Let’s Talk About Religion

I hate religion.

Okay, that’s not true.  And I should probably rephrase that before an angry mob of Christians armed with torches and pitchforks shows up at my door.  I don’t hate religion.  I hate organized religion.  And hate is probably too strong a word for how I feel about it.

But hey, it got your attention didn’t it?  Ruffled a few feathers?  Sparked some fires?  I’ll admit to being inflammatory, but that was kind of the point.  In a country that’s supposedly about freedom of speech and freedom of religion, saying something like that is generally considered taboo.  Which is funny, because some of the same people who would consider that off-limits to say are also the ones who flocked to the defense of a Minnesota restaurant owner after he posted a “Muslims get out” sign.

 

“But guys, it’s not directed at ALL Muslims. Just the extremist ones.”
“Yeah sure…whatever man.”

 

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post about growing up as a non-religious person.  In it, I talked a little about how frustrating it was to always run into that “you have to believe in God” sentiment from kids my age.  I also mentioned how atheists are almost always seen as antagonistic and angry people, which in a self-fulfilling way made me a little antagonistic and angry toward religion during my high school years.  And the stigma against atheists is no joke.  Eight states in our country have laws on the books which state that non-believers can’t hold public office, although the laws are thankfully unenforceable now due to a 1960’s Supreme Court decision.

But regardless, the stigma persists.  I remember seeing a video a long time ago about a billboard espousing atheist views that said something similar to “take the myth out of Christmas” with a picture of Jesus on it.  I couldn’t find that video again, but I remember it had the format of someone walking up and asking people what they thought of it.  One woman stuck out to me in particular, because she said something to the effect of “they shouldn’t be allowed to post stuff like that”.  And I remember wondering why.  Why shouldn’t they be allowed to post things like that?  Isn’t that what freedom of speech is about?

That restaurant owner who posted the “Muslims get out” sign?  Totally tactless.  Totally idiotic.  And even if his excuse of “well I couldn’t fit the word ‘extremists’ on the sign” is true…he apparently never considered not posting the sign.  Because somehow it never popped into his head that maybe…just maybe…people might construe it to mean all Muslims.  In the end though, it was totally his right to post it.  That I do not deny.

But I digress.  I make the drive from Duluth to my parent’s home around once every month or two.  And every time I see the same anti-abortion billboards, over half a dozen in all.  And almost every single one has some kind of Christian theme to it.

“God knew my soul before I was even born,” one proudly reads with a picture of a smiling baby.  Yeah…he knew you were going to be a peeing, pooping, screaming nightmare for the first few years of your life.  Anyways, I see these kind of signs all the time.

But when the group known as American Atheists puts up a billboard?  Suddenly it’s a war on Christmas.

Now, I will admit, their tactic isn’t exactly the nicest thing in the world.  That is kind of their point, to ruffle a few feathers.  But it does speak to a certain stigma against atheist viewpoints.  A shocking amount of people in the world think that a belief in God is necessary to be moral.  It’s ridiculous, really.  A decent number of those very same, “moral” Christians also want to keep Muslims out of this country.  A decent number of those very same Christians won’t lift a finger to help refugees.  A decent number of those people also have an almost fetishistic love of firearms.

And that’s the thing that bothers me about organized religion.  It’s full of people constantly complaining about their religious freedom, yet those same people never stop to think about the religious freedoms of others.  For all their haughty outrage about Christianity being called a “myth”, they never stop to think about the face that to them, every other religious system that exists, has existed, or will exist is basically a myth to them.

The Greeks?  The Egyptians?  The Romans?  All myths.  Even Hinduism could be called a myth from the Christian perspective.

But somehow, that doesn’t track with a lot of people.  Because for them, of course other belief systems are a myth because theirs is the only right one.  Their god is the only real god.  And very few of them ever stop to think that “hey…maybe that other guy from that other religion thinks the same way.”  Because, to them, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve been told from the very beginning that they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

See, I’ve always felt that religion is a personal thing.  It’s why I don’t shout “I’m an atheist” in someone’s face immediately upon meeting them.  Because it shouldn’t matter.  But a lot of people out there seem to think that they have the right to run roughshod over other people’s beliefs while not allowing their own to be questioned.  Whenever I have a debate with a religious person over the origin of the universe, the conversation usually goes like this:

“The Big Bang theory is so stupid!  Something can’t come from nothing!”

“Well then where did God come from?”

“God always was.  He was always there.”

“What?  But you just said that something can’t come from noth-”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

It’s frustrating, because it just doesn’t make sense to me.  They believe in an omnipotent god who was always there and can do anything he wants at any time.  And yet, something coming from nothing is just “impossible”.

I’ll stop here, because I could go on forever about this.  For all the pandering and complaining about Christians being “victimized”, most of them truly don’t understand the meaning of the word.  I don’t either.  I’ve never lived under a totalitarian religious state, so I can’t even conceive of what that must be like.  But if you’re a Christian, next time you start complaining out loud or to yourself about how underrepresented or oppressed you are, take a step back for a second and reevaluate the situation.  You’re in the majority.  Not just in the United States, but in the world at large.

Remember that next time you want to whine about being “so oppressed”.  There are plenty of people who can hardly get a word in edgewise.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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Would They Believe? Religion and First Contact with Extraterrestrial Beings.

So a friend of mine from work read me this headline:

“NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life.”

And my reaction to this was along the lines of “oh no…”.  Because whenever religion and science get mixed up together, things have a habit of getting murky and confusing.  And then people get mad.

Now, the blog post I just linked you to isn’t a big fan of this idea.  The author believes it is a waste of money as well as a violation of the First Amendment, “for it is an unnecessary entanglement of church and state.”  On some level, I do agree with this.  However, I also think that the subject is worth discussing.

Humans have been fascinated with the idea of alien life for centuries.  Whether it is in literature, art, or conspiracy theories our ideas of what alien life could be range from the intimately familiar to the terrifyingly bizarre.  We can’t help but think of it.  The universe is so large that it seems unfathomable that it would just be empty and devoid of life aside from our little planet in our lonely corner of existence.

Have you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox?  The basic gist of it is that there are so many stars and so many planets that some of them would have to give arise to Earth-like conditions.  And these conditions would give rise to intelligent life that would eventually seek out a way to cross the interstellar void.  Enrico Fermi, one of the authors of the argument, came to the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by intelligent extra-terrestrial life, leading him to ask “where is everybody” and give rise to the paradox in question.  The paradox has been answered in many different ways, but here are just a few: that evolutionary life is rare or non-existent, that other intelligent life lacks the advanced technology, that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, or that Earth is specifically avoided or isolated (which reminds me of the story “They’re made out of meat” by Terry Bisson…it’s a very short read but a good one).

But say that one day humans did encounter intelligent life?  What would we do then?

First off, let’s backtrack a little.  A long time ago, someone posted a chart to my Facebook wall which proposed what you should do if you end up being the first human to interact with intelligent aliens.  I remember this specifically because at one point it suggests leaving religion out of the equation and choosing instead to show these creatures the concept of our evolutionary history.  Some of my more religious Facebook friends took issue with this, wondering “well why can’t we present them with religion?”

 

Here's the chart for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s the chart for your viewing pleasure.

 

The first problem that arises with presenting aliens with religion is the question “what religion do we start with” or “what religion do we present to them that best represents humanity?”  If we were to go on a cold, logical level, we would say Christianity.  According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2010 Christians are still the majority around the globe.  But by the time we make contact with alien life, things might be different.  Pew estimates that by 2050, the number of Muslims and Christians around the world will be nearly equal because Islam is the fastest growing global religion.  So even on a pure logical level things may get murky in a few decades.

But from my perspective, none of this matters.  I see two possible outcomes when aliens are presented with our religion or religions.

 

Outcome 1

The aliens have no religion anymore or never had any concept of religion in the first place, in which case they would find our steadfast belief in a creator being that we cannot see or even know for certain exists baffling and possibly primitive.

 

Outcome 2

The aliens already have their own religion, and so ours would be incorrect in their eyes.  They would likely brush off our beliefs the way modern Christians brush off the beliefs of, say, the ancient Egyptians.

 

Both of these circumstances hold the possibly for a violent outcome, whether due to our fault or theirs.  But then again, any first contact situation could result in this, regardless of the presence of religion.  But I stand by my point.  Our religions would likely be of no consequence to extraterrestrial beings.

Now, is it possible that these beings would find our concept of a god/creator so fascinating that they would want to learn more and maybe even be converted?  Yes, but I don’t see that really happening.  If their thinking process is anything at all like ours, they will hold steadfastly to their own system of beliefs and philosophies.  As it stands, the two outcomes I listed above are far more likely.  The third is based on this faulty assumption that the “truths” in religion are self-evident and would be immediately obvious to anyone intelligent enough (which is not to say that religious people aren’t intelligent…I know some people out there will take it that way even though that is not my intent at all).

But then, this isn’t the question the group NASA granted money to is looking to answer.  They’re more concerned with a question along the lines of “what impact would the revelation of other intelligent life in the universe have on US and OUR religions?”  Because humanity is sort of self-centered like that.

Again, the way I see it, there are two likely outcomes to this:

 

Outcome 1

Contact with other life leads to a drastic re-evaluation of religious texts in an effort to discover any meaning to the existence of alien life which either leads to the collapse of the current religions and the start of new ones or with the consolidation of current religions with the new knowledge.

 

Outcome 2

Religion will remain largely unchanged.

 

There will of course be other outcomes, like fringe sections of the religious community possibly associating the aliens with devils and demons.  But they would be a small voice in a large crowd, a tiny fraction and not representative of the entire human race.

Regardless, it’s an interesting thing to think about.  And it is indeed very difficult to say what would happen in the event of first contact.  It is possible that none of the outcomes I listed would even happen.  I could be entirely wrong in my assumptions.  To err is human, after all.

I’m sure others would have their own opinions on what might happen if and when we run into aliens out in the universe.  It is a part of our nature to theorize and hypothesize, analyze and criticize.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  It is a part of our process.  It is how we adapt, how we change.  It is how we progress as a civilization, as a race.  Change is inevitable.  It may not always be good, but it will come.  There is no avoiding it.

So with that, let’s look to the future with bright eyes and curious minds.

 

That’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Stoking the Flames: Common Reactions to a Muslim Terrorist Attack

Some years ago I took a college class on world religions.  My teacher, when we came to the section on Islam, said that she enjoyed teaching this religion because she wanted to help dispel the idea that Islam was a violent and evil belief system.  And I agreed with that idea, because far too often we find ourselves in a spiral of denouncing something most of us don’t truly understand.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Brussels last week, we are still in mourning and counting the dead.  And, as with every terrorist attack revealed to be the fault of Muslim extremists, there are a certain set of reactions that make themselves known.  I want to take a look at a few of them today and why I think they are misguided.

 

“Why aren’t Muslims out in the streets denouncing the attack?”

This is probably the most common one I hear.  In the aftermath of every terror attack, this is a question that pops up.  And despite the fact that plenty of Muslims do denounce the violent extremists, for some people it’s all or none.  If you’re not publicly speaking out against it, then you must be secretly supporting it.

So why is this faulty logic?  For much the same reason it would be to force all Christians to denounce the actions of someone who bombed Planned Parenthood.  For much the same reason it would be to force the state of Kansas to constantly denounce the hate spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The actions of the few do not represent the perspectives of the many.  Just because a few people somewhere are hateful or violent does not mean that all people who belong to a large, generalized group are the same.

Put simply, you cannot judge a book based on the cover someone else puts over it.

 

“Muslims are dangerous and I don’t want them in my country”

The Syrian refugee situation is probably the largest humanitarian crisis of our time.  And yet, despite the fact that these are people in need, people who just want to get away from all the violence, they are often refused admission to other countries or are even placed into camps to keep them separated from the general public.

The reason for this is as simple as any: fear.

For countries over in Europe, the fear is two-fold.  The first part of it is the common fear that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees.  The second (and arguably more reasonable part) is that harboring the refugees will somehow make those countries a target for more terrorist attacks.  Here in the United States, almost all the fear comes from that first part, the idea that terrorists will be hiding among the refugees and will carry out attacks on our so-called great nation.

Here’s the thing: a terrorist would have to be an idiot to try and get in through the same way as refugees.  They have to go through an extensive screening process that can take eighteen to twenty-four months to complete, and that’s only after they get selected.  I talked about this back in the beginning of December, and I linked to a John Oliver video that I felt explained the refugee application process well.  I refer you to that video once again simply for the sake of brevity and not repeating myself.

But all that is even besides the point.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  And that’s not some political correctness agenda I’m putting forth.  It’s the simple truth.  There are approximately 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world.  If they were all terrorists, we would be dead, plain and simple.  A conservative talk show host once made the audacious claim that ten percent of the world’s Muslims were terrorists.  This is an insane accusation because, as Cracked.com pointed out in 2010, that would equal about 150 million terrorists.  And if they each pulled off an attack killing just forty people, they could wipe out all the non-Muslims on Earth.

Besides, statistics show that since 9/11 here in the United States, more people have been killed by white supremacists and anti-government radicals than Muslim extremists.  Food for thought.

 

“Islam is a barbaric and violent religion”

I do wonder how certain types of people would react if they found my blog post.  I’m willing to bet some would just shake their heads in anger and click off the page without even giving it a chance.  So if you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  And thank you for giving me a chance.

But I digress.  Often, when the crusades come up in a discussion about religion, people among the Christian faith have one of two reactions.  They either brush it off, asserting that the crusades are part of the past and can’t be used as a fair judgement of modern Christianity (which is a fair point).  Or, they fire back, saying that the crusades were simply a defense maneuver against the onslaught of Islam in the Middle East.

There seems to be this perception in the western world that Islam must be a violent religion that spread by the sword.  This probably stems from how fast Islam was suddenly a worldwide system of belief.  Christianity took hundreds of years to go from being a persecuted cult to the state religion of the Romans.  By contrast, Islam went from being one person’s epiphany to a dominant religious force in the Middle East and northern Africa in roughly a century alone.  So the assumption was that for Islam to have spread so far and so fast, it must have been through violent conquest (and this was a conception that existed before 9/11, which honestly only exacerbated it).

But, as with a lot of things, the true history doesn’t really back up that idea.

If you compare Muslims and Christians during the time of the crusades, you’ll find out that Christians were far more brutal.  They beheaded people…a lot.  And by contrast?  Muslims gave their defeated foes food.  They fed their enemies.

Oh, it was a thing.

The prophet Muhammad actually put forth a lot of progressive rules for conducting warfare.  Among them was the idea that armies will not kill women, children, or innocents.  Muhammad also barred them from burning trees or orchards or destroying wells.  His successor even made these ideas the standard for Muslim armies.  It was so much so that according to the Cracked.com article I linked you to earlier, one expert said that the Muslims “exhibited a degree of toleration which puts many Christian nations to shame”.

 

To finish this off, I will say that I have not read either the Bible or the Quran in their entirety, so my knowledge of both religions is incomplete.  However, I will say this: all religions have misconceptions.  They are all perceived one way or another, unjustly or otherwise.  And when you consider that Muslims make up only around one percent of the population here in the United States, the overwhelming dislike of them starts looking ridiculous.  The hatred has been allowed to breed because the voice of the minority group is drowned out by a larger and louder crowd.  These people are never forced to confront their misconceptions because their chance of actually meeting or running into a Muslim in this country is so slim.  By contrast, harboring a belief that all Christians are violent is nearly impossible because you can barely step outside the door of your house without running into one.

Humanity does not exist as sides of a coin.  Humanity is a spectrum, filled with people who believe and feel in all different ways.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

 

After Life: People’s Desire to Believe in Ghosts and the Paranormal

It has almost been two years since I started this blog.  My very first post (aside from the introductory post) was a post about ghosts.  I talked about how, while I don’t believe in ghosts and the paranormal, I find the idea rather fascinating.  Briefly, I mentioned that I believe that ghosts represent a certain desire of people to understand what happens to them after death.  Some people want to believe that the human spirit somehow endures, whether it be in ghostly form or in some other version of an afterlife (the Christian idea of Heaven, for example).  But the question becomes “why”.  Why do people want to believe this so badly?

Death is a scary thing.  The human mind can’t truly grasp the concept.  Even with the concept of an afterlife, the very idea of death is bizarre.  It’s especially strange to those of us who do not believe in an afterlife.  The simple idea of just not being, not existing someday is an impossible thing to comprehend.  The very thought of not being able to talk to our families, our loved ones is a terrifying one.

I believe this is where ghosts come in.

Ghosts are a way to explain what happens to the very consciousness of the human body when one dies.  There is no real scientific basis for it.  There is no logical basis for it.  And yet, it is an idea that has persisted for centuries.  To some, it is a comforting idea.  It is a way to reach into the past.  It is a way to comfort ourselves, to assure ourselves that death is not simply an end.  I am always amazed by the obsession with death that some people have.  It is an interesting thing to think about, but some people go to far, becoming completely enveloped by it.  Perhaps out of fear, they turn to ideas like these, paranormal ideas that give them a reason to believe in life after death.

 

White Lady of Worstead Church

White Lady of Worstead Church

 

The world is a very strange and confusing place.  The human desire to explain everything around us is what I believe leads to ideas such as ghosts.  We have an insatiable need to know everything, to understand everything.  And we are not patient people.  We want to know and we want to know now.  We’re not always willing to wait and thoroughly study something to understand it.  So sometimes, we speculate.  We try to interpret the world around us, even if we don’t have anything to support our reasoning.  And you know what?

That’s okay.  In fact, that’s human.

Maybe the paranormal believers will someday turn out to be right.  Maybe they’ll eventually provide us with some evidence that will concretely prove the existence of ghosts.  And maybe someday they’ll be proven wrong.  This is the reason why I ascribe to the scientific method.  It works.  And if theories are proven wrong, science moves past that to come up with a better hypothesis, a better theory to explain the world around us.

But until then, we’ll just have to keep searching.

 

Well that’s all I have this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

 

The Journey of a Non-Religious Man

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.

 

First Contact

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.

 

Teenage Bitterness

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.

 

Acceptance

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!

Christianity: On the Decline in the United States?

I mentioned last week that I didn’t want to do a post entirely about the gay marriage ruling because I couldn’t find a good focal point for it.  This week I’m slightly backpedaling on that decision as the topic I want to talk about is directly related.  I once again stress that this is simply my opinion, and not intended as an attack on religion in any way or form.  With that said, let’s get started.

At this point it’s been almost two weeks since the Supreme Court ruled the gay marriage was legal in all fifty states.  And since then, there’s been a loud outcry from some within the Christian community.  Some have been insinuating that Christianity is losing relevance in modern culture, that their religion is shrinking.  At first I thought it was just a bunch of “poor me” nonsense in reaction to the ruling but I became curious as to the actual statistics.  So I headed off to the Pew Research Center’s website to find out exactly what Christianity’s state of affairs in this country was.

And you know what?  I was actually surprised.

Growing up, it was hard not to notice that most of the people around me believed in something I didn’t.  It occasionally put me at odds with my peers, and I even had some kids as far back as elementary and middle school tell me that I was going to hell because I didn’t believe.  I don’t blame them for what they said.  They didn’t really know any better at that point.  They were just parroting what their parents and the other adults around them said.

But I digress.  I did notice as time went on that it became easier and easier to talk about the fact that I was nonreligious.  I thought a lot of that was just me growing up and becoming more comfortable with who I was.  But as it turns out, the culture was shifting along with me, something I became more aware of during college.

The Religious Landscape Studies preformed by the Pew Research Center shows something rather interesting.  They conducted two large surveys of more that 35,000 people each, one in 2007 and another in 2014.  After comparing the surveys, they came up with the figures and how much membership of religious and nonreligious groups has changed.

In particular, Christianity has dropped from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent, a drop of nearly eight percent.  You can see the full chart below.

 

Pew Research Religion Chart

 

 

So it is true that the number of Christians in the country has been in the decline in the last seven or so years.  Honestly the drop was sharper than I anticipated.  I knew on some level that Christians didn’t have the same numbers they did when I was growing up, but I figured that the drop wouldn’t have been as significant as it was.  But there is something I would like to point out.

While it is true that the number of Christians has dropped, it is still a majority force in this country.  It may be a nearly eight percent drop, but at 70.6 percent Christians still make up more than two-thirds of people in this country.  There’s this strange trend I’ve seen among some Christians where they like to paint themselves as being marginalized or even victimized because of the Supreme Court ruling.  Often this comes in the form of some story about a Christian small-business owner refusing service to a gay person and then being set upon by the government.  “Well if it’s all about equal rights, then what about my rights,” they often cry.  Never mind the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution basically says that business owners are not allowed to discriminate against people based on such things as skin color or sexual orientation.

That would take research, and as we know some people in this country just hate doing research.  Why do that when you can just follow the flow?

(I realize that the above sounds incredibly bitter, but I’ve found it to be true for a significant number of people.  It becomes far too easy to fall into one of two overly simplified stances on an issue.  I’m talking about stances like all cops are bad, all protesters are thugs, all Christians are homophobic, and so on.  Often when you look beneath the surface of an issue, you find that it is far more complicated than you realize.  I just wish some people would actually take the time to do that instead of giving in to knee-jerk reactions.)

Admittedly it is true that Christians have declined in number and the number of people who identify as nonreligious, atheist or otherwise, has increased.  But this hardly constitutes a marginalization of the Christian people.  Like I said, Christians still make up over two-thirds of the population in this country.  That percentage is most likely going to decrease in the next couple of decades, but that’s normal.  Cultures shift all the time.  Groups will often decrease in size only to increase in size at a later time.  I would hardly say that Christianity is in danger of dying out or anything like that.  I think people hit the “panic” button long before it was due, if ever it was.

This country was never a Christian nation, no matter how many people insist that it is.  When one of the reasons for breaking off from your parent country (Britain) includes a frustration with the rigid orthodoxy of the church, you don’t turn around and create a nation founded under one religion.  It makes absolutely no sense.

Besides, the declining number of Christians has no effect on your ability to believe what you want to believe.  This country was meant to be a place for different ideas, different faiths and different lifestyles.  One group should not have absolute power over all others.  Much of our country’s history has been us learning this lesson time and time again.  Let’s not make that same mistake with religion.  Let’s accept each other for who we are and not force our way of thinking on everyone else.

We’re all just clutching desperately onto a tiny planet in a small part of a larger galaxy that is spiraling through the universe at over a million miles an hour.  We might as well make the best of it.

 

And that is all I have for this week.  Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week everyone.  For those of you who want to look at the Pew Research Center’s study in full, here’s a link.

Social Change: The Gay Rights Movement and Why it Matters

For those of you who know me well, my stance on the gay marriage issue is well-known.  It’s one of the few issues I have a hard and clear stance on.  In most things, I like to be somewhat open-ended with my viewpoint, but in this one particular case I staunchly support the gay rights movement despite not being gay myself.  I don’t budge and I don’t second guess myself when it comes to this issue.

Despite it being an ongoing issue, it actually hasn’t been in the media much lately.  Aside from the Arizona law a few months back (which was ceremoniously shut down thankfully), there hasn’t been much in the way of news surrounding the issue.  That’s why I am writing this post, to keep the issue fresh in people’s minds.  We cannot forget that the issue exists, or else we will slide backwards.

So today I’m going to explore my own viewpoint on it.  But before I start, I want to reiterate the fact that what follows is simply my opinion on the matter.

What God Says

The most common thing I’ve heard when it comes to the gay rights debate is that God says this, God says that, the Bible states this, the Bible proclaims that, so on and so forth.  Putting aside the fact that the church and the state are separate entities in this country for a moment, the argument founded under religious principles is inherently flawed.  First off, there wasn’t even a word in Hebrew for “homosexual” at the time much of the Bible was written.  Secondly, most of the time the Bible even refers to something akin to homosexuality it is referring to, at least to my knowledge, male pleasure seekers (read: prostitutes).  So to base your argument around words meant to describe male prostitutes means you are essentially lumping all gay people into one category, and as we all should know, no one likes that.

To label all homosexuals as prostitutes is obviously plain judgmental, but that seems to be what people are doing when they use arguments from the Bible.  Whenever they say “God hates gays” or “homosexuality is a sin” or anything like that, they are essentially saying that all gay people are male prostitutes (apparently lesbians aren’t a thing according to the Bible, sorry ladies).  Now I must admit, I have never read the Bible in its entirety, but I’ve been exposed to enough passages from it to make a reasonable interpretation on its stance on homosexuality.  And as far as I can tell, it has very little to say.

And besides, who in their right mind really believes that God could be that petty?  A being so powerful he created an entire universe, but so narrow-minded that he can’t handle the idea of two same-sex people making googly eyes at each other.  It seems so ridiculous, but that’s how certain Christians view him.  Which is to say nothing of the fact that the Bible has been translated hundreds, if not thousands of times.  So we also have to consider that any references to homosexuality may have been tailored to do so by certain societal forces.

Of course, all of this is really a moot point because of the separation of church and state in this country.  Because yes, marriage is not a uniquely Christian concept.  Marriage has existed all throughout history, even in ages that predate Christianity.

The Secular Factor

But the opposition to gay marriage isn’t uniquely a religious program.  Religion is a major part of it, but there are secular arguments against it.  These arguments are no less important than those based upon faith, and are just as dangerously narrow-minded.

One of the most common ones I hear is that gay marriage is “unnatural”.  Not only is this incredibly presumptuous, but it’s also completely flawed.  We can’t start making distinctions between what is “natural” and what is “unnatural”, because on some level we are all a part of nature.  We can’t escape it, despite how often humanity has tried.  We can make gods, we can presume ourselves to be of divine significance, we can give ourselves purpose.  But regardless, we exist along with everything else on the planet.  We are not separate, we are one with the world at large.

And besides, homosexuality in nature is actually a thing.  Around the turn of the century, homosexuality had been observed in nearly 1,500 species of animals.  So this “sin against nature” actually occurs within nature itself.  Can nature be unnatural?  I’d love to see someone try to make that argument.

I must admit that the scientific evidence surrounding homosexuality in animals is a little confusing.  For example, homosexuality in animals seems to be choice driven at times, or at least driven by an environmental condition where there is a shortage or even absence of opposite-sex partners.  But in humans, it seems to be hard-coded from the start.  And to those who would argue that it’s not I ask only this: who would choose to be a social pariah?  Who would choose to be ostracized by their peers, or disowned by their parents because of their sexual identity?  Who would choose to be a target of bullying and oppression?  Who, I ask.  Who?  Besides a social masochist, I don’t think anyone would.

I’m willing to bet that there are a decent amount of people who wish there was a switch they could flip to not be gay, so that they could avoid all the social backlash.  We live in a country where despite our progressive appearance, we continually harbor prejudiced feelings towards those who are different.  If you look, you will see.  We fear those we don’t understand, and in our minds they are all against us.

“Why can’t they wait?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a statement like this:

“Well why are they pushing gay marriage so hard?  Can’t they wait until we settle our other issues first?”

No, they can’t.  Because where does it end?  America has always had problems, and it will most likely continue to have problems for as long as it exists.  The fact is that if we tell people to wait until we deal with other issues or until the climate cools down or whatever colorful euphemism you prefer, then we might as well be telling them to not bother at all.  It’s like when you tell someone you don’t particularly care for that you just don’t feel like hanging out tonight because you’ve got other plans.  It might be what you say, but chances are that both of you know exactly what it really means.

You can’t just stop social change once it starts.  That’s not how it works.  When someone or a group of people are unsatisfied with their quality of life, you can’t just tell them to hold on a bit longer because they’ve BEEN holding on for a long time.  They’re sick of it and they want change.  And they won’t stop just because someone better off than them thinks it’s too “controversial” or “unimportant” to deal with at this present time.  Such a course of action is nothing but a stopgap measure.  It’s a way to keep tensions down while not addressing the real issues.  And if they’re been waiting for the better part of two decades at least, then why should they have to wait any longer?

Do you think Martin Luther King Jr. ever considered the possibility of “waiting for a bit longer”?  No way.  He even addressed the idea in the famous letter he wrote while in Birmingham Jail.  He couldn’t stop the masses from demanding equal rights even if he wanted to.  You can’t stop social change once it starts.  It’s an unstoppable force, and there is no immovable object in sight.

Closing Thoughts

All throughout history social change has been opposed by one group or another.  Inevitably, these groups lose the fight because they are the products of a dying age.  They are clinging on to their old ideas of “the way things used to be”.  But change is inevitable.  In much the same way as the leaves change color and fall every year, so too will new generations of Americans bring new ideas to the table.  Their ideas might not always be great, but they’ll come about just the same.  We can’t live our lives if we keep our heels dug in the past.  Eventually, we have to move forward.

And that’s why I care so much about this issue.  I want things to change.  I’m not satisfied with the way things are going, and I probably won’t ever really be satisfied.  There will always be something to debate, something to change.  If history has proven anything, it’s that humans are constantly in a state of flux, trying out new things and new ideas.

The people who are against gay marriage are on the wrong side of history.  Change is coming, there is no doubt about that.  The only thing we can do is speed it up or slow it down, but eventually it will reach its destination.  The only real choice to make is which side you want to be on.  Change isn’t always unstoppable, but when it comes to basic human rights, it is essential.  To fly in the face of such a thing is to fly in the face of common human decency, and I do not say that lightly.  I very rarely take such a hard stance on things, but there is no budging for me.  If you are going to deny someone their human rights, then I will deny your humanity.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  I really do care about this issue a lot.  It’s one of the few things that I get really fired up about, so again, thanks for reading.  Next week’s post probably won’t be as dramatic or intense.

Tune in next Wednesday at noon for a new post.  Until then, have a wonderful week everybody!