A Parental Gift
Barbara Lynne Conroy
I was raised Catholic “light.” When I was a child, my family attended church only on Sundays and “required” holidays. I attended Catholic school until I completed fourth grade. I lobbied my parents hard to let me go to public school.
When I was twelve years old (this was 1970), my mother sat me down on the edge of my bed. All I remember is this: “Your dad and I decided we’re not going to go to church anymore, but if you still want to go, we will take you. If there was a god, the Holocaust would have never happened.” That was it. End of story.
Not exactly a “pivot point” at such a young age—but I was ecstatic about not having to go to church. I only wish this could have happened for many others. Years later, when cleaning out my father’s book collection, it all came together: He had immersed himself in reading everything questioning faith. I also heard the story about when he was a young child practicing the violin and a nun teacher nearly cracked his knuckles with a yard stick for who knows what type of “misbehaving” he was engaged in.
Barbara Lynne Conroy grew up in a Catholic family in the midwest. She now lives a quiet life on small acreage in the Sierra Foothills of California.
I Wanted to Believe
My pivot point was not so much when I abandoned Christianity but rather the point that made belief impossible despite my actually wanting it.
Raised by a father widowed (at my birth) who rarely spoke of religion—but when he did was always an unequivocal scoffer with no reasons offered—I was spared the automatic belief that most absorb.
At about age fourteen or fifteen, all my friends and their families were Christian, and I realized I was really ashamed of my father’s contrary stance, which I could not explain. And so, I very actively sought reasons to believe.
You can imagine those that were offered. But none permitted me to believe in—much less love—the god Christians define as perfect perfection in love-justice-mercy-forgiveness and every other respect.
I could not swallow that it was a loving kindness for God to have started this universe with all its miseries and sufferings, while all the time knowing its end from the beginning. It was an impossible contradiction then—and still is.
Julian Haydon is ninety-two years old with an LLB from American University. His career was in business, not law.
When asked why I left Christianity, I say: “Theodicy failed.”
I’ve since learned that that thought process, or sequence, is common. The context for me is that I was unemployed and suffering. I got to thinking about suffering in general. I wondered why Jehovah allowed suffering. I figured that, as Harold Kushner said, either God was omniscient and omnipotent but not benevolent, in which case he’s a monster not worthy of worship, or he’s omniscient and benevolent but impotent, in which case he doesn’t matter. Or he doesn’t exist. There is no practical difference between the last two possibilities.
So, I decided the last possibility made the most sense.
That was my pivotal moment in August 1982.
Heidi Johnson grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist family. She left that church in March 1981 when she realized it does more harm than good. She was just beginning to learn how much harm.
I may have been just a tad hung over.
It was about noon on New Year’s Day 1973. The evening prior had involved festivities that have been lost to the mists of time. I was eighteen and surely had done the prudent thing by spending the night at a friend’s house.
Driving my father’s car in the blinding midday sun, I worked my way back home along the shore of Lake Michigan in my hometown, Milwaukee. The AM radio had been my lone companion for the short time I’d been on the road, and then came the news: My favorite baseball player, Roberto Clemente, had been killed the previous night in a plane crash while en route to Nicaragua armed with aid to assist those in need after a devastating earthquake. The plane had taken off in darkness from San Juan, Puerto Rico; shortly thereafter, it plunged into the sea. My hero, embarking on a selfless humanitarian gesture, was dead at thirty-eight.
I pulled over, sitting among the rocks that lined the shore, and a lifelong transformational journey began. True, I had always had my hand up in religion class, and I’d been riddled with doubt about my Catholic faith for most of my teenage years. I knew the Bible to be littered with unspeakable violence and that the god of the Old Testament often exhibited the same attitudes one might use to describe a monster. I’d harbored doubts of Christ’s divinity and even read of the horrors of The Inquisition and The Crusades.
But Clemente’s death felt almost personal.
How could a just and loving god allow such a thing?
My father and I had bonded over the beauty of the game of baseball. Childhood summers, sunrise to sunset, I played it like there was no tomorrow, and Clemente’s peerless mastery acted as my beacon. By the time that sun-drenched first day of 1973 drew to a close, I’d had my personal “earthquake.” I had lost both my hero and my faith. The likes of Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne all served to inform and light the path that led me, as the decades passed, to becoming the unapologetic atheist I am today. I’ve come to see the universe as a wondrous yet unfathomable mystery, to be incrementally revealed through the elegant and rigorous inquiries of science—not impassioned, blind faith bereft of the slightest whisper of evidence.
Years later, I wrote a song about Clemente, “Number 21.” I played it in clubs through the years, and it often elicited a lump in my throat as the keyboard’s final note faded away.
I had to write it: for me, for my father, and for a giant of a man who lost his life while endeavoring to do something decent and grand. Sitting by the water that winter’s day, I felt the shackles of religion falling away. Clemente’s death wasn’t part of any god’s plan. And belief in god was no longer part of mine.
A Milwaukee native—bewitched by baseball, science, jazz, and Steely Dan—Bill Castagnozzi is currently enjoying a respite after decades toiling in the restaurant business. A musician and writer, he has long been fascinated by religion but remains swayed by none. An ardent skeptic, he avoids Mass religiously.
A Friend’s Wisdom
In the eleventh grade, I became friends with Bob, a strikingly handsome classmate who had been born with a severely deformed left arm. Because of his deformity, he had been tormented, ridiculed, bullied, and ostracized his entire life. When the topic of religion came up, Bob told me he did not believe in a god. When I asked him why, he replied that he did not believe there was an all-powerful being who would allow what had happened to him, an innocent child. “And,” he continued, “if there is, fuck him!”
His reasoning struck me powerfully then and still resonates today.
Ed Moritz is a retired English professor. He is living a long and happy life without benefit of clergy.
A Parental Gift Barbara Lynne Conroy I was raised Catholic “light.” When I was a child, my family attended church only on Sundays and “required” holidays. I attended Catholic school until I completed fourth grade. I lobbied my parents hard to let me go to public school. When I was twelve years old (this was …