I just saw The Genius of Charles Darwin on TV. It was so beatiful it almost made me cry. That’s something that happens to me when I see the flame of independent thinking defeating superstition. The following story may explain why.
I became an atheist when I was 13. Been brought up in a Catholic family and educated in a Catholic school, it was hard to come out of the closet. I was submitted, as you may imagine, to great pressure from everywhere, except from my peers, who looked at me with curiosity, as you would an exotic animal, half expecting me to be struck down by lightning any minute.
The main pressure came from the school principal, who in the end, told me to keep a low profile in return for not being expelled. A more difficult challenge came from a priest. This priest had sexually abused me repeatedly when I was a child, until I was old enough to realise what was going on. I think that in one of the ‘sessions’ the look in my eyes alerted him that it was game over (I have to assume that he then selected another child). I think this priest felt guilty that he might have been responsible for my sudden loss of faith and my certain condemnation (I don’t think he had any remorse for having abused me, though).
My loss of faith had had nothing to do with my history of abuse, however. It was purely intellectual. I suddenly realised, for the first time in my life, three things. First, that they were many religions in the world and that they all claimed to be the real one. Second, that actually believing in God was an option, and that science could offer a more convincing explanation. Third, that most of the Bible was so childish and contradictory with the little science I knew as to be ridiculous.
Well, this priest gave me a book, entitled “When You Are Losing Your Faith”. It was mainly a collection of proofs of the existence of God by different philosophers. There was only one that really made me falter. It was the one about comparing a clock with the astonishing complexities of living creatures. They had to be designed, like the clock. This thought disturbed me. I just could not explain to myself the existence of so much wonderful complexity without a purpose or a designer. As you may imagine, my science studies in the Catholic school did not put much emphasis on Natural Selection. I did not go back straight to confess and take communion, though. I remained an atheist, but I was tormented with doubt. Sometime later, I came across the Wonderful Idea in a book. I immediately grasped it. That was the piece of the puzzle that was missing. But of course! All my doubts vanished and I was finally at peace.
It had been a hard journey for such a young boy. I had had to resist many pressures and I had absolutely nobody to support me. So when, sometime later, when I was still a teenager, I saw Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, I cried at the end of every chapter. Never again, I said, will I believe in anything just because someone in authority tells me so. I was also furious against an education that never made any distinction between religion and fact. I felt much more abused because of this than I ever felt because of that lusty priest.
So, I think that’s why I cried yesterday when I saw that wonderful film. Not because it taught me much (I had already read The Selfish Gene twice), but because I felt such a deep connection with what I think it is its main message: ‘Think for yourself!’