1.05.2011

You Want To Know My Religious Beliefs? Okay, Fine, Here You Go

You know, I can probably pull out an email a month for the past ten years where someone has either asked why I am an atheist, or called me an asshole because I am an atheist, or says that atheists can't possibly understand why Christians do what they do, etcetera.

I'm not an Atheist. It's almost comical the degree to which Christian people cannot understand that "Not Christian" ≠ "Atheist".

I'm also not a liberal, but conservatives can't seem to understand that people who don't agree with them ≠ Liberal. It's probably the same people. I need to write a script which compares all the hatemail I've received over the years to determine senders. I'll get on that, sometime around the time that I start caring about the opinions and feelings of people who start off their arguments with some sentiment which boils down to "You're wrong because you're an Atheist / Liberal."

You don't know me, apparently. And that's fine, you probably don't want to. I definitely don't know you if you're going to assume I'm wrong, wholesale -- on everything -- because you've deduced (incorrectly) that I believe in this or that.

First and foremost, I believe that my beliefs are exactly that -- the things I've chosen to accept in the absence of fact, guided by what evidence I've received, to help me put together strings of events or fill gaps left open by history (or my limited understanding of an infinite universe).

I do not care if you accept my beliefs. I do not care if you choose to believe them, or choose to think they're stupid, or choose to believe a different set of beliefs. Because they're just beliefs. Whether or not you understand this, beliefs are choices, and I'm not about to step on your right to make decisions which help you make it through the day, and I believe you owe me the same courtesy.

And that's where things start to fall apart -- the moment your personal beliefs extend any further than the immediate space beyond the tip of your nose (or, if you're a typical American, like I am, the space just beyond the area of your belly button, whichever is the furthest extended point of your body).

The reason I'm so hard on Christianity is really because, of all the religions I'm familiar with, it's the most hypocritical. Well, next to Hitchens Atheists. They're actually the most hypocritical religion, because they don't even think they're a religion. But I'll get to them in a minute.

And I'm not talking about hypocritical people. Christianity is rife with, for instance, men who go to strip clubs or cheat on their wives during the week, then show up on Sunday to ask for forgiveness. Or, people who sport many-thousand-dollars' coats or shoes or cars to a service where they're worshiping a man who gave freely to the poor. Every religion has their hypocrites, and in my experience, the ratio of horribly hypocritical Christians (or Fashion Christians, as I call them, who wear their spirituality on their sleeve for social benefit) versus honest, belief-led, good spirited, really damn great people who are Christians is about 1:1.

I'd argue that this is the same with any religion. In fact, I'd say is the same with any sampling of any group of people in any demographic for any purpose, because before I believe anything else, I accepted that the world is in balance and as it should be. For every bad there is a good, for every dark there is a light.

No, my biggest issue with Christianity is the hypocrisy found in the absolute basest tenet of the faith itself:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that whosoever believe in him shall not perish but will have everlasting life." --John 3.16
If you're like very other Christian I've ever tried to explain this to, you're probably shaking your head right now. That's a message of hope, you'll say. That's God's gift to the world.

Let's break it down:

God loves the world. Check.

God gave the world his only son. Fine, okay. I'll accept this aspect of the myth (not myth as in "lie" but as in "story", which is what every single religion is based on).

His only son died in a sacrifice made by God. This was the father putting the son to death. Why? So that I may be absolved from sin.

BUT! And here's where it sucks: I can only be absolved from sin if I choose to accept the sacrifice. If I do not, God will not extend the benefit of the gift given the world.

Putting it all together: GOD'S LOVE IS CONDITIONAL. The all-knowing, all-powerful creator of all things only loves those who love him back. God loves me so much, that I have to accept a sacrifice made to absolve me of sin. If I do not accept this sacrifice, I'm not absolved of sin, and thus spend eternity in hell.

Hell is described by the Bible and is generally accepted to be, well... Hell. It sucks. It's eternal damnation. It's difficult and punishing and really, really bad people go there to be forced for eternity to lay face-down on white hot plates of metal with one ton weights strapped to their back, or listen to The Barenaked Ladies, or other equally distasteful things for all of eternity.

Or, as it happens, even really good people who, by choice or by not being born to the right set of parents in the right country and not being indoctrinated with lessons from the "good" book, who might spend all of their lives helping others or even just smiling and generally spreading pleasantness around them. Because they didn't accept this sacrifice made by a loving God.

God loves me so much, he's going to punish me if I don't love him back. If that's not hypocritical, I don't know what is.

The way I understand love, it does not work this way. I've told my wife a few times in our lives that I love her so much, if it took being away from me to be happy, I'd have to let her go. Her happiness is the ultimate goal of my love for her. And if I make her unhappy, and I truly love her, I can't see any way to rectify keeping her around or holding her down just so I can have her. That is not love. That's ownership. That's coveting. That's dominion.

Love isn't force. It's not asking people to love you back, or else you are going to punish them. Love is a powerful thing that exists in absence of the promise of reward. When you love something with all your heart, the only thing you want is for it to be happy. Wanting it to be near you is a selfish thing, because you're holding it to yourself. If it chooses to be near you, you should feel honored and rewarded -- and if it chooses not to be, you stop loving it? You don't want the best for it? You will punish it?

And before you give me the whole "A loving parent punishes its child when it misbehaves" argument: ETERNAL. DAMNATION. That's not a spanking. It's not a guidance action made to teach a creation the finer points of social behavior patterns, it's punishment and pain and torture forever. It's abandonment. Because of a choice not to accept the sacrifice made to protect me from making bad choices.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. -- John 3:18
That's not only disgusting, it's also very typically human. And that, to me, sounds like a God made in our image, not the other way around. I will say it plainly, in print, so that God and all concerned can understand: I will not be the willing plaything or property of anyone or anything, no matter how powerful; no matter how severe the threat to my person or being. Ever.

If that means spending eternity doing knuckle push-ups on broken glass with that stupid "One Week" song playing over a loudspeaker, so be it. That's not foolish, it's utterly dogmatic and stubborn. It's choosing punishment over servitude.

I am as God made me. And if he finds fault with it, well now... He must not be a very perfect God. Do better with your next creation, sir.

Now, there are certainly aspects of Christianity which I like and have adopted for myself. I believe that Jesus Christ, who is Jesus of Nazareth, existed and was probably a really great guy. I believe he was a fine teacher and a shining example of the greater parts of our species. I believe him to be the son of God insofar that I believe that Martin Luther King, Muhammad, Issac Newton, Gandhi, Adolf Hitler and Justin Bieber to be sons of God. Or you. Or me.

Just because someone is charismatic and has the ability to lead does not make them in any way holy, beyond those who don't quite see it in them and choose not to follow them.

I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and will give of my time and my material wealth to those who have less than I. I don't need to prove it to you -- if you've spent any time reading what I write, you know the amount of time Andrea and I spend involved with charities and social service. I understand the teachings of Jesus Christ. But I stop short of believing that he was any different than any other thoughtful and intelligent teacher.

I've also researched religions of the world beyond Jesus, and found far too many similarities to the "God - Mary - Jesus" and "God - Jesus - Holy Spirit" mythos for it to be an original story for me. For a little light reading, try reading a comparison of the lives of Jesus and Horus, whose myth existed nearly ten thousand years before Jesus's. And Christianity didn't borrow only from Egyptian mythology. Dietic sons have existed so long as dieties have, which is to say as long as humans have been able to conceptualize them. It started with stories explaining why the sun was in the sky and went from there. Which is why I believe it's only that -- a story. A parable, even, if Jesus were a mouse and the world were an elephant with a thorn made of sin in its foot.

But I also understand that I'm making a choice to believe or not believe in the story. I've decided not to. I've decided instead to practice as much of the teachings of this teacher as I can, because he brought to the table some really valuable lessons. As did Carl Sagan, Henry Rollins and Douglas Adams, among several thousand others. I learn what I can from whom I can and try to apply it the best I can to my life.

But no matter how wise or thoughtful or deep I find any aspect of any passage, I am not about to go impose my will upon another person and force them to live life as I've decided it should be lived. Sure, I'll share my opinions on it... But here, in the context of a webpage with my name writ large atop it (and in the domain name), or in books with my name plastered on the cover. You know where you are when you get a dose o' Joe, and you're free to leave anytime you want. I'm not going to hold you down or force you to listen. Show up when you want. Listen to what you want. Take what you want from it. Live a good life. That's all I care about.

These throngs of bible-thumping neanderthal pieces of shit out there in there in the world, selectively enforcing only the laws from their religions' texts which happen to correspond with their personal prejudices... Well, let's just say that if I didn't subscribe to the philosophy in the previous paragraph, there'd be a pretty sizable dent in each and every one of their heads... As many as I could get to before I got arrested, anyway.

That they choose to read from the Bible and claim God -- the all powerful, all knowing creator -- wants life to be this way, and they are merely working through him to achieve it... It's disgusting. Just plain gross.

To pick just one example of several hundred I could choose, let's discuss the concept of gay marriage. Why? Because I have many gay friends, several of whom have committed themselves for the rest of their lives to another person who, if that person falls sick and dies, they can't legally make decisions for or manage their property the way I can with my wife. And the thought of not being able to be an actual husband to my wife makes me so sick in the heart, I can only imagine what my friends must feel each time they consider the fact that this huge group of supposedly loving, caring, wonderful people impose their beliefs on the whole of society to the point that these wonderful people, who I love very much, can't legally love one another.

That's why.

Gay people cannot choose to legally bind themselves to a legal contract which unites two people into one shared entity. Why? Because a book filled with chapters written across a span of several thousand years, many thousands of years ago, which people have chosen to believe is a rulebook for life has three archaic passages which say it's an abomination for people of the same sex to lay with one another. My favorite:
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. -- Leviticus 20:13
This is the same book, mind you, which says eating pork is an abomination. Yet, for some reason, Jesus's sacrifice cleansed the animals and supposedly absolved us all from sin. Except when we love someone who is the same gender as us. Surely, God -- who loves us all, mind you, and gave his only son so that we can spend forever with him because of love! Love! LOVE! -- could see past the whole "eew, his pee pee touched his pee pee" aspect of a rote animal behavior to the true nature of why two people, of any gender, race, creed, background, whatever, might put past themselves their own selfish nature in order to share life with another person.

No. "I'm God, and I made my kid hang from a crucifix for three days, starving and bleeding from the side until he died. You think I'm going to let your dicks touch and get away with it?"

That's not my idea of God... An all powerful, all knowing hypocrite.

Most Christians believe that God made us in his image. If this is true, that means God is, at least in some part, gay. Either that, or he is imperfect. Which is it?

Furthermore, why do Christians selectively decide this is a law of God which must be followed in this day and age, but others shouldn't? Here in its entirety, is the "Letter to Dr. Laura" which made the rounds a few years ago. The point it makes is exactly mine: Why do Christians selectively follow these laws and rules?

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you
clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?

i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Hypocrisy.

And so, that's why I am so hard on Christianity. I've read the Bible, cover to cover (not all in one sitting, mind you). I've read the Quran. I've read the Torah (which, I'll save you the trouble, is just the Old Testament Bible with a few extra Shaloms). I choose not to accept these books as law books for my life, because I also choose not to accept the description of God they've provided.

God, as I understand him, is not a "him", it is an "it." It's the tie that binds; the force which drives the universe to keep expanding and for atoms to bond and form molecules. It's the underlying energy which can neither be created nor destroyed. It's the space between; that omnipresent glue which holds everything together.

The Greek philosopher Democritus once said, "Nothing exists except atoms and empty space. Everything else is just opinion." 

I believe God fills that space. It is the glue that holds us together. And the more I see trends in human evolution, even as simple as concepts and ideas that seem to arise in separate locations at the same time and spread like wildfire... The more I believe in that connection. And I think that being in tune with that connection is being in tune with God.

God talks to me all the time; most especially in moments when I'm 
tuned as completely into my surroundings as I can be -- on hikes, or when the very tip of my pen touches the paper, or when I'm trying to "feel" the light on a subject I'm trying to draw. I especially feel God in music. When those perfect vibrations are found by a talented musician and it not only fills our ears but sweeps our bodies in waves and we feel it... That's part of God talking to us. Because it's part of one person's soul talking to us in a language we all understand.

God is in us all and binds us together. God IS the universe. God is existence. It's corporeal and exists and is the harmonic hum which vibrates within us all (and within all things). And I do believe in it. I'm still trying to come to terms with it and research it and understand it.

I don't worship it. I don't worship anything. I don't think that an all-powerful, all-knowing force requires my subservience. I don't believe that anything with unlimited power would require that mortals revere it. More than that, I don't think that an all knowing creator could make the mistake of creating a being which willfully denies it and then punish it for doing exactly what it was created to do.

I do not believe that there may be, somewhere in the multiple layers of reality, some being sitting on a mountaintop lobbing lightning bolts of judgement at gay people. I believe that this entity exists in the minds of people who need a higher power which justifies their beliefs. "God says it, so it must be true, so it's okay for me to hate."

And to get to where I am now, at 33 (almost 34), I had to do a lot of learning on what I didn't believe. And that's why I've read what I've read, gone to services where I've gone to services, talked to whom I've talked to... I'm no better than anyone else who believes a thing because they were taught it. Belief is belief. It's the acceptance of a thing in the absence of that thing's existence.

I believe my wife is at work right now and not sleeping with another man or robbing a bank. I can't be there to be certain, but all that I know about her guides me to this conclusion. You believe that God is the creator of all things, that he gave his only human son in sacrifice that you may live a life free from the confines and condemnation of original sin.

The difference between my beliefs and theirs? My beliefs allow for them to have their beliefs, and I'm not going to go impose my will on someone who isn't doing anything with their actions which will harm me or anyone else.  Because ultimately, what you spend your time thinking about at home in your own time doesn't affect me one bit. But the second you act on it, I get to respond.

Stay away from my rights and the rights of others. Stop changing history to bend to the nature of what you choose to believe. Feel free to tell me to shut up, or hate what I say, just as much as I tell you to shut up and hate what you say. Just understand that when you take action based on your beliefs, I'm going to take action based on mine.

So there you go. I'm not an atheist. I'm certainly without religion, and have been ever happier the longer I stay away from it. And in the proper contexts, I'm just as critical of Islam, Judaism, and even Hinduism as I am on Christianity when the need arises.

Critical is not "anti." I call into question things that make no sense to me.

But here's the really, REALLY interesting thing: In my ten years of doing this, I've never once had an Islamic person, a Jew or a Hindu email me and demand that I share my belief system with them, or else I'm an Athiest. It seems that Christians don't really dig "critical." So yes, the vast majority of my reactions on this blog and elsewhere are toward Christians... Because for some reason, it's only Christians who feel the need to "save me" constantly.

And what you get here, when you come here -- by your own choice, mind you -- is reactions to things. The day a Muslim sends me email or writes something that pisses me off, you'll get an earful on that too. Just hasn't happened yet. Tells me a lot.

I don't believe all Christians are bad people or that all of them are out there ready to impose their will on me. As I said before, I have a LOT of Christian friends. I love them. If you haven't figured out much else about me,  surely you know by now that I don't waste time being around people I can't stand. I don't do that. Hiding yourself around people to be socially accepted is loathsome and disgusting and false. I genuinely like and love my Christian friends. They genuinely like and love me.

But I will say that I find the underlying tenet of Christianity to be hypocritical. And above all else, I loathe hypocrisy. This doesn't mean I loathe Christians. I judge all people based on their actions and not much else. Those who act according to Jesus's teachings, I find to be wonderful people. They act in accordance with their beliefs. That itself is not hypocrisy. Believing in the tenets of Christianity is not hypocrisy. The act itself is not hypocritical. It just so happens that the foundation of the religion to which they ascribe, to me, is.

I just feel that, if you're going to choose something from the Bible to build your life around, how about starting with this:
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. -- Lev 19:17
I just think that your beliefs should stay the hell out of my rights and life. That goes for everyone, including (and in some cases, especially) Hitchens Atheists. You're not actually Atheists, you're Anti-Theist. Just for the record -- you guys are a religion. You have organized yourselves around a belief -- that there is no God. You're pushing your will on others in the name of fact and truth. Welcome to your religion-based crusade. You're on Jihad. You're everything you profess to hate.

Hypocrites.

So there you go. A question I've been asked no fewer than 20 times a year for the past 10 years, that I've successfully avoided or ignored until now. And why now? Because I think that as time moves forward and I keep doing what I'm doing (whatever it is I'm doing here; I still haven't figured that part out yet), lines need to be drawn in the sand. You need to know what you're getting into when you pay attention to me. There's no secrets. For the past 10 or whatever years that I've been writing on the internet, I didn't mean to keep my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) a secret per se. I just never thought they were important.

The more I criticize religion, however, the more important they become. And so, that's where I stand. I believe in a higher power. I call it God for lack of a better term. I believe God to be love. I also believe it to be unifying, cleansing, enriching and wonderful when you pay attention to the grand nature of how delicate every creation is. When you look at the structure of cells and beyond them, molecules -- and beyond them, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, strange behavior at a distance, quarks, quantum events and so on...

And I'm not going to blow you up, fly airplanes into you, or protest your wedding to make you see I'm right.