Living a fulfilled life without God
In the aftermath of the Boston tragedy I’ve found myself extremely bothered by the fact that the evidence seems to be pointed in the direction that the individuals suspected of orchestrating this event were inspired by religious motives. It may seem rather obvious and possibly even a bit predictable that an atheist internet blogger would write about how horrible religion is in light of this event. I don’t mean to find myself matching a caricature description of an atheist blogger, but given my most recent interest in finding common ground with the religious and contemplating finding a way to work with interfaith groups, I think it would be fair to say that the perspective I write from may not be as predictable as one would guess.
For those that were around when I first left my faith, I found myself attempting to make a very passive departure from Christianity. I even started learning about other faiths and was interested in some kind of “live and let live” mentality. Over time my journey took a more frustrating turn as I dealt with the social ramifications of leaving a faith in the area that I live and with the friends and family that I was surrounded by. I was immediately seen as someone who was lost and needed prayer. This led me to talking bluntly about how I felt about religious faith. I became defensive about my position and was ready to give everyone the middle finger if they couldn’t just let me be.
Just a few months ago in the spirit of pluralism and in giving in to some sort of innate desire to live at peace with those around me, I started trying to look at religion very differently. Inspired partially by Chris Stedman’s book, ” Faithiest”, I became intrigued by the idea that perhaps humanists could find a seat at the table of interfaith dialogue. I was mostly drawn to this idea because I really do believe that we can’t spend our time constantly arguing with one another. I was tired of the debates about the existence of god and was ready to move on and seek out things we could agree on with the religious community. I have a few friends who subscribe to pretty liberal religious beliefs with whom I disagree with on very few things. I imagined a world where this happened on a much broader scale than with just a friend or two. In order to pursue better collaboration, I was willing to make some concessions about my feelings on organized religion and to tone down my criticism.
Though I had considered that it could possibly be a good idea to curtail the religious criticism, I’m having trouble maintaining that position in light of the alleged role that religion played in the Boston tragedy. To be clear I’m not advocating for prejudice, discrimination, intolerance, or combativeness with the religious community. I’m merely reserving the right to criticize what I find to be destructive ideologies. I’m annoyed this week by people loudly proclaiming that these people only represent extreme fundamentalism and that their faith is different. I’m not annoyed because it’s not true, I’m annoyed because people are so averse to any kind of religious criticism. People love to throw around the word “Islamaphobia” and to criticize anyone who points out the rather obvious fact that these terrorists are simply following some teachings in their holy books. I understand and agree that there are millions of decent, loving, and caring Muslims who find personal comfort and happiness in their faith without being a danger to society. However, I also have to admit that they are only able to do this by ignoring some of the teachings of Islam. It’s not bigotry to point out that there are harmful teachings within their religion. In fact, it’s not bigotry to point out that there are harmful teachings in Christianity, too. Regardless of how emphatically someone may insist that they structure their life around the teachings in the bible, it is rare to find someone who hasn’t shed many things that their holy book recommends (thankfully). To avoid repeating myself and continuing to share the evil things taught in the bible, I’ll simply point anyone interested to the website http://www.evilbible.com/.
I know I run the risk of appearing angry or filled with disgust for religious people, but I can’t emphasize enough that my criticism is of an ideology and not a person. I know that religion, when used as a tool for personal growth, has been known to help people find comfort, peace, and happiness. While I think these things are attainable outside of religion, I understand that some people find these things through their faith. Without diminishing this fact, I’m still bothered by the framework of religious ideologies. When you have faith as a core element of your religion you leave room for people to believe things and to make decisions in the absence of evidence. You create an environment where it is not only acceptable, but honorable to forsake reason. Religion provides an easy justification for doing evil if one wishes. All one needs to do to convince themselves that what they’re doing is right is to claim that they are following the direction of divine inspiration. No one can argue with this as it is completely acceptable within religion to provide no evidence or proof of such inspiration. When you combine this license to give in to the thoughts in your head with ancient, superstitious teachings of the sort I mentioned above, you have effectively given a free pass to anything someone wants to dream up in the name of God. Religion is an easy justification for people to do evil things. History has shown that it’s been effective in this way. It can be evil in extreme ways such as killing in the name of god, or in more subtle ways like creating room for bigotry and discrimination.
My point is while religion can often be harmless in the lives of its adherents, it’s always readily available for anyone who needs justification for the evil they wish to commit. This justification is there because of the faith element and the fact that people don’t need evidence, logic, or reason to do the things they do. This is why I’m beginning to question how a Humanist can realistically participate in interfaith dialogue. This doesn’t mean we can’t get along or that we don’t cooperate with, tolerate, and even learn to love one another. It just means that unless faith takes a backseat at these conversations I’m not sure where we would go from there. If we’re talking about how to tackle the world’s problems and we’re not going to first honor reason, then we have nothing to talk about. And those of us on the humanist side run the risk of reducing our much needed criticism of harmful ideologies just so we can appear to be working together. I’m just not sure I can continue to curb my criticism any longer and I’m having trouble envisioning a world where humanists and religious find much common ground on a larger scale (more than just a few friends learning to understand each other better). Can they get along and live peacefully among each other? Of course. I just wonder if we’re not too limited as to how much common ground we can find.