Growing up in a small village in the mountains of Austria, I was raised Roman Catholic. We went to church on Sunday, because everyone else went to church. My grandma carved a cross on the back of every freshly baked bread loaf before she cut into it, and we bend our heads down before we ate, to either quietly say grace or give others the time to do so.
But did I believe in all of it? Honestly, I don’t know. I copied what I saw, accepted what I heard, and followed the rules without questioning any of them. By sheer luck, I the poor farm girl got offered a scholarship at an elite boarding school in Bavaria, the South of Germany -a school run by Catholic nuns.
Seven years old, in second grade I followed the rules in boarding school. We went to church, oh boy did we go to church. Three times during the week early in the mornings, and on the weekends when we didn’t drive back home. We prayed and answered prayers, and we had religion classes. We were greeted and released with a prayer or a Hail Mary.
When a girl in my class had to mourn the death of her mother, a nun told us that she one day would be reunited with her mother again and they would spend eternity together. “You will meet your family again and you all will be together.”
Right then it hit me. We were a small family, chances that I would be lonely or alone in heaven were pretty high. How did this heaven thing work anyway? Would I have a choice or would I be reunited with my useless, alcoholic parents against my will? I raised my hand and asked the nun if the family reunion in heaven was optional. My question took her by surprise. The kids roared with laughter, nobody realized how serious I had been.
According to Sister Charitas, my parents would then be loving, sober, and without sin. In heaven, we all are perfect, kind, and very happy. I thought about heaven a lot. I looked at the large poster of the universe. How small the earth looked. I thought about all the religions I had come in contact with so far. The roman gods and the Greek gods, we learned in school about. Three girls in boarding school were Hindus, a few were Jewish, two kids from America who called themselves Baptists, a few Lutherans, and a little girl from the middle east, who prayed to someone called Allah.
They all believed in one way or another in an afterlife. Billions of people gathered for eternity doing what? Nothing to learn, no challenges, no personal growth, no struggles. To me, heaven sounded boring. Perfection for eternity?
When I was nine I called myself an omnist. I wasn’t really sure what it meant and how to live by it, but I liked what it stand for. Believing in all gods, accepting all religions, and respecting all beliefs.
Deep down however I struggled with faith and belief. I loved science, logic, mathematics, but also the arts. I didn’t believe in fairy tales but loved old fables and stories. It didn’t make any sense. I didn’t make sense.
What upset me most was the fear of God. As a child, I had feared my parents. As a little girl, I prayed that God would come to my rescue when I was hiding in my room. When I rescued myself, that day when I refused to go back home, I ended up living with my grandmother, who was happy to take me in. God did not send my grandmother, she was there all along.
For some God is responsible for everything, in the end, he or she will make it alright. There is no sin that won’t be forgiven, no time wasted, because, in the end, the earth is just foreplay, the big reward is eternity afterward.
Even as a child, I could do little with religion. Neither the tales and myths nor the pressure helped. I got bored in religion class, in church I admired the art and the statues. I had many questions and I wandered around without knowing where to go. Religion gave me neither support nor a vision.
When the religion teacher asked the question “Who does not believe in God?” in preparation for the first Communion, only two hands went up in the class. I didn’t raise my hand but I saw how the religious kids and the teacher reacted. They were outraged, how could two kids not believe in a 2000-year-old story and be so unbelieving. The schoolmates looked at them with pity and gave them contemptuous looks. They were labeled lepers -at least for one hour. This happened more than 50 years ago, but I do remember. This was the moment when my inner voice was confirmed. I didn’t belong to either group.
I am not an atheist or a believer. I am an agnostic. Either way, it’s fine with me. If there is a god or gods, we will meet, if there is none, I lived my life to the fullest, with zero preparation or fear of any form of afterlife. Will I come back as a dragonfly, an ant, or an elephant? Who knows. I don’t!
Like Ricky Gervais said in an interview. There are roughly 3000 gods. Christians don’t believe in 2,999. I don’t know about 3,000. Actually, doesn’t it make Christians atheists because they don’t believe in 2,999 gods? Thought-provoking isn’t it?
People and countries in Europe are more open-minded, any religion is practiced quietly at home -other than the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who bother you at your house. The religious fanatism we started seeing here in the US or in the Middle East is not known there. Even countries like Italy and Ireland can’t fill the churches anymore.
As a child, I often felt sorry for God, with so many prayers from people who could have easily helped themselves. Why pray for a good grade, use the time, and study. Give your God a break. The nun told me it was a sin to feel sorry for God. I felt sorry for her too.
I apologized to God for praying and wasting his time. They made me!
I made sins up for the confession box because I knew the other girls were often listening. Yes, I had kissed a boy (Nope I was the youngest in a class by almost two years.) Yes, I had lied (because I didn’t kiss a boy). Confession was easy!
In the course of my life and especially during my travels, I have often thought about faith and religions and have come to the conclusion that religion does not help but only hinders. Why? That’s what I’ll tell you now. And perhaps now would be a good time for you to stop reading if you haven’t done so already.
Religion frightens me
Whether the seven deadly sins, the ten commandments, or the ten rules of life, religions give you strict regulations and if a believer does not abide by these rules, then he has God, the devil, or what do I know to fear. You don’t go to heaven or you will be reborn as a snail. No matter how you twist or turn it, any violation of the rules of faith leads to dire consequences and all believers are afraid of these threatening consequences. Only with repentance can one escape the terrible outcome. All these rules lead to fear, and fear inhibits our existence, our free-thinking, and our positive attitude to life. A life with religion and without fear is unfortunately not possible.
No matter which believer you ask -and I don’t mean the part-time believers who are only in the church because they all are- no, I mean the real believers. They face every open question and every argument with rejection. They, the believers are right and the non-believers are wrong. How can you? No matter what they believe in and what religion they belong to, each of them has a limited horizon. The perspective is deliberately restricted. They are the good guys, all the others are bad!
Only if you believe in Christ you will go to heaven. What? I thought heaven was for everybody?
When I was still a little girl and we went to church, the rule was women on the left and men on the right. The symbolism and the sense were lost on me even then and I have to honestly admit, I still don’t understand it. Because it is just another piece of the mosaic of the incredible discrimination against women in most religions. Why are women, in whatever religion, considered unworthy or not equal? There are no female monks, let alone a female pope. There are no female apostles. God’s son is male, most gods are male. Why do women have to take a back seat in most religions?
Religion reduces self-confidence
In difficult times and dark hours, faith can move mountains and make difficult situations more bearable. But isn’t this support also a pretext? An excuse to blame someone else, because the solution should come from a higher power. And if it doesn’t come, then you can at least continue to pray. However, an important factor that makes up life is lost for many. Trust in your own self. With the belief in a higher power, faith in yourself has to go and the lack of self-confidence makes life difficult in all situations.
Religion is coincidence
I was born in Austria and raised belonging to the Roman Catholic church. What would have happened if I had been born in Thailand or India. Would I have been Catholic then? Probably not. Faith is strongly dependent on our place of birth and this happens purely by chance. But why do so many people cling to this purely random religion? Wouldn’t life be more exciting if we looked at all regions of the world?
Religion takes away human dignity
“All people, regardless of all their distinguishing features such as origin, gender, age or condition, have the same value” – Wikipedia.
Human dignity is trampled in many religions -there is one up there and many down there. I don’t want to -and can’t- identify with that. We are all equal, all people, all nations, and all religions of this world. There must be no top and a bottom. Wars have been and are being fought in the name of God and religion. Educated women have been declared witches. All this is not in harmony with human dignity and not in harmony with nature.
Better life without religion – the revelation?
“… man is inherently good…” this is what the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said. And just like him, I also believe that if we listen to our inner voice and also to the voice of nature, then we do not need any external force or order. All suffering and evil arise only when we follow external voices.
If we only follow our inner and natural voice, then we are able to live a beautiful and peaceful life without commandments and rules. Because if I am at peace with myself, then I do not need to do evil to anyone. I can meet people without envy and with openness. So I live a life according to my personal values and enjoy life!
Life with religion is easier
Sometimes I envy religious people. In the end, they are never responsible for anything, it’s either god’s will, or the Gods will forgive. It’s all part of a hidden big plan, nothing, in the end, is ever up to human beings. If they win, it was with God’s help. If they lose, they pray to God for forgiveness and better results next time. Humans seem to be too weak to accomplish anything by themselves.
Grieving is so much easier if you believe to be reunited with the ones you love. How much easier for the mother to believe she will see her dead child again, and for the widow to think she will hug her husband in an afterlife. What if they marry again? Which spouse will they be reunited with? Shared custody?
I do believe we are good by nature!
One day, in a faraway future I will close my eyes forever and I hope I will have lived life to its fullest to the end. I hope I will have used all my talents.
If there is a God or Gods, then I fear nothing. I tried my best and he or she will know. We do will have a talk about some things, and I fear there will be lots of explaining on both sides -perhaps even understanding, considering the Gods will be open-minded.
However, I do hope the heaven concept is wrong and there is a plan B-exit even for eternity. What if I don’t like it?