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.