It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write for fun. That’s what happens during the final semester of your third year of law school. Now however it’s a few days until studying for the bar begins in earnest, so I thought I would share my thoughts on an issue that has been on my mind on backburner over the course of the semester. I’ve had a lot of discussions about religion with a lot of people and I have come to a few conclusions in the process.
As suggested by the name of this blog, I am a friendly atheist. For me, one of the main ideas behind friendly atheism is bridging the gap between the religious and the secular. I’m not talking about some sort of cosmic compromise on the idea of god, since I feel that right now that’s unrealistic. I just think that people in both camps often focus too frequently on what differentiates the religious and secular, rather than focusing on what makes the two groups similar. When I talk about “bridging the gap”, I mean forcing people to look past their differences with people not like them while simultaneously looking for and embracing the things they have in common.
When these differences are the only things that each group focuses on, it can lead to misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to us as a society getting nowhere on the issue of religion. I want to tone down the anger. I want to clear up the misunderstandings. Obviously I can’t clear up every issue between the religious and the secular in this blog post, but what I can do is point out the fact that the two groups have a lot more in common than not in common. In my opinion, there is really only one major difference between those who claim to be religious and those who claim secularism: one side has faith in the existence of the divine, the other does not.
Faith, as once explained to me by a Catholic priest, is “belief without proof.” Of course, everyone has a little bit of faith when it comes to mundane, everyday things. I have faith that when I go to the grocery store and buy tomato soup that what I’m actually getting is tomato soup. Aside from the label, there is no evidence at all that what I’m getting is a can of tomato soup. It could be mushroom. It could be chicken noodle. It could not even be soup at all. I have to have faith that the soup company has labelled its product correctly. Where things get tricky is when we talk about faith in a divine entity. I have an easy recourse if my soup is not tomato; I can just take it back to the store and exchange my faulty can of soup for the correct one. There is no such recourse when it comes to debating the existence of god. If you die and subsequently find out there is no afterlife, you don’t get to go back and live your life over again.
Of course, having a lack of faith in the divine is really the only rule of being an atheist. Some atheists try to attach other ideologies, but at the end of the day that’s really the only rule. Atheists need independently verifiable proof of the existence of something before we accept it as actually existing. On the other hand, faith is the main staple of every religion on this planet that calls for belief in the divine. Every religion on the planet with a god or gods in it requires belief without proof.
But when it comes to differences, the issue of faith is really the biggest one. Aside from that admittedly large issue, the religious and secular often have quite a lot in common. Atheists represent a very diverse cross-section of America, as do the religious. We simply can’t judge each other on the sole basis of religion or lack thereof. I know some religious people who are incredibly politically progressive, while I know atheists who are very conservative. I know religious people who are pro-choice, and atheists who are pro-birth. These are just a few examples, but it’s poor reasoning to think that all secular people are one way and that all religious people are another way.
That being said, it is important to acknowledge that the religious far outnumber the secular both in America and around the world. It is true that secularism is on the rise, but it will be many years before nonreligious people are the majority around the world. Because of this, it is important for the religious in particular to realize that there is nothing “wrong” with being nonreligious. Having a lack of faith in a divine entity does not make someone a morally corrupt person. Too often I hear the religious claim this, and frankly its nonsense. I say this phrase very frequently: you don’t need god to be good.
It is often the extremists of both ends of the spectrum that cause problems. Religious extremists see a person with a lack of faith as a threat to their belief system; while secular extremists (which do exist) find the religious to be ignorant and archaic in their views. Both sides have got to knock. This. Shit. Off. If we all agree on the preservation of the human race and the betterment of our species as a whole, we have got to learn to stop judging people who do not think like us. Faith is really the only thing that divides us at the end of the day. If we can acknowledge that and not make other negative associations based on this one difference, and judge each person on an individual basis, then I feel that the two groups can really start to see that we agree on more often than we disagree.
Get out there and talk to some people who don’t agree with you. You never know what you might learn.