I've a question for a subset of Readers, more because I'm curious than anything else. The subset I'm addressing my question to are atheist/agnostic/otherwise non-believing Readers who once either were firm believers in the supernatural or who at least practiced a religion for a significant portion of their lives (say, more than a month or two). What was it that tipped you over the edge and made you move on from belief to your present world view?
I'll start. For me, it was the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation that put me over the edge. "That little piece of tasteless bread is not made out of human flesh," I said to myself, "The priest holds up this wafer of bread and tells us it turns in to meat during this ceremony. But it doesn't. Both before and after the ceremony, I can touch it, feel it, taste it, and it's not meat at any stage. The ceremony does nothing. The ceremony is empty." And that was it. If the central and most important part of the basic ceremony of the Roman Catholic religion was an empty ritual, then that meant everything the church did was an empty ritual -- or, at best, if it did something good in the world, it did so despite the misguided beliefs of the Church and not because of them.
But to fully answer the question, the Roman Catholic sacrament of reconciliation probably had a lot of weight on that scale, too. I did not want to enter a tiny closet and tell a priest -- a teacher and a man I knew personally -- about touching myself, having unclean thoughts about the girls in my classes, or saying dirty words, or while hanging out with my friends. I just didn't think it was any of his damn business and it was perfectly clear to me that while he was a nice man, he wasn't God -- and while those behaviors were taboo to discuss, they were also not things that seemed to carry any significant moral weight, and neither the Ten Commandments nor the Golden Rule spoke to (most) of them, so why were we even talking about them in the first place?
That got the ball rolling -- reaching an age where I was able to make my own decisions about morality, and then comparing the results of my moral compass to the teachings of the church. Having found the results different, I had to decide whether to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation or not, and I chose not to. But what put me over the edge and made me say, "This is a bunch of hokum," was transubstantiation.
So that's my story. What's yours?
The title of this post, of course, is a line from Amazing Grace. It's an explicitly religious song, but nevertheless a stunningly beautiful one. See, just because I'm not religious doesn't mean I don't appreciate or am unmoved by beauty -- even when that beauty comes in religious vestments. But I'm also a member of my generation, which means I have a strong sense of irony, and that's why I use the religious lyric in this fashion.