Reflections on why I rejected God

Reflections on why I rejected God

Now that I’ve been thinking about religion, I’m brainstorming what I used to believe as a youth and why I rejected it. I’m starting with God, and what I was taught about this god. These characteristics were either explicitly stated or implied about what God of my upbringing was supposed to be.

– the personification of goodness and love
– could do anything
– created the world (In 6 days? Through theistic evolution? How this was supposed to fit into modern knowledge was not clear at all.)
– loves everyone (But the Bible says God hated Esau so that was confusing.)
– has no body (In contrast to what the Mormons believe.)
– listens to prayers (Yep, everyone around the world at the same time.)
– does things that affect the physical world
– can suspend the laws of nature at will
– created the laws of nature
– wants everyone to be ‘saved’ (But only the people who believe the right things will be?)
– wrote the Bible (Through humans, of course.)
– is a literally existing person
– has thoughts
– has feelings (anger, jealousy, affection, etc)
– has a mind
– is a person
– is male
– is unchanging (Though this is contradictory with having thoughts and emotions, which are constantly changing by their nature.)
– gets the credit for good things
– sometimes ‘lets’ bad things happen as part of an unknowable ‘plan’
– has a plan
– is very concerned with human affairs, especially sexuality
– demands blood sacrifice for ‘sins’
– could read your thoughts and was very concerned about whether or not you believed in him and in Jesus
– promised rewards after death for those who pleased him, and severe punishment for those who displeased him

The things that I was taught about God growing up confused me as to what expectations I should have. For instance, the preachers said that the Bible said that if any two people were together and prayed Jesus would grant them what they prayed. This seemed to work well for invocations, where there was a gathering and everyone prayed for a sense of God’s ‘presence.’ A sense of ‘presence’ only required that the people present believed it. Or if they prayed for success for the church parking lot repaving — while at the same time dedicated people worked very hard to make it happen. But if you asked for something more difficult, like actually bringing sight to a blind friend, not even the most fervent prayers of the elders at the church convention made the smallest difference. Weekly prayer gatherings for the kid with leukemia also made no difference, except that they expressed support and solidarity with the family. It could have made a lot of difference to me if it was actually presented that way. Maybe to the many of the adults there it was mostly just an expression of support for the family. If the church didn’t teach explicitly that God was *literally* a person who was all powerful and always present and loving and could actually intervene in these situations, I might actually believe that was the real intention.

But believing all that literally made no sense with what I was actually observing. None of it made sense, and when I questioned it I was either ignored, rebuked, or given answers that also made no sense to me. So I rejected it.

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An Atheist with a Religion?

An Atheist with a Religion?

So then, I took the plunge and joined my Unitarian Universalist church. I signed the book, went to new member orientation, made a financial pledge, and signed up for volunteer opportunities. I’ve decided that this is how I want to raise my daughter.

I am also co-organizer for Louisville Atheists & Freethinkers, and co-hosting on the Blasphemy in the Bluegrass podcast and participating with other local atheist organizations.

I have developed a rather weird relationship with religion, one that doesn’t get talked about much in the public discussion between atheists and believers. That is, being an atheist and identifying as an atheist but also having a church and a religion. What makes that even possible is the one big overlap between the atheist community and the UU church: they both full of heretics, and generally proud of it. A heretic being someone who decides for themself what they believe rather than accepting the word of an authority.

A Google search for “Unitarian universalist atheist” usually brings up a handful of posts about why atheists should not join Unitarian Universalist churches. So I’m pretty aware that there are voices in the atheist community who do not agree with me. At an earlier stage of my life, when I first encountered the UU’s I agreed with them. Their arguments usually focus on some disparaging things a former president of the UUA said about secular humanism. But the thing is, I haven’t encountered those attitudes in my own congregation. The other thing is that it is OK to disagree with the leadership here. For the first time in my life I can listen to a sermon and not feel deep shame and self-doubt if the minister says something that makes me uncomfortable. I just take a deep breath and acknowledge that I don’t think that is right and then continue listening calmly. If it’s important enough to me I can bring it up later. I could say it’s part of my spirituality right now to practice listening and resist giving into the temptation to have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction. (I can split hairs on what ‘spirituality’ means later. :-p)

I’ll be writing more about this in the near future.

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“I don’t believe in that God either?”

“I don’t believe in that God either?”

One phrase I’ve come across with liberal religious people (most recently in a ‘common read’ book I was reading that had a bit about interfaith cooperation) is “I don’t believe in that God either.” You know, that judgemental God that hates gays and sends people to hell. The one that thinks women are not worth as much as men and commanded genocide in the Old Testament.

As an atheist I have a problem with this, because it always feels to me like the intent is to take all the oomph out of the atheist position, as if our objections were trivial. “I don’t believe in God.” “Well, tell me about the god you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in that God either!”

I don’t mind at all if someone believes in a thing they call ‘God’ so long as they do believe in a “live and let live” way. That is, if you are not trying to push your beliefs on me — verbally or by voting for politicians who want to erode the rights of the non-religious — I don’t mind if you believe something that you label ‘God’ or not. But this attempt at asserting common ground is misleading. I don’t believe in a God who is always kind and loving to everyone regardless of their religious belief either. Or one that created the universe. Or is one with the universe. Or created consciousness in the human mind (or in other animals or even plants). Or that used evolution and the big bang to create the world. I don’t believe in any of those gods either (though I accept the underlying natural processes as far as I understand them.) I simply don’t believe in supernatural forces and I don’t think we should apply the ‘God’ label to natural forces or objects.

“Tell me about the God you don’t believe in and I probably don’t believe in him either” is not a good way for the liberal religious to find common ground with atheists. I find it very off-putting. We can get along with each other while admitting and accepting that sometimes we just don’t agree about theology or what labels we should use. What matters is sharing the same basic set of values, regardless of your personal theology.

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A less blasphemous Sunday Blasphemy?

A less blasphemous Sunday Blasphemy?

Logo for Unitarian Universalism

I’m having some different thoughts about religion lately. I think some of this thinking been triggered by my interest in the local Unitarian Universalist church. First Unitarian Church has no full-time minister at the moment, so the services are being led by a transition team instead of having a sermon by the same person every week. One person who I remember from the last time I used to attend regularly talked about how she is a Christian but she doesn’t believe in things like original sin, the resurrection, or other things that I’d always been taught one has to believe to be a Christian. She believes in the teachings of Jesus. She still holds the Bible as sacred scripture but that doesn’t mean to her that it is all historically true story, or that it all holds a specific moral either. Perhaps a story being sacred doesn’t have to mean that it is true, or even that it is good?

My first major problem with the religion of my youth was that it required me to believe things that were in contradiction with proven scientific knowledge (especially evolution and human origins), unjust (especially the devaluation of women in the Bible), or just plain ridiculous (talking snakes and donkeys). I seriously struggled to make sense of the idea that Jesus dying on the cross 2000 years before I was born “paid” for my “sins.” I accepted it because trusted adults told me it was true and that I must believe it, but it never really made sense to me.

I still reject Christianity because even if you strip it down bare to the teachings of Jesus I still think Jesus is overrated. He said some good things, but he also said some ridiculous things and some very judgmental things. If he existed at all, he was just another person who tried to change his local world and that is it. If he existed at all.

I think I am starting to get a grasp on what liberal religion is and what it means though. It’s not what I’ve thought it was from my lingering fundamentalist-trained perspective on what religious belief means. If a religion connects one to a spiritual tradition but doesn’t require beliefs that are ridiculous or contrary to scientific knowledge, one that inspires positive and helpful action and helps one cope with the world… I can respect those beliefs.

Is this blasphemy? I know some people who would say it is: both conservative Christians and maybe some atheists too.

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Sunday Blasphemy: Questionable Life Lessons from my Christian Upbringing

Sunday Blasphemy: Questionable Life Lessons from my Christian Upbringing

I don’t know that these are applicable to Christians in general, but here are some questionable life lessons I learned as a kid that were reinforced by my family’s religious beliefs. I’m sure others from Evangelical Christian backgrounds in particular will recognize these. They are teachings of Christianity that I assumed would apply to other areas of life — before I learned about special pleading — because no one told me otherwise. I eventually figured out why they were questionable on my own through trial and error, observation, and reasoning.

 

Life Priorities

Nothing in life is more important than your relationship with Jesus Christ. Family, relationships, school, career, reputation — all of these should be given up if one feels that is what Jesus wants. To a secular person it’s pretty clear what the problem is here. Even to Christians, the difficulty in really confirming if an idea is really from Jesus or from their own mind is vexing.

 

Other People

The most important thing about a person is their relationship with Jesus Christ. (I remember this one verbatim.) This is certain to lead to religious bigotry at worst and an irritating lack of full acceptance of non-Christians at the least.

 

Forgiveness from God

Guilt over actual wrongdoing can be resolved by asking God for forgiveness in prayer. No talking to an actual person is required. It’s very convenient but the effectiveness is questionable.

 

Prayer

Praying counts as talking to a person — and downplays the need for real human contact. No worries if you don’t have a real person to confide in, because you always have God! :-/

 

Unworthiness

Normal human mistakes and imperfections prove that you are unworthy of “God’s glory.” By default, being human makes you defective.

 

Right and Wrong

Right and wrong depends on what God says, especially in the Bible — not on consequences for people. A quick study of the horrible things people have done throughout history in the name of God shows the problems with this.

 

God's Availability

The biggest and most powerful being in the universe will listen to you at any time with no notice — though this is never true for human leaders and authority figures. God is just a bit too … imaginary.

 

Emotional Commitment Decisions

Huge, life-changing commitments (like committing your life to God at an altar at the front of a church after a religious service) can be made in moments of emotion. This is a very bad idea for making life-changing commitments in general. Fortunately the religious commitments are not really binding — presuming one lives in a society with religious freedom.

 

Learning

Learning new things that challenge your beliefs can be a very bad thing. The prime examples are the big bang theory of the universe and the biological theory evolution and how they challenge beliefs about God creating the universe and making human being special.

 

Compulsory Forgiveness

You must forgive anyone who wrong you — even when the offense has not been resolved and your psychological wounds have not healed. Otherwise they say God will not forgive you — and that is a very serious problem for a Christian.

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Any other questionable life lessons from Christian upbring that I have not listed? What are you experiences?

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