Answering Believers: "If I believe in God why does that bother you?"

On my personal Facebook page, I tend to do my direct critiquing of religion mainly through what I call my “Freethinker Friday post”.  The rest of the week, I post funny stuff, health tips, and inspiring and insightful quotes.  For some of my Christian friends however, even once a week is way too often for me to be challenging their beliefs.  On April 4th, I did a post called “A Twisted ‘Love.’ In which I talked about how the Christian god’s brand of love is actually coercion because it is accompanied by the threat of violence for those who don’t ‘choose to accept' it.  An acquaintance from high school, which I never even interact with on Facebook seemed to take my post a bit personally.

Here is the response I posted for her, and others who might share her annoyance with questioning of religion:

(Name Withheld), thanks so much for your questions.  Let me see if I can explain where I am coming from.   You said: 
“First of all, let me say that I respect your views and wouldn't dream of trying to change them. I also have no intention of getting into a debate over this. I find it disconcerting that you want to spend this much time to sway others to your way of thinking. Why is this yours to do?”
As a fellow American, you have the right to hold whatever religious beliefs you choose (or to hold none).  I respect your right to hold such views.  It doesn’t mean that I must accept them as true, or that they should be shielded from questioning.  People sometimes confuse themselves with their beliefs. If a belief they hold dear is questioned, they may feel personally attacked.  But we are not our beliefs – they are merely ideas we hold in our minds.  As we live and learn, there should be mental growth, and as a result some ideas will have to be discarded because we realize that they are not true, or perhaps they are harmful,

We live in a marketplace of competing ideas, and not all ideas should be treated with equal respect.  It is healthy to question and examine ideas, and to not just blindly accept them out of tradition, or for some other reason.  Important discoveries and changes have happened because someone questioned the status quo.  Otherwise, we would still have slavery, women wouldn’t be allowed to vote, we would think the world was flat, and that disease was caused by demons.  Doctors might not be washing their hands between surgeries (as was the case in the past).  Granted, it is uncomfortable to have closely-held ideas challenged, but discomfort is not sufficient reason to reject questioning. 

Now let me say that while I may question religious beliefs on my Facebook page on Fridays, I am not going door-to-door trying to get people to read a Richard Dawkins book, nor do I use social events or family gatherings to try and talk people out of their religion.  If you and I were to meet in person, the topic probably wouldn’t be discussed, unless you brought it up.  I don’t think that religious people are bad (with the exception of money-grubbing televangelists, pedophile priests, suicide bombers & etc). 

Let me give you some reasons why I do my Freethinker Friday posts:
  • I spent almost 4 decades of my life in Christianity. I invested time, money,  and brain space in the service of that religion.  A few years ago, after getting up the courage to do some serious questioning, I came the conclusion that I had been indoctrinated from a young age, in religious beliefs which had no basis in truth, and in turn I indoctrinated my own children, and spread these faulty beliefs to others.  I wasted many good years of my life in pursuit of nonsense.   I have earned the right to criticize the brand of Christianity which my mind was held prisoner to, and that is primarily what I focus on.  Plus, it is my free-speech right as an American to speak up and make the case for what I think about things.  And, it is the right of others to ignore, argue against, agree, or disagree with my views.

  • America is a weird stew of religion and politics.  Somehow, a significant number of religious people (especially fundamentalist and evangelical Christians) seem to think that they should be able to use the government to force other people to abide by their religious beliefs.  This is both wrong and dangerous.  I no more want Pat Robertson telling me how to live than I do some Mullah trying to force Sharia law on me.  The only way to protect each individual’s right to hold (or not hold) religious beliefs is to keep religion out of our laws and politics.  The minute someone tries to dictate my behavior based on their personal religious beliefs, they have overstepped their bounds.  This muddying of the waters results in things like laws forbidding gays to marry, or Hobby Lobby seeking to deny contraceptive coverage in their employee health care plan, because it goes against the beliefs of the Hobby Lobby owner.  Everyone is free to hold their own religious beliefs, but they are not free to limit the rights of others on that basis.  Because the Religious Right is so aggressive in this country, and because many times they try to control others on the basis of what the Bible says, I choose to scrutinize the Bible, and refute the claim that it is a book which should hold authority over our lives.

  • Religiously-based beliefs can be dangerous and damaging.  Here are some examples:  George W. Bush felt that God wanted him to have the U.S. invade Iraq.  We know how disastrous that turned out.  Some parents withhold blood transfusions, or all medical care from their children because of their faith.  Children die because of this.  Christian senators and talk show hosts have publicly stated that we don’t need to be concerned with taking care of the environment because God is going to destroy and recreate the planet anyway.  Some churches tell wives to stay with physically abusive husbands no matter what, because divorce is a ‘sin’.  A significant portion of homeschoolers follow the “stay-at-home-daughters” teaching – telling their daughters not to go to college, but to remain at home, under their father’s authority, until they are passed into the authority of a suitable husband.  Christians demonize gays and characterize them as deviants and pedophiles.  In Salt Lake City, a disproportionate amount of homeless teens are kids who have been kicked out of LDS homes for being gay.  When I attended Bible college, we were taught not look for someone to marry, but to just let God bring the right person along.  This was based on the story of God putting Adam to sleep before taking one of his ribs to make Eve.  Seriously!  Religious parents are regularly arrested for child abuse or murder.  Sometimes they believed their children had demons.  Sometimes they took the Bible verse literally which says if you beat your child, they will not die.  Some of my young relatives are upset because they think that I am going to a fiery Hell for not believing in God.  I think that teaching a child that there is an invisible being who will burn people forever for not doing what he wants is child abuse.  These examples don’t even get into things like the subjugation of women in Islamic countries, female genital mutilation, suicide bombings, and ‘honor’ killings.  Beliefs have consequences – sometimes deadly ones.

  • I’m sure some people read my posts because of the “What the hell is wrong with this guy, and what crazy stuff is he posting this week?” factor.  Others read it because they have reached similar conclusions to me about the religion they were raised in, but they don’t feel at liberty to “out” themselves to friends and family members – the social cost they would pay would be too high.  Reading my posts may be a breath of fresh air for them, letting them know they are not crazy and they are not alone.  Others read because they have doubts of their own.  Things don’t add up in their belief system and they are tired of sweeping unanswered questions under the rug.  The “check engine” light in their mind has been blinking for a while.  They are ready to start asking some hard questions and following the answers wherever they lead.  They send me comments or questions privately.   In posts, I try to discuss the kind of questions and information which I wish someone had made available to me, years ago.  I hope that people who read what I write will consider the merit of the ideas, do their own thinking and investigation, and accept or reject on the basis of their reason.

You asked:
“If I believe in God why does that bother you? After all, according to you... it doesn't matter in the end, does it?”

It doesn’t bother me if you believe in God.  Of course, I have no idea what kind of god you believe in, or whether you think others should have to follow your beliefs (per the discussion above about legislating on the basis of religion).   I don't think there is sufficient evidence to believe in the existence of god(s).  The outcome - real-world effects - of beliefs is what concerns me.  In my Freethinker Friday notes, I am critiquing the contents of the Bible and Christian belief.  I am criticizing the mixing of church and state and the negative impacts caused by it.
Beliefs do matter in how they affect people’s lives.  If a belief leads someone to withhold medical treatment from a child, to treat a gay person with contempt, or to act in a racist way because they are a White Supremacist (Christian Identity Movement) – those things all have real-world consequences.  They affect the rights and wellbeing of others.  If you keep your beliefs private, and are kind to others, I don’t have a beef with you.  

I think that generally in life, it is preferable to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things as possible.  I think it is unhealthy for people to claim that the Bible (or Koran, or Book of Mormon & etc) are authoritative communications from a god, which should dictate to us how to live.  As such, I will present evidence which says (as the old story goes) “The Emperor has no clothes!”  I will point out logical and internal evidence as to why this is the case.  Focusing mainly on the Bible, since that is what I am most familiar with.  I will also point out disturbing and dehumanizing beliefs contained in the Bible and Christian theology.

As to it not mattering in end – I hear that a lot.  “If you don’t think there is an afterlife, then why do you care?  It’s all meaningless anyway” or something along those lines…

It matters very much, and I don’t think the people asking those questions have thought them through very carefully.

If this one life is all there is, then we had better make every moment count.  Some people may put their happiness on hold and devote themselves to religion in hopes that they will be rewarded in the sweet bye and bye.  But, if what you are putting your faith in is false, then you are wasting your life, and setting your priorities on the basis of a delusion.  If you knew you had only one year to live, would you make different choices than if you thought you had 20 years to live?  Of course you would.

Let me use the analogy of a person who works 70 hours a week, telling themselves that they will relax when they retire.  Suddenly they drop dead at 50.  They devoted and structured their life around something that they would never get.  We don’t know how long we have, and we certainly have no proof of an afterlife.  If there is no afterlife, it makes life more precious, not less.  Savor every moment.  Experience all you can.  Embrace the ones you love.  This is one reason why the religious threat of hell I wrote about in this week’s post is so insidious.  It introduces fear and coercion into life’s decision-making equation.  It holds a gun to the head of the believer, and forces them to make decisions accordingly, all on the basis of unproven – unprovable – religious claims.

I hope this helps you understand why I do what I do (even if you don’t like what I do). I would again state that beliefs and the people who hold them are two different things.  When I question a belief, it may feel like I am attacking the person, but that is not my intent. 

Written by J. M. Green