07 February 2012


I grew up with a Catholic extremist father, a failed Trappist monk, and a mother who didn't seem to believe in much of anything, except for the hypocrisy of going through the movements.

Both my parents firmly believed in the Biblical "Spoil the rod, spoil the child" adage, and they applied it with great enthusiasm and creativity. While Christopher Hitchens had to learn through voluntary waterboarding what it feels like to be drowning, I learned by having my head held under a running cold faucet or having it held submerged until I started to vomit.

My parents claimed this would teach me respect. It failed. Utterly. I never learned to respect my parents. I learned to fear them. From the outside, to the superficial onlooker, the resulting behaviour may well look the same, but the difference is of fundamental importance.

Some years before he died a vegetable in a long-term care facility, the result of Korsakoff's syndrome caused by alcoholism, my father "saw the light" and completely rejected the Catholic religion, calling it the most cruel and bloody religion in human history.

I was sent to Catholic schools, including a few years to a Jesuit school, with their common-enough brainwashing, and in combination with what happened at home, I acquired such important qualities as being able to feel profoundly guilty for things I didn't do, I learned that not knowing is better than knowing, and that authority is always right, while I am merely a piece of disposable vermin, only created to please God.

Fear, both at home and at school, was my constant companion. At home, it was fear of beatings, at school the constant bullying and ridiculing both by students and teachers, who had been explicitly instructed by my parents not to spare me for any reason. They called that "a good education".

While memory fades over time, and details don't always seem to fit, I think it fair to say that I have never believed in the Bible and its terrifying god. I remember asking questions I was not supposed to ask, mentioning contradictions to which the standard reply was that I was "too young" to understand, or not particularly creative variations thereof, namely that I was too stupid or unwilling to understand. Regardless what it was, the fault was obviously mine, not that of the Bible and its creators.

I read the stories. I loved most of Genesis. I revelled in Noah's ark. Most people do, except that my fascination was mostly centred on what I then thought to be the precise technical details of its construction. And then, of course, there were the ark of the covenant and Solomon's temple.

I imagined myself a high-priest in Solomon's temple, dancing around and drenching everything with blood, until I realised what a disgusting, stinking and unhygienic affair it would be.

Generally speaking, I rather liked the Bible, in much the same way as the brothers Grimm's fairy tales. However, I was also puzzled and disgusted by the rather grim tales of murder, rape, slavery and genocide, either executed by God or ordered by it.

Having been sent off to an art school in Wallonia, the Francophone part of my native Belgium, I was introduced by Jean Gamby -one of my art teachers- to the Pentecostal movement. I tagged along for a while, going to prayer sessions. I saw people talking in tongues and was eminently unimpressed.

After having visited the Bruges (Brugge, for the natives) chapter that gathered together with the Jesus People and learned about their creative interpretations of the Bible, totally different from the Catholic interpretations that I knew so well, all attempts to make Biblical fiction fit current knowledge and reality, I decided I'd had enough of all this silliness, and from then on no longer gave religion and the Bible much thought.

Later, I met Sister Gerda, a pious Catholic nun, progressive school principal and Mother Superior, who took me under her wings and had a tremendous influence on my life and personality. She believed in me, encouraged me and gave me both chances and warmth I had never known.

In many ways, she played the role my parents weren't able to. My gratitude can never be big enough for what she meant -and means- to me. It was also important for it did teach me the important lesson that not every Bible-believer was ready to commit pure evil in the service of the terrifying Yahweh.

But then I came to Toronto, Canada, and I saw the numberless churches of the countless Christian sects, and of competing religions. I started to realise how important Christianity is for the United States and how -starting with Ronald Reagan- it had slowly turned into a virtual theocracy in spite of being the first nation on earth that had separation between church and state written in its constitution.

I was puzzled by presidential candidates competing with each other on who was the most religious. I was taken aback by "reverends" who wanted to be allowed to take concealed guns into their churches. I was mystified by the unwillingness of American Christians to accept governmental support and healthcare for the poor, by the enthusiasm they show for the death penalty, their incessant attempts to stultify their children by forcing creationism on them instead of science...

... and my interest in religion increased as a result. I wrote a few articles, mainly for Digital Journal and my own blog Thamno, and I eventually decided it was time to start a blog on the subject, and here it is. I expect that some of these pages will be humourous, while others will be more serious, and some may contain so much cruelty that it is beyond the limits of good taste. 

This blog is about religion, mainly the Christian flavour, since that is what I know best, and about the Bible and religious groups that claim it as their holy book.

Most religious people are of the liberal type. They do not take the holy books very literally, nor do they commit evil deeds because of their beliefs. They live their lives, doing their best to advance, to have children, give them a good education and a good start in life. Their belief is that of the cherry picker: fishing out what they think is good, ignoring the rest.

There are also those who take the Bible literally, and they are responsible for evil deeds indeed. In the words of Steven Weinberg, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics:

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. (Steven Weinberg)

Just remember, I am a skeptic. Everything I write will be evidence-based. I will do my best not to make mistakes, but I am human, and will therefore almost certainly make them. Please do not hesitate to point them out in a comment. I will do my best to address it.

I hope you will enjoy this blog.


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