This post is not about why I think it’s irrational to believe in the supernatural.
This post is not (wholly) about my journey from faith to reason.
This post is about why I believe that religions are not a force for good in the world. A great number of my believing friends, when hearing I have cast aside my former belief, question why I’m an activist about this. Why not just let others have their faith, the comfort it brings them, the good the church does? Why can’t I just keep my views to myself – why upset others by being public about my position? It’s a valid question.
I have two primary reasons for expressing visibly and vocally my decision and desire to live a life based on reason and rationality. The first one is more personal, the second is more important.
I spent 45 years in the faith, fervently and earnestly trying to follow its precepts, understand its directives, and doing my part to establish a relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus. Many sermons outlined the elements of a dynamic faith: prayer, bible study, fellowship with other believers, evangelism of the lost, financial support to my church. I did all of these things consistently and passionately. The struggle I had with inconsistencies, contradictions, illogic, and disagreements, I buried/twisted/denied/justified/explained. When I finally admitted to myself that I could no longer support believing in this theology, as I wrote in my “Coming Out Blog”, I felt a sense of freedom, euphoria, and relief that has not dissipated; I feel that now as I write, and every moment of every day.
I recently attended the American Atheist Convention in Des Moines, Iowa. While on a bathroom break, as we were washing our hands and looking in the mirror, another conference attendee remarked “You know, every time I’ve seen you, you are smiling!”. I explained that I didn’t even realize it, but that I was just so happy to be on THIS side of the argument. I commented that I have issues like everyone else, a serious health concern, dramatic family issues, constant stress from law school, and that the joy and happiness I find in life has never been more profound.
I can say that my first reason for wanting to be public with my life’s philosophy, believers, is the same reason you do. I DO want you to know what it feels like to live like this, the freedom and confidence I find in living an evidence-based life. So while a billboard announcing that may be offensive to you, try to align it with YOUR evangelistic efforts, and I hope you will find the fairness in the drive. I support your right to believe what you want, and I support your right to want to tell other people about what those beliefs mean to you.
The second reason I’m “out” (from which I’m going to soon drop the quotation marks) is far more noble and important to the health of our country. I’ve used the singular Reason, when in fact it should probably be Reasons, and while they are multiple, they all fall under the title: Why Gayle Can’t STFU. Each topic should have a post all its own, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll try to just write one disclaimer statement.
Subverts critical thinking skills – I think when we teach our children (and adults) to simply shrug their shoulders when addressing enormously important questions, we teach them not to explore further, question deeper, research broader, and we lose far more than we realize.
Represses women – It is astonishing to me that even the most progressive of christian churches would restrict a woman’s right to serve the faith itself. The idea of that affected my daughters profoundly and irreversibly when they were seeking what they thought was God’s will at the time. Your may feel that the version of the faith you hold does not do this, but your support of the whole does.
Endorses fundamental version of same book – many of my believer friends are the groovy, lovey, progressive types, and if this were the only version of christianity there was, I wouldn’t care so much about countering with visibility of my own. It is not, and their version endorses a book which can be interpreted as a fundamentalist document, with more repression, more subversion, and more danger.
Encourages belief without evidence – To my believing friends who acknowledge they are not building their beliefs on science, but simply on faith, I ask: “Why is it noble and good to believe something for which there is no evidence?” It is not acceptable in a laboratory, not acceptable in a classroom, not acceptable in a courtroom, and not acceptable in life.
It substitutes an artificial morality, based on an ancient text, for a genuine one, based on true compassion – I think even believers would agree that in 5 minutes’ time, we could improve upon the Ten Commandments…maybe include one about keeping your hands off of children, not beating your wife, working toward social justice in your community, restoring the environment, all based on a desire to decrease suffering, not on rule-following for rule-following’s sake.
It validates a judgmental system where certain groups (LGBT) are discriminated against for what it calls a sin, and interferes with loving families adopting and raising children – There is so much real suffering in our world, and much that we have the ability to alleviate, that any energy spent toward fighting against people who love each other getting married, having or adopting children, and raising those children with values and ethics and compassion, is a waste of time at the least, and destructive and hateful at the most.
It implements a hatred of self and body – the idea that we are born sinful and without worth is destructive and counter-productive to our becoming useful, functioning citizens in our society, and exacts a toll on its believers insidious in its scope and range.
It minimizes the very real problems of environmental issues, hunger, poverty, disease because of the belief in the more important afterlife – I remember as a believer hearing repeatedly that the most important thing we could do for people who were dying of hunger and disease was to pray for their salvation; more important than financially supporting relief efforts, more important than working to resolve those problems, more important than dedicating personal efforts in our own communities to affect those issues.
It endorses bad science by insisting on ignoring any evidence in conflict with its teachings – the battle in our public schools over the teaching of creationism vs evolution is exquisite in its audacity. The scientific community is overwhelming in its acceptance of the evidence for evolution, and anything less is a violation of the trust our children are putting in us, and shows either a lack of academic honesty, or an irresponsible denial of reality.
It squanders its members time/creativity/money/compassion by directing it toward evangelism to the exclusion of actual social justice – I would not dispute that there have been good works done in the name of religion. But I don’t think that religion is necessary for those good works to be done, with no loss of time/effort/creativity/money/compassion spent in the evangelizing of the people served, and the suffering alleviated.
There was a debate on this topic not too long ago between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair, and he does a much better job than I in describing why I believe what I believe, and is worth the 90 minute investment to watch, believer or atheist.
When I was a believer, the faith community applauded my outspoken proclamation of my beliefs. You admired me for taking a stand for what I believed in, whether it was popular or not. You appreciated my willingness to take on whatever resistance I faced when I made these claims, and you did all these things on the premise that I had a moral and ethical responsibility to do so. I ask you to continue to do that.
So while the southern girl in me is inclined to apologize for offending you, the humanist in me refuses, because far more is at stake than your feelings. I am a patriot, I am a moral person, and it is very important to me to actively participate in our country’s social and political processes. It is a question to me of intellectual integrity, and I find I can do no less.
Thanks for reading.