Living a fulfilled life without God
I often find myself in conversations with Christians who can’t understand why atheists feel the need to organize, have things like The Reason Rally, or continue to find themselves opposing religion. They tell me they hear where I’m coming from, respect me enough to allow me to have those beliefs without criticizing me, but don’t understand why more atheists can’t just “live and let live”. First of all, I never understand the criticism because it often comes from people who are asked to share their faith and are perfectly fine with not keeping their religion to themselves. The short answer to their question is because I believe in equality and while these individuals may not discriminate against me, many people do. I also believe in human rights and religion is often a poor steward of the rights of individuals. History has provided examples of religion’s lack of protection for the rights of females, people of different races, homosexuals, etc. Religion is also responsible for countless deaths and unnecessary suffering like the crusades, the Catholic church’s teaching in AIDS-ridden Africa that while AIDS is bad it’s not quite as bad as condom use, the opposition to stem cell research, etc. I don’t want to get into the argument of whether religion is more bad than good, but the fact remains that there are numerous examples of problems that organized religion has caused.
So it’s not hard to see why we’re frustrated with religion. It would be silly of me to repeat all of the frustrations we have with religion since others have done it much more eloquently and comprehensively than I could ever do. To name a few that have tackled this, the more famous would be Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. They each have written books, given speeches, and participated in debates around this subject. So yes… we find ourselves frustrated by religion and I wanted to offer a simple analogy.
As a child I remember that I never cared what people believed. Some people believed in ghosts, some believed in aliens, and some were more superstitious than others. I also knew people of different religious beliefs and I never cared. It was a personal belief. No harm in that, right? As an atheist, we see religion in the same category as superstition. It’s something people admittedly believe in the absence of evidence. They believe this “on faith”: something made famous by religion. Somehow believing something with no tangible evidence became virtuous. To us it’s just superstitious. It’s similar to people who believe that it’s bad luck to open an umbrella in a building or to walk under a ladder. Who cares, right? If someone wants to believe that walking under a ladder is bad luck, then I’m not bothered by that. Let them believe it. But what if some powerful people in politics believed these things? What if several states had laws that said you couldn’t run for office if you didn’t believe that walking under ladders was bad luck? Wouldn’t that seem a little ridiculous? What if the Boy Scouts of America (who has received government funding) said that your child couldn’t be a Boy Scout unless you believed that staying on the 13th floor of a building was bad luck? What if they caught you on the 13th floor (with an open umbrella in the hallway) and decided you weren’t fit for the Boy Scouts? Unheard of, right? What if people were pushing for science teachers to teach superstition in science class and that it was to have equal credence with actual science? What if children who didn’t believe in superstition and opened an umbrella in the house anyway were told that they would burn eternally in a lake of fire when they died? Child abuse, perhaps? What if your social network found out that you secretly didn’t alter your course when a black cat crossed your path and they changed how they felt about you? They would never do that, right?
This all sounds awfully absurd, but it’s the reality that we live in. People who don’t believe in God can’t run for office in many states in our supposed secular country. My son and I couldn’t participate in Boy Scouts if we wanted to. Creationism, which is not a scientific study, is being pushed by fundamentalists to be taught in our schools alongside the science of evolution. Children grow up with fears of burning in hell as their parents teach them the most offensive doctrine man could ever come up with. People are losing friends and family every day as they struggle to “come out” as nonbelievers.
Frustration like this is why we organize and speak up. I cherish the relationships I have with people no matter their beliefs, but I have a problem when a mere dismissal of someone’s belief is grounds for inequality. I think in some ways we’ve come a long way in this area in the US, but we still have a long way to go. I’ve dedicated this blog to doing my part to help remove the stigma from atheism since many of us are just regular people. We have varying degrees of morality, varying political affiliations, etc. We simply don’t believe in things that lack evidence, and all we ask for is equality and human rights.
NOTE: This post is part of a series of posts that were introduced in this blog. The idea is to offer short summaries of responses to some of the more typical questions that come up when someone finds out that I’m a non-believer. These are not intended for scholarly debate, but rather to offer responses in an attempt to help people understand those of us who choose a “godless” life.