My Philosophical Journey
(Or, how I became the asshole I am today)

I was born into a Catholic family. My parents were incredible and I enjoyed an extremely happy childhood. It was common practice to go to mass every Sunday, every holy day of obligation, and sometimes just for the hell of it. My dad, in his later years, would even go to mass several mornings during the week. It was important to the family that we be Catholic and understand Catholicism. To that end, both my sister and I were enrolled in Catholic school. I went there for 13 straight years. Yes, kindergarten through high school. I had my first communion, I was Confirmed as a soldier of Christ and I was an alter boy. I graduated from St. Mary's High School in Storm Lake, Iowa in 1969.

While I basically enjoyed it there, I later began to realize that there were important things that I was not being exposed to. It seems there were secular concepts that were not taught as they did not align with the dogma of the Catholic faith. Even empirical  science concepts that might disagree with Catholic cannon were 'wrong'. I was never taught about evolution by natural selection, about the church's denile of the scientificly accepted Copernican heliocentric view of the solar system, or the fact that there were dozens of deities with the same origin story as the one we were taught was the one true diety. See, if there was anything that disagreed with, or posited that the dogma of your religion might not be accurate, or there were proven scientific concepts that exposed the Catholic dogma as bullshit, you were not made aware of them. And, if there was dogma that made no sense when realized from a rational point of view, it was simply explained away as a mystery of your faith. No questioning it, no search for the answer. Of course, in my grade school years I did not realize that I was not being exposed to these things because of the fact that I was in a religious school. I believed everything I was taught and I never thought about it or questioned it. This is how they want you. Come to religion class and leave your brain at the door. Because if you ever thought for yourself and looked outside the box they tried to keep you in, you may actually look at the body of Christian "knowledge" from an objective perspective. Then the gig is over and they will not only lose the money you would have given over the years, but you'll probably not make any new baby Catholics to brainwash in the future. Think you are not being brainwashed? Try to leave the church.

I later found out that the Catholic religion doesn't like people thinking outside the parameters of its belief system, and if you did, it was the devil that put those thoughts in your head. Even impure thoughts were a no-no. And as a growing red-blooded American boy, how was I to keep the thought police from finding out? And if you sin by thinking the wrong shit, how do you fix that? You go to confession, that's how. And you tell all of those terrible sins you committed while you were twelve years old to someone superior to you who you are already afraid of but who has a “direct connection to God”. Who would that be? A priest, of course. (By the way, women are not qualified to hear your sins and many other things that are only allowed by men in the Catholic religion. Since contraception is also not allowed, it would seem that women are mostly there to have babies and create more little Catholics to carry on the mission.)

Of course, you knew that a priest had this special connection with God because somehow he knew exactly how many “Our Fathers”, "Hail Marys", and “Glory Be's” God wanted you to say to get you out of this jam you put yourself into. I mean, God would have punished me if I had not prayed enough, right? So the priest must have talked to God and said something like, “Well, you heard this little asshole here in my confessional. How many Our Fathers, etc. does he need to say to not burn in hell forever?” How else would he have known? They were special.

They knew more about everything than any piece-of-shit lay person ever could because they had this special connection. We needed them and they were to us, in a sense, infallible and magical. After a priest blessed a communion host, it was the real body of Christ. It was not just to remind us of the body of Christ, it was his real fucking body! This process was called 'transubstantiation' and there was no way that I could do that, so the priest must have special powers given to him by God that I did not posses. Plus, my parents always treated priests as if they were special.

Later I'm sitting in class trying to figure out this bread-into-Christ's body thing. It still looked like the same host as before it was blessed so I must be missing something. Maybe it smelled different. Maybe if I touched it, it would feel different. But visually, it was the same goddamned thing. It just made no sense. How was it now different? But of course I still believed it. Because that is what I was taught to do. Believe. This was the body of fucking Christ and I was taught that it was to be treated with reverence and awe. In fact, during mass after the priest blessed his own host and ate it, he would hold the gold paten that it sat on up to his mouth and with his thumb, scrape off any crumbs that were left on it. Then he would lick his thumb! I don't think that it was because he was extra hungry. This flat piece of unleavened bread was special. It was the body of Christ. The well-respected, infallible priest said so. So you'd better fucking believe it, evidence or no evidence.

So, one Sunday morning while in junior high I am at mass with the family. I was not feeling all that well that day, but still, I took communion. As was usual after mass when the weather was nice, parishioners gathered around outside the church to talk about how holy they were now because they had prayed and been in the presence of a priest. This also made their golf game better.

So, I'm standing outside with my parents as they talked with some friends and I got sick. Yes, I bent over and puked. As one always had to fast before communion, the host material was all that came out. I have a mental picture of this little white pile of vomit laying there in a bare patch on the church lawn. Holy shit! I just vomited the body of Christ and there it is! My parents didn't immediately notice, but I sure as fuck was not going to go to hell for mistreating this pile of puke. So I told my dad and showed him what I did and said, “Dad, we need to get Father Yetmar (the priest that had just said mass) and tell him of this so that he can take care of it right away!” Dad seemed almost as harried as I was, so we went and got the priest. We showed him the pile Jesus puke and told him what had happened. I'm thinking, "you gotta bury this thing right now with gold, incense, and myrrh, right?"

There was a piece of black tar roofing laying not too far from the Jesus puck-pile and I remember Fr. Yetmar just kicking that along the ground so that it covered the Jesus-puke that was laying there. And then he said, “Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it later”. Then he turned and walked away to chat with someone else. You know what? I'll bet he never even moved it; never took care of it. And this may have been the first earth-shattering event concerning my believing everything I was told by the priests and nuns that in my mind so towered above me in God's eyes and the eyes of everyone who believed. So he didn't practice what he preached. But wasn't Catholicism perfect? And weren't the priests, as representatives of God, also perfect in ways of the church? Maybe I took everything too literally, I trusted my parents and believed what I as told. But an event like this was, to me, life-changing. I had been lied to in the name of religion.

So, in the following days I had questions. Can I talk to someone about this? Ask a question? The priest had just committed a sin from what I had been taught. Jesus Christ, he had desecrated the body of Jesus Christ! Was it a mortal sin or a venial sin? Do priests go to confession? Who to? Does a priest have to go to a Monsignor? A Monsignor to a Bishop? A Bishop to a Cardinal? A Cardinal to the Pope? The Pope to... oh shit, I forgot. The Pope is infallible.

Was I wrong for having questions or maybe, heaven forbid, doubts about the truthfulness of what the priests and nuns (and my parents) were saying?!!! If God knows what I'm thinking then I better try to put it out of my mind so He doesn't see it. Damn! But He would know if I did that too. OK, I'm fucked. I'm a sinner. A common criminal. That's it. I'm going to hell. None of this makes sense but I have to believe it. This was the way of the universe. It's what everybody did unless they wanted to go to hell. Yikes! Burn forever and ever? That must hurt. And it never ends. I cannot even comprehend the concept of forever. I was a mere piece-of-shit sinner, not a priest. Yes, I took all of this in and believed what I was told absolutely. Not just stories, but truth! It was God. And you don't fuck with God.

OK. Now I'm thinking that I just have to believe because it's all the truth. It doesn’t make sense but that must be my fault. I mean, everybody I know can't be wrong, can they? Protestants are going to hell (as I was told by a nun) but they still believe in same God. Their version of the same God has different rules than ours, but it's still God. I tried to drop those sacrilegious thoughts as best I could.

The next life-changing event took place in my sophomore year of high school. Fr. Remmes was teaching “social studies” class. That day we talked about how God is omnipotent and omniscient. Yes, that son-of-a-bitch God-dude knows everything past, present, and future. Nothin' gets by Him. Oh and by the way, he's infallible too! He cannot make a mistake. He created the whole shebang and knows everything that has ever happened and everything that will ever happen. He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! Oops! That's Santa Claus. Oh well. Same concept. (Except that in December you can actually see a real-live Santa Claus!. He lives at your local mall.)

Fr. Remmes starts "God" is perfect but you are a sinner. How can God make something that is not perfect? You are a sinner is because you have free-will and so you can do shitty things, blah, blah, blah. In fact, you are a sinner from the moment you are born due to "Original Sin." Why? What did I do to get that? Now I'm thinking about something crazy and his voice is now in the background. Blah, blah, blah. I have this dichotomic concept building itself in my mind. It is taking minutes to coalesce. Blah, blah, blah, in the background. I keep thinking about it and refining it. My logic seems correct but it can't be. There must be something I'm missing so I think more and more. I have an earth shattering question but I'm caught in a circular trap. I have an answer for every response I can think of.

So, maybe this is the most elementary question ever presented on this subject but it's what popped into my mind. If God knows everything, past, present, and future how can man have free-will? (The fact that we have free-will is a big thing in the Catholic church. Otherwise, they have no explanation for the fact that we "sin".)

The Question: “If God knows everything I'm ever going to do, how can I have free-will to do whatever I want?”

Now I just need a real-world scenario that allows me to present a cogent question. Got it! I'm walking down a path and I come to a fork. I can go to the left, or go to the right. I could even just stand there and take a leak. Or I could turn around and walk away. Free will, right? But hold it. God knows everything past, present, and future. This means that he knows which way I'm going to go. Hmm.... Do I then really have a choice? I think, “This is truly a dichotomy. Something totally doesn't make sense here.” So, I ask the damned question: “Father, how is it that God can know all things past, present, and future and yet I can still have free will?” I then present my scenario of walking down the path and coming to a fork in the road, so to speak. At first his response was that there was no incongruity in the first place. God still knows everything but you still have free will.

“But, Father, that doesn't make sense.” And I keep trying to clarify my intent to him. I keep rephrasing my question and asking it again. "If God knows that I'm going to choose to go right at the fork, can I still choose to go left with my free will? But that would mean that God is wrong and that is impossible.” His answer finally becomes, “You still have the free will to choose but God just knows which way you are going to choose.”

So now I'm thinking, “and by the way, how the fuck do you know that? Where did you read that? Is it in the bible? Show me where it says that. Did He tell you that in a dream?" Maybe it's that special connection he has with God. But if that is true, why didn't Father Remmes have an answer that made sense?” Because this one didn't.

Then Dale Launderville pipes in. He was considered the class brain. (He is now a monk at St. John's Abby in Minnesota) He repeats Fr. Remmes' answer looking around at me as if to say, "How stupid is this McCormick guy if he doesn't get it?". But you know what? It still didn't make any sense. Now I'm thinking, "Father Remmes doesn't have an answer! He's a fucking priest, infallible, looked up to by all garden variety humans. He's a theologian, should know the bible inside and out, has a special connection to God and he doesn't have a relevant answer." You know why? Because there is no answer. The concept is impossible. There is no reconciling these two “truths”. The concept of an all-knowing God is flawed. To this day, I have not heard a satisfactory answer to my question. This was one of the biggest turning points in my philosophical life. The first time I realized there must be something else. And the first time I could mentally disconnect from the Catholic faith and feel comfortable.

So, on my life goes. The questions keep flying into my head. I stopped going to mass. This was made much easier by the fact that many weekends I was traveling on the road with the band I was in at the time; The Notorious Noblemen. As a result, there were many times I was not even around home during the weekends. When I got home it was, "Yes, dad. I did go to mass this weekend."

After starting college at the University of South Dakota as a music major in 1969, I began checking out non-Christian religions. I knew there had to be "an answer"; The Answer! I started doing Hatha Yoga and studying Raja Yoga. Then Buddhism and Hinduism. I read the Bhagavad Gita. Then I found Zen. Later I read Allan Watts "The Book" and that was cool. Then Sufism caught my interest. I read many books by Idris Shah and enjoyed every word. Reading a Sufi book was the kind of thing that makes you think and sometimes makes you smile. It also makes you feel good. But as far as actually doing anything, it was just words. No epiphanies, but a fun read nonetheless. I left college the following year to go on the road with a band and was still looking for The Answer.

Later, (cue horror music here) I studied Scientology! I was first introduced to it by the guitar player in the band I was in at that time; The Zero Ted Band. His name was David Jewel. Scientology sounded perfect! It was (supposedly) a science, and it all made sense to me. So after a few more years in that band and others I made my way down to Miami to study Scientology at a mission there. This was 1974. I had a great time and felt really good. (Probably because I had quit drinking and smoking dope every day.) I learned a lot of stuff and the people were great. I took the Hubbard Communications Course and loved it. All in all, it was a very nice four or five weeks.

After that I came back to Iowa and started playing in bands again. But I was hooked. The following winter I joined the most prestigious group in all of Scientology; The Sea Org. For that I moved lock stock and barrel to Los Angeles. I worked at The American St. Hill Organization (ASHO) and took classes. But, it was not as much fun as Miami. The food was terrible and really, I was working more and more all the time so I was not learning as much about Scientology as I had hoped. I lived in a room at the Hollywood Hotel with 3 other Scientologists. It was cramped and we had no privacy. There was no shower head in the shower. The water just came out of a hole in the wall where a pipe and shower head used to be. There was no time for my music. Time for which I was promised to have beforehand.

I have to say that I really learned a lot in that first course I took in Miami. But as I began doing procedures like “Opening Procedure by Duplication” (Ah-Pro-by-dupe) in L.A. it became more wacky each day. There was always supposed to be an “end phenomenon” following each procedure that would be an epiphany of sorts to confirm that you had completed the plan successfully. For this one you were to exteriorize from your body. It never worked for me. So after doing this drill over and over I finally faked it. Then I had to start faking all of them as I was not getting the intended results. But I found out after first one that you don't tell anyone about that or they will take you in for auditing and tests to find out what is wrong with you. Because the procedures work and if you're not getting the intended results there must be something wrong with YOU. And only auditing could fix that. Finally. I realized this whole thing was total bullshit. I told them that I was quitting. And after being loved I was now banished, belittled, and teased. That was in 1976 and to this day, they still fucking call me. So it seems that it's true; if you leave, they will hassle you for the rest of your life. But I was done. Leah Remini is now one of my heroes. As are Lawrence Wright Author of "Going Clear", and Mike Rinder, former senior executive of the Church of Scientology International (CSI) and, along with Leah Remini, is co-host of the TV show, "Scientology and the Aftermath".

After that I still played in bands until 1985. Then went to work for four years at a music store that specialized in computers and music; Roger Dodger Music. That started a nice career where I spent the next 16 years as a manufacturer's rep for Opcode Systems, and Korg USA

During the earlier years at Opcode, I never really thought about religion or my place in it or out of it. But as I got older and more curmudgeonly, I thought about it more and more because at this point, it all sounded like bullshit. Then I found a book in a used book store called, “Why I'm not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell. Whoa! Holy shit! This booked explained my feelings exactly. Feelings that, in all truthfulness, I had had for many years; even in high school. It made so much sense to me. I related to this book like no other, ever. I realized I was an atheist and just realizing that changed my life. I was free! No more fear of pissing off this God dude or burning in hell forever. What kind of a 'loving' god would allow anyone to burn in hell for just doing what God already knew he would do? Remember, God knows everything, past, present, and future. So he knew what you were going to do even before you were born. And now He wants to punish you for doing it? What an asshole!

Of course, then you start getting the questions: "But without God or religion, why don't you just go out and steal, rape, or even kill people because you don't believe there will be any consequences?" I will say this: If your religion or your belief in a God is all that's keeping you from stealing, raping, and killing, or just being unethical in any way, you're the one with the real fucking problem. If I realize that I got too much change at the grocery store, or realize that there was an item that I was not charged for, I immediately tell them. Why? Because it's the right thing to do as a human. And looking at it the other way, I don't have a god that can bail me out by my simply going to confession and telling some guy what I did that was wrong. This is on MY conscience. I am responsible for all of my actions, good or bad. No pawning them off on "Well, it's God's will" or bailing out by mumbling a few words in confession.
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That was in 1996 and I am still learning how to think for myself; un-learning what I was taught in my religious childhood. But now the entire world, the entire universe makes sense. When there's a God in your world-view, you have to look at everything through that "god-lens". That means that whenever something happens that you don't understand, you try to figure out why God would make that happen. Great people die in accidents, earthquakes, or at the hands of a murderer and yet, murderers, robbers, and complete assholes can live long, happy lives. And you think that when something bad happens to you it must be a punishment from God so you wonder what you did wrong. You look at trees and think of God not biology. You look at the stars and think about God not cosmology.

So, now, I see things much differently. No God, no punishment, and no having to make sense out of senseless things. They are really only senseless because you have to put God into the equation. Take out that concept and wow, reality! What a deal! Yes, I am a born-again atheist and I'm out of the closet! Being an atheist does not give you carte blanch to go out an murder and sin like many Christians think. Quite the contrary. We do the right thing out of goodness, not because some asshole God is going to punish us for our sins. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the federal prison population breaks down like this: 28.7% Protestants, 24% Catholics, 5.5% Muslims, and 3.1% American Indians. 3% listed their religious affiliation as "other". Only .07% say they have no religious affiliation. Conversely, most reliable studies show that 15%-20% of the American population consider themselves non-religious. So if religion has a purpose, it doesn't seem to work.

Throughout my early life I had always been into science. I loved Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard) and when I was a child I watched him on black and white TV every week. I never wanted to miss an episode. Then in Jr. high and high school I would go to the school library every month when the new "Science Digest" magazine came out and I would read it cover to cover. One monthly column became very special to me. It was a column of short essays written by a man who changed my life more than any other man except my father. A man who became my mentor. His name was Isaac Asimov. Yes, he wrote great science fiction, but he was also a scientist who wrote about science and to me (and many others) was the greatest explainer of his time. I learned so much cool shit from him and it made me think hard about a lot of things. Now there was a concrete way to begin to understand the universe. I can't say how much I admired and trusted this man. I read tons of his books, some fiction, some science. Then one time when I was traveling on business and was alone in a hotel room I found out from my mother that he had died that day. The world lost an incredible man who had changed many minds and lives for the better. I shed a tear that night.

I became enthralled in science and was reading anyone who could explain its concepts to me in lay terms. Many became famous: Carl Sagan, (Nobel Prize winner) Richard Feynman, and (Nobel Prize winner) Leon Lederman. Those guys led the way for the heroes of today: Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Lawrence Krauss, Brian Green and several others. These guys are the new, great explainers. So you know what I learned after realizing I was an atheist? Almost all of those people I revered as a Catholic child and young adult, those great explainers, were also atheists! I was not alone. But boy, had I gotten sidetracked while being beaten with fundamental truths that were not truths; fake truths that contradicted reality. With religion there was no searching, no awe or thought required. Leave your brain at the door because the answers are all in this book written by God. No testing or questioning. This is it and you'd better fucking believe it and worship this "loving" God or he will punish you forever in hell.

On the contrary, the scientific method allows for and encourages questions, doubts, and open discussion. No experiment is considered valid unless it can be duplicated by others. If one person has empirical evidence that contradicts your theory, your theory must be changed to either fit the facts or be thrown out. And nothing can be tested unless it is falsifiable. You cannot prove a negative. You cannot proved that God does not exist because it is impossible to falsify. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are the same. You cannot prove they don't exist. I can show evidence to prove that my desk exists, I can show evidence to prove the earth is (almost) round. We have evidence that proves the sun warms our planet. But there is absolutely no evidence at all that there is a god. And it's up to the claimant to prove their postulate rather than the doubter to disprove them. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I have to say that saying there's this invisible thingie that you cannot see, hear, touch or feel, that will punish you when you do things He doesn't approve of, and that watches everything you do, is a pretty fucking extraordinary claim! Prove it! (By the way, since he sees everything you do, does God jerk-off while watching people have sex? You think he get's off on it? Your having sex is God's porn.

So that's me now. As you can tell from reading my religious history I have tried very hard throughout my life to find “The Answer”. Well, I have found it: The Answer is... THERE'S NO FUCKING ANSWER!. Scientists are the true priests. (No offense to scientists) They are the people who are actively searching for the real truth. The explainable truth. Not one wrapped up in mysticism and parables that are subject to interpretation. Not one claiming an invisible "sheriff in the sky philosophy" that is simply "a mystery of your faith". And you know what? The God concept is pretty convenient when you think about it. It's not one that anyone could say is false because in essence, it doesn't exist. It lives only in the minds of the believers. And we know that if you indoctrinate people from birth and continue the brainwashing, more than likely they will believe it for the rest of their lives and pay you for the privilege!

So, look no further than you can see. Dream? Absolutely! But don't delude yourself into thinking there is something more than there really is. That's how this whole bullshit thing got started. The world and universe are wondrous places. Learn about them from the people that study them, not people that use a 2000 year-old book that is filled with hate, racism, and contradictions that are passed off as truth. Don't just believe something because you heard it or read it. Make sure your source is reliable and check the evidence. Use Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit. Don't fret about being who you really are or who people think you should be. Be yourself. Learn about the world by observing, thinking, and questioning. You will find many people who share the same ideas and philosophies as you. Exchange ideas. Test people's statements. I have found out that many of them lie or exaggerate the truth to further their agenda. (Politics anyone?) Don't even take my word as truth. Look up life for yourself. Study what has been found by looking at valid evidence and theories that have stood up to questions and opposition and have passed the test of time. And never, ever let a dogma that has no room for your questions or opposing ideas stand in your way of finding the truth.