As a preface: I was raised Catholic.
Twelve years Catholic school (not kindergarten, though!). I was a rare breed; upon moving across the country where “Catholic school” standards apparently changed a bit, I had to go through one year of CCD (essentially “Catholic night school” for kids) in addition to actual Catholic school.
If you’re a bit more aware of what I’m talking about: in the southern US, Catholics generally get confirmed around ninth grade; in the north, it’s generally eighth grade. I moved from the south to the north between the summer of my eighth and ninth grade years, so, boom: double Catholicism.
This is a common scenario for atheists/agnostics/non-religious. If you go through some form of “rigorous” religious upbringing and instruction, it seems you can go one of three ways: 1.) Atheist 2.) “Rigorously” religious 3.) You follow purely for tradition’s sake.
About number 3… I’ve found that certain religious groups lend more to the third than others (Jews, Orthodox, Catholics, and even Mormons). This “third group” may not particularly believe in their religion, but still “follow” or consider themselves “non-practicing” because it is so closely related to their culture. Granted, this is purely anecdotal.
Number 2… I’ve seen this, as well. Brought up rigorously Muslim; stay Muslim. Brought up rigorously Baptist; stay Baptist. Brought up rigorously Catholic. Stay Catholic (you get the picture). For the purposes of my topic, I say “rigorous” in that, there’s a form of education to it. Went to a “religious” school affiliated with said religion; didn’t go a day without some form of their religion being used above and beyond just “Okay Johnny, say your prayers tonight.”
Which leads to Number 1… Going through the scenarios as number 2 (ha, “number 2”), and questioning all of it. Going to religious school. Going through seminary. Being raised in families of extreme interpretation (fundamentalist, whether Protestant, Muslim, or any other faith).
For Number 1, these backgrounds seem common among atheists. I’ve met a few non-religious folk who were raised that way… something I hope happens in the next generation, as my peers begin POPULATING THE WORLD. Raising our kids to question, to think critically, and to accept people of different races, cultures, sexual orientation, etc.
In other words, we’ll raise our kids to be very moral, without using something that has no evidence to secure this, or scaring them into something with the vague idea they may be punished if they don’t follow it (and punished as in, going to Hell and forever being penetrated with a pitchfork).
Currently, that seems a far off dream full of sparkles and rainbows. For now, though admittance of atheism is rising, many people are still being raised in religious households.
With the establishment that being “raised” atheist is rare these days, the Number 1 group seems the most common way people become atheist. Being exposed to the same level of religious instruction or culture as the other two groups, but questioning it.
For many people in Number 1, it’s a different “light” that switches on. For some, realizing they are considered “sinful” or “haram” in the eyes of their religion for who they are generally flips that switch (LGBT, someone who masturbates, someone who has sex with their loved one even without being married, someone who is in love with someone from another race/religion, etc.). Others simply study the books of their faiths and realize how inconsistent they are, how brutal they are, etc.
For me, distinct things began to make me question the “loving” nature of the religion and its God: condoning rape in the Bible, a nun and religious teacher of my middle school days saying that eating disorders (you know, those MENTAL disorders) were a sin, and a religion teacher in high school saying that masturbation, homosexuality, and sex before marriage warranted going to hell.
A big trigger was when a young girl I knew died when I was young, and while she was in a coma in the hospital, I desperately begged God to save her. He didn’t, of course. Isn’t it nice that “He” keeps rapists and murderers unpunished though? God does have a bigger track record of killing people that insult bald men, killing people who indulged in sex (you know, a natural thing), and killing people who happened to follow other gods.
My turn? The overall growing knowledge that, not only was there no one “listening to prayers,” but that the dogma of my faith was, well, bigoted. Prejudiced. A deacon that even my religious family called “Mr. Fire and Brimstone” routinely decried Harry Potter, women in politics, and Jews. Of course that’s not typical, but… let’s be real; this is someone meant to “represent the voice of God.” I’m pretty sure most of you reading this know how those men represented God (see: molesting children).
So then the Catholic church chose a man who had explicitly moved priests accused of molestation around parishes instead of reprimanding them… to be their POPE!
So, I quickly went from “Catholic” to “recovering Catholic” to “agnostic” to “atheist.” The different between agnostic and atheist is for another post.
P.S. I learned in my “Scripture” and in my “Traditions” class that there were multiple books of the Bible not put into the Bible because the Church Councils wanted Jesus to “appear a certain way.” Jesus as “God” was not a facet of the Christian religion until almost 300 years after the religion was being practiced (and it was a narrow vote that passed in the Council of Nicaea making this concept dogma). The gospels were chosen and placed into the Bible to “reach certain audiences” (Luke for the Jews, Matthew for the gentiles, etc.).
In other words… the religion and the Bible were marketing schemes. This is why I sometimes joke that Catholic school is really just a screen for atheism… because once you learn it, how can you do anything else but question it?
In summary: People who go through religious instruction, inside or outside of the home, seem to fall into three categories: “Religion as culture,” “Religion as their whole lives,” and “No religion, please.”
I couldn’t make the sweeping observation of the percentages of these groups, but I can tell you, in the terms of my graduating class (roughly 105 people… yeah, small), probably a good half are atheist/agnostic, another half are “religious as culture.” I know of no one who has become “rigorously” religious, though I know of the 100 kids in the grade following me, a handful of kids became “born again” after their religious education (though the rest of the class seems to fit “half atheist/half culture.”)
This makes sense in terms of the study that atheists/agnostics were the most knowledgable about religion. The groups that were the next most knowledgable? Jews and Mormons (the groups I mentioned earlier as seeming to fall into the “Culture” or “Atheist” category quite a bit).
This list is a bit upsetting in that it doesn’t specifically cite Judeo-Christianity as being the religious affiliations it study, merely stating that people were asked “about their own religion”… but no polls on Islam? A religion that is the same monotheistic god and religion? At lease the study was a start.
Regardless: one need only look at the first comment on the study, followed by many responses, to see so many people explicitly state, “I was raised in religious schooling. Now, I am atheist. I know a thing or two here.”