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Mel Graykin: My beliefs are mine



For the Monitor
Friday, August 04, 2017

From time to time, good and well-intentioned people become alarmed to find out that I don’t believe in their god. They then set out to save me from what they see as my ignorance, blindness and lack of understanding, all of which prevent me from seeing the Truth.

They list reasons why I ought to believe and present persuasive arguments. They try to get me to see things the way they do.

They are so convinced of the obvious truth of what they believe that they are sure I’ll be convinced too if I would but listen.

I try to be polite and respectful. They mean well. They see me as suffering unnecessarily and are sure I’ll be so much happier when I believe as they do.

Their beliefs bring them comfort and an inner certainty they can cling to, and ease their fears in times of trouble because they are convinced of a life after death and a benevolent deity ruling over the universe.

They just want to share this with me. Perhaps they feel it is their evangelical duty to bring all the world to Jesus (if I were in another culture it would be Allah). It is what their god wants them to do. Perhaps they fear for my immortal soul, that I will be damned if they cannot bring me to the light.

All of this they are doing out of the goodness of their hearts.

It is like someone who offers you a gift, something they consider wonderful and precious, but which you have no use for. You already have one that you are completely satisfied with. But it doesn’t matter that the gift is useless to you. What matters is the spirit in which the gift is given, the generosity, the desire for another’s happiness.

Frankly, I prefer these folks to the ones who coldly judge me and shut me out, whispering behind my back to others, “She’s an atheist!” as if that were the equivalent of being a peddler of child pornography.

I don’t understand why people like me present such a threat to the deeply religious (not all of them, thank goodness). As if my lack of acceptance of their god is an offense that they cannot endure. Honestly, what difference does it make to them what I believe or don’t? If I am in other ways a good citizen, a hard worker and strive to be kind to others, what harm does my lack of belief in their god do them?

I hear other atheists maligning believers with an equal hostility. This is equally wrong, although I sympathize with their alarm at theists who try to pass legislation to force us all to follow biblical law (or Sharia Law, or any other theocratic law) or demand we recite their prayers or post their commandments or religious icons in public places as if they were universal, or give special privileges and exemptions to their churches.

We should allow a secular government and secular laws to govern us so that we don’t devolve into either anarchy or theocracy.

Let us again make faith a private matter, respect the personal nature of each person’s journey and not create yet more turmoil, anger and suffering in this world with holy wars.

Let us talk respectfully and try to work on how to live together in peace.

So, please: I appreciate that this Good News you keep pressing on me is important to you, brings you joy and that you want to share this joy with me, but no thank you.

I am fine. Honestly. If you are curious, I would be happy to discuss with you what I believe, but I will not to try to impose my beliefs on you or to call into question what you believe.

If you are as happy with your worldview as I am with mine, then I am glad for you. Human happiness – the happiness of all sentient beings – is for me the highest moral good. Compassion informed by science forms a belief system that makes perfect sense to me.

It is a faith, if you will, that comes out of a lifetime of inquiry and study.

However, it does not include a personal, intelligent creator such as the one described in the Bible. I see Christianity as just one of many beliefs that humans have developed to make sense of a life that is both tragic and wonderful, steeped in suffering, uncertainty and fear.

We are a diverse species. Our experiences and ways of thinking are very different from one another. One belief system has never been – perhaps can never be – enough for all of us. We believe what makes sense to us, what resonates with what is within us.

This is different for different people. As long as it makes us happy and does not create unhappiness for others (this latter can be the tricky part), so be it.

Let us all go in peace.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives, writes and practices free-lance philosophy in Deerfield.)