On Being Nonreligious

I don’t believe in any kind of god. That probably comes as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog even semi-regularly, because I’ve indicated as such multiple times. I’m not ashamed of that fact. Being an atheist and saying so isn’t a big deal to me. On the other hand, I’m not one of those people who make atheism a religion and insists on preaching about the power of nonbelief and how ludicrous religions are and hypocritical and blah blah blah. I don’t honestly give a flying fuck what you or anyone else believes in. And like the Golden Rule, I’d just like the same in return. I don’t want to talk about religion or debate it, although I can. I have no interest. It’s the same thing with discussions about politics: there is not one thing I can say to a believer that will make them change their minds, and there is nothing one of them can say to me that will change my mind. So what’s the point? People who get off on debating that shit in person or on Facebook or Twitter and feel the need to fire slings and arrows at The Other Side constantly are really fucking tedious. I believe the Washington Redskins are the greatest organization in the history of the NFL. That doesn’t mean I’m gonna proselytize about that every day.

Anyway, what got me thinking about this was a recent article on Slate about how atheists are treated, particularly in the Bible Belt, and comparing it to closeted people so afraid of persecution from the community that they dare not come out of the closet. It’s mostly personal anecdotes and study results, including the 2006 University of Minnesota study on the perception of atheism. Ever since I read it, it’s percolated in the back of my brain. I mean, nothing in it was new to me, and I don’t experience the same kind of shunning from my neighbors that the people in the article describe – I don’t talk to my neighbors anyway, because the geographical oddity that resulted in us all deciding to live in the same area is a flimsy basis for me to put in the effort to talk about mulch and the weather – but I’ve found myself thinking about it off and on ever since.

If you haven’t heard or don’t give a shit about the U of Minn study, it basically finds that atheists are considered the least trustworthy group in America. Here are a couple of questions that illustrate their findings:

This group does not at all agree with my vision of American society…”

  • Atheist: 39.6%
  • Muslims: 26.3%
  • Homosexuals: 22.6%
  • Hispanics: 20%
  • Conservative Christians: 13.5%
  • Recent Immigrants: 12.5%
  • Jews: 7.6%

“I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group….”

  • Atheist: 47.6%
  • Muslim: 33.5%
  • African-American 27.2%
  • Asian-Americans: 18.5%
  • Hispanics: 18.5%
  • Jews: 11.8%
  • Conservative Christians: 6.9%
  • Whites: 2.3%

The Slate article also has this to say:

A Gallup poll last year showed that, while 9 per cent of Americans would not vote for a Jewish presidential candidate, 22 per cent wouldn’t support a Mormon and 32 per cent would not vote for a gay or lesbian candidate, 49 per cent would refuse to back an atheist for president.

A report from the Pew Research Center last November showed that 53 per cent of Americans say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral.

That’s some pretty fucked-up crazy shit right there. Of course, my opinion may be biased.

I don’t really understand what the threat of a nonreligious person is based on. I mean, we don’t have a book that tells us that we have the right to brutally murder people who commit certain actions. We aren’t relying on human interpreters to tell us what we can and cannot do. And yet, the very fact that we don’t believe in a higher power renders us as the Ultimate Other, not to be trusted. I’ve seen it in action, too. Before my wife and I got married, she was told by both her mother and grandmother that it was impossible for me to love her, because I did not believe in God or Jesus (respectively). Seriously. I am apparently incapable of love because I am not a Christian. They believe this. As, apparently, does a vast amount of people in this country – the land of religious freedom, so long as you choose one of the pre-selected Okey Dokey Belief Systems, and None of the Above is not an option. The fact that the majority of Americans believe that I need to believe in God to be moral, and I have to be honest here, seriously pisses me off. There’s no point in pointing out the hypocrisy of that statement, since we’re all well aware of the various scandals and wars and genocides and all carried under the guise of Belief (although I suppose that because the perpetrators in some cases believe they have Divine Right for their actions, they view them as moral, in which case I reject their version of morality and will substitute my own). It does rankle the shit out of me, though.

Thankfully, my wife ignored the arguments that without Jesus there is no love, and we’ve been married for over 15 years. Have we had ups and downs? Sure. We’re married. Good times, bad times. I can honestly say, though, that I’ve never loved her more than I do today, right now. I don’t need to believe in any kind of Benevolent Creator for that. I just need to know how my wonderful spouse makes me feel, and how protective I am of her, and how happy I am to see her every single day. I won’t bother telling you how many times my mother-in-law has been married. So I think I’m doing OK in the whole love department, thanks.

Do I enjoy living in a religious world? No, not when it intrudes on my life. I detest the addition of Under God into the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t like the In God We Trust on our currency. I don’t like being asked to bow my head in prayer in any venue. But I don’t make a big deal about it. We live in a religious nation, no matter how people try to interpret the First Amendment. It’s part of our culture. I think that’s a shame, but I also think it’s a shame we have to grow old and die, that pimples appear directly in the middle of your face, that the best-tasting foods are the worst for you, and that I am not independently wealthy. Somehow, though, life goes on.

I remember one day when a couple of Mormons came to my door. I talked with them for a little while, being polite without any divine mandate that I do so, and they were quite pleasant. They asked about my beliefs and I told them about the lack thereof. They asked if I was happy. Why, yes, I am, actually. They then asked me to imagine how much happier I could be if I believed as they did. Now, I’m pretty imaginative, I think. That one was a puzzler to me. I said, OK, I’m good, I’m actually quite happy, and I was then told that I wasn’t as happy as I could be. Not that they would know, of course, since I presume they were born and raised in the Mormon Church and therefore have no idea just how happy an atheist can be, but I didn’t let it get to me. I thanked them for their time and they returned the thanks, and we all parted in mutual happiness. The same thing happened to me later with a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses – the religion I was raised in, incidentally – with similar results, although they tended to hang on to pushing the awesomeness of believing in an afterlife. I tend to prefer to believe that this is all the time I have, and therefore I should get as much joy and happiness out of this time as I can, and try to make the lives of the people I know a little better for having known me – except for Lance Bevins, the biggest jerk of a fifth-grader that ever was, and I’d welcome someone who’d send boils his way – so that when I’m gone, I’ll be remembered and hopefully missed for a while. I don’t need anything more than that, and the contemplation of an afterlife spent basking in the glory of a god is, to be perfectly honest, not much different to me than the eternal torments of a mythological netherworld. I’m good with nothing at all.

I know that there is a lot of people out there who go to church without believing in it. It’s the easy course to go to keep people off your backs. But if there is someone out there, stressed out about the fact that their non-belief is going to make them a pariah, or worrying that they will be sent to some arbitrary place when they die as they’ve been told, or afraid to admit to the people around them that they don’t believe – I just want to say, hey, it’s all good. There are a lot of people just like you out there, and there are more of us every day. Being an atheist doesn’t mean you need to spend your time poking holes in other religions – which can be fun at times, I have to admit, but I only like doing it rarely with other nonbelievers, because otherwise it just gets old and makes you look like an ass. It just means that you accept what you believe, and I think that’s the key to happiness: self-acceptance. It’s all good. We can coexist with the religious, even if they don’t trust us yet. They’ll come around. They’ll accept us as people with morals, who can love others and the country we live in, and someday they’ll realize that having their child marry one of us is no big deal.

Until then, hey, at least your Sunday is free.

UPDATE: Oh, and a handy tip for any of those newly-free atheists: When you find yourself broken down on the side of the highway in the middle of the night, and a white windowless van pulls up and asks if you need help, and you’re desperate enough to get in, and the skinny creepy dude in the back looks at you all weird and asks, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior?”, you do what I did and say without hesitation, “Yes. I love Jesus.” Seriously. Just say it.

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on February 10, 2012, in Philosophizin' and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. There needs to be more ‘live and let live’ acceptance in the world or else we’re all gonna implode. Sooner than later. My stepmother tried to shove some ‘God’ in my son about a year ago and also convince him that evolution didn’t exist and that I was destined for hell. She even had him promise himself to Jesus, without my knowledge. It was practically brainwashing, and he was terrified and confused. That was her one and only shot at hanging with him one-on-one, and she lost the privilege of future such visits.

    I have friends of varied backgrounds and all I care about is their genuine nature and willingness to not judge on face value. Let’s judge instead on mental competence. Like hey, if you’re a dumbass, bigot, or asshat, then you’re out. Otherwise, welcome to the melting pool we call life.

    • It took me 1,800 words to say what you just said. Curse your ability to be succinct!

      The cult mentality frightens me. Not everyone is that way, of course, but those who do things like that – man, it’s just scary. Actually, that reminds me – I need to add an update to the post. “Frightened by cult-like behavior” made me remember something else.

  2. Would it help if we had a god???? I vote for Mother Nature…she really does rule us as a species. We cannot exist without her and what she bestows upon us. Everything we have is provided by her and she will take care of you as long as you abide by her rules and take care of the world we live in. Who’s in with me? Maybe we will be trusted more if our god could whip up a hurricane or tornado and bring your house down!

    • That would be as close as I could get to worship, or that least respect. I’ll have to settle for respect, I think, since worshiping anything beyond a great steak or a hot cinnamon bun is beyond my abilities.

  3. You just can’t trust that Alan Edwards. First he says that the Washington Redskins are the greatest organization in the NFL. Now arguing about this is about as useful as arguing about religion and is besides the point. The problem is the next statement “That doesn’t mean I’m gonna proselytize about that every day”… Like I said, you just can’t trust the guy. Must be an atheist of something.

  4. Well I do believe in my God, I won’t say THE God or a God as not to set people off on that old row, and I too believe in the Redskins. And I do not regularly attend church, so I guess I am a bad Christian. And GASP (OH NOOOOOOO!) I am a republican. BUT , in all our years as gaming friends I don’t think I have ever or will ever discuss such things. I was taught in pest control, when you are in someone’s home, there are three things NEVER to mention, bring up or hint at. Politics, Sports and Religion. I find that is often a damn good thing to follow with friends. The exception to said rule, I too love the Redskins, as I was born in DC and my dearly departed mother was a life long fan, I might discuss the greatness of the Redskin team with you, and as a Republican I do discuss politics with John Hayward. And to the people that say you need religion to be morale and love, Screw them, I don’t think I have ever seen two people as in Love as you and Lisa. And like most the people at SunCon you two are some of the kindest caring people I know.

    • Thanks, man, I really appreciate that. I agree with your 3 Principles wholeheartedly. I do think it’s possible to discuss those things without it getting heated, but it’s tough, and an innocuous comment taken the wrong way is a shitstorm waiting to happen. Best to just let it go.

      Looking forward to talking Redskins with you!

  5. I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell in several religions. 🙂
    I am a Texan. Born here, raised here, it’s something of a religion all it’s own. That said, I have not told anyone about my dirty atheist secret outside my nuclear family. I’d rather they find other reasons not to agree with me, or to judge me rather than falling back on “Oh, she doesn’t have god in her life, that’s why she’s that way.” Fuck making it simple for them.

    I raised my kids without religion. OH THE HORROR! I think that will probably cement my damnation more than my own non-belief. I guess that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is my policy, being surrounded as I am by zealotry.

    • Oh yeah. If there really might be a hell, me and everybody I know is going there. Which is fine, because at least I’ll have friends to talk to.

      I definitely understand the idea of not giving people an automatic reason to think you’re wrong or misguided or whatever it is they think. It’s a sad commentary on our society, but understandable nonetheless.

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