Living a fulfilled life without God
For the last couple of years I’ve been baffled by the phenomenon that when you say something about yourself, people who are not like that get defensive. It’s like when I say that I’m an atheist, this simple statement can cause people to start clarifying their views with you explaining why they aren’t. I thought this was isolated to the subject of atheism, but I’m seeing it in other realms and learning that it goes deeper than just this subject.
Here’s another example from my life recently. My wife and I have decided to try a plant-based diet. We have our reasons for doing so, but at no point did we ask anyone else to do it. You wouldn’t believe how many people start getting defensive when it comes up. When I order food at a restaurant the person I’m eating with will start going on about how they just couldn’t do that. “I gotta have protein. Everything in moderation is fine. There’s no way I could do what you’re doing.” It’s usually at this point that I’ll smile and clarify that I didn’t ask them to.
I was talking with a friend recently who is very devoted to his religious faith and he helped me get to the bottom of this. In the evangelical world (to which he doesn’t belong), especially here in the south US, it’s important to share one’s faith and hope that everyone agrees with you. Sharing has taken on a whole new meaning here. It’s like a child wanting to “share” his toy and freaking out if the person doesn’t want it. I think this is where this comes from. When I “share” my humanist views with others, they can’t just accept that those are my views without thinking that I’m asking them to accept them. I’ve learned that the most offensive thing to people about atheists is not necessarily what we do or do not believe, but simply that we exist. People are bothered by this idea because they have trouble understanding that it’s okay for people to have different views. This shows up all of the time in subjects around keeping religion out of politics and schools (since people have different views). It’s as if they’re threatened by their view not being shown preference. The argument from people outside of the Christian faith is not that these minority views should have preference, but that they should be considered equal. That’s all. I even understood this when I was a Christian and strongly supported the separation of church/state.
Among the people that I interact with regularly, it’s getting better. I think people understand that I’m not asking them to share my views. I’ve just found this sociological phenomenon intriguing. I don’t share this feeling. If someone tells me they’re on a particular diet, or have a particular belief, I don’t feel like I have to justify to them why I don’t agree with them. I certainly speak up about ideas that I disagree with strongly, but never with the intention that everyone needs to agree. I think disagreement is important and helps us understand the world a little better. I actually rarely challenge an individual that I know and most often just challenge generic ideas that I don’t agree with.
So as a point of clarification: if you don’t agree with me on my diet, my philosophy, my political leaning, or the type of toothpaste I use, that’s okay. There are many varieties within all of these categories that you are free to choose from. Can we all try to get over the idea that we all need to think the same?
By the way – this post would be so much better if the comments turn into a heated debate over plant-based diets or the best type of toothpaste. It would certainly prove my point. If I didn’t write this last paragraph I would be willing to bet it would go there without prompting.