I'm not sure if I've ever believed in religion -- at least, since I was able to think for myself. It seems to me that it's always seemed onerous. I've never seen the point of it. This does not mean that I was a brave young thinker; quite the contrary, I went to Catholic religious services all the time when I was a kid, and even briefly fostered the classic Catholic thought of becoming a priest. But once I was out of high school, that participation decreased markedly, except for when it served a secondary purpose, such as getting me away from the regimentation of Air Force basic training.
My mother was deeply religious; my wife is also religious, although less so. I have asked her more than once what she gets out of it, and she tells me that she feels a sense of community, and that she has the feeling that she's not alone in having problems. I know that some people mock this attitude, stating sternly that they are the captains of their life, but I have no problem with something that gives such relief. It just never seems to work for me.
I'd like to say that my conclusions and feelings are the result of thoughtful observation and contemplation, but they're not. They're more the feeling that it takes effort to participate in religion, and I don't see benefit flowing in the other direction. Sure, I dislike things about religion generally and the Catholic church specifically -- all that money flowing in, no public accountability? no one thinking that maybe having unmarried men in charge of children couldn't be a problem? -- but thats not the reason I don't like to participate. The reason is: I just don't get it.
I cringe when I read, in an article about the current pope, that parishioners at - I think - a Canadian parish speak brightly about their newfound sense of hope and participation, a newfound desire to participate, with this new pope. I think shouldn't that come from the religion, not the person running it?
Still: maybe this pope is a first, faltering step toward reinfusion of the human values back into the Church, getting it away from worrying about things that it can't change or about which it should not care, thinking more about caring and less about dogma. If so, I wish him well. Certainly, I like what I hear of him. I'm sure he's still way more religious than me -- but I get the sense that he's a real person, not a fixture on a throne. I think that's a good thing.