like to welcome the newest members to the Holy Spirit Lutheran family. Marita, Steven, if you’ll please stand up… Let’s give them a warm round of applause!”
And from that day forward, I was no longer a Roman Catholic child, but a Lutheran/Christian child.
(Quick side note: amazing how life works. Moms had just moved to a state in which she knew one other person only (my uncle); church was a way to bridge the social gap, lest loneliness or depression infect and spread. So from this reasonable, understandable social desire came our joint faith that was to mold me and my beliefs for the next 10 years. From that circumstancial desire I would proudly identify myself as a “Christian child.”)
This is when I really started to become religious in my religiosity. Sunday school every week, no exceptions. 15 or so innocent kids and me learning about God, Jesus, Moses, Noah, Adam, Eve, trying our best to get the answers right and please our teacher. I learned the “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” prayer, which I can still recite as well as any Nas or Jay song. Soon after it wasn’t enough to go to church just one measley time a week. In 2nd grade I started going to LOGOS every Wednesday to learn more about the bible and the ways of our savior. Then I started going to adult mass. At seven years old I even attempted to read the bible cover to cover. I never actually finished, or even got close; but the attempt itself should speak volumes of my commitment to my faith. God was now an inextricable main character in my life.
One day in 3rd grade, I was sitting in Mr. Stauffer’s class when a classmate told me he didn’t believe in God. VRRRPPPP. PAUSE. SAY WHAT NOW?
“What do you mean you don’t believe in God?”
“I just don’t.”
“But how? Why?”
“Jesus was crucified so that we could all go to heaven! Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“I don’t think heaven is real.”
*Head explodes from shock.*
After school I went home and prayed like the pope for that poor bastard. Lola would’ve been so proud to see me with eyes closed, mumbling fervently for my 3rd grade atheist classmate to one day see the light. This should go without saying, but it was becoming clear (not to me, of course) that Holy Spirit Lutheran was working wonders–miracles, dare I say–on my indoctrination.
The years passed. I was becoming a Nazi Christian. In 7th grade I went to multiple bible camps. In 8th grade I became an acolyte for the church, which means I got to wear the white robes, light the altar candles and sit with the other pastors during service, like a sort of locally pious VIP. Then came communion: I was now at the age where I could participate in the post-sermon ritual of receiving the holy bread and apple juice (no wine for kids) meant to symbolize the body and blood of my main man J-Cry.
But always and inexorably the dawn precedes the night. 9th grade came around and two things happened, unforseeable and totally fortuitous: first, I actually started to grow bored of church. All my accrued years spent worshipping God had finally taken their toll; I would be slouched in my congregational seat on Sunday morning, trying covertly as possible to get some shuteye while the choir belted out tunes of our Lord’s awesomeness. What’s more, I was at the age where moms no longer cared if I slept over at friends’ houses every Friday and Saturday; I was up till 4 or 5 in the morning, recording hit songs for my first solo album with back-up singer Shane and sound engineer David–no doubt having to wake up at 9 that same morning for church seemed like Guantanamo-esque torture. Consequently, my attendance started to falter. I was attending mass once every two, three weeks now. I dropped out of the Confirmation program less than a month into registering. (Funny thing is, they won’t let you “fail” church. Although I didn’t complete the program, they still let me “graduate” and honored me as “confirmed” a few months later.) I guess the one thing the indoctrinators hadn’t anticipated, or couldn’t combat, was a teenager’s budding weekend social life, which no doubt took precedence over God and eternal salvation.
This was the first domino to be sent tumbling. The second was my formal introduction to underground hip-hop in 10th grade, namely Immortal Technique. (Hi, haters.) Up till then, my musical influence stretched only as far as MTV raps had flown; and judging by the fact that their seemingly ubiquitous mantra was “smoke weed, fuck bitches,” I’m gonna say they hadn’t flown very far. So to listen to this independent artist named Immortal Technique, who was rapping without censor about topics I’d never really understood–communism, classism, racism, political agendas of mainstream media–was, as trite as this may sound, to be born again. His passion, his conviction, his commitment to positive change in the world incited my own; that same year, of my own accord, I sought out and read The Communist Manifesto and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was to be my inception into the intellectual universe, promulgated by free-thinking non-conformists who time and time again gave the finger to appeasement for appeasement’s sake.
For the first time in my life, I decided very consciously that conforming to norms wasn’t cool. And the ultimate norm that had, up till then, possessed my life? Christianity. Immortal Technique made me see that capitalism, colonization of the West and Christianity are inextricably linked. He deconstructed the inanity of Jesus’s being born in the Middle East and being depicted as white (I’ll destroy your religion, you stupid bitch//You faker than blue-eyed crackers nailed to a crucifix.). How stupid are we that we can’t see through such a glaringly obvious transparent agenda?
It was during this time–and I say this proud as can be–I officially dropped the label “Christianity” that had reared me into unquestioning obedience for the last 10 years. (16 years when you add “Roman Catholicism” into the equation.)
I can finally say it now–and since it’s January I’ll even say it in MLK fashion: Free at last, free at last. Thank Immortal Technique, we are free at last.
I write all this because I think it’s necessary that people understand that when I’m religion-bashing, it’s not from some vacuum motive and that I have nothing better to do. (Maybe you can dispute the latter.) I’m 23 years old now; what’s crazy to think is that I’ve only been non-religious for seven years–that’s not even a third of my life. It didn’t get any more “Christian child” than me. They told me to open wide, I obeyed and they forced meal after meal of indoctrination into me, till I could do nothing but shit out bible verses and arranged prayers. BUT, I did it. I escaped. I am, at least in this topical context, a “success story.” I don’t know the statistic on how many people born into their parents’ religion actively renounce, but I’m willing to bet the number is very small.
Quite plainly, my goal is to guide other non-religious folk, or fence-sitting agnostics, to “come out,” and to come out proudly. I want them to actively embrace atheism (which literally is the rejection of “theism”), and here’s why: It’s 20 fucking 13 already. We should be so far beyond superstition, just by measure of how far we’ve come technologically in the last 100 years. How can anyone still actually believe that an invisible man or spirit monitors your entire life, and then sends you above sky or below ground based on the way you lived? Beside the fact that religion causes wars and murder on a daily basis, I’ve yet another reason to combat it: it’s just flat-out stupid. Superstition should be dead, and I’m doing what I can to see to its eventual execution.
So if you’re religious, ideally (and it’s a big “ideally”) I want you to see that you were never a religious child, but a child of religious parents, and that is the sole reason you continue to be religious today.
If you’re non-religious, or if you’re a fence-sitting agnostic, my goal is that you publicly declare your atheism to the world. We are a very real minority in the world and we absolutely need you.