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I am an Atheist, but I am learning to accept the way religion fits into some folks life.

This morning, John Loftus posted an image with the following text to his Facebook page:

"Don't wonder at those who are good without God. Pity those who need God to be good".
(click here to see this post accompanied by the image.)

It's a thought I'm familiar with, and have hitherto been sympathetic to--I guess I'm still sympathetic to it--but I don't think I agree with it anymore.

This idea misses something that I think I also missed until I began working at the shelter I now work at. People--like that asshole Rick Warren--who state that people need God to be good, and state that if they did not have God they would not be good, are not good people. Belief in God does not make them good. Even with a belief in God, they are still inherently assholes. There are others, however--like a lot of folks who live and volunteer in my shelter--who are inherently good (they don't actually 'need' God to be good), who seem to use their religion as a vehicle for their goodness, or use religion as a source of strength to keep themselves afloat, and to keep themselves chugging along. It would be great if the people in the first category would see that it is perfectly possible to do good without their religion, but what business of mine is it to interfere with that? When it comes to the second group--those who use Jesus or Allah or whatever to find the strength to survive in this world--I have completely softened my view. In fact, I may have liquified.

There is a huge difference between someone who says 'If it weren't for God, I would be a serial killer', and someone who says, 'this world throws a lot of shit at me, and other people are hard to trust. Thank God for Jesus'. I believe Rick Warren when he says he'd be out doing all kinds of horrid things if he didn't have Jesus looking over his shoulder. In fact, who even knows what kind of horrid things Rick Warren gets up to? He's certainly said some horrid things. Personally, I wouldn't put anything past the dude. With the second guy, I am in heavy agreement; the world does throw a lot of shit at a person. Other people are very hard to trust. Shit, I'm not always very trustworthy. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some transcendent good guy out there somewhere who's love for us was guaranteed, and who would never sell us out for some kind of real or perceived political or economic advantage?

I know there's no God, and I hope for a day when belief in gods and demons are chucked in the cultural waste bin, but I never hope for a day when the kind of people we serve at our shelter are deprived of whatever they need to get themselves sober, get their mental illnesses treated, help them believe there is a chance in this society for someone who has not always made the best decisions and lacks the kind of personal resources it may take to bounce back from those not-the-best-decisions.

That day is far into the future, though, and I'm not inclined to look down on people who find the strength--however they do it--to make it in this scary, unpredictable, and unjust world that we live in. I believe that heaven and hell are a carrot and stick that mankind has cooked up--an opiate that keeps the masses hoping for a more just world on the other side of this veil of tears--but I don't think that's what a belief in some kind of god always amounts to.

People need to believe in themselves. We need others to believe in us, too. People need human sources of strength, and where there are none to be found, we will invent them.

So maybe if we hope for a day when gods and devils and fairies and goblins are a thing of the past, maybe we should step up for each others and ourselves, and become the people we need to be. If we don't want others to have to rely on imaginary friends to get them through the day, maybe we should try to be real friends to each other, and ourselves?

It's a much harder road, and will be very long in the making, but it is worth the effort, and will be much longer-lasting than simply shaming people out of their faith.


Originally posted to Spencer Troxell on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." ~ Samuel Johnson

    by Spencer Troxell on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:15:47 AM PDT

  •  I don't subscribe to the idea (7+ / 0-)

    of an intervening deity.  

    But if the idea of an intervening deity is what helps someone get through the day, particularly the bad day, who am I to take away that person's solace?

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:34:25 AM PDT

    •  To quote Cindy Lauper, I don't believe (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marykk, Had Enough Right Wing BS

      in a Deity who cares more about what your or someone else's hands are doing Down There--I prefer to think Goddess is a welfare  mother of 8 who worries about REAL problems, like genocide and climate change--but who has given free will and is bound by Deity's own word not to intervene.  

      And I've never understood those churches which emphasize the fear of God. If the only reason you're behaving a like a decent human being is terror of hell--you have missed the point.

      The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

      by irishwitch on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 12:21:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank for the diary, and the reminder... (8+ / 0-)
    maybe we should step up for each others and ourselves, and become the people we need to be.

    "When faced with darkness, be the light.

    by Leslie Salzillo on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:36:15 AM PDT

  •  I Do Not Know (10+ / 0-)

    What the concept of God means to Rick Warren, but it seems likely to me that, without it, he'd be doing the same thing he does now:

    Find vulnerable people and rip them off.

    The experiences of religious people are quite various. Some people might think that God or Jesus is keeping their anti-social impulses in check.

    It's easy to fear for such people and equally to be grateful that there is something keeping them from acting out, since the usual forces of individual judgment and social pressure don't seem to be doing the job.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:38:02 AM PDT

  •  I consider myself agnostic (11+ / 0-)

    and if I have  the definition wrong then so what.  As Gandhi said, "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians." I am very turned off by many of the churches today and some of the people in them.  If you study the history of religion you will find that it has been used over and over to gain power and do some pretty awful things in the name of God.  I am not saying that all Christians are bad, because many of them are wonderful.  We just don't hear about them much.  

    I do believe you are right.  There are many people that need a belief in God to feel better about the shit that is thrown at them in this world.  It is something that, to them, is constant.  But to me, it should be a quiet faith.  It shouldn't need to be loudly proclaimed to make it so.  When someone is constantly talking about how we should all believe as they do, that tells me they have no faith.  They just want everyone to agree with them to validate their own shaky belief system.  

    Prayer is for self reflection, not to ask an unknown, unseen being to do something for you.  Obviously, Rick Warren doesn't use prayer for self reflection because if he did, he might be a better person.

    Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world--and never will. Mark Twain

    by whoknu on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:41:54 AM PDT

    •  Good Point About Consolation (10+ / 0-)

      Too often, critiques of religion on the Internet are focused on supplication -- the kind of prayer where people ask God(s) for things.

      "Give me a new Lexus!" etc.

      But there are several forms of prayer, including expressions of gratitude, devotion, adoration and the like, as well as prayers for consolation and for aid in accepting things about this world and life that we cannot change.

      People seek out consolation through prayer in the same way people seek it out through music or art. People do want a sense of universal belonging, of understanding and of acceptance of their being and part of nature.

      Reason often fails these great challenges. If it were sufficient, we wouldn't need Mahler or El Greco or Julian of Norwich.

      "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

      by bink on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 06:50:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  God is whatever people imagine, or feel, or think (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, whoknu, Had Enough Right Wing BS

      Him or Her or It to be. Much the same way that "love" is whatever we make of it.  Perhaps they're both imagined ideals that we can, if we so choose, believe in to the extent that they become determinative forces in our lives.

      But does God actually exist, independently of human imaginations, desires, and fears? Ask it this way: does Democracy? Does Justice? Does Truth? Music?

      Organized Religions are attempts to codify and formalize and unify what I would call the "God impulse". By that I mean the human need to explain (for reasons both practical and psychological) the unknowable mysteries of existence and consciousness, of life and death. The need to share and communalize these explanations, and to give meaning and purpose and direction to these things, to this situation.

      But always, always, organized Religions devolve into being more about organization itself, than about whatever God or purpose they were first meant to serve. More about practical power and control than about anything else. Still people trust in them, for want of anything more reliable to trust.

      Many educated people think that science or empiricism is the final arbiter of truth, and that this obviates the need to believe in anything supernatural. That everything , the entire universe, is natural and ultimately explicable from a rational standpoint. Maybe they are right. But this not a wholly satisfying point of view, and it might not even be wholly accurate.

  •  Dedicated Agnostic working toward Bokononism (7+ / 0-)

    Pretend to be good always and even God will be fooled

    Oops. That's not canon. Wrong book. Apocryphal.
    I don't care much what a person believes as long as it's non-violent. Whatever gets them through the night - it's alright.

    It's that goddamn overwhelming desire to waste my time "sharing" their discovery and yet not share their lunch that gets my goat.

    For Christ's sake, let's help more of our frightened people get through this thing, whatever it is - Kurt Vonnegut on our "faithless custodians of capital"

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:16:30 AM PDT

  •  Nobody is trying to (3+ / 0-)

    "take away" or "deny" someone else their beliefs.

    liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

    by RockyMtnLib on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:32:52 AM PDT

    •  I've met both atheists and believers who (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vita Brevis, Chi

      proselytize. I'm agnostic. I agree with what another agnostic said to me, "I'm not so arrogant as to think I can definitely know whether there is a god," and what my husband says, "There is as yet insufficient data as to draw meaningful conclusions." It would probably be easier to believe in some big . . action out there judging us somehow; I like a challenge so I take responsibility. But yeah, I've encountered a number of each persuasion determined to affect my views.

      "You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty." Mohandas Gandhi

      by cv lurking gf on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:47:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Same thought here (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RockyMtnLib, Loquatrix, native, Chi

    The problem is that most religious folks just can't keep their beliefs to themselves. They seem to need to beat other people over the head with their god, whatever god that might happen to be and they are all too happy to enlist government to achieve their goals.

    Just look at all the christian religious wackos that can't keep their noses out of my business and want everyone to conform to their views. I have a hard time seeing any difference between radical islamists and radical christians, with the possible exception of public executions. Not that I think christians would object to public executions if they could get away with it.

    Atheists for the most part have to keep their non-belief to themselves in their daily lives but christians feel no such obligation. I have no problem with people worshiping Zeus or snakes or whatever makes them feel better if that's what they believe. I don't care. I just want them to keep that crap to themselves and not try to force it on everyone else.

    A good case in point is the ND personhood bill. These jeebus lovers can't keep their stupid superstitions out of the public realm. That's why I'm not inclined to feel empathy with believers and their idiotic beliefs.

  •  No prob with people having their superstitions (5+ / 0-)

    if that's what helps them deal with the vicissitudes of life.  It's when they start making laws for all the rest of us based on those superstitions that I start having a problem with it.

    People's private beliefs are no business of mine.  It's when religion moves beyond a matter a private personal strength and betterment, and becomes a cudgel to beat others with, that I start having a problem.  Unfortunately we seem to have far too many of the latter in America lately.

  •  Well put. This sums up my (3+ / 0-)

    thoughts as well. I know a lot of people who take genuine comfort in their faith without feeling the need to force it down other people's throats, judge, condemn, or even mention it in conversation.

    Just because I don't believe anymore I don't have to denigrate them. We can live with one another.

    It's the meddlesome ones who want to codify their beliefs into law for whom I'll save my energy.

    We view "The Handmaid's Tale" as cautionary. The GOP views it as an instruction book.

    by Vita Brevis on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:58:49 AM PDT

  •  I claim no religious beliefs (5+ / 0-)

    but I cringe a little when I see people lash out with insults at people merely for having them.  

    I'm just as disgusted by the behavior of people who use religion as a tool to push lies and pass judgment on others.  I don't want religion in our laws.  I'm completely offended by right-wing evangelism and especially "Prosperity Gospel".  And I am nauseated by hypocrites who claim to be Christians, but act completely contrary to what Christianity is supposedly about by having contempt for the poor, the earth, and non-Christians or by supporting wars, greed, and gun rights over all others.

    But I know good, decent people who are not bigots or idiots but do worship and call themselves Christians.  I'll judge them on their actions toward, and their beliefs about, other humans, not on their beliefs about deities or the afterlife.  

    Maybe I don't have all the answers.  

    Political compass: -8.75 / -4.72

    by Mark Mywurtz on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:09:21 AM PDT

  •  I am reminded of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, hnichols

    Emo Phillips (?) comedy bit, where he asks god for a bicycle, realizes it doesn't work like that, so he steals one and asks god for forgiveness.

    While I am willing to accept the premise that people like Warren would be psychopathic killers without their god, I do however note that their god doesn't actually prevent them from doing anything, and it's just as easy to use your religion as an excuse for your behavior as it is to actually improve your behavior.  In fact it's much easier.

    190 milliseconds....

    by Kingsmeg on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:51:21 AM PDT

  •  I can see how it might be beneficial (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, hnichols

    to attach yourself to a religion.

    It just seems dangerous to believe something because it feels good.

    And, I have no idea how one makes oneself believe something.

    GOP: Bankers, billionaires, suckers, and dupes.

    by gzodik on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 09:24:25 AM PDT

  •  We seem to have no problem in society (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, RockyMtnLib, hnichols

    talking our children out of their comfort snuggle blankets, pacifiers and imaginary friends as they grow up because we realize that those connections eventually stifle their abilities to deal with the world in an adult way.

    While I am not in favor of trying to force anyone to give up the imaginary delusions that give them comfort, I see nothing wrong with trying to point out to them what they are actually doing.   Beyond that, too many people have been harmed over many thousands of years by letting these ideas stand without challenge.

  •  While I don't see the need to abolish religion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Had Enough Right Wing BS

    I do see a great misuse of it, and not just Christianity.

    Personally, what I find of value in religion is humility; specifically, the sense of not being the centre of the universe myself. For me, this works, but far be it from me to impose this on others.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 10:31:47 AM PDT

    •  Wow. I find just the opposite. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass, Clem Yeobright

      Religion generates arrogance, not humility, because it pretends to "know" or claim things about the universe for which it has no evidence whatsoever.

      •  Because you're observing from the outside (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and you're looking for that stuff. Many people who practice religion are not arrogant or claim to "know" things in specific ways. You're a victim of your overgeneralization, I'm afraid.

        What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

        by commonmass on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 03:31:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I have overgeneralized so much myself that I (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          created a form of prison for myself.

          It was easier for me to see people of faith as some misguided, monolithic mass than to see them as the real individuals they are.

          I have often thought that the manner in which people use their religion functions exactly as a Rorschach test; it may tell more about who they are deep inside than might be intended.

          Finally I realized that my own reactions can be seen in the same way. Damning all who believe in one or more higher powers began to make much less sense to me when I had a chance to learn from some of the remarkable people on this site.

          I frankly didn't come here to lose my bigotry, but once here I had to choose either to be honest with myself or to hang on to the bad feelings.

          I remain an atheist, but I recognize the value of religion not only as a historic artifact, but as a force others find comfort in.

          Half a century ago the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and many of his fiercest enemies called themselves "Christian." Just as there was a vast gulf between the Birchers and Dr. King, it is (at least) as wide between the Birthers and those who practice a loving faith.

          I owe you, commonmass, and many others here for the freedom you have helped me find my way to.

          I haven't been able to be on this site much for quite a while, but offline I have met people who share much of your position on matters of faith (yeah, I know that sounds like a generalization!). Thank-you.

          It matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. Henry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience

          by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 07:24:46 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Of course people are individuals and should be (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Had Enough Right Wing BS, gzodik

            treated as such and with the respect you give someone for their general behavior, etc. Harsh criticism of false ideas is not being "bigoted", it's being honest.

            I don't initiate conversations with religionists that I work with on common issues, but if they put their ideas out in a discussion, I give those ideas the same amount of scrutiny and demand for evidence whether they come from a "nice" benign religionist or an overt pushy one. It is a matter of questioning the ideas, not of questioning the character of the person who holds them.


            •  Understood (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              In my case it had become difficult to separate "the ideas" from the people who had presented their own perceptions of what their faith meant as being an absolute truth.

              I disagree that the choice is between the loudest screamers and

              "nice" benign religionist[s]
              Just as I recognize more than two styles of music, the manners of religious expression are many and varied.

              I was simply trying to indicate my appreciation for something commonmass and countless others have helped me with. I'm sorry if your diary was the wrong forum for me to have attempted that in.

              In a way the lesson was the same: being critical (cautiously double checking facts, etc.) can be useful; being cynical helps no one. I had become more cynical than skeptical.

              It matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. Henry David Thoreau, in Civil Disobedience

              by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 08:07:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Sorry, but I'm a bit confused by this statement (0+ / 0-)

                "I'm sorry if your diary was the wrong forum for me to have attempted that in."

                This diary was written by Spencer Troxell. Are you the same person?

                I have absolutely no problem with the posting of this diary. There are all kinds of diaries that go on here, including Jewish study groups.

                The basic premise here is that the diarist, while an atheist, is much more accomodating of religious philosophical claims than I am and I was just expressing that.

          •  Thank you HERWBS, that's nice of you to say. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Had Enough Right Wing BS

            Look. My best friend is an atheist. He also happens to work as a sacred musician as well as a professor. Politically, I'd call him a Clinton Democrat--which is not surprising given that he's from North Carolina. He's one of the most honest, upstanding, truly good, kind, caring, passionate people I know.

            My own church choir is full of agnostics and at least one avowed atheist who just happens to love singing Anglican sacred music of good quality (of which there is enough to take to a desert island and not get bored).

            I have never argued that believing in God is necessary to be moral. I very much disagree with that idea, and with the people who espouse it. What I find distasteful are people--be they atheists or theists--who are fanatical in their beliefs and attempt to foist them on others. My best friend has never told me that I was irrational because I am a theist, or an Episcopalian, or a Freemason, three things I am. I have never called him a hypocrite for working in the church and not believing, because I feel it is possible for atheists who are awesome choral directors to do great work in the church, especially if, like my friend, they understand what they are working with even if they don't believe. He's never told me what I believe needs to be ridiculed, never used language like "imaginary friend" and other terms some atheists use to denigrate religion. I've never told him he's going to Hell because he's not a Christian. (Mostly because I don't believe that, but that's another diary).

            Progressive theists and progressive atheists have a lot of common ground. I operate in that common ground all the time. It's really a matter of respect.

            What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

            by commonmass on Mon Mar 25, 2013 at 04:06:27 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I am not a victim of any such thing. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Clem Yeobright

          If one accepts the Christian explanation for how the universe works, then they are making an argument for something for which they have absolutely no evidence.  Just because one is "ecumenical" in their attitude towards other religious "Paths" or not aggressive in trying to push their religion doesn't mean that they are not practicing a form of arrogance of knowledge.

          Take for example some of the conversations I read on here. Someone says, "well Jesus wouldn't agree with that because he was all about peace".  What Jesus? There's no evidence that person ever walked the earth, and yet believers have full discussions about the ins an outs of "Jesus" based upon the erroneous claim/assumption that the man was real.

          I know who you are standing up for, and these are people that I work with all the time on causes of separation of church and state. We don't get into beliefs, at least not at this point. But if any of them asked me what I thought of their beliefs, I would tell them. And I don't find either side of the textual cherry picking war that IS Christianity in the US more legitimate than the other.

          •  Where you are wrong is that there is not one (0+ / 0-)

            "Christian" explanation for how the universe works. I think you assume that all Christians think alike. They don't.

            What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

            by commonmass on Mon Mar 25, 2013 at 04:09:04 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I absolutely do not assume that (0+ / 0-)

              all Christians think alike. I work with liberal Christians. They have a totally different view of what Christianity means, what Jesus said and what the whole nature of God is about.  But that doesn't make the underlying assumptions any more "real" than what the fundamentalists believe.  Both are biblical based, and that is the crux of the problem. The texts are unrealiable, self contradictory and hypocritical. They are simply not telling tales about reality and shouldn't not be used as a basis for any kind of valid world view.

              That being said, I personally prefer the company of liberal Christians over fundamentalist/religious right. mostly because the liberals tend not to be interested in pushing their views on me either personally or through laws.  But that is a separate issue from the overall affect of people continuing to believe that their religious ideas are in any way connected to reality.

  •  Yeah, why not? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Otherwise it'd be drugs.

    (just remembering one of my neighbor's bumper stickers from a while back that said "Jesus Not Drugs" - suggesting that the two things were more or less equivalent).

  •  Belief in Jesus has "saved" (0+ / 0-)

    a lot of really terrible people, stopped them from doing terrible things. But the idea people need God to be functionally good is simply not true. Belief in God doesn't turn believers into selfless saints. The Methodists got George W. Bush on the wagon - they're quite good at it,  but does he understand why he was boozing?

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 01:29:44 PM PDT

  •  Rational avoidence (0+ / 0-)

    Rational people will avoid evil actions because its usually not in their self interest. In a nation with a functional legal system murder or theft will be a high risk and generally low reward activity.  (google average theft amount per incident)

    On the religion aspect in Christian doctrine all people are evil, selfish and imperfect and therefore need Christ to pay for their failures/sins. Their account with God is balanced not because they do good things, but because Christ payed the debt.

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