It was interesting this morning to look back through my blog post history and see a draft waiting to be finished. Merely a title, “A Reluctant Atheist,” it was the beginning of an evolution of thought. Religion was always a presence in our family. It was not all consuming as some experience but it popped up regularly enough that it guided thought and action.
When asked what religion I am my usual response is I am a reformed non-practicing Catholic. I then go on to say that I decided that the Episcopal church was more in line with my thoughts and actions so we as a family joined it instead. We went to church weekly, for a short time, spoke with the pastor regularly (in conversation), and joined the congregation for food related gatherings. It was at this time I began to see my path.
After a Wednesday service I spoke with the pastor and he mentioned based on the things I said and how I look at the world that I might consider doing his job or something similar. I guess I was flattered but that triggered a lightening bolt. From that bolt a slow burn began to grow and I realized that religion was never and would never be the guiding force for me that most people experience. There was some grief in realizing the loss of the umbrella of religion but at the same time perspective, logic, reason, and knowledge quickly filled the void left by the absence of religious moorings.
Without the mental and emotional ties to the church, it became easier to see the hypocrisy of religion and the a la carte practices the majority of the “devout” appeared to embrace. This is usually where the argument of religiousness vs. spirituality enters. There are certainly those who prefer to seem more impartial on the subject saying “I am a spiritual person but I don’t go for all the religious stuff.” That may be true to some extent but further conversations generally shows a tendency to default to religious teachings to anchor their spiritual beliefs. If your opinions are formed and follow christian ideals then it is more accurate and honest to admit to religious leanings than to dismiss and try to justify how your beliefs are not religious.
This conversation almost always leads to a list of things a person chooses to believe and to not believe thinking this absolves them of the more unseemly aspects of their particular religious slant. But, there is certainly a fundamental problem with this penchant towards treating the bible or the Koran as a menu. If you are solidly convinced of everything you believe and dismiss, no matter how far it skews from your primary religious teachings, you do not have the right to judge or dismiss someone’s beliefs or actions that they base on their order off the menu of God. No matter how radical their ideas seem. This is where it gets a bit controversial.
How is this a problem? There are roughly 4,300 religions practiced in the world today. Christians make up about 33% of the world’s religious followers and yes, it is the largest piece of the pie. However, there are countless denominations within this religious declaration. That means countless numbers of worshipers might believe the goal is the same but the journey varies from slightly to completely. Countless numbers of Christians are picking and choosing what they believe and claiming to be right. Muslims make up the next largest group of followers at 21% and they, of course believe that they are on the right path. So the argument that “my” religion is the right religion and therefore all other religions are wrong is not in any way justifiable. If we take this one step further and look at extremism whether it be Islamic or Christian, those who claim that their ideals are wrong is a non sequitur. If you pick and choose and claim the “right” religion, it removes any argument for your ability to judge other religions as “less than.”
What are we left with? One could argue that if any religions are wrong then they all are wrong.
The only solution is to move past religion as the base motivator for our actions and beliefs and move toward reason and logic. This is a move towards atheism. I firmly believe that my ability to treat people well not based on the judgments of a god or the threat of eternal damnation supersedes that which holds some in high regard and castigates others for not following the exact same dogma. If you judge someone based on a book that talks about an invisible, intangible, and unprovable being, then you are clearly circling the rabbit hole.
But atheists are scary and they hate religious people. Isn’t that the same kind of judgement? Society has a long way to go to be able to first understand atheism and second to be able to accept the idea. There are two kinds of atheists: anti-thists and non-theists. Anti-theists tend to be those that are more critical of a godly belief system, and they don’t really further the understanding. Mostly because they don’t think it necessary. I find myself to be a non-theist. There is nothing provable about God. Miracles are coincidence and religion is a hypocrisy shrouded in vague reasoning based on writings of ancient people who needed to orchestrate the control of society. Not because society was doing all that bad, but because greed and power superseded the needs of the public and the only way to maintain it was through the threats and promises of God. Harsh, I know but repeated throughout history.
Hypocrisy is shown easily through a very simple example. People get sick and say God did this to challenge them. People get better and say God healed them. People suffer and die and say its God’s plan or God’s will. Distill that down and we are defining a system of sadistic control from on high. The fact is that people get sick, people get better, people suffer, and people die all because of worldly tangible circumstances. That is the circle of life.
But why put up with the hypocrisy? Fear. It’s simple. People fear pain and suffering and death. It’s scary stuff. The fear is self-sustaining because of religion. We are told if we do the right thing, we will be rewarded. Death is not the end but a transition or the first part of a journey to some far off fun park. If we do not meet the standards we will be damned. If we choose not to believe at all and understand that death is the end, then we must look to our own lives and legacies to see if we have earned the life we lived and did the right thing. The only judgement will come from those who knew and were affected by us.
Those who can pass that threshold and hold on to fact, science, reason, and logic have another hurdle to overcome. They must look inward and evaluate their lives as earned and well-lived. This is how I define, and why I call myself The Reluctant Atheist. I have approached that raggedy edge and that is where I sit. Wondering and contemplating if I have done enough to earn this life and done enough to have left a positive impact on the world. The jury is still out.
I remember the time when it was a given that you believe, you pray, follow, and worship, and God is there; the light at the end of the tunnel. What I now know is that light could be the sun, a light leading the way down a new path, or it could be a train. Either way the outcome is due to my actions or lack thereof or the circumstances of my environment and in no way attached to the plan of a higher power. I choose my path, for better or worse. I choose to be a decent person because I believe others have the right to live their lives. They have the right to love and to be, and yes, to believe what they like because it is a right afforded by humanity. Not afforded by a core belief and adherence to a god. Do not fear the godless. Fear the ones who only do “right” because of ethereal promises.
If the number of people who are worthy diminishes because of your beliefs, you might want to reevaluate where you stand, but more importantly where you kneel.