31 July 2013

A response to a dear friend's blog post

I didn't plan on blogging today. But my friend and heart sister, the incredible writer and all around brilliant woman Dana, wrote a post about atheism and religion that I couldn't ignore.

In the post, Dana explains that atheism came to her gradually. Some of the comments already on the post explain how others came to atheism dramatically. Regardless of how, the points are the same: these people came to realize they had no need for any kind of supernatural deity who set the world in motion and affects events on it.

Dana says:
This universe is so much more immense than any god could be. It doesn't need magic, or a spirit force, or anything other than its blind, unthinking self to be magnificent. And those who think natural processes are worth less than a so-called intelligent designer haven't given any thought to how much more awesome it is to realize that plain ol' physical processes did all of this on their own. Every jaw-dropping thing you see needed no help from a deity. That, my friends, is the true magic.
This idea is the basis of my post today.

Let me tell you a little bit about my religious/spiritual background before I continue. I want my thoughts to be in context.

My father was raised in a conservative, fundamental, independent Baptist family. I'm talkin' King James Bible, three worship services a week, ladies in skirts kind of Baptist family. My mom is more liberal, but still categorizes herself as Christian.

In high school, I was all about the Baptist church. I was in the youth group and even considered a Baptist college. Then, in college, I was dating someone who was Catholic. At the time, the Catholic church answered questions I'd had about the Baptist teachings. And I was fascinated by the ritual/tradition aspects of the services.

After getting married, I found myself searching spiritually. For a while I was very conservatively Catholic, I explored some nature-based traditions, and went back to Catholicism. When I realized that I'm gay, I assumed that the spiritual searching was because of that--I was searching for myself, but it was manifesting in finding the religion that spoke to me.

For the past couple of years I've been attending services at the local UCC church. It's a more liberal denomination, focusing on Christ's "radical love." The church welcomes anyone at any stage of their personal journey with no judgment. And while the teachings of the church are rooted in Christianity, I have found the church--and the people--to be the kind of Christianity I had been searching for. I felt comfortable there.

Over the past few months, though, I found myself struggling to get something from the services like I once had. I was struggling in my personal life with some major decisions. And while the church had once been my touchstone during difficult times, I found myself withdrawing from it instead.

The spiritual struggle I was facing was related to the struggles in my personal life. I was frustrated, feeling like for every step I took forward, I took another step backward (or sideways). I went to church, I prayed daily, and I did whatever I could to live a good life according to my understanding of Christianity. And still, everything was a struggle.

And then I read Dana's post.

In her post, she asks the question "Why God?" In asking the question, her point is asking why people need a divine being to have created the universe. Why can't the awesome power of science and the universe itself be enough? But in reading her post and that question, it was something more to me.

It's not just about needing a creator being, but why do people need divine intervention? Why do they need help getting things done in their lives? When something bad happens, why do they need a supernatural being to "blame" without actually placing blame ("God's will" or "trials and testing")? Why do people need an intelligent being bigger than themselves?

Why do I?

As I read Dana's post, I realized that I've been struggling spiritually because of my upbringing. I can't blame it entirely, but I was raised to believe in God, so it's very strange for me to conceive of an existence that doesn't include a benevolent deity.

But with the way my life has gone the past couple of years, if there is a god, he is, at best, apathetic and, at worst, malevolent. The successes and progress I've had in my life has been a direct result of the work I've done. I've busted ass to get where I am. My setbacks have been my own, and so have my successes. I did that. No one or nothing else.

I realized that I have held tightly to a belief in a god because of how I was raised, and because I didn't want to believe that the struggles I was enduring were for no real reason. But reading more and more about religion and spirituality, I instead see the negativity that comes from belief (particularly blind belief), which far outweighs any benefits that come from it.

People use religion as an excuse for bad behavior. They use it to justify treating people like property, starting war, laying claim to land, and excluding anyone they don't like or understand. People ignore what's right in front of them because it doesn't fit into their perfect little box.

Yes, there are people who are genuinely good people who also happen to be religious/spiritual. Those are the types of people I found at the UCC church, who give me hope for humanity. And I'm glad for those people in my life. They need that type of spirituality. That's fine.

But for myself, I can't participate in a religion/spirituality that is used so often to marginalize, exclude and keep down so many people. I have an analogy I'd like to use, and I hope this doesn't minimize either atheism or veganism.

I am vegan. It's a recent change in my life (after watching a very compelling documentary about veganism and the manufacture of animal-based products). Last night I was talking to my sister (an omnivore) about it. She asked why I can't be "just a vegetarian." I explained to her that, for me, vegetarianism isn't enough. Yes, I could refrain from eating meat and only eat dairy, which impacts those who would kill animals for food. But the animals who provide eggs and milk are treated just as badly as those who are killed for food (worse in some ways because they're kept alive for the products), and by eating animal by-products, I'm saying that their suffering is not as significant as the suffering of animals who are killed, that it's okay to treat these poor animals this way.

I see religion/spirituality the same way. Just as we don't need animal products for nutrition (at least in this part of the world), we don't need religion/spirituality to be good people. So why is it any different for me to practice any kind of religion/spirituality knowing how people are treated at the hands of humans acting under "god's will" than for me to eat eggs and drink cow's milk knowing how those animals are treated "for people's health and nutrition"?

I just can't do it. Not anymore.

This universe is vast and beautiful and terrible all on its own. Why do we have to diminish that by saying it was created by a supernatural being?

I agree with Dana--we can read the stories and folklore and myths that come from religion and take the good from them, in the same way we read Chicken Soup books and take the good from inspiring stories, even make decisions to do and be better. But I don't need the threat of punishment to be a good person. I can do it all on my own.

I've been to the wild fields and tasted strawberries fresh from the vine. So I'm tilling my very own garden.


  1. Cripes a'mighty! I think you will appreciate that this is the most amazing post I've seen in a while.

    Your thoughts certainly echo many of the same ones I've dealt with. Being quite a bit older than you though, I'm a little further down the road (my apologies if that sounds snobbish).

    I'd like to add a few comments, but talking about God and religion is so difficult because the terms we must use are so loaded with preconceptions. Maybe later.

  2. Thank you, Chris! I'm looking forward to what you have to say.

  3. " When something bad happens, why do they need a supernatural being to "blame" without actually placing blame ("God's will" or "trials and testing")?"

    Ooh, that's a good one! I'm gonna remember that. :)

    "But with the way my life has gone the past couple of years, if there is a god, he is, at best, apathetic and, at worst, malevolent."

    Yep. Epicurus said this a long, long time ago:
    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

  4. Thanks for chiming in, Anonymous! I hadn't heard that quote from Epicurus until I read Dana's post, but it really stuck with me.


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