My path to atheism was paved with history books.
I was interested in my native Catholicism, so I read Elaine Pagels on the origins of Christianity. Starting from her books, I was led to the similarities between Catholicism and ancient Egyptian beliefs. It could not have been chance that those people, who were not Catholic, believed in the same things as me. It couldn’t be unless those beliefs and mine were the same in some way: they are the legacy of that time and people to me. That was the biggest and most crucial step.
Then, I read up on Santeria. It’s part of my native culture too, but I didn’t consider it an option to believe in. Given the way Santeria was presented to me in my childhood, it was the opposite. Santeria was never a live option, in exactly the same way that dog-headed and falcon-headed gods were not. Yet the parallels to Catholicism were too obvious. I noticed another obvious thing. In some Catholic circles, Santeria is viewed with extreme contempt. I noticed that contempt, and I noticed how much racism was tied up in that contempt. It bothered me.
Santeria is a New World religion and it may be a syncretic religion; it may be the combination of Catholicism and certain Yoruba and other African religious practices. In that view, the saints and orishas represent the same underlying principles. Or maybe, it’s not syncretic at all. On this view, the saints that are associated with the orishas are a dodge and a defense mechanism. That dodge enables an older, persecuted religion to survive in secret in a new environment, even if in a changed form, and even if some believers eventually forget the dodge. Funny about that, how that process is similar to what happened to those Egyptian ideas from so long ago.
Either syncretic or not, Santeria’s history has played out in the last 500 years, and there are clear historical records to be read. Sorry Osiris, Horus and Isis; sorry Chango, Yemaya and Cachita; sorry Santa Barbara, Regla, and Caridad del Cobre, but I just can’t believe in you.
It didn’t take much imagination to extend that same logic to Jesus and Mary and Genesis and Yaweh and all that.