Jun 24, 2014

A Different Kind of Faith

A Different Kind of Faith | Business, Life & Design

I was hesitant to write about religion, because it's a topic that easily upsets, but I was inspired by 2 things.  1. This post from Arkansassy about how controversial topics are the most important ones to cover and 2. This post from She is Fierce about her own stance on religion and how beautifully, non-confrontationally it's written.

We can all believe different things and still get along.  I have a Christian friend and an agnostic/Catholic friend, I'm an atheist, and we all subscribe to the "live and let live" policy and get along just fine.

That being said, sometimes I do struggle to understand how someone can believe things that seem so patently false to me.  And I struggle even more not to judge them for believing these things.  But it's gotten much easier after seeing how others, on both sides of the debate, can be so obnoxious about it, and resolving to be nothing like the smug, self-righteous know-it-alls on the internet.

As an atheist who is comfortable with her beliefs, and open to discussion, I get asked unusual things occasionally.  The most common questions:

1. Why do you celebrate Christmas?

This could probably be answered by repeating the question.  Most of the religious people that I know (and who are asking this question) don't go to church on Christmas.  Or if they do, it's a very small piece of their morning.  The rest of the day is focused on family, gifts, and delicious food.  Believe it or not, atheists also happen to enjoy family, gifts and delicious food.  While this day may have originated as a religious holiday, the focus has shifted far, far away from its original meaning, and I think it's every family's prerogative to decide what about the day is important to them.

2. Why do you say "Oh my God"?

This is another one where I could probably answer the question with a question, "Well, why do YOU say 'Oh my God' "?  I seriously doubt that every time this cliché and much overused term is uttered, the speaker is thinking about God, and the blasphemy they are currently committing.  It would probably be said less if this were the case.  We all learned it as children, probably before we even understood who and what this God person is, the same way we learn all language.  So for me, it's just a saying, like any other, with origins somewhere in the past that don't necessarily mean a whole lot to me anymore.

3. Why are you an atheist?

Why does anyone believe anything?  For many of us, it's simply because we were raised that way.  There are, of course, those who have discovered God somewhere along the way, and those who have decided that it does not make sense to them, and stopped believing.  I think those people probably have much more compelling and well thought out reasons and arguments.  For me, it was simply the way I was raised and, as an adult, it continues to make sense to me.

4. What keeps you from doing bad things?

Here's one that I can really sink my teeth into.  Story: One day when I  was working the takeout counter at my first job ever (a burger place), I found someone's wallet in the arcade.  I mentioned that I had found it to my coworker, and then took it to the manager.  She said, "Didn't you even want to see what was inside?  What if there was a lot of money?"  I said that would have been wrong and she was totally astonished, "And you don't even believe in God!"

I like to think that, even for those who believe in heaven and hell, that fear of the afterlife is not the only motivator for good behavior.  If it was, what would that say about us, as humans?  I think we have an inherent sense of morality that we're born with, and that is further instilled in us by our parents.  My mother, despite our beliefs, is the most moral person I know.  I don't feel that I come anywhere close to her level of saintliness, but I certainly am not going to steal the money out of someone's wallet.  I know that's wrong and I don't need God or an afterlife of flame to tell me that.

5. So what DO you believe in?

Just kidding, no one ever asks this.  But I think it's important and I want to talk about it.  I was raised to be a skeptic, so while there's a lot that I would like to believe in, I really just don't.  Sure, it'd be great if there was something after death, if the end wasn't the end at all, if there was some, any kind at all, of magic spark out there in the world to keep it from being so flat and unimaginative.  But I can't make myself believe something just because it would be nice.

I do believe in, and rely heavily on, logic and reason.  Human integrity.  I believe the things that make sense to me, or that make sense to those whose opinion I respect.  I believe that we do the best we can with the information we have at the time, and we continually strive to improve our understanding.  I believe that beliefs can change, given better information.

I choose to believe that people are inherently good, that the world is capable of fixing its problems before reaching utter destruction, and that life is worth living.  I choose to improve myself and to make my sphere a happier place to be, in the hopes that it will positively impact the other spheres that overlap it.  I don't believe in karma, but I do believe that our positive actions can influence others to do positive things and will continue to ripple outward.

Most of all, I believe that since there is no destination, life is all about the journey.  There's no one meaning of life.  There's no ultimate answer.  But that doesn't mean life is bleak and empty and meaningless.  Rather it has all the beauty of a blank canvas, for each of us to decide our own meaning and paint our own picture of what life can and should be.

What does your canvas look like?

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