Here's the post that I wrote on my new substack account yesterday, and shared via a link on this blog. I like substack, but after a day of pondering how much I like it, I'm leaning toward sticking with my three blogs as ways to share my writing.
If I was starting fresh, substack would appeal to me. But given the many years of history I have with each of my blogs, it just seems to make sense to stick with what's working for me. I can always use substack as a backup to Typepad, my blogging service, since now and then Typepad has a lengthy outage.
If this happens again, you could head to brianhines.substack.com to see what I'm writing about while I wait for Typepad to be fixed.
Atheist me speaks to religious you
Hi. I’m Brian. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God.
I used to, for 35 years. But not anymore. I’m addressing this post to those of you who do believe in God. Not with the goal of making you like me, a non-believer.
I just want to help you understand how us atheists and agnostics (who basically are undercover atheists) look upon religious belief.
Of course, I don’t speak for all atheists. I’m just sharing my own view. But most of my friends also are atheists, and we frequently talk about religion, so I’m pretty sure that what I’m about to say largely meshes with their perspective.
Let’s start with belief.
That’s obviously a big part of religion, which deals with mystery. What happens after we die? Is there a supernatural realm in addition to this material world? Is there a creator God or has existence always existed? Does morality reside in a divine will or is it purely human?
Questions like these aren’t objectively factual, like “How far is the moon from Earth?” They’re subjective, a matter of belief and, for religious people, faith. Atheists like me answer them either by saying no one knows, or talking about likelihoods: Since there’s no demonstrable evidence of the supernatural, probably it doesn’t exist.
But atheists have no problem with religious belief. At least, taken on its own. (I’ll soon explain what I mean by that.)
Life can be tough. Pain, disappointment, sorrow, disease, death — these and so many other misfortunes can be very difficult to deal with. The way I see it, whatever helps us get through difficult times is a good thing, so long as our source of support doesn’t harm ourselves or other people.
(Becoming a heroin addict isn’t advised for that reason.)
Marx famously said that religion is the opium of the people. OK, that’s fine by me. Believing in a God who cares about us; believing in a life after death much better than this one; believing that prayers can help a loved one in distress. If these beliefs aid someone in getting through tough times, they should imbibe that opium with gusto.
My own religious belief for the above-mentioned 35 years was of the Eastern variety. I was a member of an India-based religious organization headed up by a guru who was viewed much as Jesus was in his time: as a Son of God sent to return souls to their heavenly father.
When my mother suffered several strokes prior to her death in 1985, I found some solace by engaging in a sort of prayer related to the meditation practice I was taught by my guru. Because my mother was an avid seeker of truth, when I meditated I asked my guru to give any benefit that might accrue from my meditation to my mother, not to me.
I’d visualize my mother soaring upward toward a truth-filled heaven with every repetition of the mantra I’d been given to repeat, while I was propelled downward into darkness. Love for my mother made this exercise joyful. It gave me some peace of mind that counteracted my worries about her health.
But here’s the thing about my admittedly irrational religious belief. It was entirely private. I didn’t tell anyone about it at the time. Only recently did I talk in a post on my Church of the Churchless blog about how I acted after my mother’s strokes.
So this gets me to the downside of religious belief: when it ceases to be viewed as a subjective way of making sense of an often confusing, distressing, painful world and becomes seen as objective truth that should be accepted by everybody, including the non-religious.
This is where most atheists, me certainly included, have a big problem with religiosity. Too often here in the United States fundamentalist Christians want to impose their views on the rest of us.
If a religious believer doesn’t want to have an abortion, great. Just don’t try to pass laws that claim life begins at conception. Or if this attempt is made, buttress that claim with rigorous fact-based arguments about the nature of life, not by quotes from the Bible or some other holy book.
This tweet by a noted law professor about the recent ruling by a federal judge that could ban an abortion medication nationwide makes my point nicely.
If a religious believer doesn't accept gender fluidity, great. Stay firm in your personal maleness or femaleness. Just don’t encourage discrimination against LGBTQ people in schools, places of employment, or anywhere else. Science isn’t on your side, even if you consider that your religious scriptures are.
Understand: I’m not saying that religious people have to keep their faith under wraps. After all, here I am writing about my atheist perspective. Religious believers have the same free speech right.
The difference, though, is that we atheists don’t go around knocking on doors trying to convert people to godlessness. We don’t lobby politicians to elevate our perception of the cosmos into law. Sure, one reason we don’t do this is that atheists embrace reason and science, so secular society reflects our point of view.
But atheists also tend to be fiercely independent. After I came up with the title of my Church of the Churchless blog, I needed a subtitle. It took just a few seconds for me to come up with Preaching the gospel of spiritual independence.
Atheists, like cats, are difficult to herd. My wife organized an atheist Meet Up group here in Salem, Oregon. They get together every Sunday for conversation and godless fellowship. The group has few rules, and no beliefs that everyone has to accept. Just a commitment to being open-minded.
For me, people who belong to a religion should be like soccer enthusiasts. Fans of a professional soccer team go to a match dressed in the team colors. They cheer and chant wildly. They believe that their favored team deserves to win because it’s the best damn team in all of soccer.
However, they realize that fans of other teams feel the same way. They don’t consider that their soccer beliefs are based on an objective reality. It’s just how they feel about the team they’ve chosen to embrace.
It’d be nice if all of us could realize that beliefs are simply our subjective ways of looking upon the world, while facts point to an objective shared reality.