Note: The following post involves discussion about religion, atheism, and some of the controversy surrounding it. As this is different from most of my posts, I feel I should let you know before you get started in case this isn’t your cup of tea.
I’m hardly ever one to drone on about the subject of religion because I find that many people tend not to appreciate it. It can get uncomfortable at best and nasty at worst. But three things happened recently that brought on the idea for a post like this.
- I went to the library and picked up a copy of I Sold My Soul On eBay by Hemant Mehta
- I engaged in an hour-long discussion with Mormon missionaries in my own home
- I saw an image that said, ‘Religion: The best excuse for being f—- stupid’
These things might seem loosely related, but they display the clear differences between the way I and others who claim to be like me believe things should be. At this point in time I define myself as an atheist, but that’s the important point to make. I am not an anti-theist. I am not anti-religious. My atheism is not a system of beliefs, nor does it imply any intellectual advantages or superiority to anyone else. My being an atheist means that, as the prefix implies, that I am not a theist. And that is that. I would immediately question anyone who claims that atheism is anything more.
Two days ago I walked into the library, and among several other books I picked up I Sold My Soul On eBay. I hadn’t heard of it before, but picked it up simply because it looked interesting (which is how I have discovered many fine books). I’m not yet finished, but I’ve found that, so far, I relate very closely to the author. Also an atheist, he is one simply because he has not found anything to convince him otherwise. This has always been my stance. I am not atheist because I close my mind to all possibilities of gods, but because I simply haven’t been convinced yet, though it’s not for lack of trying. In that, he and I are similar.
So far the premise of his project (visiting many churches and writing about his experiences) was to look at faith from a non-faith perspective. He would go to churches and take part in their activities, volunteer if he could, and keep a genuinely open mind. When he was finished, he would write a critique of sorts for all to see for the benefit of improving the churches’ operations. How can they better reach out to people who don’t believe? How can they get current believers to become more enthusiastic? How can it be improved for everyone? I found this to be remarkably helpful. Churches often get a bad reputation for having rather poisonous attitudes towards people who don’t believe as they do, something I’ve found to be remarkably ineffective when it comes towards teaching and spreading the word, which is what they also claim to want. (Share the word of the lord, they say. Help others find him, they say. Unsurprisingly, insults and threats of hell do little to convince the ‘other side’ to join them.)
My own exploration of religion has been very similar to Mehta’s. Mormon missionaries visit my house on the occasion, and though I’ve seen many stories about the “most creative ways to get rid of [them],” they are welcome in my home. I’ve learned plenty that way. I’ve been to many churches and observed their services, I’ve spoken to religious leaders — the most memorable occasion in recent memory being the time an imam opened his mosque for the sole purpose of speaking with me and answering all my questions. I’ve received holy texts, pamphlets and more, and where some would take joy in trashing them, I’ve taken joy in reading them. My experiences with religion have been quite nice, and I’d like to think that it’s because I sought out knowledge and assistance, not fights.
So when I see an image like the one posted recently, I feel legitimately sad. The world and ideas hoped for by Mehta will be extremely difficult to reach because everyone is so concerned, and even angry, over what other people believe. There is no difference between the person who says you’re destined for hell if you don’t convert and the person who says that you are an idiot for believing something they don’t (something I loosely reference in a vlog I made about religion and labels). Between both sides hurling nearly identical insults at each other, I’ll hear plenty about why it’s fine when they do it and how there’s no hypocrisy involved whatsoever.
As an atheist, I’d like it to stop. I don’t want religion gone. I don’t want religious people gone. I don’t find myself to be superior to anyone else. I find myself to be just another human being with unique beliefs, just like everyone else.
I also want to point out the difference between atheist and anti-theist, because I’m tired of the angry vocal minority ruining the reputation of one of the few labels I’ll ever refer to myself by (something I’m sure many people of faith can relate to, especially if some moron who claims to share your beliefs just murdered someone or blew up a building).
I’ve had so many wonderful discussions with people of faith, read many wonderful books, and most importantly, learned a lot. Through meeting other people and treating them as such and keeping my mind open to new possibilities, I’ve maintained a relative security in my own beliefs without being threatened by others. I know that what I’ve done isn’t for everyone, but honestly, I wish it were. I wish that people would avoid letting stereotypes and temptations of conflict rule their lifestyle. I’m sure it feels good to insult others for their beliefs, but when it comes to maintaining a sense of community and peace (something most people regardless of belief would agree on), it does little more than break the fragile hold on peace we already have.
I wonder why it seems too much to ascribe to the idea that people with different beliefs can get along. Perhaps it takes a certain maturity and outlook on life that some people have yet to grasp, though I doubt some ever will. Eventually that’s what I’d like to see. I’m not sure if I ever will, but I see no reason to stop pursuing that end.