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Why I am an atheist – Rodriguez

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.

Rodriguez
United States

Comments

  1. Dhorvath, OM says

    It’s hard to escape the parallels. Behind every faith appears an older one with similar ideas and so it seems vastly more likely they all share a human origin.

  2. sumdum says

    It’s no wonder most religions don’t really want you to read about other religions. Once you recognize one god as made up, the others turn out quite suspect too.

  3. says

    Catholicism/Christianity is also syncretic. First as a belief that took ideas both from Greeks and from Jews (Judaism did too. Xianity was pretty much a Jewish sect), and then a belief taking holidays (like Xmas) and gods from other religions. Those other gods are basically saints.

    I don’t say so particularly to object to it here, it’s just how it arose and developed.

    Glen Davidson

  4. billgunn says

    Glen you missed Rodriguez’s point about thye roots of Christianity and Catholicism in the ancient Egyptian religion in particularily the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus. The origin of Xtianity cannot be understood without this being taken into account. The first organized Xtian church was the Coptic church in Egypt. Their first priests were largely converts of priests of Isis who had tonsured haircuts just like Xtian monks.

    The ressurected god Osiris parrellels the myth of the adult Jesus, while his son Horus conceived by the self inseminated of Isis, who a reed to replace Osiris’s penis, is the baby Jesus. Isis is of course the equivalent of the virgin Mary. Both declared Queen of Heaven. The Isiac religion competed directly with Xtianity in the Hellenic-Roman world. If Anthony and Cleopatra (self declared Isis incarnate) had won the battle of Actium then it rather than Xtianity would be the dominat religion in the western world

  5. iskenderoglu says

    Among the tl;dr autobiographies/walls of text, Rodriguez’s nicely composed, thoughtful post stands out, so much so that I am moved to respond.

    In the best of worlds, spiritual beings such as saints or orishas correspond to metaphors for features or constellations of features of the human psyche. As such, they may be helpful in navigating the vast, only partly charted space that is the human mind/body/being.

    In less well optimized social structures, those “beings” represent monsters or madonnas, sticks and carrots to keep a population tractable and exploitable.

    In the least interesting case (to me) any hagiography amounts to busy work.

    Thank you, Rodriguez!

    regards,
    -Sanderson

  6. CJO says

    The ressurected god Osiris parrellels the myth of the adult Jesus,

    Just not particularly closely.

    while his son Horus conceived by the self inseminated of Isis, who a reed to replace Osiris’s penis, is the baby Jesus.

    Or Harpocrates, or the newborn sun at dawn each day, or the king of Egypt, or any number of things. Syncretic traditions like this obviously form the context of the religious world in which Christianity appeared, and divine “trinities” are common the world over, but you’re overstating the case for direct dependence.

    Isis is of course the equivalent of the virgin Mary. Both declared Queen of Heaven. The Isiac religion competed directly with Xtianity in the Hellenic-Roman world.

    It’s important to understand that, prior to exclusivist monotheistic religions, of which Christianity is one, religions didn’t compete in the way you mean. In fact, from the perspective of our world, dominated as it is by exclusivist monotheistic faiths, the variegated pagan traditions didn’t represent separate religions at all. If one chose to take part in Isis worship, one was in no way obligated to eschew taking part in any other cult activities directed at other gods. Isis and other exotic eastern deities were brought to Rome as conquered gods. Christianity, though, really did compete, and with the whole conglomerated pagan tradition, because a central tenet was that one could not be a Christian and still participate in pagan rituals and ceremonies. There was a high social cost for this nonparticipation which simply didn’t adhere if one chose to be a devotee of the mysteries of Artemis or Asclepius or Isis. Rather, you just added those to your portfolio.

    If Anthony and Cleopatra (self declared Isis incarnate) had won the battle of Actium then it rather than Xtianity would be the dominat religion in the western world

    There’s absolutely no way to say any such thing with this kind of assurance. It seems likely to me that some form of monotheism would have emerged from late antiquity had Christianity not come to dominate, because the trend of assimilating diverse gods from various traditions under one, transcendent “philosopher’s god” was already strong. But to claim to know the form that this development would have taken on such a counterfactual is risible.

  7. billgunn says

    @6 CJO

    You clearly missed what I was saying when you mention Harpocrates the Hellenized version of Horus who I compare to the “baby Jesus” as opposed to Osiris’s equivalence to the adult Jesus. Osiris was murdered by his brother Set and resurrected by his sister/wife Isis and then returned to the Egyptian Heaven/Underworld “Tuat”, after Isis had herself inseminated by him. He was a resurrected god in Egypt and as I pointed out Egypt was the location of the first organized Christian Church – the Coptic Church. The influence of the myth of Osiris/Isis/Horus trinity on its formation was considerable.

    That Christianity and the religion of Isis competed during the Roman era, is I due argue that they both offered their adherents a path an eternal afterlife if they followed the practices of their religion. The religion of Isis was strong amongst the rising mercantile class whose influence the patrician aristocracy feared.

    One the other hand Cleopatra used the religion to promote a political Hellenic-Egyptian influence with her aim being a new combined dynastic empire where her son Caesarion with Julius Caesar would become Pharoah/Emperor.

    Finally I apologise for my hubris in the definite assertion that if Anthony and Cleopatra had won the battle of Actium the religion of Isis would have become the dominant religion in the western world. I think it isvery likely that it is a possible outcome and any possible outcome is, in my view, a counterfactual that really exists orthogonally in Hilbert space. But I guess this isn’t the space to discuss the interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.