Why do I keep having to come out of the closet? Are these aspects of my identity really things that some people have to hide? I guess I’m lucky not to experience discrimination for being a vegetarian/bisexual/atheist/native of Texas. My more conservative friends like to tease me, but that’s just fun. I’ve never been hurt or threatened for who I am. Others are not so fortunate.
[Wait, does this logo mean you’re an atheist or an advocate for atomic bombs? – Image credit: DevilushNinja of Deviant Art]
According to several (questionable) polls, Americans are less likely to elect an atheist president than they are to elect a gay, female or Muslim president. And none of those groups are popular with about half the country. (Ok, females are pretty popular – but still not so much in positions of leadership.) I guess I’ll just have to aim to be the Secretary of Health & Human Services rather than the president. Either that or I’ll have to find a way to overthrow the government and replace it with an absolute monarchy. I shall be the heathen Queen of the U S of A!
[This is how I’ll dress when I’m Queen of America]
But what do some people dislike so much about atheists not believing what they believe? Christians don’t believe everything Jewish people believe. Muslims don’t believe everything Buddhists believe. Hindus don’t believe everything Zoroastrians believed. Mormons and Scientologists don’t believe everything Ancient Greeks and Egyptians believed. Need I go on? There are a lot of options out there and no one can believe them all. There are too many conflicting ideas, though a lot of religions offer pretty similar advice & parables.
All religions that I have at least superficial knowledge about have had something to offer me. Advice, words of encouragement, rules to live by. Many have also had negative aspects that make me dislike them. But as long as your religion makes you a happier, more loving person, then I’m all for it. It’s the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, the vilification of gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender individuals, the extremism that leads to terrorist attacks, the rejection of evidence-based scientific principles and health research, that makes me hesitant around people who consider themselves religious. Just how religious are you?
[Oh, you like Jesus? I never would’ve known that if you didn’t talk about it every day.]
As annoying as Tim Tebow can get, he supports some great causes. I don’t agree with everything he has done, but most of it has been good. The Tim Tebow Foundation works to build children’s hospitals internationally. And at home, he has partnered with the W15H program, which sounds similar to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for kids with life-threatening illnesses. So whatever your religion (or lack thereof) may be, use it to do some good in the world.
From a philosophical standpoint I find religions entrancing. Remember that you can devoutly believe & follow one religion and still study & learn from others. Question everything – that is the way to strengthen faith. If yours is truly strong, it will stand up to the counterarguments. If not, it couldn’t have actually been doing you any good in the first place. I have read parts of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Torah and all of the Tao Te Ching. I plan to finish & re-read all of these texts as well as the Egyptian & Tibetan Books of the Dead, Dianetics, Chuang Tzu, I Ching, online versions of Zoroastrian texts and other sacred books throughout the next years and the course of my life. It’s not that I want to become an expert on religion, it’s just that these books are fascinating to me. But I do not literally believe in any form of deity and these books only further affirm my atheism. These religions have some pretty conflicting ideas. They can’t all be right, so couldn’t they all be wrong?
All religions are basically different paths to the same goal: a meaningful life. This usually involves love, honesty, forgiveness and striving for perfection that is never quite reached. There are different rules and rituals, different deities and beliefs about life after death. Some are more focused on energy and connection more than any specific supreme being. So examine the options that are out there, choose wisely and don’t limit yourself to a single religion or philosophy just because it’s the dominant one in your culture.
[I’m a fan of excessive bumper stickers. But I wouldn’t stick it on my car if I didn’t truly believe it!]
Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. If you know anything about American history you should know that the United States was founded on that concept more than any other. Both sides argue, “Oh this Founding Father was Christian, that one was atheist, these ones were deists” – that’s not the point! The freedom part is what mattered then & still does today. In Ancient Rome, Christians were considered atheists because they didn’t believe in the various Roman gods – only their one god, God. That was nearly two millennia ago. Religious persecution wasn’t a new concept then & it certainly isn’t now. Can’t we just get over it already?
On the opposite side, we have some overzealous, religion-hating atheists. Bashing people’s devoutly held beliefs will not do any good. There are books like God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything that I can’t even bring myself to read because they sound so overdramatic & extreme. It’s the same kind of extremism that causes fundamentalists to build Creationist “museums” or kill over drawings of Muhammad. Then there are other books, like The God Delusion that I have read & enjoyed. Sometimes it’s nice to just relax & read something that isn’t challenging my every idea for once. But the more hostile of these books won’t convert anyone to the secular side.
[You’re preachin’ to the choir, Dick. And no, the irony of that metaphor is not lost on me.]
A big factor in losing my faith as a child was the claim by some Christians that animals don’t have souls & don’t go to Heaven. Well take a look at this guy:
Really? Humans have souls but chimps, dolphins, wolves, pigs, housecats, elephants don’t? They certainly have personalities. At what point in evolution did our species acquire souls? Did Neanderthals have them? Were Heaven & Hell empty before we evolved? Or is there intelligent, soulful life on other planets that we’ll get to meet up with in the afterlife? If nonbelievers end up burning in Hell for all eternity, will I at least get to meet some aliens during my stay?
[You’re telling me this movie was all a LIE?]
And as much as I would like to believe in reincarnation, I can’t buy that either. At least not literally. But if you look at Earth as the mostly closed system that it is (other than some satellites & space junk floating around nearby), then all the energy coming in from the sun flows through the plants to the animals to the other animals (like humans) to the dirt to the plants to the animals to the humans… The rain falls on the plants and into the oceans, lakes, rivers where the animals drink it and the humans bottle it in plastic that comes from petroleum which comes from squished up old dinosaurs from way back when… There is only so much energy provided for so much space. So unless you arrange to have your corpse launched away in a rocket after you die, you (your atoms) will still be around in some form or another. Eventually, our sun or the Earth might explode & you could end up as part of a red giant or an icy planet again.
So then let’s look at the rest of the universe. I can’t see very much of it from my apartment so I’ll use one of the pretty pictures I found online.
[OoOoOoh wow. But is the Lagoon Nebula creation or chaos?]
So how did the universe get here?
– God made it.
But how did God get here?
– He’s always been here.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just assume the universe has always been here?
– Well it hasn’t. The Bible says God said, “Let there be light.” And there was…
And who wrote the Bible?
– It was written by a bunch of different men during different points in time. But it’s the word of God.
– How do you know that?
– It says so in the Bible.
…And so on & so forth. It’s circular logic. That doesn’t mean it can’t be true, but it makes it not worth arguing. The burden of proof lies with those who claim existence, not those who claim nonexistence. You can’t prove that the supreme deity of the multiverse isn’t the Flying Spaghetti Monster, can you? Because there’s a website that says FSM exists and if it’s on the intertubes it must be true. FSM said so.
[You can’t argue with Pastafarian logic. Thank FSM for those Somali guys!]
Some may argue that lack of religion means lack of morals. Nope. If you look at Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development it’s only in the lower stages, especially as children, that we need to have someone explain to us what is right & what is wrong. But hopefully most of us will grow out of that phase & be able to figure it out on our own through social skills & innate principles, like “don’t set people on fire”. Of course there are endless varying opinions of what is ethically good or bad. But it comes down to that Golden Rule found in numerous forms in most every religion, not to mention most kindergarten classrooms: Treat Others the Way You Want to Be Treated. Or even better: Treated Others the Way They Want to Be Treated. You might be a sadomasochist & other people wouldn’t enjoy being whipped in the ass with barbed licorice sticks as much as you would. Everyone is different so once you’re old enough to be empathetic, try to figure out what other people want. It might not be the same as what you prefer. Respect that.
[Kohlberg’s Stages: If you’re not at a higher level, ask an adult who is whether or not you should stab that hobo to steal his change. There’s a lotta grey areas in ethics!]
I don’t need to believe in God, Allah, Zeus, Tao or Krishna to know that killing people is bad. And conversely, I don’t want God telling me that slavery is okey-dokey if I just follow certain guidelines or that I shouldn’t be mixing this fabric with that one. I will try to follow the law of the land, but if I can’t bring myself to believe that a law is right I’m going to break it while making every attempt to not harm anyone (except maybe myself). How many out there can honestly say they’ve never broken any law? Haven’t you speeded a little or rolled through a stop sign when no one’s around? Didn’t you drink a little before you reached the legal age? Did you ever swipe a cheap candy bar from a gas station when you were young? If not, congratulations, and have fun being in your own special compartment of Heaven all alone while the rest of us sinners live a little.
[This is especially true of Catholicism. Oh snap!]
I don’t believe in hiding your religion. I’ll gladly discuss it! We’ve made progress dealing with race and gender inequality because those are things that can’t be hidden. If we are willing to bring our religious differences out in the open and discuss them without fighting, maybe we can finally move forward. But we’re not supposed to talk about things like religion or politics in “polite” conversation. Well who the hell says debating the convictions that make us unique has to be done in a rude way? Avoiding these discussions will not improve anything. But if your goal is to convert others, offer your side & let them come to decisions on their own terms.
[Have a good Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa & Chanukah this year. Can’t we all just get along?]
And just to clarify: Fuck political correctness. That’s not what I want. We don’t need to tiptoe around & be afraid of hurting each other’s feelings as long as we are accepting of each other. Which includes the ability to tease each other (at least as adults) without taking ourselves too seriously. I honestly don’t intend to offend anyone. You’ll notice a lot of my posts come down to this same message: Just play nice, kiddos! We’re constantly told that as children, but a lot of older folks out there could use the reminder.
[Whether literally or metaphorically – you got that right!]
I could fill a whole book with all the ridiculous things I think about religion & the universe, but I doubt anyone other than myself would find it all that interesting. Back in Houston as a kid, after I said my prayers for all my deceased pets and was falling asleep, I used to try to imagine NOTHING. What was Nothing like before the universe was created? Where would Nothing be? And then I’d realize I was always imagining Something (like an empty black space) to represent Nothing. I would get a physical feeling of my mind being blown. When I opened my eyes I would think: How can all of this, any of this exist? How could it NOT exist? God never seemed a sufficient answer.
To me it is more miraculous to believe that we weren’t created intentionally. That we ended up here, today, looking at blogs on WordPress through genius inventions of the internet and electricity. Our intelligent species evolved just the way it did from apelike species from other mammals from amphibians from ocean dwellers from single-celled organisms – against all odds. Out of all the planets in all the solar systems in all the galaxies in all the universe (in all the multiverse?), Earth had just the right elements for life to form. We’re not 100% sure how that worked. Or how the formation of the universe worked. But not knowing yet does not imply a need for supernatural religion to fill in the gaps. Someday knowledge will fill them in. Maybe we will reach the extent of possible knowledge. Maybe we aren’t the only intelligent species in existence. It’s the not knowing that makes being alive right here, right now all the more beautiful.
Or maybe science & religion are both wrong and we’re all plugged into The Matrix in Plato’s Cave.