“There is no polite way to tell someone
they have dedicated their lives to an illusion”
– Daniel Dennett
I have a Rosary which I treasure.
It was given to me by my grandmother.
The story behind why I still carry it helps explain the love and understanding I have for Christians – while at the same time deeply disagreeing with the religion my Rosary represents.
When I was a boy, I went to Catholic school, I loved my church and grew to love the priests. I still love them. I often prayed with my grandmothers, one of whom made vestments for the priests each Easter, and the other would spend hours talking about knowing how Jesus saved us and the joy of having His presence every day.
I had no negative experiences with religion, no abuse, no painful or cruel sermons to endure. Most priests and nuns in my life were caring and interested people. They came to our home frequently for dinner and many continue to be part of our extended family.
It breaks my heart to know my sudden lack of belief (which I had no choice about) puts me at odds with many of these people. But I do not think less of these wonderful Christians. I am not smarter than them. I am not superior to them.
The Rosary was given to me 40 years ago.
It remains an important token of my Grandmother’s love and caring for me. She hoped it would save my soul – and what could be a more loving gesture? I once believed in the power of prayer as much as she did. I’ve prayed more hours with that Rosary than I would care to number.
And my crucifixes mean a lot to me. I cannot part with them as I cannot part with the love they represent – not a love from a god, but a love from those who cared to hand them to me with their own love in their hearts.
Think of it. Religion demands not just our belief – but our love.
God demands a love which must surpass even the love you have for your own children. Jesus explains that you must love him beyond any other love in your life.
“hate your mother and father…
hate your very life, or you are not worthy of me.”
– Jesus (Luke 14:26)
Imagine how it might feel to discover one’s love was genuinely misplaced. Imagine the sense of betrayal to discover there probably never was a god receiving any of that love.
Religion subverts this love, our deepest integrity.
If you believe in God, there is no problem. But the moment God vanishes, as He did for me, the result is profound. It is stunning. And it feels like a betrayal – not a betrayal by God (as He has vanished) but anger that one has been duped; the investment was so deep.
And when God vanishes, there is nothing to be angry about except the idea itself which came down from ancient times. The idea that ‘faith’ somehow validates or proves something to be true.
But faith is far emptier than it appears. A faithful child believes in Santa and at age 7 or 8 learns the faith was unfounded. It hurts. For some it hurts much worse, because they invested more in it.
I am trying to find a way to call attention to the awful ideas in religion, the wrongness of faith and to challenge these ideas carefully without unduly upsetting the believers personally. It is close to impossible.
The Christians in my life were not wonderful because of the existence of god. They were wonderful despite the likelihood that there is no god. Without religion I would still have loved them and they would have loved me. I know this because I have been lucky enough to know many wonderful Atheists in my life also and the lack of religion has not affected those friendships in the least. Far from it.
Today religion has become an unwelcome, superfluous intrusion in relationships. As if I were talking to people who are still insisting ‘Santa’ deserves their deepest love. But I have discovered the hurtful truth – and more, that we should stop giving that deep love to Santa and give it to each other instead.
I HAVE NO INTEREST IN A ‘PRETEND’ LOVE FROM A ‘PRETEND’ GOD
BUT ONLY TRUE LOVE FOR REAL PEOPLE
I don’t want to be a mean person. Please understand.
I am looking for ways to argue against the ideas in religion, not the people who are in it. And that is difficult. Trying to articulate this difference in a world where arguing against faith is considered a kind of bigotry.
But look, if it is not bigoted to argue in favor of Jesus
it cannot be bigoted to argue against Jesus.
People have rights. But ideas do not have rights. I wish someone had challenged my faith ideas many years ago – it might have opened my eyes earlier.
Furthermore, how can I be ‘bigoted’ when I was one of them?
I’m not smarter than believers. But I have some important information I have learned which they deserve to hear. Information Christians should consider.
Many believers have no idea what could be wrong with religion.
I know this because I was such a believer. I understand that feeling.
But we are told Jesus is all about truth, love and goodness.
Loving Jesus is like having Christmas morning every day.
How could anyone object to that?
Yet, I must. ‘Truth and goodness’ are actually at the center of my effort.
I want to protect others from the terrible experience of discovering late in their lives
the price they have paid for accepting the claims of religion without question. The price of being too afraid to ask.
Religion isn’t worth this price. And God (if he exists) certainly cannot be worth what he puts us through if he won’t let us ask the questions honestly.
When the crashing blow of God’s non-existence hit me in December of 2012, I felt that betrayal. Betrayed not by my loved ones who so personally gifted me with a wonderful life – but betrayed by the religion itself which demanded we all bend our greatest love to a God instead of to the people around us. What a ridiculously high bar.
Religious claims have been carefully designed to play with our hearts that way.
So, I am staring down religion and its ideas – not its followers.
I’m trying to understand how it fools us, how it plays with us; to sort out how religion might be demoted enough to spare at least a few of us the terrible consequences of these beliefs. So I am searching for ways to relay to religious people something about the claims in religion while conveying that I respect their personal integrity – after all, they believe they have religion for good reasons just as I once did.
I’m concerned that religion is more trouble than it is worth.
But this is a journey about my love for the people of my life – my true love and caring – and not some imaginary love from a pretend god in a pretend holy story full of yet more pretending.
I keep my Rosary for what it represents to me; The love of my grandmother, who was real, who really lived and who actually cared. I cannot honestly say the same about the God I’ve been told about.
My Grandmother has been gone for many years. She would not like to hear me say these things.
But what choice do I have? What else could I say to my Grandmother?
In the end it is her love which I can be certain about. Her love which speaks loudly, clearly and so undeniably – her love was real. But God just bobs and weaves like an illusion.
She loved me as I was. Even years after her death, my Grandmother’s love is easier to access in my mind than the supposed love of a fabled phantom. I can imagine her asking me:
“You are an Atheist, now?”
“Yes, Grandmother. I grew up, I remembered you often and I stayed honest. And my love is true.”