Yesterday morning the local UU hosted a discussion on how to reach out to people warped by intolerance and help them to become tolerant. It is a vital discussion, especially given the current climate, but the whole time I was there I felt a critical component was missing. While the information was good and vital, such as don’t mock people’s beliefs, try to find the common ground, etc, several people talked about how they just couldn’t have these conversations without them deteriorating. As I was driving home it hit me. It’s easy to talk about calmly having these discussions with people who hold intolerant viewpoints in a safe setting filled with people who agree with you. It’s another thing to hold them when you hear someone spout hatred, especially if you are, like I am in the southern US, surrounded by people who hold these views.
Facebook reminded me of something that happened a few years ago when a person going door to door to preach in my neighborhood knocked on my door. He asked me if I died today would I have amassed enough good deeds to earn a reward in Heaven. I sighed and said, “You shouldn’t do good things because you’ll be rewarded. You should do good things because they are the right things to do. Merry Christmas.” I then shut the door in his stunned face.
Thanksgiving evokes a lot of mixed feelings on my part. While Thanksgiving type holidays are celebrated in many cultures, given that I am an American, our Thanksgiving holiday is entwined with the near genocide of the native peoples, an act that is tragically still very relevant, because it has not stopped. And as a Secular Humanist, it’s hard to find books on Thanksgiving without religious overtones.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating misconceptions Christians have about me is that, because I was raised without religion, I know nothing about Christianity. Granted, given that people who were raised Christian and became atheists also get the message that they don’t understand Christianity, it doesn’t just seem to be my upbringing that is a factor here. Yet occasionally I’ll see articles where Christians are wanting to bring their message to other Americans, as if they believe that somehow there are people in the US who aren’t aware of Christianity and Jesus.
Whether religious or non-religious, stories are important to our humanity. Before we were watching stories on tv and movie screens, we were reading stories in books and papers. And before we were reading stories, we were telling stories through an oral tradition. Stories help us find a way to relate to our world, to understand it. Sometimes we recognize our struggles in the struggles of fictional characters. Sometimes a story helps us make sense of something tragic that happened to us and helps us to move forward.
One criticism I see lobbed at atheists is that we spend a lot of time calling attention to Christians who do immoral things, such as Catholic priests who sexually molest children. Why can’t we ever point out the good things that Christians are doing? Well, in the United States, we live in a country that equates Christianity with goodness. Christian and good morals are synonymous. It’s one of those things that goes without saying. Further, atheism is equated with being evil and is extremely disliked. As an atheist who grew up with a very ethical, atheistic family, it was painful to hear people calling atheists “immoral” and “evil” and to use the word “atheist” as a slur, all while beefing up their own moral creds.
Since I was young I’ve had a strong interest in astronomy and cosmology. It’s always a mind trip to read about, and leaves me with a sense of awe and wonder. While I like hiking and getting out in nature, for me it’s calming, but reading cosmology is the closet thing I have to a spiritual experience. It’s just incredible to think about this world existing. To me, that this exists just because and was not created is beautiful. I started reading Carl Sagan when I was 13 and have always been heavily influenced by his view of the universe and his lovely ideas of how we are all “star stuff.”
Today I saw this article positing the idea that we are in a computer simulation.It’s an idea that comes up every now and then, and I think will continue to do so, not because the ideas are valid (I have a hard time buying it, but more on that later), but because the knowledge that we exist is so confounding to think about. It boils down to the question of why is there something rather than nothing question.