The original full version of this essay is located here:
Why I'm an American Atheist
As long and hard as I can remember, I have never believed in a “personal God.” On the 1 – 10 scale-o’-religiosity™, I rest firmly at the bottom. Science, for me, has always provided a worthy alternative to religion.
I suppose growing up in a conservative state like Texas with fairly non-religious parents is largely the reason that I adopted this stance so quickly in life; however, I believe my arrival here would have been inevitable. My parents and family, of course, have their own varying views and beliefs with respect to religion. I was allowed the opportunity to make up my own mind. Thus, my early and malleable years of childhood dodged the force-feeding of ideas and teachings most of us come to know as ‘religious ideology.’
Of course, Christianity is the predominant religion held by America as a whole, as it is within my extended family tree of American and Italian decent. Christianity has been somewhat of a circularly revolving ‘asterisk’ in my life, which has made little impact. We do not, as an extended family, engage in open discussion or intellectual debate over religion (at least as a group), as it would seem the current cultural mindset labels it too taboo a subject for table-side banter.
Not just in the name of religion, but actually by religion. People who crash airplanes into office buildings in order to destroy them must really believe in ‘paradise after death,’ that this is something their God wanted them to do, and that they will be rewarded in this ‘paradise.’ If they don’t really believe that, well… that’s a pretty foolish career move, don’t you think?
The idea that God (be it Allah, Jesus, Poseidon, or the FSM) has dictated certain ways of behaving/worshiping, and that it is incumbent upon you to force others to behave and worship in that way, is extremely concerning to me. Think about all the harm that’s been done throughout the ages by people who believed this, and believed it very sincerely. One can go on and on about the numbers of very sincerely religious people that were led by their religion to do very awful things. In fact, that was very much an aspect of Judaism before the Diaspora.
At least in recent centuries, it seems to me that religions that have a “theory about the world” do the most harm. It is the very sincere, true believers of these religions that are the ones we have to watch out for, even though they may have something more to show for themselves intellectually.
Most frightening to me is the world of Islam, where people seem to take their religion to the point of madness. There has been times in history where Islam has been a far more tolerant religion than Christianity, but that is not currently the case.
The fusion of Christianity and patriotism in the United States appears to be a ‘uniquely American’ concept. I think most people I know feel that religion is ‘good for you.’ Many people I know say they are religious, go to church, and so on — but when you really ask them what they think happens after death — they answer with responses like “I have no idea,” or “it’s all a mystery.”
I believe strongly that moral behavior is not derived from religion. You often hear people talk about more extremists religions as being “not really religious.” George Bush, for instance, said:
“..the terrorists have hijacked a peaceful religion in order to justify their behavior.”
He stated this, of course, because their actions don’t fit his idea of religion. You see, what’s really happening here is that instead of using religion to decipher what is ‘right,’ he is using his moral sense to decide what is religious. If that is indeed the case, I ask then: what is the point of religion at all?
In America we tend to have this misconception that religion is ‘good for you.’
I feel otherwise, and have a certain inward hostility toward the harm that I see it does. Many people simply do awful things out of sincere religious belief. Not using religion as a cover (the way Saddam Hussein may have done), but really because they believe that this is what God wants them to do, going all the way back to Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac because God told him so.
Putting God before humanity is a terrible thing.
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mrhedge @ gmail DOT com