For fear of glamorizing or encouraging violent behavior, my parents strictly forbade any toy weapons in the house during my early childhood. As my mom tells it, they eventually gave up on this prohibition after I gradually wore them down by turning nearly any available household kitchen item into a toy weapon anyway. An elongated wooden kitchen spoon was close enough to a sword for all my four-year-old brain was concerned.
Not so long after they gave up on the no-toy-weapon rule, I received a Christian Crusader costume and accessory kit for Christmas. This included a full-fledged plastic medieval armor set: helmet, breastplate, shield, and sword. Every piece came emblazed with a somber red Christian cross.
As an adult today, my parent’s decision to buy me a toy like this as a small child still strikes me as slightly remarkable. Did it not occur to them to wonder, “What exactly happened in the Crusades? Was this a positive event? One we’d like our son to gain inspiration from?”
In these early and formative years of my life, my family attended Elmbrook Church in Brookfield. Elmbrook is an Evangelical mega-church, it’s the largest church in the state of Wisconsin.
During those years, at Christmas time, Elmbrook would put on a large-scale, pseudo-historical reenactment of ancient Bethlehem. As a 4-year-old walking slack-jawed among the wily stacks of hay, the enormous live animals and the throngs of White suburbanites dressed in 1st Century Middle-Eastern robes, I was in a state of near ecstasy. At this point in my life, this was simply coolest thing I had ever seen with my own eyes. The whole community was playing dress up!
I didn’t want it to end, so I didn’t let it.
The act of improvisationally dressing up in character, playing the role and embodying the spirit of someone more interesting than myself was a core pastime of my early childhood.
With genuine intensity, depending on the day you caught me, I might be playing Luke Skywalker, President George H. W. Bush, or David. You know, as in David of David and Goliath.
Sometimes I’d enlist a friend from the neighborhood to play one of the necessary supporting roles. My friend Mike from two houses over was cast as Goliath. I, the organizer and hero of the game, would be playing the role of David. Within the theater of my modest bedroom, Goliath would climb on top the bed, gaining the tactical high ground. But then, shocking the imaginary thousands of spectators looking eagerly upon us, David would skirt around the floor line, staying low to the ground, before dramatically rising up to hurl a tennis ball at Goliath, neutralizing the beast in one deft blow.
As the fact that I freely opted into playing and reenacting Biblical scenes hopefully demonstrates, Biblical stories were a foundational aspect of my childhood. In the early years of my life, my parents were fairly recently minted Born-Again Evangelical Christians.
By the time I reached 1st grade, I attended my first sleepover with a friend from school. This turned out to be a fairly transformational experience, exposing me to the widely varying ways in which a human life can be lived. As it happens, my friend’s mother was simply not as concerned about preserving the eternal Christian soul of her child as my parents were at the time. This led her to shape the content of our sleepover experience in markedly different ways than would have been the case had we stayed over at my house.
I had multiple firsts that night, all of them exhilarating. I felt like I was getting away with something, something that although my parents wouldn’t approve of, felt irresistible nonetheless. We went to Pick N’ Save and got to pick out a dessert. I got a bag of Big League Chew. Which in addition to being racked with sugar, also had the cool factor of being affiliated with not only professional baseball, but also, something even darker and manlier, chewing tobacco. We got to pick out a VHS of our choice from Blockbuster, we stayed up until 10:30pm, I got to sleep on the top bunk.
This was just the beginning though, I distinctly remember being in the backyard playing with my friend when he fell or something went wrong and he exclaimed, “What the heck?!?” This was a no-go at my house.
One of the first moral lessons I remember internalizing from my Born-Again parents was that it was vulgar to say “What the heck,” because of its uncomfortable proximity to its sinful sister, “What the hell.” And “hell,” as you may have gathered by now, was a literal geographical location my parents expected we just might end up if we weren’t too careful about our vocabulary usage.
A few years later, we relocated two hours north to Green Bay. We moved into a drab duplex about a mile from Lambeau Field, and I started 2nd grade. We soon settled into a new, non-denominational church on the far side of town called Green Bay Community. Our new church’s interior reflected the austere attitudes of the German and Dutch decedents who largely populated it: simple, functional, and generally undramatic.
In Green Bay, church service took place in a multi-purpose room whose main feature was a carpeted indoor basketball court. We, the attendants who had dressed up for the occasion in our best polo shirts and “nice jeans,” sat on folding chairs. After getting juiced up on free bad coffee with powdered cream in the lobby, we’d come take our seats, be encouraged to greet some strangers sitting near us, then get settled in for the main program.
The first half of the service consisted of devotional music, and sometimes an allegedly though-provoking skit. It was during this time when refrains such as “It’s all about yooooouuuuu, da-da, it’s all about yooooouuu, da-da, Jesuuuusssss!” were etched into my memory.
Similarly imprinted into my mind are the images of just how blatantly uncomfortable all these White Midwesterners are in their own bodies, myself included. The men sing in a monotone hum that’s barely audible, yet loud enough to signal to those around them that they’re technically participating.
The women generally have just a bit more gusto. Some will shamelessly crackle and croak along to the words, all too willing to ignore the unsettling shrieks they are in actuality producing.
There is absolutely no dancing at any point. There is definitely some tentative swaying going on, however. And for the exceedingly theatrical among us, for those who are really feeling it, the closing of the eyes and the waving of one’s hands back and forth may occasionally be tolerated.
In any case, after the music came the sermon. Even using the word “sermon” now gives me pause, was it a sermon? I don’t even know. That seems to conjure images of someone red-in-the-face, yelling and scolding a crowd to some extent, but this is the White Upper-Midwest…we don’t do direct confrontation, we do passive aggression.
The second half of the service was essentially a talk given by the pastor. It would dig into one particular Biblical story or anecdote, then try to connect it to our lives and leave us with some sense of how to live better or more in line with what we were under the impression Jesus would have wanted. So that’s what was on the Sunday morning menu.
And although I was still quite young, it was during one of these first new church Sundays in Green Bay when I started to notice something. We’d be sitting there in church listening to the pastor go on and on, and I’d be thinking something along the lines of, “Wow, this is incredibly boring. I’d really prefer to be just about anywhere else right now. But I guess this is what we’re doing, so I’ll just keep being a good sport about it.”
Around that same time, I distinctly remember reflecting on the framework of the Christian story for the first time.
The story had been framed for me by the most loving and trusted adults in my life: my parents and my grandparents. One Sunday morning, daydreaming through the boredom of the pastor’s message, I remember reflecting about Jesus, as he was described to me, as the perfect and ultimate embodiment of Good. And I remember reflecting about Satan, as he was described to me, as the perfect and ultimate embodiment of Evil.
Suddenly it hit me. Through my child’s mind, a question started to take shape.
The question essentially being “Huh, it almost seems like this narrative is a little too simple, doesn’t it?”
“Ultimate ‘Good Guy’ vs. ultimate ‘Bad Guy?’ It almost sounds like a comic book or an action movie! It’s like Batman vs. Joker or something.”
“It actually seems kind of hard to believe once you think about it, right?”
But my family and church community had no reason for concern. The thought would remain suppressed. I was a Good Boy after all, and thus I arrested the nascent seed of skepticism in its tracks the moment I realized it was there.
Like so many Good Christian Boys have likely done before me, I simply concluded, “Well, even if it sounds fake, it can’t actually be fake…right? My mom and dad say this is true! My grandparents say it’s true! All these hundreds of adults sitting patiently on folding chairs on a carpeted indoor basketball court drinking trash coffee out of Styrofoam cups say that it’s true!”
“So, who am I to doubt any of this?”
We only lived in the duplex for one year. During that time my youngest sister was born, and our family of five soon moved into a nice two-story house with plenty of front and back yard space. It was somewhere during this time period, probably around 4th or 5th grade, when I learned that something called rap music existed.
At this point I don’t think I’d actually heard a true rap song, as I had only really heard music that my parents listened to up until that point, but suffice it to say I was quite excited by the prospect of listening to something a little edgier.
Tupac was a name I had heard referenced at school somehow. One night at dinner I mentioned something about my interest in his music and my dad nearly had a stroke on the spot.
Flustered by the interest I had taken in something sounding likely to be highly morally suspect, my dad uttered the single most fantastic parenting gem of my entire childhood, “Well, do you want me a buy you a Tupac CD so you can see how bad it is?”
“Ah, sure!” I responded.
Uncharacteristically raising his voice, he retorted, “Well, I’m not gonna!”
It was so absurd that even my mom cracked a smile. I probably laughed a bit like the taunting jerk of an adolescent I was growing into. As soon as it came out of his mouth, my dad himself ended up laughing in frustration at his own foible.
I may have won the battle, but I was certainly losing the war. As my brain continued to grow in adolescence, my curiosity about the world expanded with it. At this point in my life, I had never heard a Tupac song, but I was interested in it and wanted to hear it for myself.
But that’s not how my parent’s thought about things. Life was simpler for them. Evangelical morality made it simpler for them. Because Evangelical morality is generally, safely, conveniently black and white.
Bible = Good.
Rap Music = Bad.
A few years after the Tupac moment, my parents sat my two sisters and I down in the living room and told us that they were getting divorced. I was the only one in the group of five who didn’t cry.
My dad moved into a duplex not far away, and for the remainder of my adolescent years, our weekend and after-school hours were split 50-50 under each parent’s custody. A lot changed quickly.
Mom stopped going to church.
Not long after that, she dove head first into volunteering for all sorts of Liberal political causes. Being around 13-years-old at the time, the fact that my mom stopped going to church was certainly a welcome change of pace from my perspective. However, it also came with absolutely no explanation or even acknowledgement that such a significant lifestyle change had even occurred in the first place.
Quite a bit less changed with dad. He struggled admirably to begin a new chapter in his life he had clearly never anticipated and overall did it with remarkable diligence and a consistent sense of humor. He kept going to church. When it was his weekend, my sisters and I went as well. But at this point, both of us being understandably overwhelmed in the post-divorce aftermath, my dad and I began to clash occasionally.
Down the street from our duplex was the modest East Town Mall. Somehow or another, I got really into the song “Stunt” by the Canadian alternative rock band Bare Naked Ladies. I was on my way out of the house one afternoon, about to meet up with my neighbor friend whose parents were also going through a divorce. We spent most of our time skateboarding at the elementary school down the street. But this day, we were going down to East Town to buy the Bare Naked Ladies CD.
As I was heading out, my dad sternly asked where I was going. I told him the honest answer. I told him the name of the band whose CD I planned to buy. Echoing overtones of the Tupac moment years earlier, he simply forbade me to buy the CD, purely on the grounds of the band’s name. I retorted that the band’s music was actually “not like that” and that it was just a funny name to catch attention. He was having none of it.
Feeling frustrated and unheard, I went straight to his own personal music collection and combed it with a similarly morally critical eye. After a few minutes, I located a tape he had in his possession featuring a band named “The Naked Farmers.” A-ha! See dad! You too listen to music from a band featuring a risqué name, yet perhaps the content of the music is actually clean? Right?
No such luck. He just said, “That’s a Christian band.” End of conversation.
I don’t remember much more about Church during my teenage years. I attended reluctantly, but without vocalized objection every other weekend, when we were at my dad’s. The content or message delivered during church was never discussed at home. Like some of the most deceptively well-behaved students in classrooms worldwide, our family simply managed to be physically present for Church and sat quietly. The fact that we were just as lost as anyone as to why we were there or what was really going on underneath it all was never addressed or seemingly noticed by anyone.
One day in my junior year, I came home late to my dad’s house after having attended the first Gay-Straight Alliance meeting at my high school.
I walked through the front door faintly bracing myself for what I knew was entirely likely to happen next. A sibling asked, “Where were you?” I hesitated, fully aware of how easy it would have been to lie, to just say I was hanging out with friends. But instead, I said what was true. “I was at the Gay-Straight Alliance meeting.” My dad’s head rose from his newspaper. Another sibling exclaimed, “Oh my God! Are you gay?” “No.” I answered. “But there won’t be anything wrong with that if I were.” Brief silence.
“Oh yes there would be!” My dad firmly interjected. And that was the end of that.
I retreated to my room and fumed. Although today I know this no longer to be the case, from my perspective at that time, my father had just made one thing absolutely clear: his love for me was conditional. At the end of the day, he expected my existence to conform with his personal understanding of Christian teaching.
And what exactly was that understanding? No surprises here, the word of his Lord is in fact quite straight forward on this specific matter.
Leviticus 20:13 states, “If a man also lie with man-kind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”(1)
In my adolescence, my father’s baseline aversion to homosexuality was explicitly grounded in what he’d been taught in church over the course of his entire lifetime.
And an entire lifetime of mainstream Christian doctrine had taught my father, the otherwise friendliest neighbor you’d ever meet, that our homosexual brothers and sisters deserve scorn and rejection in life, and eternal torture in death.
That, he learned, is the position of the Christian God of Love.
By October of 2005, I was a month deep into a new chapter of my life as a diligently studious and socially gun-shy freshman in college in Milwaukee. My new roommate came home with a friend one evening while I was writing. I snapped my laptop shut swiftly as they entered, afraid they would see what I was doing. As it happened, all this religion and God stuff had still found itself on my mind quite a bit, and I was trying to sort through what I actually believed and what I didn’t. I was writing it down in an impromptu journal entry.
At this point in my life, I was now freed from the obligation to attend church. I was liberated from the wet blanket of non-denominational Christian ethics I had largely been raised under. But even in this wide-open intellectual space, what I landed on at the time, was that I still absolutely believed in God!
Approaching the question purely logically, I was still convinced there must be a God.
For after all, consider the enormous complexity of the human body. We have eyes that can see, wounds that heal themselves, and minds capable of learning and using sophisticated languages. The argument that such miraculous technicalities could not have arisen randomly or spontaneously from nothing struck me as highly persuasive at the time.
I found Paley’s analogy of the watchmaker compelling. If you were to stumble upon a pocket watch in the woods, would it be logical to deduce that this timepiece had assembled itself, in all its intricate parts, randomly? Or would it be more logical to deduce that such a complex instrument must have had its origin in a designer? This made sense to me on a visceral level. We humans are a million times more complicated than a watch, so there must have been some intentional design behind it all.
However, the cracks hammered into my Christian faith by the way I was raised had become too glaring to ignore. As much as I was thrilled playing David and Goliath as a kid, I noticed that it was simply impossible for me to claim I believed that many of the Biblical stories I was told as a child were accurate representations of legitimate historical truth.
Do Christians really believe that by selecting Noah and company on the fated ark, their loving God literally committed one of the most successful acts of genocide in human history?
The entire population of the Earth was just so naughty that God had to step in and murder all but one family?
How well does committing genocide align with what else we’ve been told about this loving God, namely that he is the perfect embodiment of everything moral, everything good?
And what about verses like Exodus 31:14? “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death.”(1) Is it not the case that the so-called “good book” encourages we the faithful to murder those among us who have committed the offense of working on Sundays?
Dad, how can you be so sure the Bible has the ultimate word on morality when it comes to humans born with different sexual preferences, but you ignore what it says about disrespecting the Sabbath? What’s up with that? By what standard are you willing to get all worked up about one part of the Bible, but causally shrug off another part you find less convenient to act upon?
And wait, Christians of the World, now that I’ve actually looked into securing my own copy, how is it the case that there isn’t even such a thing as “the Bible?”
We talk about it as if it’s one definitive text. But it’s not, is it? When I looked into securing my own copy, I discovered that I had to select from multiple, significantly different versions in order to settle upon one to take home.
How do you even know which Bible is the right Bible?
And wait, what do you mean, Jesuit college? What do you mean that there were large portions of the original Bible that were cut out long after its composition?
What do you mean that there were some new sections added in centuries later?
What do you mean that the people who wrote of Jesus in the Bible weren’t even alive at the time that Jesus was?
What do you mean that the meaning of certain passages remains starkly unclear because the language has been translated and tampered with so many times that we can’t even keep track of what it for sure originally said, and on top of that, we have plenty of active evidence indicating that certain passages were cynically altered or manipulated, time and again over centuries for purely political purposes?
All of these layers of confusion surrounding the veracity of the text of the Bible force me to wonder, what if I would have personally been alive and present at the time and place where Jesus was gaining his original following?
What if I would have been among that first crowd of illiterate, 1st Century Middle Easterners to first to hear the musings of this wayward Jewish carpenter who was walking around claiming to have been born without aid of a father.
What could Jesus have said to have convinced me of his true, divine nature?
“No, seriously. I know it sounds weird, but I just came out of my mom. She’s never had sex, I swear. That’s gross. Trust me. I was born totally normally, just like you guys, with a midwife’s support, emerging from my mother’s birth canal. That part was totally normal. The only thing different is that my mom has never fornicated like the rest of you savages, which I know sounds crazy, because all observable evidence demonstrates that that is the only way humans do in fact come into existence. But just go with it. I know it sounds hard to believe, but just don’t think about it too hard. I swear I’ve got a lot of nice things to say about how to think about life and how to be a good person that you’ll probably enjoy. Just trust me. Seriously. Follow me. Literally. Follow me.”
It simply occurred to me, even as a tepid 18-year-old, that an intellectually serious person simply couldn’t believe in fairy tales of this sort.
But my family did, and raised me to as well. We are all products of the religious environment’s we are raised in, are we not? That’s the main conclusion I came to in that freshman year journal entry. I realized that while I still believed in God, I certainly could no longer pretend that I believed in Christianity, or any similar organized religion as a result.
A year passed.
Perhaps unexpectedly, I continued right on praying the entire time.
I had started praying, silently, independently and daily sometime in middle school. I prayed through the disruptions in my family life, all the way through the fog of depression and isolation I would encounter in high school.
Even through my first year of college, long after I’d established I no longer felt subject to any particular religion, I prayed to no one and I prayed to everyone. It was a soothing habit that in all honesty I went on to miss for some considerable time afterwards. I rationalized my buckshot prayers because I came to believe that it didn’t matter whom, if anyone was listening. As long as there was some chance, no matter how small or unknown that my prayers might be heard, it would be worth the investment.
I prayed daily for my health and that of my family. I prayed to finally find a girlfriend. I prayed for my stubborn teeth to straighten out so I could extricate myself from the braces that had already long overstayed their welcome in my mouth. And I prayed for the big stuff as well. Budding political science nerd that I was, I spent much of my freshman year in college praying for the people of Darfur.
But one night, I forced myself to face the uncomfortable question, “Do you actually think any of this investment is paying off? To the best of your ability to tell, are your prayers having any actual effect in the world?”
Once that door was opened, there was no turning back. I considered that I was likely not the only one praying for Darfur that year. I considered that many, many people in ages long before my existence had likely also prayed for peace in this world that has yet to have been established.
So, if God has the ability to affect change in Darfur, but refuses to do so…why the hell would he interfere with my personal life?
If active ethnic cleansing isn’t enough for him to raise a finger in intervention, then why would he bother to find this skinny Midwestern kid a girlfriend?
I stopped praying.
But the question of the origins of human life still fascinated and frustrated me. By the end of my sophomore year in college, I quietly had begun to consider myself an Agnostic. This was not a label I was particularly fond of. It just happened that for some period of months that was the most accurate description of a person who no longer remained convinced that there must be a God, but who simultaneously remained unconvinced that there definitely wasn’t a God.
For a long time, I had felt secure in the logic that human life was just so complex that it couldn’t have arisen from nothing. But wait, I started to wonder. Wouldn’t a figure with the capacity to create and invisibly administer the daily affairs of human beings inherently have to be just a bit more complex than the humans themselves? That much seems obvious. So, wait, then how did God himself come into being?
If human life is too complicated to have come into being without a creator, then who created the creator?
By fall of 2007 I was studying abroad in Spain. My growing obsession with finalizing my understanding of the God question came at the expense of fully immersing myself in the Spanish language I had come all this way to learn. I spent lots of time in the ornate university libraries, diligently reading and writing for my Spanish classes. But I spent quite a bit more time in parks and coffee shops reading Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. YouTube suddenly became a thing around that time. I watched every scrap of video featuring Hitchens and Harris the internet had to offer. I became immersed in the arguments. I was determined to reach a conclusion.
I lived in a small, elegant apartment with a Spanish Senora in a quiet neighborhood. One night, lying in bed, I realized that even through the deluge of reading I was doing, I simply hadn’t hit any “a-ha” moment on the subject. It occurred to me that if it hadn’t come by now, it was possible that it might never do so. It occurred to me that, come what may, I was just going to have to think this out by myself and see where I landed.
So, I asked my still Agnostic self a simple question: “To the best of your ability to understand, do you hold an active believe that there is in fact such a thing as a ‘God?’”
When I put it that plainly, I realized the clear answer to this was, “No.”
Notice that didn’t mean I claimed I could prove there is no God. It didn’t mean I was 100% sure or that my mind could never again be changed on the matter. But the simple truth was that I realized that no, no matter how tempted I still felt to prevaricate on the matter, the simple reality was that no, I did not hold an active belief in God anymore.
This made me, by definition, an Atheist. I felt like a weight had finally been lifted from my shoulders.
Armed with the exhilaration of having found some degree of an identity in Atheism, as well as the serenity of feeling intellectually confident I could now defend myself of such a bold title, I spent much of the following year being sanctimonious whenever the subject arose in polite conversation. I soon found myself walking away baffled and frustrated anytime I ended a conversation or debate with a religious friend or acquaintance.
The formula usually went something along the lines of this: Subject A explains why they believe in God. I explain why their reasoning doesn’t make any sense. I expect Subject A to adjust their position accordingly. Subject A does no such thing. In fact, they often double down. I might at this point become sarcastic. Subject A then becomes defensive, and accordingly even further off the path of rationality from where they started. I’m sitting on neutral. Subject A is getting emotional. I walk away baffled and frustrated. Subject A walks away offended and very possibly feeling even more committed to their particular brand of superstition than they were prior to my failed intervention.
The summer after I returned from Spain, some version of this conversation finally took place between my father and I.
We were sitting down to dinner on the deck in my dad’s backyard. He made some critical, underhanded remark regarding the “Practicing Atheist” label I had chosen to self-describe myself as on my social media account for some period of months during my time abroad. Emboldened by everything I’d learned about religion, in addition to the fact that I had simply gotten older and accordingly less afraid of my father by this point, I took the bait and hit back.
It got a bit ugly, at least by our White Midwestern, passive-aggressive cultural standards. No glassware was thrown. Nobody screamed or hollered. But faces got red, voices were raised, insults were exchanged. Nothing like this had ever happened between my dad and I prior to this moment, and nothing like this has ever happened since.
I still enjoy getting into it with people about religion now and again. But it happens infrequently now.
These days, I rarely initiate the conversation. But if it comes up, I tend not to back down.
I’m less aggressive now, and I listen more. I’m progressively more mindful of my tone and of the general extent to which my cold line of interrogative questioning can come off sharper to others than it may feel to myself.
I’ve engaged in variations of the same conversation about religion dozens of times in my adult life by now, and none of them have been exactly alike. But themes emerge, of course.
I continue to be amazed, if no longer particularly surprised, for example, that even after having one’s arguments in defense of their religion thoroughly gutted, most people are simply unwilling to even consider changing their minds accordingly.
This is simply extraordinary. If people approached any other domain of importance in life in this manner, we would swiftly, and rightly cease to take them seriously. But this doesn’t happen with religion.
If a friend of yours calmly explained to you that they are currently telepathically communicating messages from their brain directly to the brain of the President, you would rightly adjust your understanding of the degree to which your friend is in touch with reality.
Yet, if that same friend calmly explained that they are currently telepathically communicating with an invisible fictional character who lives amongst the stars and controls all aspects of our lives, we are somehow pressured to pretend that this actually really does make sense, that this allegation really is literally possible.
Another thing that confounds me is the extent to which, in spite of lacking any semblance of coherent and honest reasons to support their beliefs, many religious people insist that they deserve to be respected for them.
But what are beliefs, anyway? Beliefs are simply ideas or propositions that we consider to be true.
We can believe that the sun will come up tomorrow. We can believe that Canada is a real place. And we can believe that when we die, our souls will be transported to an enjoyable, long-term retirement home somewhere north of the sky.
But the thing is, people can be mistaken about what is true, right? And need we afford respect to every inaccurate idea that some subset of human beings believe in?
I’d like to humbly suggest that respect is not something that should be granted so cheaply.
Just because someone believes something deeply, that doesn’t mean we have to respect it.
Notice there is a key difference here, between the idea of respecting people, verse respecting any given idea those people happen to hold.
All people deserve respect.
All ideas deserve rational scrutiny.
The truth is that people believe all sorts of crazy and even horrible things, but that doesn’t compel any morally serious person to respect them.
Some people are deeply committed to the belief that White people are biologically superior to people of color. Just like religion, this belief provides certain people with a sense of purpose. Just like religion, this belief can be passed down from parent to child, conferring a deep sense of meaning and identity. And just like religion, this belief can lead people to think and act in ways that an otherwise ethically normal person never would.
And notice, belief in God or religion is just that, a belief. But in order to be taken seriously, beliefs not only have to be grounded in some measure of reality in order to be deserving of respect, they also have to be assessed against the no-shit damage they are responsible for inflicting upon the world.
Let us not pretend we don’t know that religion is responsible for a ceaseless onslaught of human suffering, worldwide, on a daily basis. We can’t prevent every human death at the hands of hurricanes and tornadoes, but suicide bombings and the familial murder of apostates is different.
Most religious people I know are permanently committed to remaining dishonest about the factual veracity of certain ancient stories to which they are emotionally attached.
These beliefs can make them feel as good as they like, but so can devotion to White Supremacy, and that doesn’t mean that any truly morally grounded, thinking person has to find these toxic fantasies deserving of respect.
When I reflect on my own childhood, on how thrilled I was by Christian stories as a young kid, or how invested I was in the efficacy of prayer even after I had lost my religion, one belief of my own becomes absolutely clear.
I know it sounds hard to believe, but children are far more resilient than we tend to think if we give them the chance.
I believe we should stop lying to children about God and religion.
I believe we should start telling children the truth. No matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may feel for the adults around them.
1. The King James Study Bible, 2nd Edition. Liberty University, 2013. (Pgs 150, 202)