Amen, my brothers. I love this thread. My massive reply is really just for Conedude and Pilz. You're the only two I think will read this whole thing.
Coney, I get exactly where you are coming from. I mean exactly. I grew up attending a Church of England primary school. When you learn your religion side by side with real things of course you accept it all, just like you said. And I started to disregard it about the same age as you. And I got really, really angry.
The fact that I had to deprogram myself infuriated me. It is outrageous to me that I was brainwashed with this crap while learning my times tables and alphabet. I blamed the system at the time. Later I realized my parents deserved blame too. They are not religious people and in fact it's hard to even get them to talk about religion. But I guess they just didn't think it was a big deal if I went to a religious school. And it might have been exceptionally difficult to find a non-religious one close enough for me to attend. But still.
My parents let me be brainwashed. I have brought this up with my mum since then. Quite recently actually, because I'm concerned my 4 year old niece and nephew will have the same problem. My mum's opinion apparently is that it's ok for them to go to a C of E school because they can make up their own minds when they're older, just like I did. I explained that it was incredibly hard for me and has repercussions that last to this day. I tried to explain the it's extremely difficult to unlearn something you learned as a child. I even admitted that I used to beat myself when I thought I had been bad because I wanted to show God I was sorry. How fucked up is that? An eight year old self-flagellant. That's what my state education gave me.
So anyway, I went through a really angry period. And I still get pretty heated about religion. I can pretend to be respectful of the insane crap people believe, but in reality I cannot respect it at all. If they just kept it to themselves it would be better. But no, almost everybody thinks it's fine to talk about their religion. Talk about it like it's real and they can't understand anyone who doesn't see the simple truth of it. If I bother to tell them I'm a non-believer they often seem offended. Let me really make this point stick. Merely telling them I do not believe in any deity seems offensive to them. Some won't even believe me. I worked with a guy who seriously thought I was lying, either to him or myself. He really believed that deep down everyone believes in his Christian God. He also believes that deep down all faggots know they are going to hell. Seriously.
I hate being surrounded by religion. I live in Topeka, Kansas. Home of Fred Phelps. I see those people standing by the side of the road with their hateful signs all the time. But you know what? They don't annoy me much more than the dozens of churches I drive past every day. I hate all of it. I hate "in God we trust" and I hate "one nation under God". I hate going to funerals and hearing how they're in a better place now. I hate people telling me I'll see my loved ones again one day in Heaven. I hate all of it. I can't just not think about it because it's everywhere I look. I can't escape it. And it makes me angrier.
Then there's just the fact that I don't understand how any intelligent human being can believe the insane bullshit present in all religions. Being told to "just have faith" is like being told to "just be irrational and crazy". Belief without proof is stupid. People know this. Except when it comes to religion. I find that I cannot really trust any religious people because I know they're crazy. I know they make poor decisions. I know they will act irrationally.
I don't identify myself as an atheist though. Too much seems to go along with it. Like, a smug arrogance that atheists know all the answers. I don't know all the answers and neither do you. That's the point. None of us really know anything. I can say that there is no evidence of the existence of deities, and I can say that most likely when I die I simply cease to be. But I don't like anyone to act like something is completely certain when it's not. We don't know where we came from. We don't know how the universe came into existence. Atheists will say "I don't know how the universe came to be but I know it wasn't done by God". This bothers me. It could have been done by some kind of intelligent entity. It could have. We are not in a position to rule it out. We can disprove any particular religion because they are kind enough to give us so many crazy details that are easy to debunk. But we cannot disprove the possibility that some kind of intelligent entity more powerful than ourselves might exist or have once existed. Do I personally believe in one? No. There's no evidence. Do I believe it's impossible? No, there's no evidence.
I expect that we will eventually find alien life somewhere in the universe. Like Stephen Hawking, I believe the universe is most likely teeming with life. Once we find even a microbe it will then be entirely rational to speculate that advanced lifeforms are out there. As advanced as us, or more so. And wildly different to us. With technologies that seem magical. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C Clarke said that and I agree wholeheartedly. So, once we find even the tiniest speck of alien life the possibility of "Gods" gains much more credibility. Oh, it takes some redefining of the concept of course. But I believe it is perfectly rational to say Gods may exist but they are actually aliens. Do I believe this is true? Do I have faith? Of course not. I merely believe it's entirely possible, perhaps even likely.
So I basically identify myself as an agnostic. I doubt everything and claim to be certain of nothing. I despise religion because they claim to be certain of everything when they have no more genuine evidence than I do. And some atheists can be almost as annoying at times. I just can't stand it when people claim to know the answers to unknowable problems. But of course atheists aren't responsible for most of the death and cruelty inflicted through human history and don't try to impede scientific discovery. There are so many practical reasons to hate religion yet I find myself more and more stuck on the intellectual reasons as I grow older. But whichever reason I am currently thinking about, I know that my hatred of religion is justified. I never feel bad about it anymore. I don't need to hear them out or respect their opinions when I know they are completely irrational and entirely without logic.
Sorry for the long post. But not really. This is one of only two subjects that I'm deeply passionate about. I could easily write a whole book about it so be glad I've only posted a sample.
I'm going to finish with a question. As much as I hate religion, I still wonder if it might be necessary. I'd like to say it isn't, obviously. But it does give people hope and gets them through the worst shit life has to offer. I find many things more difficult than most people seem to. Like dealing with death. I find it hard not to get depressed when the only certainties I see in life are suffering and death. And I can't even console myself in something better coming after. This has been and still is a big problem for me. I find it hard to motivate myself for anything or care about anything when everything seems so temporary and inconsequential. I look up at the stars and can't really make myself feel that anything matters. I envy faith. I understand why people seem to crave it, perhaps even need it. Now, my question is, do I just feel this way because I was indoctrinated at a young age? I was given the promise of immortality and then lost it. If religion was eradicated would millions of people feel suicidally depressed at the lack of meaning in the universe? Would it help if they never thought there was any to begin with?
I've had many good conversations with some very intelligent Christians. I still find it hard to reconcile that they can be highly intelligent and religious, but I can't deny it is possible to be both. I've told them to imagine for a moment that everything they believe is simply wrong. There is nothing more going on than being born, living until you're old (if you're "lucky") and your body starts falling apart and everyone you love is dead or dying, and then you die. Nothing more. I've had people tell me they could not live like that and don't understand how I can. As if believing in something crazy is simply a choice I could make and then be happy like them. But I can't do that, and I'll admit that without anything greater than myself to believe in I'm pretty damn miserable. That's the only reason I don't actively try to fuck with anyone's faith. So yeah, I can't decide if religion is necessary or not. I wouldn't want everyone to feel like I do. But maybe they wouldn't. Maybe it's just me.
“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves.” – Bill Hicks