How to Recover from Catholicism

I was raised in a cult. . . the Catholic Church. Okay, so technically it’s not considered a cult. At least not today. But, back in Roman times, it was. And it certainly acts like a cult. Once a year they make you put a carbon cross on your forehead so you look like a homeless person. They hand out vials of magic water to chase away invisible evil spirits. They perform a cannibalistic ritual using special crackers. A former pope being promoted for sainthood used to whip his back into a bloody mess like some Shiite wannabe. Another former pope is on record as protecting pedophiles, which possibly includes his own brother.

I used to tell people that I was a recovering Catholic. It was a way to acknowledge the difficulty of breaking free of the religious superstition that my parents and other adults felt was their duty to instill in me. Now I am pleased to respond that my recovery is complete. Exhibit A is that I replaced my dashboard St. Christopher statue with a happy meal toy I found under the seat. A little ketchup will make anything stick up there. It is not easy to shake one’s mind free of the dogma dumped into your brain during childhood. Especially for someone like me whose mother was an All-Pro Catholic. Thanks to her, I spent years as an altar boy trying to get closer to god. Instead, I got further away from reason.

But I have done it; I am free. I live every day without being cowed by superstition. Unfortunately, I see others who struggle to even start their recovery and make poor life choices based on the catechism they learned as children. Evolution gave kids the propensity to accept what adults tell them as truth no matter how stupid it sounds. This was an important survival mechanism during our tribal days. Children who wandered off got eaten by wild animals. Those who ate forbidden plants usually died. Although sometimes they saw God and came back to tell us which plants would allow the rest of the tribe to do the same. Hence the popularity of the blue agave, peyote, and certain mushrooms. Today, however, religion uses this evolutionary trait, inherent in developing brains, to perpetuate irrational beliefs. As a result, children believe Santa Claus is real long after reason tells them such a person is impossible. And as adults they believe in virgin births, resurrection from the dead, heaven, hell, purgatory, and limbo. Oops. Scratch that last one. Our bad. So much for infallible popes.

Understanding how your brain is wired in the first place is the key to rewiring it to break free of religious thought. Think of your brain as a wheat field. If you walk the same path often enough, the plants die and bare ground remains. This is particularly true in the spring when the plants are small and fragile. That path is like a thinking pattern in your brain. You always go from point A to point B the same way. But, if you stop as you step on the well-path and pick a different route, you will eventually create a new path. Your brain works the same way. You have to identify the old patterns, like prayers of petition to the Virgin Mary and substitute a new way. The old path doesn’t go away for a long time but eventually the weeds make it an unattractive route.

So what can one use for a new route? For me it was an egg and a rock. The egg was a science demonstration of air pressure. A change in air pressure inside a bottle (caused by a burning piece of paper) caused a hardboiled egg to be pushed into the bottle. After years of believing in saints, guardian angels, devils, and ghosts, I finally found an invisible force that was understandable, one I could predict. My guardian angel never kept me out of trouble. But air pressure. . . there was something I could count on. The rock was a fossilized sea shell I found in a Missouri cow pasture. You can use your imagination to understand how that particular discovery affected my world view. Science became my new path to replace the dogma that held my intellectual, emotional, and psychological growth in check. Whenever I was tempted to acknowledge invisible religious forces in my life, I remembered the power of air pressure.

Other things you can try are writing down and reading aloud all of the stupid shit you are supposed to believe. Virgin birth. . . yeah right. Joseph stayed with a woman for years without getting any sex? In a region where there are designated sheet checkers for blood on the honeymoon bed? No real man would put up with that. And if Joseph wasn’t a real man what’s the point? Lots of religious scholars have wrestled with these questions. You can study them for yourself but trust me there are no rational answers. If the purpose of Jesus was to be a man, then he had to get here like any other man. Examine any religious belief with a skeptic’s eye and it will wither like an ant under a magnifying glass.
The most important thing is to embrace your new paradigm. Shout from the rooftops that you die when you die and everybody else can go to hell. Figuratively speaking of course.

Death is really nothing to be afraid of. I know. I’ve done it. It is just like before you were born. Some people adopt science or some other belief system as a new crutch to replace religion. This is unnecessary. Science doesn’t have all of the answers. That’s kind of the point. It doesn’t pretend to have answers it doesn’t have. You can still enjoy life, love and beauty. You can still be moral and ethical because you owe allegiance to your human family, not an inscrutable god. You don’t even have to be an atheist. You can be an agnostic or a believer. Just reject any thoughts that are superstitious. Special water, oil, prayers, and sacred bones have no impact on your life or your death. Let go of those thoughts just as you once let go of Santa. It’s scary at first. But you can take comfort in the fact that many people have successfully freed their minds before you. You share their genes. You can succeed too. To paraphrase Penn Jillette, “To the nonreligious person, every day is a holiday.” So celebrate!