On Being Non-Religious

I sneezed as I was leaving the YMCA this morning.  A woman in front of me turned around, smiled and said “May God bless you, and Jesus Christ also.”  I was a little taken aback, and I said “Wow, you don’t hear that much.”  She smiled and told me, “I like people to know I mean it.  So many people say ‘Bless you’, but they don’t think about what it means.”  Bemused, I smiled and we went our separate ways.

I’m not overly religious, but I’m not overly zealous about my non-religious ways.  I don’t get offended if someone invites me to church, or says “Bless you” when I sneeze (even “May God bless you, and Jesus Christ also”).  Whatever.  The average person is usually acting out of concern for my welfare and means me well.  Hey, I probably believe your religion is mumbo jumbo – rules and ceremonies created in the brains of men and then called laws of a higher being – but as long as you’re not using your religion to hurt anyone or to force people to act or think a certain way, or trying to change history or current politics, or wasting my time or my money – you have fun with that.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found many religions that meet all of those requirements, but if you’re a religious person who meets these requirements, then we can hang.  

 I read a few blogs that are listed on the Atheist Nexuus, I love the FFRF, I am a proponent of the separation of church and state, and I get upset when religion is used in the abuse of human or civil rights.   And while I do identify as a-theistic, I cringe a little when I’m cornered into saying I’m An Atheist.  In the past when I have identified as An Atheist to other Atheists, I’ve been expected to be able to discuss – in detail – why I’m calling myself an Atheist and to share in religion-mocking or book title dropping (I’ll get around to Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and Dawkin’s The God Delusion one of these days, I promise!  They’re on my shelf!  I’ve been busy.).  I’m not well-versed in religions or theology – I just don’t care to spend a lot of time learning much about either of these things.  Thus I don’t have many hard arguments against religions or religious ideology, and I certainly don’t have any arguments – or the desire – to talk anyone out of their beliefs.  The few times I have identifed as An Atheist to a person of religion I’ve been treated to some form of concern, eye-rolling, or hostility – no exceptions.  If they’re not disgusted they want to convert me…or at least they want me to do some “soul-searching”.  By the way, this is a poor argument if the atheist under scrutiny doesn’t believe in a soul.  Can’t you just see it?  “Hey, I’ll search it, but first you have to prove to me that it exists.”

I was raised in a fairly non-religious family – we attended Episcopal services for a little while.  I served as an alter girl – swinging the incense, ringing the bells, holding the wine glass and the plate with the communion wafers.  I got to be in charge of something and wear a uniform, and it was all good fun.  I was part of a youth group, which was great because I saw my first professional musical – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – as a result of that.  Looking back, probably the most offensive thing about my religious upbringing was that I went through confirmation classes.  What a joke!  As a society we say a person must be 18 years old before they are allowed to vote in elections or sign contracts, but you’re allowed – encouraged! – to commit your earthly life and eternal soul (should you believe in one) to a religion as a child before you have the ability to reason or think critically.  Seriously…that’s messed up. 

It does seem like my reasons for being atheistic are a more defensible than many people’s reasons for being theistic.  The specific reasons for my lack of belief are numerous, but here are my biggest ones: If there is a God, She/He/It’s obviously not interacting with the world or people in any predictable manner, so why should I cater to or attempt to influence a diety’s actions or mood?  For what other reason would I attend church or pray? I can meditate if I need peace, and I can be good and respect my fellow human beings without the middleman. Should I be concerned for the afterlife or my eternal soul’s final destination?  Please!  Every religion has a different take on how we should act in order to send our soul to where we think it should go.  To deeply believe that any Afterlife is “true” and that it’s “more true” that someone else’s…how presumptuous. 

I don’t want to spend my limited time on Earth trying to understand things that can’t be made sense of.  

Strive to be nice to self, to others and to be happy.  Be concerned with this life

I’ll work within these “rules” and fill out the rest from there.

*******

Sneezing woman photo source

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6 Responses to “On Being Non-Religious”

  1. J. Blaze Ward Says:

    Gorgeous words, dear Bri!!

  2. melaniebooth Says:

    Lovely post! When people ask my what my religion is, I usually answer “undecided.” Maybe because I work in higher ed, or because I truly don’t know / have one / need one … but it works for me and can be a distracting answer for those who NEED TO KNOW.

    I will, however, absolutely join your congregation of the people who “Strive to be nice to self, to others and to be happy. Be concerned with this life.” Why not? It’s a great goal to worship.

    • biodork Says:

      “When people ask my what my religion is, I usually answer ‘undecided.'”

      In your experience does the distracting answer distract permanently? Have you had someone try to help you decide after this?

  3. cobalt gradient Says:

    >>>”I cringe a little when I’m cornered into saying I’m An Atheist. In the past when I have identified as An Atheist to other Atheists, I’ve been expected to be able to discuss – in detail – why I’m calling myself an Atheist and to share in religion-mocking or book title dropping”

    “The few times I have identified as An Atheist to a person of religion I’ve been treated to some form of concern, eye-rolling, or hostility – no exceptions. If they’re not disgusted they want to convert me…or at least they want me to do some “soul-searching”. “<<<

    I totally feel you. I cringe too. And well we should! It's only natural to cringe when asked to submit a group membership as a basis on which to be judged as an individual—especially when the group you identify with happens to be composed of a broad range of moral characters and philosophies. It's most cringeworthy, I think, when you know that your lack of membership and interest in the asker's religious group indicates to them that they are now obligated to look at you as someone from whom they will likely be severed for all eternity, as you are heading toward the left hand of God to be cast into the outer darkness.

    Even so, as you observe, non-religious people, though often more tolerant as their philosophy doesn't usually involve tossing outsiders into a pit of fire for all eternity, often seem to want you to jump on their own version of the group-righteousness vaunting bandwagon. Hey, what if you just want to judge and be judged on an individual basis? Haven't we seen enough of the world on the six-o'clock news to know that there can be animals and angels in every group? All that anyone seems to be concerned with is that they're on the winning team.

    Because I loathe this kind of infantilism, I usually try to give the most vague and general group, thus: "I'm a human being, just like you." or "I'm a believer." very sincerely and seriously.

    I concede, though, there are a lot of greatly divergent philosophies and theologies out there, and it can be useful to have a ballpark idea of whether or not the person is going to strip naked and dance in the next thunderstorm as part of their neo-pagan earth-worship (which is cool—I dated this interesting guy once—it's just nice to have a heads up so you are psychologically prepared) or is going to consider it their God-given mission to get you to go to their three-hour Sunday LDS services, or… you get the picture. Wanting to know what team you're on is not the only reason for asking—it can also serve as a ballpark predictor of your behavior, or a sketch of your code of ethics and way of thinking.

    Sadly, many people—most people in my experience—seem to abort their attempts to *understand* you and begin their attempts to either *convert or shun and mistrust* you as soon as they find out you're not in their superbly righteous club. If they find out you are in their club, on the other hand, you're automatically a cool cat. They feel safe and righteous with you. Safety in numbers is not just a physical principle. Psychologically too, the more people believe in a philosophy, the more right the believers feel. To the human psyche, it seems every believer is another argument for the validity of the belief. I think Aristotle called that "proof by common opinion", and he also said it's one of the weakest arguments there is.

    Heaven forbid that a person could be more complicated than their general religious category!

    I am ex-catholic and would identify as "monotheistic" if I had to, but I approach the God thing in an original, organic, and personal way, and I feel there is something totally ridiculous about talking about God at all, so if anyone wants to know anything more specific they are going to have to get to know me better AS A PERSON.

    Sorry. I didn't think I'd go on this long. Thanks for posting what you did.

    • biodork Says:

      “…look at you as someone from whom they will likely be severed for all eternity…”

      Word. I actually had an acquaintance cut me out of his life because he said it made him sad to hang out with someone who he knew was going to be burning in the fires of hell for all eternity.

      “…it can be useful to have a ballpark idea of whether or not the person is going to strip naked and dance in the next thunderstorm as part of their neo-pagan earth-worship (which is cool—I dated this interesting guy once—it’s just nice to have a heads up so you are psychologically prepared)…”

      I think that this is my favorite reader comment that I’ve received in the life of my blog. Thanks for the laugh. Also, I completely agree with what you’re saying in this paragraph.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.

  4. june schubert Says:

    Hey there,
    Interesting blog. I guess I’m pretty much a believer, but don’t have a problem with non-believers. This is definitely a “make your own decision thing”.

    But on to why I really replied. First, it’s “altar” girl, not “alter” girl. I know you are all for change and all, but I’m pretty sure the wee ones assisting at the service won’t be allowed to alter–change–things in religion. There is a quote about a “little child shall lead them”, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t referring to “alter” girls (or boys either).

    And the other thing was when you were emphasizing a-theistic, it made me think back to my three years of high school Latin and prefixes and their meanings. Actually “a” is from the Greek and means: no, absence of, without, lack of, not. I am sure you are quite aware of this meaning but I put that in to tell you about a word I made up. Back in the way olden days (just ask your mama or granny for confirmation on this!), we didn’t say “hooking up”. We said, instead, “premarital sex”. Isn’t that quaint? And hopeful? And naive?
    The term I coined instead was “amarital sex”–sex without marriage. I thought it was much more accurate!

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