Before I begin discussing the reasons as to why I am a nonbeliever or why I do not subscribe to any specific religious doctrine, I want to first address that while I understand it is human nature to get emotionally and intellectually tied to certain ideas, the following is in no way meant to be an attack of individual people, but of ideas only. If at any point you feel as though you are the victim of ridicule or humiliation, know that I hold the belief that humanity as a whole is innately good. Therefore, you are most likely a good person and I as I will point out later, I have but only a few concerns when it comes to good people who hold certain theologies. Read the entirety of this piece to get the full scope of why I feel there is a growing trend towards nonbelievers, especially in the younger generations. As neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris has been quoted saying, “Most people think there are a lot of bad people running around in the world. There aren't a lot of bad people, there are a lot of bad ideas, and bad ideas are worse than bad people because bad ideas are contagious. Bad ideas get good people to do horrible things.”
Growing up I never experienced religion like many of those I went to school with or had consistent interactions with, instead my parents brought me to church only for specific occasions and until I reached high school and college I never was quite sure of the reason behind the inconsistent religious teachings and experiences. My mother was raised catholic and even went to private catholic school until her high school years and my father was raised by his parents who certainly believed in a god although never regular practicing their faith. With both parents being raised with religious backgrounds, it surprised me that I was not a product of my culture and environment like the vast majority of others across the globe. I believe however, my rejection of any religious dogma was not an accident. It, like many religious followers, was a product of culture and environment. My upbringing and natural curiosity played monumental roles as I finally accepted the notion that the idea of a god is a delusion and that the ideologies that billions of people worldwide believe in is nothing more than superstition created by man. Thank you mom and dad for letting me decide on my own what to think and believe. I owe my generous spirit, kind heart, and fine tuned conscience to your wonderful parenting.
Before getting into my personal reasons and processes to finding a life without the guidance of a deity, I feel some discussion about the basics of religion is needed. Looking at the global citizens and their religious affiliations, one can come to the honest conclusion that environment, culture, and community play pivotal roles in choice of religion. If you are from the southern states of the U.S. then the likelihood of you being a protestant or catholic but none the less a christian believing in Jesus as the son of God and the messiah. If instead you were born in the country of India, you are much more likely to be Hindu or Buddhist. Born in Iran or most middle eastern countries and the religion you are most likely to be is Muslim believing in the Quran as your sacred scripture, born in ancient Greece, Zeus would likely be one of the many gods you might believe. Being born in a certain location on Earth clearly guides one to a specific religion. Although not always the case, statistics show that lothe cation one is raised in has huge effects to religious affiliation. Parents also have an overwhelming say in which religion their offspring will follow so it is by no means only geographical. Many members of religion tend to ignore the fact that environment, culture, and community are major factors for people who follow any particular religion. Very few people choose their religion. It has been ingrained into them from ages where memories do not even exist yet. At those young ages, no one has the capacity to decide for themselves if they would like to follow one of the numerous other religions that plague the world's continents or not and instead one of them is forced onto them. The non-negotiable fact is that you are most likely not what you chose to be in terms of religious ideology and instead a product of what others chose for you before you had the freedom to think for yourself.
As I have grown older and wiser I have noticed how fortunate I was to have parents who instilled in me and my older brother that you are your own person and therefore can make your own choices. Of course they did their very best teaching the both of us the ethics and morals behind society so that as we grew up we respected others and held ourselves responsible for our actions. None of this required religion however. While it can be argued that they got their morals from religious teachings and scripture, they never used sacred text or scripture to get across life’s most important lessons.
Occasionally, upon my mother’s wishes, I would find myself in a church pew with my family usually during the holiday seasons. Once my brother reached an age where my parents thought he could make certain life decisions for himself (some time in middle school) he decided not to go with us, probably out of boredom that churches often bring to children as well as thinking he could be doing “better” things at home. This was my experience as well and sure enough, the rare tradition of church became non-existent. As an adult, I regularly think to myself how lucky I was to have parents that let me be my own person and think for myself without forcing their personal beliefs onto me. They realized that loving their children for who they are and not what they believe is most important in life and this allowed them to raise two men who are compassionate, kind, and loving to not just other people, but living things in general. While that sounds incredibly cheesy and if you know either of us, we are not perfect, but that does not negate the fact that in times of need both my brother and I are willing to give up just about anything to make others happy as we find happiness in the beauty of the world around us. Mind you, all of this has been done without the need of religion. Sam Harris said it best during the Beyond Belief conference in 2006, “It is rather more noble to help people purely out of concern for their suffering than it is to help them because you think the Creator of the Universe wants you to do it, or will reward you for doing it, or will punish you for not doing it. The problem with this linkage between religion and morality is that it gives people bad reasons to help other human beings when good reasons are available.” We are not this way in hopes that one day we get through the gates of heaven or to reach paradise with 72 virgins waiting. We do not act kindly towards others because we have been threatened with eternal hellfire if we do otherwise. We do so because we want others to treat us in the same manner. Simple, yet powerful. All done without reward or punishment carried out by religious practice.
When asked to label myself with regards to religious ideologies, I often use the word atheist. While I tend to shy from this term as it carries with it a connotation that I prefer not to have associated with me, I use it because the definition fits the most accurately with my personal beliefs on the subject matter. Throughout high school as I had an internal struggle with my later choice, when asked about my religious affiliation I changed the subject or said I do not practice but I am a christian. This seemed to make most people happy and the discussion could move to something more productive. During those years when you are looking for acceptance into groups or wanting to ask girls on dates, it can be hard to publicly say you are a nonbeliever. It sounds silly to me now, but the reality is that religious people either get nervous around nonbelievers or they get upset. Neither of those outcomes is one you want when trying to fit into a crowd during your young adult life. During college I became much more confident in my disbelief and to this day, have no problems telling people why I choose this path or didn’t chose a religious path to be more correct. No longer do I feel the need to get everyone's approval. The teachings of my parents have finally come full circle and I understand now what it is they truly wanted to instill in me. Respect others and they will respect you. If they do not then there is no need for them in your life. Go on living to your maximum potential and happiness. The path to not choosing any particular religion and instead disbelieving in them all was a process. It did not happen overnight. I can imagine the process being even harder if I had been raised as a follower of one of these fairy tales.
My brother and I grabbed our blankets and went to the stairs from there, we could see the Christmas tree from our spot. It was Christmas eve and we so badly wanted to see Santa bring us our gifts. I do not remember my exact age, but being no older than 6 or 7, I think back wondering if my brother knew about Santa or not by then. He was about 12 so he most likely knew it was all a scam. I hope however that he did in fact know the truth behind Santa. It would make what he did that much more special. Falling asleep together on a set of stairs, we never did see Santa place gifts under the tree. When reminiscing about how I became this nonbeliever, I always think back to that story. Santa. It was all a lie to get me to be good during the holiday seasons. Very similar to how religion is taught to young children.
As I grew, I came to the realization that religion was in fact man-made and that there was no all knowing god who helped create what I see before my eyes. Just like Santa. While I am no philosopher or religious scholar, I did in fact do some research into the holy books when deciding to be a nonbeliever. I found that the Bible has many lessons to be learned in which one could find some moral guidance. I also found that the Quran has many beautifully written passages. However, both of these are found elsewhere in the existing universe and are in no way special to one certain holy book. Morals can be guided through reason, logic, and science. Beautiful writing can be found in the numerous literature dating back hundreds of years. Upon my research, I did however find parts of each of the main holy books to be incredibly destructive, horrific, immoral, and outright disgusting. The Quran is mostly copied from other religious texts that came before its time. The Bible has more contradictions than one could count in a given day. So when it is said and done, the holy books are not so holy after all. They must be entirely man made. And to make it worse, they were written in times where literacy was for the nobles only and the vast majority of people alive knew nothing of how to read or write. This only strengthened the idea that god was one of two things, fake or immoral. While I would never let myself follow anyone who I find immoral, I had not a choice to make per say, but a truth I had to grasp.
After accepting what seemed like it should have been apparent all along, I now fully accept my position and I could handle the criticism that comes with being a nonbeliever. I have started to speak more openly about religion and the damage it does to the precious, delicate world I got lucky enough to live on. One cannot deny that although religion has done some good throughout history, its legacy is full of bloodshed and other various immoral and unethical actions. Religion is the sole reason that terrorism is such a huge issue around the globe. With the rise of ISIS and even before, with Al-Qaeda, religion was their platforms. If you think otherwise, in the podcast Waking Up, Sam Harris reads aloud an article from the magazine Dabiq, entitled Why We Hate You and Want to Fight You which outlines the reasons for ISIS and their war against the west. Of course understanding that the extremists and fundamentalists of religious dogma are at work here is important, however, it does leave the question of religious freedom open for criticism. While I am all for letting others do as they wish in their personal lives, at some point we must understand that in a world without religion, one would be more safe and more confident that groups are not trying to bring ancient law from a single book to the world by force. Now of course Islam is the main problem of today in terms of religious fanaticism, but if we go back in history, all religious groups have acted violently in order to gain power in government or over people in certain areas around the globe.
Today as a nonbeliever, there is an exciting movement toward secularism. Primarily with the millennial generation. Less people are going to church. More people are leaving the churches at younger ages and there are even some countries that have almost the entire population considered to be secular. Although still looked down on as being ridiculous or unacceptable by many. Atheism is on the rise and it can not stop. The reason, is more simple than one might think.
We don’t need it anymore.
As humanity evolves it sheds what it no longer needs. There no longer is a need for religion. Anything religion attempts to do; reason, logic, and science can do it better. Need moral guidance? Look to reason and science. Need answers about the world in which we live? Ask science to teach you the ways of the universe. Want to discuss ethics and human rights? Speak with reasonable, logical people. Religion had it’s purpose. Before people could read and write, let alone understand the universe around them. Of course it makes sense that our natural want for understanding and patterns emerged religion, but it certainly is not something that was here all along. If you have the time and effort, Christopher Hitchens does wonders in describing how a belief in god is not needed and how religion is past its time in his book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Religion, is a primitive creation of man. Let’s move on with society and leave religion in the past where it belongs. In the past.