It's been a long time in the making, but I am an atheist. More specifically, I'm a nontheist with atheist, Humanist, and pantheist sways. I think religion is a part of human nature; it's our way to simplify the complexities of the universe, a way to enforce morality, and a way to fulfill our basic human need to see order in chaos. It helps us cope as we mourn and fear death, it gives us hope when things are tough, and it gives us comfort when we see the imbalance and chaos between good and evil in the world. I don't think that's a bad thing; I think it's magnificent. It's beautiful, poetic; prayer has scientifically been proven to bring physical benefits to the person who is praying. It bonds communities together. It compels people to do good who otherwise probably would not bother. I believe that in many communities and for many people, its a necessary motivator to help people remain moral. For some people who have been through great trauma, its necessary for their sanity and recovery (notice a lot of trafficking survivors become very religious after their experience).
That said, I don't believe in the God of Abraham. In the Old Testament, he ordered the genocide of the Canaanites, made a racist discrimination between Jews and Gentiles, allowed a human sacrifice, brutalized homosexuals, allowed concubinage (sex slavery), did not allow divorce in domestic violence situations, required animal sacrifice, and treated women as subordinate. I understand that once the ultimate sacrifice was made (Jesus), the rules changed. That doesn't mean God changed, however. He's still the same God who did those things; He is eternal and everlasting; He is outside the confines of space and time. He is who He has always been, and I don't like Him. Even in the New Testament, He didn't get all that much better. According to Peter any way, He still treats women as subordinate, doesn't allow divorce in the face of domestic violence, and considers the people He created as homosexuals as innate sinners. I'm bisexual and believe in the empowerment of women, so that doesn't sit right with me. Why is rape never mentioned as a sin outside the context of fornication or general abuse? If talking back to your parents made the Top 10 list, how did rape not get a specific mention? Also, when viewed objectively, the history of Christianity is very similar to any other religion in that in originated out of a particular culture in a particular ethnic group and gradually spread from there. Christianity's parables are as hokey and strange as any other religion; it's just harder to see it when you've grown up with it. The idea of a blue god with six arms is strange to us, but the idea of a talking burning bush isn't. I don't believe that the God of the Bible exists, and if He does, I want nothing to do with Him.
Now, we could take the approach that the Bible was written by men who had a flawed viewed of God and were using religion to accomplish political goals and that we must see past these perversions and explore with our own hearts who the God of the Bible really is. Being a law student, I don't buy that approach either. Taking in the Bible verses we like and ignoring the ones that make us uncomfortable seems like a really messy and illegitimate way to handle things. The Bible is God's Word, or it isn't. The God of the Bible exists, or He doesn't.
Now, it's also possible that God is a spiritual entity that has simply been interpreted in different ways and in different cultural perspectives; this would explain why Yahweh, Allah, God, Buddhist Enlightenment, and the thousands of Hindu gods that make up the many faces of what some Hindus consider one deity are all very, very similar. So maybe Christianity is just the way our culture worships this spiritual entity. This rings a bit more true to me. However, I'm not willing to partake in that either. There is NO major religion that supports complete gender equality and some of my other moral convictions and so I'm not going to take part.
I also reject the idea that there is any ultimate "evil" in the world or that there is order and justice in all this chaos. When we look at traffickers we can see evil, or we can see a woman who grew up a trafficking victim herself and also needs support and love. When we look at rapists we can see evil, or we can see a troubled boy who was violently abused by his father. When we look at murderers we can see evil, or we can see the effects of decades of unaddressed mental illness. When these people were not given the love and support they needed thanks to the chaos in our governments, families, cycles of poverty, and health sector, more chaos ensued. These people aren't 'getting what they deserve' when they go to hell; what they deserved was love and support as a child and they didn't get it. No one deserves hell. The concept of 'evil' is just an oversimplification of the chaos we don't understand and an answer to our fear and rage. We can view something like trafficking as evil, or tear apart its complexities and realize that it's simply a series of unfortunate events that flow together to cause misery. This dissected view allows us to get to the heart of the matter in a way the blanket label of evil doesn't; better rehabilitation of sexual abuse survivors may lead to fewer sexual abusers in the future -- executing and punishing any sexual abuser we catch vengefully and righteously may not. Rejecting an ultimate evil led me to reject the idea of an ultimate good, which led to my acceptance of chaos in place of the existence of a deity.
That said, I believe that we have a moral duty to create order and justice to the best of our ability and to make this world a better place. Where does that moral duty come from if not from a man in the clouds? I believe it's instinctual, but evolved to a more spiritual and intellectual level than anything animals can feel. It's instinctual to want your offspring to live prosperously and to continue to flourish. it's instinctual to want your species to continue happily eternally. For humans, this takes on a much more emotional and spiritual dimension. Just because this moral duty doesn't come from a man in the sky doesn't make it any less beautiful, honorable, or spiritual. I don't have to believe in a deity to want a better life for my fellow man or to have numerous specific moral beliefs and obligations.
I believe straights and GLBTs should all be treated the same; I believe women should be given all the same rights as men; I believe safe, responsible sex between consenting unmarried adults is okay; I believe the Jews aren't and never were any more special than the Canaanites, Palestinians, Kurds, Tibetans, or any other group; I hold a lot of moral beliefs that are contrary to mainstream Christianity. In my opinion, this makes mainstream Christianity immoral.
Yet, as an atheist, I'm assumed to be immoral while Christians are assumed to be moral. Atheists are discriminated against in many ways in this country. For example, we can't get elected to Congress (there is only 1 openly atheist politician in the federal government; he's one of our 438 representatives). We aren't eligible to work for IJM, World Vision, or Gracehaven unless we lie about our beliefs (which, ironically, is immoral in my opinion so I won't). We're assumed to be selfish, pessimistic, indulgent, and bad with children. Most atheists have to claim they are 'agnostic' or 'spiritual' or 'just not sure' to avoid discrimination and judgment. I know, for many years, that's what I did. I didn't 'come out' as an atheist until I watched this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7LjriWFAEs
So there's my religious beliefs! They're not appropriate for everyone, and I wouldn't encourage everyone to adopt them. Jesus is such a big part of some people's lives, I can't imagine how devastated they would be if they arrived at the same conclusions that I myself have come to. It can be depressing, scary, and demotivating to hold my beliefs. I believe that there are some people though (like me) who are very happy and comfortable accepting things the way I have. I have never felt more free, whole, or happy finally believing that living by my own moral code is okay and that I don't have to worry about a man in the sky judging me. I think religion is a lot like human companionship; most of us need it to stay sane and happy, while a minority of us don't.