It’s no secret to anyone who commonly reads this blog that I am not a religious person. Never was in fact. I never went to church as a child, never felt a need to believe in a deity. It’s a simple statement: I don’t believe.
But there are people out there who just don’t understand it, who don’t accept it as being that simple. In some way, they’re right. Choosing to believe or not to believe sounds like a simple fork in the road. You’re either one or the other. But the reality is far more complex.
This week, I decided I would get a little personal and share with you my personal perspective when it comes to being non-religious.
I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I first ran into the idea of religion. I know my grandmother on my father’s side is religious, although I doubt I first heard about it through her. She’s never been one to push her beliefs. I would guess, rather, that I probably heard a little about it at school or from peers, although I can’t remember for sure.
But I will tell you something I do remember: kids my age telling me I was going to hell.
See here’s the thing. There are Christians in our culture today who love to paint themselves as on the decline or fading from relevance. They like feeling like the victim. But they don’t truly understand what it feels like to be…different. To be singled out as someone who doesn’t belong. I’m not saying that I have any great experience with that (being a straight, white male), but when it came to religion I would occasionally feel that draft between me and other people.
I’ve seen many different videos where someone comes out as an atheist to their Christian family and gets viciously attacked for it. I’ve never seen a video of someone coming out as a Christian to their atheist family and getting attacked for it. It might exist, but I’ve never seen it, and considering that many Christians love playing the victim card, you’d think it would have popped up by now. There is a stigma a lot of people have against atheism in this country, where atheists are perceived as being bad. That same stigma does not exist for Christians, mainly because they so heavily outnumber non-religious folk.
And I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that kids my age told me I was bound for hell. My brother and I both experienced that in grade school. But you know what? I don’t really blame them for it. It’s a case where the kids were just parroting back what they’d been taught. Kids at that age are very impressionable creatures. They take whatever is thrown at them and try in their own naive little ways to make sense of it. You tell a kid about God, tell him that he is the only god, and he’ll run with that. The same is true in the opposite direction, which is why I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for not pushing me one way or the other. They’re both non-religious, but they never forced that on me. But I assume that’s why kids would say such things, because they truly didn’t know any better at that point in their lives.
I suppose my early experience with the subject matter is to blame for my attitude toward religion later on in life.
It came out quite vividly in high school. My attitude towards religion at that time became very caustic. I was against it in all forms and believed that it did nothing but hold humanity back. I could take the easy way out and just blame the natural chaos that being a teenager brings on your life, but I won’t. I was angry. I was bitter. I was, at times, hateful. I wasn’t always a great person, but that’s life. If you were perfect all throughout, then it wouldn’t be much of a journey would it?
I remember at that time in my life I wasn’t just bitter about religion. I was bitter about a lot of things. The world seemed to be full of little more than a bunch of self-serving idiots who couldn’t care less about what their actions did to others. It wasn’t just religious people, although they were often a prime target for my angst. It was a time when the future seemed to be little more than going to school and then getting some crappy job that sucked all the pleasure out of life.
Yeah, it wasn’t a very pleasant time. And few people really knew about it. I was good at keeping it bottled up.
But, inevitably, it would lash out from time to time. I remember a note I wrote on Facebook back around 2011, a mere four years ago. It was basically one of those rant things that said little more than “RELIGION BAD ME RAGE”. I have since made the note invisible to everyone except me, because it no longer reflects who I am today. But I did not delete the note because it is a reminder. It reminds me that I have changed, am changing, and will continue to change. To forget your past is to be blind to your faults.
A belief in nothing?
I have commonly described myself as an agnostic in the past, although atheist would be closer to the truth. A lot of people commonly misconstrue atheism to mean a belief in nothing. In reality, all atheism really means is non-belief in a god or deity. But some people like to take it a step further, insinuating that atheists have no morals because they, of course, don’t believe in anything.
Let me tell you what I believe in. I believe in empathy. I believe in morality. I believe in being a decent human being. And if someone is going to assume that I have no morality just because I don’t believe in God, then I say their worldview is warped beyond all recognition. The spectrum of human existence doesn’t just stop at being a Christian. It encompasses all beliefs from all walks of life.
And if you think I’m being dramatic, go to Google and type in “atheist”. The little box that appears above the search results lists “nihilist” as a synonym. Really? A nihilist is someone who basically believes that nothing has meaning and all values are baseless. If I sound ANYTHING like that you can just ignore what I say from here on out because obviously I have already failed.
And yet, despite all of the ranting I’ve done thus far, I don’t hate religion anymore. After going to college for a few years, I began to understand something. Everyone else is trying just as hard as I am to make sense of this chaotic existence. Often, they simply choose a different path from me, trying to find understanding in religion. It comforts them, because it provides them answers to the questions that plague them. It gives them faith, a belief they can hold on to and find strength in.
I am just not one of those people. And I understand and accept that.
This is going to sound a little condescending, but I find the answers that religion provides to be just a little too easy. Even in our brief span of existence on this planet, we have come to grips with some of the more frightening realities of it. Lightning used to be an angry god, but now we understand that it is all just charged particles in the air. There’s no real malice behind it. It’s just doing what it naturally does.
And that’s why I don’t believe in religion, because often it provides the answers until another truth is revealed. The torrential and destructive hurricanes were once the wrath of Poseidon, and now they’re just the result of tremendous air pressure out at sea. So much of what young humanity didn’t understand was chalked up to the will of inscrutable and immensely powerful beings because we had no other answer. It was our coping mechanism, our way to make sense of what didn’t. So to me there’s no reason to believe that these things we now consider as acts of God won’t just be explained as something else in the future.
People would probably fight me on that but you know what? I don’t want to fight. I just want to live. I want to wake up every morning to see the sky, to breathe the air, to feel the wind that blows off the lake that neighbors the city I now call home. I want to pursue my dreams. I want to experience what this world has to offer, and I don’t want to waste it getting in petty fights over whose beliefs are more right. Which is not to say that I am not open to debate on these things. Debating is not fighting, a distinction a great many people seem to forget in this day and age.
Our lives are but a brief blink in the grand history of the universe. I plan on making it the best damn blink I can.
Thanks so much for reading. This got a little heavier than I was expecting it to, but it often happens with these things. Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everybody!