I have been wanting to talk about this in a long time. It’s something I feel really strongly about but that has always been extremely controversial so I sometimes try not to bring it up.
I grew up in a religious country, although my family has never been very religious -at least my parents weren’t-, and I’ve had a long and complex relationship with faith. I was baptized right after I was born, as most Italians are, and I spent my childhood being a firm believer –mostly because of my grandmother’s teachings and encouragement-. To my father, who is an atheist, I used to say that my religiousness was due to the fact that we should all believe in something, and I truly believed in God, hell, heaven and all those fairytales.
Growing up I started seeing things that I didn’t like. I especially recall one incident where I found leaflets against in vitro insemination at my church. I was really young at the time, 12 or 13 years old, but I remember feeling really disappointed because even when I was a believer I never once thought that the church should have a say in matters that are clearly secular. That was the day I realized that church probably wasn’t my thing.
So I started calling myself “agnostic” –even though what I thought an agnostic was wasn’t actually correct. I thought that I didn’t need to go to church and listen to priests to be a good Christian. This, by the way, is probably the most common attitude among Italians, everyone is “spiritual” or whatever, which only means that we have been brainwashed since our birth and are now too scared of hell or being alone in the universe to call ourselves atheists.
During this phase of my life I felt slightly hypocritical, because how could I believe in God and yet not agree with most of what the church, his representative on earth, had to say? These were also the years when I was starting to realize that homosexuality was a very real possibility in my future, so seeing all that “real family” propaganda would only drive me further and further away.
I can’t say exactly when I started identifying as an atheist, but it must have been at the beginning of my college years. What really scares me is that it hadn’t taken me that long to realize that I didn’t believe in this superior entity that looks down on us and judges everything we do, like an adult-version Santa Claus, I was just too worried about my immortal soul to admit it. There was this voice, in the back of my head –probably my grandmother’s- that kept saying that as long as I didn’t explicitly deny God’s existence I wouldn’t have gone to hell. Can you believe it? Believing is such a natural consequence of being born in this country that going against all that felt really strange and wrong. I’m talking about a country that still has crucifixes in every school classroom. I mean, how can we not believe “just in case it’s actually true”?
Even after eventually admitting being an atheist it took me a while to see that religion isn’t harmless. You could say that I felt smug, thinking that believers were just dumb and a little childish, but that religion also helps many people, so why should we bother. They believe, I don’t, let’s all coexist and get over it. But that’s not the way it works.
That’s not the way it works because religion does more harm than it does good. Because as long as we have Christians running this country we’ll never see marriage equality. Because people are way too confortable hiding behind God to justify their hateful and homophobic behaviors. We should all grow up and stop believing in God only because it’s comforting, only because it’s easier, only because our parents told us to.
Let’s think with our own heads.