There is something I don't often talk about publicly in regards to my personal life - and that is my stance on religion. I have mentioned it a few times when it seemed relevant, but really haven't made a point to discuss it openly merely because it really isn't something that needs to be discussed most of the time. For me, religion, or lack there of, is a private matter that doesn't need to be waved around in people's faces. However, due to a few current events and my desire to be more vocal with things, I felt a post was in order. This one needs a backstory and further explanation, so bear with me before I get to the point. It's a good one, and it needs to be made.
First of all, in case you don't already know, I am not religious. I am an Agnostic Atheist. If you want a full description of what this means, you can click here, but the short version is I am not inclined to believe in god, although I cannot claim for sure whether or not god exists. Coming to these beliefs was not something that happened overnight and it is not a result of any tragic event in my life. I was raised in a Presbyterian/ Methodist household with Jewish undertones. Meaning, my mom, and sister, and I went to church every week and my dad taught us about Passover and Hanukkah at certain times of the year. Actually, my first doubts of whether or not god exists came from thinking about how my mother and father both had a different set of beliefs, yet according to those doctrines, only one could be correct. How could that be? Which one was right? As a young child, I had many questions about the bible and religion that couldn't be answered to my satisfaction. Is Noah's Ark an actual story or a parable? Where did all of those animals go? Where are dinosaurs in the bible? How long did Jonah stink of fish? Into my teen and early adult years, my questions became more complicated. Why does god help some people and not others - even if those "others" are perfectly good people? If everything is a part of "God's Plan", what is the point of prayer? Why would a simple human change god's mind with his bedtime whispers? Why does he seem to care more about helping you find your car keys than curing the African children of AIDS? Is he unable to prevent tragedy, or does he just not want to? Growing up, I tried to be a good Christian. I tried to enjoy church. I tried to find the purpose in religion that comes so easily for some people. I remember being 7 years old, looking around the sancutary at all of the people singing praises to god, their faces full of peace and joy, and wondering how they got that. Even at 7, I didn't really want it - I just wondered how it was done. When I would voice this to people throughout the years, the response would inevitably be something along the lines of "You have to have more faith." or "Satan is hardening your heart. You need to pray more." As a child, this frustrated me because it basically told me I was wired wrong. I was wrong. Everyone else was right and I was broken - and I didn't know how to fix it. Religion - and faith - was never my bag. I was always on the oustide looking in, but never for lack of trying.
I am an educated person. I went to a religious college and took two semesters of religion - Old and New Testament - in which I easily earned straight A's. I have read the bible through and through in an educational, religious, and personal setting. I know the scriptures well. I know the rituals, the doctrine, and the dogma. I did not evolve into my beliefs due to ignorance. I want that to be perfectly clear. Also, I am not angry at god. I simply do not believe.
Now that I am an adult, my stance on religion is the same as it always has been. I just have the maturity to recognize it for what it is. It is disbelief. I do not believe in god. I do not have proof that he exists any more than those who believe have proof that he does. Yet, there is one huge difference between my beliefs and the beliefs of many those who believe in god...I do not push my beliefs on others. I don't tell others they are wrong or terrible for believing in god. I do not condemn them for their beliefs. I am not cruel or condescending. I do not try to force them to see my side. I, like most atheists I know, have a "live and let live" kind of mentality when it comes to religion. To be fair, 75% of the Christians I know have a similar mentality, but society as a whole, however, does not. And that brings me to the point of this post.
A few things have been happening in the media recently (and not so recently) that are upsetting to me regarding how atheists are seen in the public eye, creating a common opinion of the "typical atheist" that is so far from the truth.
Phil Robertson's awful parable about the murder of an atheist family, Arizona senator Sylvia Allen suggesting mandatory church attendance to repair the morals of this nation, and, slightly less recently, the movie God's Not Dead are three examples of mainstream misconceptions about atheism. They all have the same message: Without god, you can't possibly be a good person. Without god, you can't have morals and you can't judge right from wrong. Without god, you are meaningless, your life is meaningless, and you are the reason bad things are happening in the world. This attitude has to stop. In addition to being disrespectful and downright nasty, it's also flat-out wrong.
Let's take a closer look at these three examples for a minute.
1) At the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast a few weeks ago, Phil Robertson told a story of an athiest family being burgled, raped, and murdered by criminals who claimed "Wouldn’t it be something if this [sic] was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head, have a nice day." According to this mindset, without god all things are permissable. You can rape and murder and be savages to other human beings because there is no threat of punishment from a higher power. There is no right or wrong because you can't have morals if you don't believe in god. I take huge offense to this. I mean, really, is the only reason a Christian doesn't brutally murder their neighbor over a fencing squabble because they fear the retribution of hell or a judgmental god? No...they aren't murdering people because they know that human beings have value. They aren't killing because they know within their heart that killing is wrong, that causing harm to another person is wrong. Honestly, does a religious person feel compelled to commit violence daily, but only stop themselves so they don't end up in hell? Obviously not. They aren't compelled to violence on a daily basis because they have a sense of morality that is independent from their religion, whether or not they want to admit it. Right and Wrong do not exist because of god or in spite of him. They simply are. Morals are very human. WE make them. WE enforce them. To counter Phil's point, I might say that it would actually make more sense for the characters in his story to be Christian and say, "Who cares what we do because we can just ask for forgiveness and go to heaven anyway? I'm just gonna kill this family because nothing really matters if I can just be forgiven." However, by making that point, I am being disrespectful to Christians, and that is not the reason for this post, nor something I want to get into, so, I will move on.
2.) Arizona senator Sylvia Allen suggested creating a bill that would mandate church attendance. She fully recognized this bill would never pass, so I must give her credit for being a politician who is actually recognizing the seperation of church and state, however, the mere suggestion of such a bill is ridiculous. She said, "We should probably be debating a bill requiring every American to attend a church of their choice on Sunday to see if we can get back to having a moral rebirth." Whille I agree that society's morals seem to be slipping, I am not going to agree that it is because of people who don't believe in god. Although, one could argue the instant availability of information via the internet and the media's insane need to sensationalize everything make it highly possible the morals are indeed the same, but we just know more of what's going on in our world. However, that's an entirely different issue. I don't think church makes you a better person. Some people find purpose there, and that's great, but it's not for everyone - and that's okay. The fact that some people don't attend church is NOT the reason for low morals. High morals can be held by individuals who have never stepped foot inside a church in the same way that a Sunday regular can cheat on his wife and beat his children. Religion does not equal morality. You know what we need for a "moral rebirth"? We need people who are willing to commit to doing the right thing even when the right thing is the hardest choice to make. We need people who aren't judgemental or condescending to others who look differently, or act differently, or who hold a different set of beliefs. We need people who are able to recognize that different isn't wrong, and people who are accepting and compassionate and forgiving to everyone - regardless of who they are or where they come from. I have seen people like this with and without religion. The common factor is not their god - but their heart.
3.) The movie, God's Not Dead, focuses around a Christian college student who is singled out and ridiculed by his atheist professor for holding a belief in god. He has to give three speeches to his class convincing everyone that god exists. The movie has several characters, both Christian and non-Christian. There are three main atheist characters, and every single one of them is a horrible person. The atheist professor is vindictive and condescending, with no other purpose other than to be rude to people about god. He actually confronts the student in an elevator and tells him he is going to make it his personal mission to ruin him because he refuses to denounce his religion. Two others, a boyfriend and girlfriend, also show terrible character. The girl, a journalist, interviews Christian celebrities with sneering contempt as she oozes with superiority regarding her beliefs vs. theirs. Her boyfriend, a successful businessman, dumps her when he finds out she has cancer because she "isn't living up to her part of their agreement", which I can only assume is "Don't get Cancer". He seriously breaks up with her within three seconds of her telling him of her disease with the argument that a relationship is only good when both parties are getting what they want. She later seeks out god and the pinched look on her face finally goes away. Meanwhile, her boyfriend remains the villian as he makes fun of his mother with dementia before deserting her forever. Atheists are made out to be awful, awful people who only become worthwhile once they become Christian. This movie paints a very one-sided and terrible view of atheists. Honestly, the atheists in this movie are so one-dimensionally horrible, I don't know anyone, Christian or not, who is this bad of a person. I suppose there are people who are like this, but the assumption is made that these characters are the way they are because they are atheist. Only god makes people good. Otherwise, you're going to be a spiteful and disgusting human being. I take offense to this because I am not a spiteful and disgusting human being. I am a good person. I am caring and kind. I am helpful and courteous. I don't cut in line at Disney World and I let merging traffic into my lane. Atheists are not terrible people, and they need to stop being portrayed as such. There is a movement dedicated to this idea. Good without God, by Greg Epstein, details the Humanist ideals of tolerance and morality without the reliance upon a higher power. Atheists can be - and are - good people.
American society holds fast to its belief that you have to have god in order to be an acceptable human being, and that god is the only reason any part of this world can hope to crawl out of its immoral hole. The point of this post is to tell you that is simply not true. Some people need religion in their lives. Other people don't. Neither of them are terrible people because of it. Unfortunately, often only one of those groups of people are recognized as such.
I am living proof that a person can be good without god and that religion is not a prerequisite to kindness. The members of my various online groups are too - as are the very few atheist friends I am lucky enough to know in person. We are good people, despite how society would like to portray us. Atheism will not be the downfall of society. You know what will? Intolerance. Hatred. Close-mindedness. Fear. Looking down on someone because of what they believe is no different than doing so because of the color of their skin or because of who they happen to love. Segregating ourselves into camps of "right" and "wrong" does nothing for our society. The lack of god isn't weakening our moral fiber - the lack of compassion is.
Atheists aren't big, scary monsters coming to murder you in the night. We aren't dispicable people who will stop at nothing to pry you away from your religion. We are your neighbor, your sister, your daughter, your child's teacher. We are your coffee barista, your bank teller, your doctor. We are a person who is doing the best they can to live a good life full of happiness and joy while hoping to make a positive impact on the world around us - just like you.