Tag Archives: un-belief

Jesus, Take the Wheel*

As most of my friends and readers know, I hold a strong belief that there simply is no god.  To me, such a belief is too improbable to consider.  I am vocal (and occasionally a little snarky) in my dislike and disdain for religion – but my quarrel is not specifically with belief in things that I personally consider irrational.  After all, people I love and care about believe lots of things I consider ridiculous – that they will win big at the lottery someday…that the chocolates they eat in the afternoon won’t interfere with their diet…that their loved ones who regularly hurt them will someday change…that Bono cares deeply about poor people (there’s that “snarky” again).  But the truth is my quarrel is not with belief in unlikely things in and of themselves.  I have many friends who hold beliefs in “higher powers” as well as the things mentioned above, who are honorable, giving, “good” people whom I love and respect.  I don’t necessarily think that we all must choose to live in the cold spotlight of absolute reality at every moment of our lives.

But some beliefs are dangerous.  I have known people, for example, who were certain of their ability to drive a car after consuming a large quantity of alcohol.  The confident belief in “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, now discredited, is largely responsible for the deaths of nearly five thousand US soldiers (in Iraq alone) and over a million Iraqi civilians (although the statistics vary widely).  The point I’m trying to make here is that individual beliefs should be respected – to a point – and that some beliefs are too dangerous to be allowed to continue unchallenged.  If the chocolate you  are sneaking from the desk drawer each afternoon is putting you at risk of diabetic shock…if the loved one you cherish is physically violent and an imminent threat to your safety…if you are playing the lottery instead of paying your mortgage – your belief has crossed a line.  It has become dangerous to you and quite likely to others and it needs to be questioned.

The kind of danger I’m referring to was palpable to me when I happened upon this clip:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJPcB9JMyu4&

For those of you without the patience to watch it through, it’s a montage from the recent prayer rally “initiated” by Texas Governor and (now) Presidential contender, Rick Perry.  Here’s what you’d see:

  • A football stadium chorus of people of many ages and races singing over and over “there’s no god like Jehovah”
  • A benediction delivered by a woman declaring “we pledge allegiance to the lamb, the true source of liberty and justice for us all”
  • Introduction of the “co-chairs” of the event, including such luminaries of intolerance and manipulative rhetoric as, Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson (if you aren’t familiar, here’s a primer http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2005/spring/a-mighty-army#10 )
  • Multiple references to “our savior Jesus Christ” (at what was allegedly an interfaith rally), “lord and king”, “father god”, “our lord” etc.  and  Governor Perry himself telling the crowd that the “only thing you love more (than America) is the living Christ”
  • The last two minutes are the most disturbing as they feature a series of near hysterical teens beseeching their god to “send revival” especially to our schools to “save America”

You can find more about this event at http://theresponseusa.com/

So here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Do I think it’s okay for the people in this video to hold the beliefs they do, beliefs I consider improbable and ridiculous?  For the most part…yes.  Believing in a god, an afterlife, a creator, a metaphysical father watching over us – don’t, as such, represent an imminent threat to others (although I question if some of the young people at the close of this clip have actually been able to choose these beliefs, and they don’t appear to be affording much peace or comfort.).  But this is the governor of the second largest state in the US (by both square miles and population), a man who has announced his intention to become the leader of this nation (a nation founded on the separation of church and state).  This man denies, and cites religious evidence for such denial of both evolution, and of a human contribution to the warming of the planet.  He is a signer of the “Pre-natal Protection Act” which specifically includes fetuses in the definition of “human life”.  He has used his religious convictions as justification for signing bills forbidding state funding of Planned Parenthood health centers and for compelling women to view a sonogram prior to undergoing an elective abortion.  He has stated that he believes in the “inerrancy of the bible” and believes that all those who do not accept Jesus Christ as savior are going to hell.

Do I feel threatened by Governor Perry’s beliefs?  You bet I do.  Don’t you?  There’s an empty bottle of tequila on the lawn and Perry’s backing out of the driveway.

 

*with thanks and apologies to Carrie Underwood for “inspiration”.

 

 

The Dreaded Question . . .

I’m really excited about my new website and this blog – my very first. I’m a woman of strong opinions – and I love personal stories – so this is a format I am looking forward to exploring. I love to write, and I don’t usually have any trouble doing so, but I must confess that I found the prospect of writing my very first post a little daunting. Got to start out on the right foot….

Since this whole endeavor, becoming a celebrant, starting this business, beginning a blog, has been tied to my decision to be more “out” about my atheism and the issues that raises for me in daily life, I thought I’d write about a fundamental question I get asked from time to time:

“What if you’re wrong?”  Which really means…”What if there really is a God?  Aren’t you afraid you’ll be in…big trouble?”

I guess I’m sort of encouraged by the question, because the very nature of the way it’s phrased says as much about the questioner as it does about what they’re asking me. Those who truly believe don’t need to ask (they’ve already decided what awaits me in the great beyond), it’s those who are trying on un-belief for themselves, people who are questioning but haven’t been able let go of their own trepidation who ask question s like this. It’s an invitation…a request for permission…or ammunition. I usually answer it with a version of the following:

Measuring up – I’m far from perfect, but I do my best. I think carefully about the impact I have on the world and other people. I’m good to kids and nice to animals. I recycle. I give of myself when I can. I smile at strangers. Just because I don’t believe in hell doesn’t mean I take any delight in doing evil – quite the contrary – I do the right thing because I choose to, not because I’m afraid I’ll be punished if I don’t. Line me up alongside the “ten commandments” and I’d do pretty well. If there is an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient deity watching over me and judging me (and I am confident there is not – but IF), I have to believe that my deeds will hold up next to the vast majority of humanity, however devout. I stand by my record. I’m actually pretty proud of it Following that same logic, if Heaven is really full of all the people who claim they’re going, I’m quite sure it’s an insufferable place where I don’t have any interest in spending time.

Declining the Invitation – And if there is a God, I’ve got his (her?) number. This God trawls about the earth causing, (or at least allowing) incredible suffering. Tremendous sorrow and deprivation abound on this little planet. And this is the entity in whose company I’m supposed to want to spend eternity? I can’t square endless reward as a justification for all the pain, malevolence and grief experienced in this world. And I can’t accept that any being capable of ending it would allow it to continue. I am so frustrated by believers who “praise God” for the lone survivor of a terrible accident – while ignoring the fact that if a God existed who was capable of saving one individual, that same God chose to allow all the others to perish. If that’s who God is. If that’s the bargain. If that’s who’s the host of the after-life party. I’ll decline, thank you. Heaven just isn’t going to be my kind of place.

If this is all there is… – I think the biggest reason I’m not afraid of “being wrong” has less to do with my un-belief and more to do with satisfaction I’ve found in what I already have. This world, and my life in it, are so unspeakably wonderful, that I am really OK if this is all there is. Music, art, literature, the beauty of the natural world, laughter, time spent among friend, a cat purring on the sofa next to me, the chance to do good work with people I admire, opportunities to help stranger, and make new friends. Sure I have plenty of days of frustration, even an occasional moment of despair – but I find it hard to sustain. I have so much that even as I struggle to experience as much as I can there is always more to discover. How could I possibly have all that I have – and expect paradise too when this life comes to an end? It seems exceptionally greedy and ill-mannered – Like eating a fifth dessert. I am surrounded by joy, right here, right now. I have no need for an extra bonus round when this one is over.

I’ve actually seen people cringe and look guilty when I say things like this – as though they were worried that their proximity to me would somehow render them sinners by association – or that lightning just might strike the spot I’m standing transforming them into divine collateral damage. I don’t mean to make light of it. Struggling to hang on to beliefs in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary is daunting (that’s a tale for another day). But I’m cheered that they’re asking questions. We should all ask more question.