Literature, Atheism and God

Should we be looking for a holy light, or should we be creating it?
Should we be looking for a holy light, or should we be creating it?

In my mind, the fundamental purpose of a religion should be to better the life of not only the person practicing the religion, but of the others that person helps (not through recruiting, but through kind acts). There is a non-profit organization in my home town that gives food to the needy, provides transportation and non-food supplies to those that cannot afford it, and runs a free health clinic every Thursday. This organization is heavily Christian, and I find myself wanting to donate to them and support their cause whenever possible. I am also an atheist.

You might be asking yourself why an atheist would want to support a Christian organization, but to me the answer is very simple; they’re doing what’s right in regards to our community. I grew up thinking religion was more like a cult than anything else; they didn’t do anything other than recruit and brainwash you. This is largely because my mother wasn't very religions, but also because every religious person I knew, didn’t really seem to be any better (or morally conscious) than people who didn’t belong to a religion. In fact, growing up in a predominantly Christian city, I’ve met a great deal of bad people who still attended church or had friends who told me I was going to hell even though I was a good person. Needless to say, I was given a very negative view of religion and it is one of the primary reasons I was driven to atheism, though it is not why I identify myself as an atheist today (more on that later). To put it simply; actions speak louder than words. Saying you’re of a specific religion doesn’t make you a good person, doing good things makes you a good person, regardless of religion. So when I see the non-profit organization I mentioned above, helping the public when they are struggling most, I want to support them. The same would be true if it was some other religion, or no religion at all, running the organization.

If I believe in helping others, and generally leading a good life, then some might question why I don’t identify myself with one religion or another. There are plenty out there that are not based around a deity. I will admit there are some religions I agree with (Buddhism is high on that list) but in my mind; I’m already trying to lead a good life without a religion, so if I don’t need a constant reminder of it, then there isn’t really a point to finding one. But why then identify with atheists rather than agnostics? My beliefs lean heavily on evidence. This would lead me to become an agnostic because I will believe what I can see. However what pushes me into the atheist category is my love of stories. I see how influential stories can be on human life. How one story can inspire countless other stories. There are all these fables for children that teach them lessons (such as; “slow and steady wins the race”) yet we know these are fiction. Maybe they were based on some real event, but a turtle probably never raced a rabbit and won. So why do we separate these children's' tales (or any other story) from the bible? Why does the bible get a free ticket to believer-town?

Stories are often used to teach humans things because they stick in our memory more effectively than a list in a text-book. Everyone knows the story of the tortoise and the hare and, through it, the lesson that you should take your time. The bible, in my eyes, is just a collection of old and widespread stories for how to live a good life at that time, not an accurate representation of a god. Even if one did believe it was the word of god, it has been translated, rewritten and reworded so many times that it now has the stink of man all over it.

When the puritans settled in the new world, they used the bible as the law before a formal government was established. Even their first text book was dripping with religious stories and lessons. The bible is law and God is the sheriff. If you ever want to get into that super great place called heaven, you’re going to need to keep your nose clean. The bible functions exactly the same way as Aesop’s fables or Santa Clause. Religion is a tool to not only teach people how to lead better lives, but to give them incentives to do it (and in the process avoid anarchy and chaos). The bible’s similarity to these other stories, and its impact throughout our history, is my proof that there is no god. I worry that, somewhere along the line, some people got the wrong impression that the stories in the bible were literal and that belonging to a religion was enough for a free ticket to paradise. Thus, they avoid all the hard work it takes to help others and lead a good life.

Life isn't a race to heaven. It is a gift that we should cherish for as long as we have it.
Life isn't a race to heaven. It is a gift that we should cherish for as long as we have it.

The purpose of this hub is not to denounce religion or to imply that those who believe in a god are stupid. I don’t believe that at all. I could ask someone why they believe in god and their answer might be something to the effect of “Because I can feel his presence,” or “Because I have faith” or “I have seen evidence of his presence in my life.” And all of those are perfectly valid answers because that’s the conclusion you came to with the information you’ve been given. For me, the conclusion is that there is no god and we are a very fortunate confluence of events. I can’t change that opinion any more than a believer can suddenly stop believing in god. I wouldn't mind believing in a god and heaven; it sounds great, but the way my mind works, I’m incapable of overlooking my evidence. And I say ‘my evidence’ because the same evidence may mean something different to someone else. It’s just the way that I’m wired. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, or that anyone else’s beliefs are wrong, it’s just what I believe.

Now, I’m not trying to say I’m the poster child for anything either. Trust me, there is a lot more I could be doing to lead a better life, but before we judge someone’s character, maybe we shouldn’t factor in religion at all, but rather what they have done with their lives. I’ve known good and bad people who were religious, and good and bad people who weren’t religious. Believing that a religion defines a person is like thinking that a political party defines a person. One could be a democrat, but support pro life campaigns. One could be a Republican but support social security. And one could be an Atheist, but support a Christian organization’s efforts to help those truly in need.

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Comments 12 comments

getitrite profile image

getitrite 5 years ago

There is nothing wrong with supporting the work of any organization that is helping to eleviate human suffering. I too am atheist, and I have been volunteering at a Catholic pantry and soup kitchen for years. If they would get rid of the nonsensical beliefs, they would just be doing what man should be doing anyway.


Rusty C. Adore profile image

Rusty C. Adore 5 years ago from Michigan

Great hub. Well stated opinions and an overall fantastic message to everyone no matter their beliefs.


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 5 years ago from SE MA

There are secular charities too: http://www.thinkatheist.com/notes/Secular_charitie...

That said, I look harder at the results than the motivation. If an organization really is helping nd doesn't attach religious requirements to that help, I don't feel bad about supporting them.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

getitrite - I agree that these kinds of things are what we should be doing anyway. While religions might have more organizing power (because of donations) every individual has the power to stand up and help. Thanks for the comment!

Rusty - Thank you for your kind words.

Pcunix - Thank you for the link! And you're right about results. An organization can have the best intentions in the world, but if they aren't helping people (or if they're forcing beliefs on you in exchange for help) then that isn't right.


evvy_09 profile image

evvy_09 5 years ago from Athens, AL

Religious people have driven me away from religion. And I believe most of them have it more wrong than right anyway. I still believe in God but can see why other people don't. It's great that you support a religious group but I find it more surprising that the group didn't try to "recruit" you or tell you the error of your ways. So good for them too. lol Awesome hub also!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

evvy_09 - I have met a few people who believe in god, but are put off by the practices of many religions. Many churches and organizations have given it a bad name, and that is unfortunate. As for the religious group I support, I won't deny that I haven't exactly told them I'm an atheist. I'm not lying to them, I just haven't been in a situation where someone from the organization has asked what my beliefs are. When it happens, I will tell the truth, but I fear what sort of reaction they might have.


Glen Howie 5 years ago

The problem is that most religious institutions help with one hand, and proselytize with the other hand. I don't care how much good work you do with one hand, if you preach religious madness with the other hand, you are hurting humanity as a whole. You may be helping individuals, or communities but you are hurting the entire species. How will we ever work together when millions of us cling to antiquated beleif systems that are diametrically opposed?

The Salvation Army is an example of a religious organization that I used to think was great. They do loads of charity work each year, helping thousands or maybe even tens of thousands of people annually. Yet they are a pro-life, ant-gay Christian evangelical organization - clearly stated in their mission statement which is available online. So they preach compassion one hand, and hate on the other. I guess only straight folks deserve charity.

...and this is the problem with any church, or other religious 'community'. You can't take the madness, scripture and insanity away from the true good work. It's all or nothing. And for this free-thinking good person, I'll continue doing good work and helping my fellow man, but I'll be doing it with one of the many, many non-religious charitable organizations out there.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Glen Howie - You make a good point, one that I didn't brush on in the article. If an organization selectively helps people, then are they really helping the community? For example, could someone who is homosexual receive help from, or contribute to, a religious organization? I admit, I don't know the organization in my home town well enough to answer that question, but if they were to refuse the help of someone who doesn't agree with their beliefs, then my view of them would rapidly change. If a certain group is discriminated against, then it's almost like they are negating the good work they are doing because they are condemning someone just because they don't agree with them. Definitely some great points, thanks for the comment!


Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 5 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain

What an excellent hub! I find it very strange reading your experience because the very elements that pushed you into atheism -- the recognition that the Bible is just stories -- actually pulled me into Christianity. I love stories and when I read the Bible as a kid (completely voluntary on my part), it was like walking into my very own circus. I loved the complexity of it, the way you could keep digging into the stories, read the story 20 times and pull some amazing insight out of it. And the imaginary creatures like the Nephilim and Seraphim used to keep me up at night just wondering about the vast complexity of heaven. Even though I don't "believe" in it the way Christianity says I should, it still fascinates me.

The very thought that the Bible might be this underlying text of life hooked me in a way that no preacher ever could. I felt like Lyra with her golden compass (don't know if you've read His Dark Materials by Pullman, but they are so good). I always think the Jews have a better mentality with the Hebrew Scriptures because they advocate questioning the text and struggling with it. Too many people seem to advocate not questioning what's in the book, which seems so unfortunate as it is being used so detrimentally. Have you ever read C.S. Lewis's conversation with Tolkien on Christianity? You might be interested just because of the how and why Lewis changes his mind about it and how he looks at it all because he talks about the story part of it that you mentioned. Maybe you'll appreciate? I don't know. As for me, I have no idea right now -- and it's great! I just enjoy seeing the different perspectives of everything. Good hub! Danced on all the buttons (except funny, because I'm not sure that would be right?)!


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Elefanza - Absolutely, I think the bible is a fascinating book and that there is a great deal to dig into and interpret. I just don't believe any of it is literal. So we aren't too far apart in our ways of thinking. I've tried reading Pullman, but I need to give him another chance (not sure if the movie helped or hindered my interest in it) and the conversation between Lewis and Tolkien is something I've never heard of. I'd love to read it! Thank you for the insightful comment.


Giselle Maine 5 years ago

I think it's superb that you are helping in areas of need in the community even though you are not of the same religion as the charity who is running the program. And I agree with Elefanza's comment above that actually thinking about our beliefs and questioning them carefully is a good thing. (On a similar note, you can also see http://thinkingaboutthebigquestions.blogspot.com/2... )

Anyhow, I think it is wonderful that you are not letting anything stand in the way of helping those in need. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & experiences.


M. T. Dremer profile image

M. T. Dremer 5 years ago from United States Author

Giselle Maine - Thank you for the comment and the link! :D

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