Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Guest Blogger of the Month- Randy McCauley "My Story"

In this edition of "Guest Blogger of the Month" I am extremely pleased to bring to you the story of the first real atheist that I ever had the opportunity to have a conversation about skepticism and religion. We became friends on my first overseas deployment to Kosovo in 1999. Up until then I had no real idea how to classify myself with regards to religion or what real critical thinking was all about. It was during our conversations with Randy that I was forced to think about the question "why" and developed the need for supporting evidence for all of my beliefs (not just religious). It was also during these conversations with Randy that I graduated from thinking that was centered around "what makes sense" to actual skeptical thinking in which logic and evidence play a critical role. "What makes sense" reasoning has now been left behind with all the other trappings of childhood thinking for me. 

Thank you Randy.

So this post may be a selfish one for me, but I hope that you share in my excitement.

"My Story"

"My name is Randy McCauley.  I am a Sergeant in the Army and have been a professional soldier for 25 years now.  I am a family man and a devout atheist.  This is not even close to how I had originally planned for things to end up but, thankfully, the best laid plans of mice and men... 

            I was born and raised in a small town.  It was in this small town that I learned about right and wrong, god and the devil and the powers of good and evil.  As a child I don't recall ever being taught to fear or hate other religions but I also have no memory of other religions being discussed.  I don't remember ever questioning aloud the obvious (even then) contradiction between our gentle, loving god to whom we were taught to pray every night, and the reverence that was often heaped upon "god-fearing Christians".  

That seemed like a big one to me.  

Fear?  Really? 

I think that I understood, the way only a child can, that the Old Testament god was fire and brimstone and that the New Testament god was love and forgiveness.  I knew it was still the same "one god" but, hey, I was just a kid and had better things to do with my time than to think about these things.  As far as that goes, if I were to be honest, Batman had more relevance in my life at that point than God did. Sure I went to Sunday School every week and said my prayers every night but the songs and prayers were things that I learned by rote and did because they were part of my routine.  If Mom didn't wake me up I wouldn't have been that worked up about missing church but there was no fucking way was I missing Batman!

             My parents rarely went to church with us and there was a volunteer who would pick up all the neighborhood kids for Sunday School then drop us off again afterward. So my parents (and plenty of other parents too) barely had to get moving in the morning, other than to get us ready for pick up and that was Mom's job. All things considered, going every week was a lot of fun.  It was the Salvation Army for Christ's sake.  There were no nuns to hits us and, as far as I know, no one ever got raped.  (Plus the stories were pretty exciting.) There was always plenty of slaying and slewing and even a good ol' smiting now and then. Those two towns where people had poopy sex and wanted to rape angels got nuked and Lot's disobedient wife got turned into a salt-lick.  Ahh, good times...good times, and we'd be home just in time for lunch and to spend the rest of the day playing war or cowboys in the field behind our house.

             My Father was fairly strict and we had plenty of normal social and familial rules but nothing so crazy that I have to tell my therapist. Mostly they were about how to get along and not get on our parent's nerves.  We said grace before meals when Mom made us but the rules (for us kids) that we saw as religious were things like not swearing (Mom and Dad got to swear), not smoking and drinking (except for Mom and Dad) and no "unclean thoughts or deeds" (?!?) which made absolutely no sense to me until I was a bit older. 

I've more than made up for it since those crazy time... (I love you Mila!)

So, all in all, not terribly hard but all kids misbehave.  Fortunately, this was covered too.  Getting forgiven was easier with God than it was with Mom and Dad.  You had to promise both that you wouldn't do it again but God couldn't look at you all disappointed when you inevitably fucked up and did do it again!  Of course even our loving, gentle and forgiving God was jealous so if you didn't pray, go to Sunday School and think only clean thoughts you knew that he would cast you down into the fiery pits of hell to roast and torment for all of eternity, but it would be for your own good. Kinda like going to bed without dinner because you said shit at the table...


All in all, it seemed to me like the easiest few rules that I had ever heard and I figured that I was a shoe-in for Life Eternal!  After all, I hardly ever swore where people could hear me, I almost always went to Sunday School and, since I was only a kid, what the fuck sort of dirty thoughts could I have? 

Other than her of course!

            A tremendous fear of sin, guilt over any form of sexual desire, feelings of inadequacy over the state of my soul and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and defeat with regards to 'big S' (salvation) are the gifts that I received from religion. 

Yea, thanks religion.

On the other hand I got my strong work ethic and need for independence from my parents.  In their imperfect ways my mother taught me about charity and my father gave me a love for the outdoors and, in a mid-20th century way, a respect for nature.  In normal life religion as a subject never really came up, but it was always there as the elephant in the room. And I knew that we were the protestants and that "those" people were the Catholics.  Nobody really used the word "Christian" back then because we were all Christians.  I remember trying to sort out which of my friends were the "normal" protestants like us and which were the "nutty" ones who tried to be Catholic by taking communion and saying confessions.  For some reason it really seemed to matter.  For us their crucifix was a symbol of suffering whereas our bare cross was a symbol of salvation.  

Does that make any sense at all? Even as a kid I was pre-programmed to judge such things.

            Around the time I was ten it started becoming apparent that the world was a far more complicated place than I had thought and I began exercising a little something I later learned to call critical thinking. Basically, I decided, it goes like this: 

If it sounds like bullshit, you need to start asking questions because in the end there's a pretty good chance that it really is bullshit and you really need to know.  Otherwise you could end up dedicating large amounts of time, energy and your life to bullshit.  I started off by pointing out to my Sunday School teacher that if Adam and Eve were the first and only people on earth, then it follows that the world was populated through incest, but that's a sin, isn't it?  That was my first note sent home. 

My memory is hazy but I am pretty sure this is what it said.....

            Later, I learned that slay and slew meant kill and killed and that the Israelites killed non-believers by the thousands in the name of God.  Men, women, children and even animals were put to the sword or burned.  Nowadays we all know that even if god speaks to you directly and tells you to kill it's murder.  Things like that are only okay if he speaks to you through your government.  I'm not making this up.  This is the result of many conversations I had as a kid with adults and pastors.  I was seriously worried about soldiers and police officers but I was assured that the commandment should be correctly read as "Thou Shalt Not Murder" which made sense to me and filled me with relief. Unfortunately, I wasn't stupid and I again asked the question that seemed most obvious which was "What if you go to war with another Christian nation like Germany or Italy?".  That was a phone call and a visit. As it turns out it only counts what your government is (Nazi, Facist, Pinko) and not what the people you are killing believe in.  Much later in life I learned that it also seems to go a long way with god that we are the Western democracies and mostly white. Who knew?  As I was just a kid, this again, gave me a feeling of relief.  I could still stand proudly on 11 November and offer a prayer to god everlasting that the souls of our brave departed soldiers be granted peace. As the years passed I was even magnanimous enough to attempt an ecumenical prayer.

             I remember as a teen listening to and watching the troubles in the Middle-East on the CBC and, on my own, began fearing words like Jihad, Mohammad and Allah.  The people who used these words were against us and our entire way of life.  They were as bad or even worse than the godless communists but, thankfully, were far less of a threat to us in the West because they lived in huts and didn't even seem to have proper uniforms let alone ICBM's.  In fact, the Muslim nations didn't even really figure into it for my crowd (as we knew from the book of Revelations that, although the Apocalypse was going to start in the deserts of the Middle East, it would be fought between the godless USSR and the god-fearing christian states of the west (re: NATO)).  What could be more obvious than that to a child of the Cold War 70's and 80's?  This attitude grew and became a personal virtue for my friends and I as we changed gradually from boys to young men and it began to even make a lot of sense and even seem kinda likely when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.  I think that of all my friends I was the last to reject this as a philosophy but not until my late teens.

            For years I coasted on a vague knowledge of what Christianity was and what it was to be a Christian.  As I said, everyone I knew was a christian of one sort or another and most of my friends even went to church so, at fourteen when I was away at Summer Cadet Camp and we saw some guys try to get out of two-hour church parade by claiming to be atheists, we were quite rightly amused when they were told to decide if they were roman catholic atheists or protestant atheists.  

Not sure where, but Catholic Atheist is in there somewhere...

The Chaplin's were CF Officers so the connection between religion and patriotism was easily strengthened within us.  Every Sunday had a big hint of Remembrance Day to it and we were always in uniform.

            Much later in life, when I was really no more mature, I joined the Army and was exposed to many different types of people with just as many different views and I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to them and either help them evolve their views or have mine challenged or changed.  Deploying to foreign lands and meeting various peoples with religious ideas that they were actually willing to kill and die for impressed the hell out of me...at first.  Being the focus of such dedication tends to wear thin pretty fucking fast in my experience.  I had read a lot and tried to educate myself on religion and spiritualism but when faced over and over again with the pain and destruction that people, and I mean mostly men, were capable of inflicting in the name of god I could not, finally, learn to make sense of it.

             I began to wonder, and wonder in a very serious way, why god had had such a change of heart from the old to the new testament and was now more than content to let us kill each other on a scale never before seen?  I certainly wanted to know  why we could be so dead-set against Sunday shopping, yet never question why god would favour a sports team with a big win, but yet still let a childhood friend of mine be burned to death along with his sister by their own Dad?  What kinda of a deity would look at his day's work and not go "What the fuck was I thinking?" 

This guy, that's who!

Local children as well as little African boys and girls were being starved and defenseless men, women and kids around the world had to suffer beatings, humiliation and execution.  At times these things would be happening only a short distance from the front gate of our well defended and well stocked camps and yet the troops with God on their side were forced to sit idle.  Some were even forced to watch and record the atrocities.  I know that many suffered horrific emotional damage from these experiences but I also know that many were only concerned with getting the job done and getting their extra pay and a medal. 

            We are told from an early age that god answers all prayers.  We are also told that sometimes the answer is "No".  It was while witnessing man's inhumanity to man, woman, child and beast that I became utterly convinced that either the almighty's decision making paradigm was really out of wack or that he was just a giant cunt.  

Either way there was some explaining that had to be done. 

In the meantime I was confronted by such childish platitudes as "He works in mysterious ways" and "He will never give you a burden that you cannot bear" and "God's plan is unknowable".  Perhaps having faith in god and an afterlife would help those watching on TV, but looking at a small child's charred corpse and trying not to choke on the ham-stench, I couldn't help but think about how heavy a burden that must have been for her to bear. Today when I hear these same platitude used to explain things I am disgusted and ashamed.  
            My wars are over and I am home for good now.  I lost my faith in a real and personal god a long time ago and have been struggling with what I actually am and how to fit this into who I am ever since but suddenly (or over time, who bloody knows how these things really happen?) I realized that this was me.  There was no point in holding god to account and demanding some sort of reconciliation.  God was not going to answer for these, his crimes, against humanity or for the evil in the world. 

There never has been evil in the world. 

There is no supernatural force that drives some people to rape, murder or genocide just like there is nothing keeping me from committing these acts myself, except that I don't want to.  I don't find these things helpful in creating a society that is worth living in and that I would want my children to live in.  My wife and kids are not good people because they are determined to get into heaven or in order to avoid some sort of punishment, but because they have genuine empathy for the human experience. They know not to cause pain and to promote peacefulness for the sake of peacefulness alone.  There is no force of evil and there is no force of goodness. There is just you and I and the decisions that we make every day to determine how we will live.  

More importantly, there is no god.   

            These days when I am at the cenotaph on the 11th day of the 11th month, (and I am there.  Every fucking year!) I don't stand proudly and pray for the many thousands of the fallen.  I stand with my wife in front, holding her waist to keep from flinching when the cannons sound and I weep silently for the countless lives ended permanently and promise myself to remember those I knew.  I don't believe in an afterlife and I don't believe that we will ever see them again.  They are not in a better place.  They are gone and we allowed them to go.  We will remember them and that will have to be enough but we must not let this continue.  The enemy is not "them".  It is any of us that cling to bronze-age mythology or any faith-based doctrine which keeps individuals from making clear headed, intelligent decisions in the here and the now.

            Let it be."

Great post Randy. 

And well made point. Don't let dogma lead you to decisions. You don't need a book to tell you the difference between right and wrong. If you don't know that on your own, then there is a problem. You have a lot of tools with which to make those decisions. 

Empathy.  Experience.  Love.  

Remember, the enemy is not "them". It's your responsibility to ensure that the enemy is not "me".

Thanks again Randy.

and as he taught me to say.....