Literature, Atheism and God
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.
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.