Consider this a Rambling Wednesday, on Thursday.
There are two sides to religion.
I believe in XYZ. I also believe this set of rituals, procedures, and behaviors will lead to a more pleasant life for me and—most importantly—a more pleasant afterlife.
Now you need to believe it too.
Contrary to popular opinion, most atheists (self included) only have a problem with part two, though many of us tend to express our frustration over the proselytizing by taking digs at belief systems as a whole. Part of that feels like the only retribution I have available against a system telling me I’m a bad person.
If I make fun of you for praying, that’s really all it is—making fun of you for praying because I think you look silly, talking to yourself or invisible people. But if you wanna pray, then pray. You can meet me at the bar when you’re finished. For me, it’s no different than making fun of you for something else. You wanna wear polka-dot pants? Go for it. I think you look silly and I’ll tell you so, but we can still hang out. Some off-the-cuff remark from me shouldn’t make you change your pants and it shouldn’t rankle your sense of piety to the point where you’re offended.
But to you, I’m a bad person because I don’t believe in what you believe. By your worldview, I am going to hell because I don’t believe, regardless of how I live my life or the good things I do for others. I’m going to hell and I would drag you down with me if you allowed me into your life. You shy away and you tell your children to stay away.
So, if I say the Bible is a bunch of fairy tales, that’s just me letting off a little steam.
Now that’s out of the way.
My mom was the hardcore church-goer, but my dad is fairly religious as well. He doesn’t wear it as readily on his sleeve, but there are times when he’s dropped a “Well the Bible says…” in the middle of a conversation. He knows I’m an atheist and it never seemed to bother him as much as it bothered my mom. I think he realizes you can be a good person without believing.
We were talking with some of his friends when he dropped this little gem on us.
Everybody’s got their bible, their book. Muslims have their book, Jews have their book, Christians have their book. Everybody has their bible and they say theirs is right and everybody else’s is wrong. So who’s right? Just live the best you can and God will sort it out when he comes back. The Bible says the people you think will be there with you in the end won’t be anyway, so just live the best you can.
I do believe that mindset would provide comfort for a lot of deeply religious people with atheist friends and family members. You and everyone around you may believe These Things, but on the other side of the globe, Random Stranger and everyone around him believes A Different Set of Things. You both can’t be right. For one of you to be right, the other has to be wrong, and you need to accept that. If there is a supreme architect of the universe, I’m sure he has a provision for good people who don’t believe. You’re not going to convince me that the morality of a mass murderer who converts on his deathbed outweighs all of the good things I do with my life.
As many problems as I have with religion, I’ve found a way to use it for my own comfort. Religion exists to explain the world, why we’re here and what happens when we die.
I was thinking about how my mother must have felt when she realized she was probably not going to make it. I was so focused on how she felt about me, first how disappointed she must have been that she raised a gay atheist and then how sad she must have been that I never responded to her last attempt at reconciliation. I realized I was being more self-centered than I had any right to be because my mom was a very religious woman and her last thoughts wouldn’t have been about me. She would have thought about God. She must have been so excited to finally meet her maker. She was probably looking forward to connecting with people she had lost, especially recently, as one of her best friends had just died. She probably thought about me, prayed for my well-being, and had faith that God would work it out.
I bet she was really happy in the last few moments. I’m sure there was a bittersweet undercurrent of melancholy, but she believed the rest of her life was just beginning and that she would see us all again in the hereafter anyway. She probably believed she could watch over me and help guide me into making, to her, better choices. She was probably very at peace.
And that’s comforting. All of these years fighting against her religion and it’s her piety itself that finally gives me closure.