I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
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03-10-2012, 08:21 PM (This post was last modified: 03-10-2012 08:34 PM by davidamusick.)
I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
I became an atheist when I was 18 years old. As a life-long Mormon, I had a sincere belief in God at the time, and for months before, I had been praying quite persistently for confirmation of my beliefs, as my religion promised God would give me. I became increasingly troubled by the fact that I was not getting any response from God at all, despite my sincere prayers. I was open and eager for any answer, even a small one, and I fully expected that all the beliefs I had been taught since I was a small child would be confirmed by God.

After many months of sincere prayer, of begging and pleading for even a small answer and receiving silence in return, I had the sudden realization that all the other people I grew up going to church with may be in the same situation. Even though we had all taken our turns standing up in church, testifying to everyone else that we knew it was all true and that God answers prayers, it was possible that just as I had said those words without really knowing, others may be going through the motions too, believing it and hoping for it to be true, but not having real confirmation.

Once I realized that, I instantly lost my belief in God, because I realized everything I had been told about God was by all these people in my life who really didn't know for themselves but spent a lot of time and energy trying to convince themselves and others that their beliefs were true. I suddenly saw how my whole life was spent around people who were determined to get me to believe in God without question.

I remembered all the time I spent in church, in seminary class, in evening church activities, and there was a constant reiteration of how true all of it was and how important it was that we stay involved with the church and get others involved - a constant, life-long repetition of this theme. We were also encouraged to "bear our testimonies", to publicly declare that we had received confirmation directly from God that all of it was true. Remembering all this, I understood that there was an illusion of solidarity but it was quite possible that everyone at church was declaring they knew the truth of these things because of the strong social pressure to bear their testimony often, not because they actually knew.

This entire realization came to me quite suddenly one evening, and it was extremely disorienting to be fully aware that all the people in my life did not know, and yet were utterly confident about, things that had completely shaped my view of myself, my world and how I was to live the rest of my life. I no longer knew what to think about myself and my life and what I should do with my future. Everything I thought I knew had suddenly been called into question, and I strongly felt I could not trust anyone I grew up with for the answers.

I began reading voraciously, filling up my backpack with books from the library and reading them as quickly as I could, for years. Philosophy, religion, science, math, any subject that would help me understand the world I found myself in better. Over time, things became more clear to me, and I felt like I had a well-rounded understanding of the basics of how the world is, what kind of creature I am and what sort of life I should live.

For years, I felt very uncomfortable with and even angry about religion. I knew they were wrong, and I felt strongly that I should show others this so they could see the truth and accept it. I later realized the irony that it was my religious upbringing that taught me to go out and convert others to my way of thinking, to get them to see how wrong they were and accept the truth of the church. I was enacting a religious mandate, but without the religious content.

Eventually, I accepted the fact that people are going to believe what they will, and I can do little to change that. I also understand the simple truth that what matters most is how we live our lives, not the stories we tell ourselves as we live our lives.

I have learned to see other people as simply humans, with their religions and ideologies playing only a minor role in how I think of them. I am far more concerned with the human story and all the joy, sorrow, learning and struggle that we all know from experience. I care how people live, not what they believe.

Because so many people in my life are religious, I hear a lot of religious language, and since I don't believe the literal sense of what they are saying, I work to understand the deeper message. For example, if someone says, "I will pray for your family," the deeper message is that they care about my family and hope for the best for us. Or, if someone invites me to church, the deeper message is that they feel very happy going to church and they want me to be happy too. Or, if they say "God loves you," the deeper message to me is that they feel I am worthy of love, and they want me to feel comfort in knowing that someone with great power loves me.

Instead of being offended or confrontational with people sincerely sharing their religious beliefs, I look at the deeper meaning, of what they are saying to me, from one human to another. They are generally expressing that they care about me, that they are happy and want happiness for me, and that they want things in my life to go well. Understanding religious expression from a human perspective removes the ideological confrontations, and we are all just human beings, living together and caring for each other. Religion becomes as incidental as the color of our shirts.

The most profound lesson I have learned in my life is that real human beings matter far more than the most persuasive ideology and the most sublime religious experience. The idea that it matters what ideology a person subscribes to or what religion they are a member of is an idea that is only meant to serve the ideologies and religions themselves, by getting more recruits - it does not serve the interests of real people. It trains people to value group membership more than human beings. So, I practice interacting with others on the human level, focusing on the common experience of living as a human being, struggling to be good, to find meaning in life and to make a positive difference in the world.

- David

Also posted on my blog, in case you want to share the link: http://davidmusick.blogspot.com/2012/09/...-they.html
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03-10-2012, 08:44 PM
RE: I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
A person can label themselves any way they want.

Watching their actions will show you if that label is accurate.

Saying you are Christian (or whatever) doesn't make it so.

See here they are, the bruises, some were self-inflicted and some showed up along the way. - JF
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03-10-2012, 09:13 PM
RE: I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
so you still have magic underwear right? ( I want some. )

Anyways, congrats on becoming a freethinker your life just became a little more complicated.

however you have demonstrated your will to learn and your abililty to pass undetected through theist radar so you should be fine.

have fun live long and prosper Smile

When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity.

You cannot successfully determine beforehand which side of the bread to butter.
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03-10-2012, 09:52 PM
Exclamation RE: I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
*sigh*

Beliefs inform actions.

Beliefs, however moderate, not only impacts that persons daily life and decisions making, but everyone else's.

Whether mild or not, whether knowingly or not, they are divorcing themselves from REALITY. People redefining reality - the same people who bring up kids, who vote, who donate money - is impactful, and frightening. They encourage and promote insanity that the "more insane" take even further (religious/political organizations and parties). This HAS to be discouraged.
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04-10-2012, 02:49 AM
RE: I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
Can you imagine believing in a god no one has seen for thousands of years?

This condition must bring on a lot of internally kept questions.
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04-10-2012, 04:57 PM
RE: I Care How People Live Not What They Believe
I strongly agree that religion is dangerous because it encourages and enforces irrational thinking. This generally leads to poor decision making. I am a strong advocate of atheist activism of all kinds. I would love to see all humans abandon religion and superstition and learn to see the world more accurately.

Until then, I do have to live and work and interact with all kinds of people who are religious. I need to have positive relationships in my life. I don't hide the fact that I'm an atheist from my friends and family, but I also don't make it a big deal. I don't try to convert them, and they don't try to convert me.

One of the most problematic aspects of religion is that it turns superstitious beliefs into a group identity. This makes it so that you have to believe those things to belong to that group, which makes it even harder to abandon the beliefs, because that automatically means you lose those social relationships too.

That's why my biggest focus is on spreading the idea that our relationships with each other should not be based on our beliefs but on how we actually act towards each other. Obviously, what people believe is going to affect their actions, but I'm going to base my relationship with them on their actions, and if their beliefs don't make them an intolerable human, then I am perfectly willing to have a friendly relationship with them.

I think that the more we can downplay the importance of group membership, the more we can undermine the stranglehold that religion has on so many people. If we decide that we are going to relate to people based on who we are as human beings and not on whatever labels we have or whatever groups we belong to, then we take away a lot of the social control of those groups.

My family, including my wife, are religious, and they all know I'm an atheist, and they all recognize that I am a good, moral and happy person. It is clear to them that I don't need religion to achieve any of those things. That sort of example decreases the importance of religion in people's minds, even if only a little.

A couple weeks ago, my wife invited the Mormon missionaries over for dinner (normal for church members to do), and I had a very friendly conversation with them, including religious topics. I wasn't trying to confront them about anything, just talking to them as one human to another. They were actually quite taken aback that I was so casual and non-hostile about religion, considering I am an ex-Mormon atheist. They didn't know how to react to someone who honestly thinks of religion as non-important, on the same level as liking a particular kind of book or TV show.

My stance is to not take people's religions seriously. I view them as a hobby that they enjoy pursuing. As long as they aren't getting aggressive about getting me to do their hobby with them, I don't care that they do it. Part of the way religion sticks in people's minds is by pretending it's so very important and serious. By not taking it seriously and making it clear that I see it as equivalent to a hobby, I undermine the idea that religion is something that should be taken seriously.

In fact, I will tell people that I simply don't know whether God exists, but I do know that being a good person is very important whether God exists or not, so I'm going to focus on that and not worry about God.

This is just my approach, because it works for me and lets me have good relationships with the people in my life. I am not-threatening to them and pleasant to be around, but at the same time I am subversive by being a good, happy, openly atheist person who doesn't make a big deal about religion.

- David

(03-10-2012 09:52 PM)poolboyg88 Wrote:  *sigh*

Beliefs inform actions.

Beliefs, however moderate, not only impacts that persons daily life and decisions making, but everyone else's.

Whether mild or not, whether knowingly or not, they are divorcing themselves from REALITY. People redefining reality - the same people who bring up kids, who vote, who donate money - is impactful, and frightening. They encourage and promote insanity that the "more insane" take even further (religious/political organizations and parties). This HAS to be discouraged.
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