Better Atheist than You

I’m trying not to be angry about it, but I find that it’s easier to have that “righteous anger” that I used to have now that the whole idea of “righteous” is rather silly to me. What is righteous anger except an excuse to get angry about something when the religion we preach teaches that we are supposed to turn the other cheek after all?

Anyway, I’m trying not to be angry. After spending years in the church, one of the things that we would say as pastors, was “You’re doing it wrong”. The idea was that there was one way to be a proper Christian. If things weren’t going right, or if we disagreed about something with parishioners, or if parishioners disagreed with what we thought was the God’s instructions (as interpreted by the pastor or the pastor’s interpretation of scripture of course), then since it can’t be God’s fault things aren’t going well, and since the pastor and the bible are the ultimate authority, then if everything isn’t peachy, then somehow YOU are doing it wrong. YOU are at fault. It’s inevitable. You are faulty; God is perfect. As God’s representative, the pastor is almost always right too. I remember, when I was a new pastor, how blown away I was when I realized that everyone was hanging on EVERY word I said. It was a very heady feeling, but in some ways, even then it made me distinctly uncomfortable. I was just a normal woman. Admittedly I had been “called by God” to be a pastor, but I was really nothing special, yet I was being treated as almost a God myself. I remember preaching that “you all need to always check me. Read the scriptures for yourself, and always remember that I’m a fallible person. I don’t think they listened. But when the parishioner was in conflict with the dogma that we had been taught in our training, then there was no question. “You need to do it this way. You don’t hear God speaking to you? Something’s not right with your life. You are having issues with your family? Then you need to revisit your walk as a Christian. God’s not answering your prayers? You’re asking for the wrong thing, or you don’t have enough faith.”

I’m now certain that it isn’t a Christian thing. It’s a human thing. I’ve gone from “Your Christian walk is not quite right” to “You don’t care enough about the human condition. We MUST get out and do our due diligence to see to it that the religions that are damaging our world are pulled down. The high places must fall.” It’s humorous, but it’s also infuriating. Although we don’t have a God to answer to, we’re still held accountable for not being “spiritual enough”. I think that in some ways it takes a lot longer for old habits and old indoctrination to pass. But our lives are our own, and there is no correct method for being a secular humanist. There is only the desire to help to improve the human condition, and if possible to improve the lot of the person who is marginalized or put upon.

The funny thing is, although I’m a determinist, I am a soft enough determinist to believe that we really can have an effect on how people react. Yes, we have our evolutionary programming, but if our lot is better, and we have those who care for us, I firmly believe that it will improve our outlook on life, and as such we will be able to react in a more humanistic and affirming way. And I honestly am enough of a humanist to care enough to try. 

My thought is this. We have given up the shackles of religion due to lack of evidence supporting religious deities. We have moved on to where we can hopefully do what we as individuals find fulfilling in our lives. But there is no atheist creed. It is not an organization that tells us as individuals that we “ought” to behave in a certain way. It is not even an organization. It is simply a lack of belief for whatever reason. My lack of belief is not motivated by the same thing as someone else’s lack of belief. But there is no governing body to atheism. Quite the opposite. And as such, there ought to be no oughts. Do we ask for ideas? Certainly. We all need support as human beings. We all need to be given assistance when we are struggling with things related to our newfound apostasy. But there are no right answers. Only what worked for us in a given situation, and each person and situation is different. In another hundred years or so nobody will even remember we were here, much less if we “did it right”. We spent years and years with the church telling us how to do it and ripping on us if we didn’t. We spent years learning to tell people that they are “doing it wrong”. Hopefully we put that behind us. 

I’ve always thought that Christians were very good at doing community, although I’ve started to question that in the recent past. I see Christians today tearing each other down because they don’t believe just right, or heaven forbid they don’t hate on the right marginalized group. “Oh, you can’t be a TRUE Christian because a true one wouldn’t look at it that way. Not really.” Please. There are persons out there who will never see another atheist. We may be the only example they ever have of what unbelief looks like. Can it be a good example? There are atheists out there who don’t have any community other than the religious persons that they occasionally see. There are others who don’t give a damn if they have community or not. But everyone is different. And isn’t that what makes life interesting? Let’s not hurt each other as secular humanists and atheists. There are enough others willing to do the job.

Sherry