Why I am an atheist – Ben Pitawanakwat

I’m a Native North American, Ojibwe, grew up in Canada. 34 years old now. Family is Catholic, and went to Catholic school for my education.

Though the schools were there to continue indoctrination, I do have to admit the teachers were quality teachers who genuinely cared about the well-being of the students. They practiced their craft well; helping those who struggled and offered challenge to those who excelled. They put up with us teenagers doing teenaged things like getting drunk, smoking, and skipping school, and taught us when we were ready to learn. So I learned.

It was a good education.

The religion didn’t sit well with me. I felt like something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Later on in life, the distance grew between me and religion, but the matter wasn’t settled until some time later.

I was always interested in the sciences; stars ‘n’ shit were *neat*. Geography was cool. I did and still do love reading about such things. And I still bought into the Catholic explanation, but couldn’t shake the feeling something didn’t add up. It wasn’t until I got into a heated debate with my boss over the issue of gay marriage that the whole religion vs. science thing had to be settled.

The cosmological explanation for the formation of the universe, the age of the planet, all of that could be explained as the universe unfolding as per God’s will. It was something called Occam’s Razor that cut away the anchor, so to speak. “One must not complicate terms unnecessarily.” The idea that God exists and even cares whether or not two dudes or two gals get married seem ridiculous. What kind of god is that? And if his existence is not necessary for the universe, then does he even exist?

That’s when I got scared. It seems foolish, looking back now, but it was fear. My whole family was Catholic; everybody I knew was religious in some form or another. As you know, religion gives people morals and ethics. (We might not like it, but it is). Am I an immoral person for doubting god? Am I bad? Am I evil? The biggest fear was, can I even be a good person without god and religion?

Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon secular humanism. I was, odd to describe the feeling, at home, and free. THIS is the type of person I want to be. A system of morals can be found through reason, and should my reasoning be wrong, or a better way shown, then I can change it, and be an even better person.

The tl;dr version? Knowing what we know about the universe and our planet, and with morals that can be discerned reasonably, religion just doesn’t make any damn sense. I’m living a freer and better life as an atheist.

Ben Pitawanakwat
Canada

Comments

  1. cry4turtles says

    Excellent story Ben. My ex-husband was Seneca. As our relationship grew and we moved to the Rez, we abandoned xianity together, but we gravitated towards woo, Native American style. While I still love exploring culture and customs of American Indians, I can look at with clear, athiest, objective eyes now. Ahhh, to see clearly!

  2. says

    stars ‘n’ shit were *neat*.

    Damn straight.

    As you know, religion gives people morals and ethics. (We might not like it, but it is).

    While it’s very important that you arrived at your morality rationally, I don’t think you can claim that religion gives anyone a set of morals/ethics. Not currently, anyway.

    Think about it this way: How many Catholic women use birth control? How many Christians give up all of their worldly possessions and forsake their families to follow Jesus Christ? How many Jewish people consider a menstruating woman “unclean”?

    Those are the morals that religion gives us and many (although not all) people take their morality from society at large. Sure, religion can influence that to some extent, but I think to say that religion and morality are related is

  3. Lars says

    Reading the paragraph in context, I get the impression that this was his attitude before he realized morality is not rooted in religion, and that this particular paragraph is simply badly written.

  4. says

    Really, Lars? Huh. I took the “we may not like it…” bit to imply that we should admit the religious people take their morality from religious teachings.

    (And let’s face it, most of the religious are as lazy as anyone else– by and large, they’re going to do whatever’s easiest to get along with their neighbors.)

  5. Dhorvath, OM says

    I think the author mistakes the fact that many are first introduced to explicit moral thinking through religious teachings for them learning their morals via religion. Every day of our early lives we are learning morals from watching and interacting with the people we know, religion is seldom the sole language of that interaction.

  6. Dick the Damned says

    I agree with Ben, that, “As you know, religion gives people morals and ethics. (We might not like it, but it is).”

    I was recently reading the book of Common Prayer & Before the Altar, & there is some (Anglican) moral guidance therein. We can take the piss regarding the Bible Bogey, as described in the old testament, having the morals of the psychopathic warlords who ruled the Bronze Age tribes. But there are other sources of guidance, as i’ve just described.

    However, I do think we’d be better off teaching philosophy & ethics, rather than religion, in schools.

    Nice essay, Ben. Do you get any chance to positively influence the folks back home?

  7. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    As you know, religion gives people morals and ethics. (We might not like it, but it is)

    good ones?

  8. pwdm says

    “A system of morals can be found through reason, and should my reasoning be wrong, or a better way shown, then I can change it, and be an even better person.”

    Well said. Bravo.

  9. unclefrogy says

    as someone who often says things clumsily I also understood Ben to say that he learned as do many his early moral thinking partly through “church teaching”. especially when describing the catholic I think it is important to remember that they make a big distinction of “church teaching” and everything else, when they speak with authority it is church teaching. So when I think about it there is a distinction being made between religion and the people who make up the church. The religion is the set of beliefs and practices that make up the religion with all of the contradictions and inconsistencies with demonstrable reality and “the church” which are the believers. I realize that the religion is “made up” dreams that fit some images the human mind likes and the church is the people who act on all of that in the real world there is a considerable over lap in them. This thinking of mine must have roots in my own early catholic education I must explore it some more.
    I have wondered about First Nations people who are atheists thanks for speaking out.

    uncle frogy

  10. geocatherder says

    I’m always glad to see writing from another Catholic-turned-atheist!

  11. Dick the Damned says

    My knowledge of First Nations’ culture is quite limited, so i (probably) learned a lot reading “Through Black Spruce” by Canadian writer Joseph Boyden. Religion didn’t seem to figure much, & pre-Christian beliefs had a role to play, as i recall.

    It’s a darned good story, very well told, so if anyone wants an intelligent & exciting if somewhat fanciful, read, (but heck, it’s a novel), i’d recommend it.

  12. says

    Thanks for sharing, Ben.

    By the way, your last paragraph shows as “The tl;dr version?”. In plain text, could you please repeat?

  13. cowalker says

    “A system of morals can be found through reason, and should my reasoning be wrong, or a better way shown, then I can change it, and be an even better person.”

    Such an important point. Thanks for writing about your experience.

  14. cowalker says

    Audley Darkheart (liar and scoundrel) at 25 May 2012 at 9:27 am

    “(And let’s face it, most of the religious are as lazy as anyone else– by and large, they’re going to do whatever’s easiest to get along with their neighbors.)”

    Which most morality is for anyway.

  15. Margaret says

    @thorgolucky

    “tl;dr” is the standard abbreviation for “too long; didn’t read”.

    @Ben

    …and should my reasoning be wrong, or a better way shown, then I can change it, and be an even better person.

    Yes, this. Being willing to learn and change is at the heart of the difference between us and the religious (and other dogmatic) people. Thanks for your story.

  16. John Morales says

    Ben is an example of how you can’t deceive an honest person.

    (I respect that)

  17. says

    Have to agree with the author on this one: Those nuns taught us well, because they bloody well had to. If they didn’t meet or exceed the public school criteria they’d have been out of business and unable to indoctrinate us. They taught us so well that, in fact, we lost the faith. A great education will do that to you.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!

  18. andyo says

    Are “morals” still morals when you’re just told what to think and not have a say in it? If so, then I think religion can give some good morals, but no good reasons. Of course, shitty morals as well.

  19. Aaron says

    Boozhoo from Northern Minnesota, Ben. I’m not Native, but I took two years of Ojibwe language in college. Migwetch!