March 7, 2014
This I don’t believe
Less often than I used to have the time for, but still on a fairly regular basis, I wind up in debates with atheists online, when I protest some ultra-generalized hysterical but maddening mischaracterization of Christianity or of religion in general.
Just for instance: “But Christianity teaches that women are subordinate to men,” and I blink confusedly and go “…wait, what?”
Because mine didn’t, and doesn’t.
I ran across this graphic a while back….
[Graphic reads: “I’m an atheist. I believe the existence of any deity has never been proven and is unlikely to ever be proven. I believe that good can and should be done without worrying whether or not you’ve done sufficient good to be rewarded.”]
And the funny thing is, I could just as easily say the exact same thing as a Christian.
In fact, most of the time, most of the things that I’m presumed to believe by aggressive atheists, if I identify myself as a Christian, are not only not the case, but nonsensical to what I actually believe.
And while what I do believe in is more difficult to verbalize, what I actually don’t believe in is easy.
I don’t believe God is a bearded magical guy who lives in the sky.
I don’t believe the existence of God has been proven, or is likely to ever be. I’m not even particularly sure that it should be, were it even possible.
I do not believe in doing good or being decent to other people only because some authority tells me to, or offers the reward of heaven or threatens the punishment of hell.
I probably don’t believe in heaven or hell as literal places at all.
I don’t believe that the way you get sent to either one is by sufficiently appeasing or pissing off God, or for believing or not believing in the right religion or the right deities. I don’t believe that because I (obviously) think my beliefs are true, that other faith systems’ beliefs must necessarily be false.
I don’t believe in a God who particularly enjoys punishing people for normal experiences of being human, or who rejects people for who they are or who they love. I don’t believe in a God who demands an unreasonable level of perfection or obedience to an archaic and unchanging system of rules.
I don’t believe in a God who demands that we not question or doubt or use our capacity for critical thinking.
I don’t all that much believe in what most people think of as magic or the supernatural.
I don’t believe the existence or action of God is necessary to explain what simply isn’t understood by science yet. I don’t believe that the wonder or beauty of creation or the natural world is dependent on us just not understanding how it works. I don’t believe that what we don’t understand yet is particularly strong evidence for the existence of God.
I don’t believe that the reality of evolution is in any way antithetical to anything truly important about my religious beliefs. I really, really don’t.
(So I don’t believe, either, that the fact that neurological capacity for spiritual experiences can be shown to have evolved, in any way undermines or contradicts the authenticity or significance of that experience.)
I don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. I don’t believe the Bible was written by anyone but people, who had historical and cultural contexts, histories, emotional lives, and agendas of their own.
I don’t believe that morality can only originate in religion.
I don’t rely on a pastor to tell me what to do or how to think.
I don’t need to believe in a heaven or an afterlife to escape fear of death. (Which is not a particularly effective strategy anyway—I still fear death.)
I don’t need to believe in an all-powerful protector in order to not fear life.
So let’s go ahead and get past this part of the debate: these are the things I really don’t believe. If those are the only terms in which someone else can understand what religion is or what its significance might be to a person or to a culture, that’s not my fault or a weakness in my belief system. I am not under any obligation to say “Oh, you’re right, of course, my faith system is what you say it is regardless of how little you understand about the actual experience of it.”
I’m not trying to convert anyone, to convince you to believe anything you have no genuine inclination to. And I’m not arguing that religion shouldn’t be criticized when it exhibits real problems or when real harm is done in its name or under its influence, but relying on one-dimensional caricature to do that, insisting that religious belief by definition consists of things that for a lot of people it really doesn’t, is as unfair as it is unhelpful.
“Describe the God you’ve rejected. Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe that God either.” —Timothy Keller