Do people who are raised without religion or a concept of God become evil? Do we need religion to teach us to be good because humans are born inherently bad? That’s a question I have to ask others because I personally believe I’m a good person, and I know that my religious upbringing contributed to that. But I no longer practice any religion, and I’m still a good person. I do believe in intelligent design and sense that there is a benevolent essence that permeates the cosmos. But I don’t believe this essence micromanages our lives. Would I still be a good person if I hadn’t spent so many years in Sunday School and youth programs?
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some amazing Atheists and Agnostics. Some became that way after years of faithful service to an organized religion. Others were raised in a home without a belief in a god at all. All of them have a balanced and healthy respect for life and spend time helping to create a healthy and sustainable society by advocating for social justice for all and for promoting legislation to protect the planet for generations to come.
Many people are so afraid of those who don’t believe in God they refuse to do business with organizations they perceive as being godless, as addressed in this God Discussion article by Mrina:
As hard as I try I can’t uncover an evil agenda in what most people who claim to be godless are doing. Perhaps it was the stories of the evil godless Russians from my childhood that so many bought into that instilled such fear in so many. When our country was involved in the cold war and then McCarthy began his communist witch hunt, I think the idea of a godless society frightened many who fear that without God they would have nothing to keep them on the right track. If they no longer believe, they fear they would be powerless and would decline into self destruction.
Based on recent statistics cited in this article about the decline of the Russian population due to unhealthy lifestyles and lack of procreation, perhaps there is something to the idea of a godless society not being sustainable. Between more people dying and fewer babies being born the whole society is in a rapid decline. But I think this example fails to look at other alternatives. A third way of being. A way that says I don't believe in a god, but I believe we are all gods in our own right and have a responsibility to each other and to the planet.
Being someone who has drifted from my Republican and religious roots I now know that my power comes from within. It’s not some being who rewards me when I’m good and punishes me when I’m bad; it’s me making choices for myself that will bring me joy and fulfillment and help others along the way – or at least do the least harm. I believe that every single thing in the universe has been touched by the hand of God. I believe that when we become aware of this divine essence, no matter what we call it, it changes us forever. It’s based on natural laws set in motion when the miracle of creation occurred. For the universe to have such order tells me there must have been intelligent design behind it. But even during my most active years as a faithful servant of a religious organization, I never believed that god micromanages us. I’ve always believed that each of us has a spark of God within us and when we recognize that it’s not an outside force, only then can we find our own true power. When that realization comes, we are never willing to give our power away again.
Does that mean that I believe all churches should be abolished, or religion done away with? No. As long as they teach their followers about their internal power source and allow them to recognize and develop it. But my experience is they do just the opposite. Most religions know that if followers uncover their own true potential then why would they need a church? Another test for me if a religion is evolving and allowing for the true spirit of love to guide its doctrine, is if it honors all people and does not systematically practice discrimination in any form – if it values each person’s individual journey without judgment.
Drifting from my Republican religious roots toward the Democratic party and the liberal social ideals was a natural transition for me. So many of the ideas that I heard from the pulpit on Sundays, I shook my head at. They were ideas that separated us from people not like us, which just felt inherently wrong to me. I felt connected to all people on the planet and I didn’t see myself as any better or worse than any of them. I realized due to different circumstances many people make bad choices. They do things which negatively impact themselves and others. But I always asked why? What makes them do these things? Is it environmental, social, chemical imbalances, what? But many within the religious community are taught to simply judge and then convert or condemn.
I know many lives have been turned around after a religious conversion – mine included. I was on a dangerous course with drugs back in the 70’s while living in Las Vegas. I was a free spirit and followed my own bliss. I had no boundaries except for my own internal compass which seemed to speak to me when I was headed in a direction that would hurt my spirit. The few times when I didn’t listen to that still small voice, I did get hurt and so did others. Each time this happened I understood a little more about how my choices impact me and those around me.
After moving to New York City, I had a profound spiritual experience which lead me back to my religious roots and to the man who I knew would be the father of my children. He just happened to be a Mormon missionary. I spent the next 20 years as a devout member of the Mormon Church, raising those children whom I’d had the premonition about on that wintry New York City, January back in 1978. I have no idea what course my life would have taken had I not had that experience, but suffice it to say, it taught me how there may be divine intentions before we come to this mortal existence, or contracts that we vowed to fulfill for some purpose yet to be revealed. I’m grateful for that experience because it gave me the three wonderful children I have today, and it also helped me understand the mystical from both a religious viewpoint and a spiritual one. Once my contract of raising those children was fulfilled, my soul told me it was time to move on. And here I am.
As I watch what’s happening in politics right now, primarily with Republican candidates running for president on a religious platform, it makes me sad. Our country was designed to give people religious freedom to worship – or not worship – as they please. Yet, so many of the current Republican political leaders have an agenda to turn us into a Christian theocracy, by eliminating the rights of those who don’t believe like them. They do it by demonizing anyone who doesn’t follow their brand of Christianity. It reminds me of the crusades. As our God Discussion writer Johnthomas Didymus shares in this God Discussion article Mitt Romney, a devout Mormon, is being demonized by Evangelicals for his Mormon beliefs. I thought politics was supposed to be about policy and government, and helping to create a sustainable society? Romney has some great ideas about how to do that, and his Health Care plan in Massachusetts was a huge success. But because it resembled President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (health insurance reform) Romney’s been demonized for that too. I would personally not vote for Romney simply because he’s not liberal enough on social issues for me. But if he wasn’t running in this hostile Evangelical climate where he must cow tow to his conservative base, I believe he would be far more liberal like his father Governor George Romney was. George Romney bucked up against his own church and his own party during the civil rights movement and helped usher in a new society where blacks were no longer considered second-class citizens. Mitt Romney has flip flopped on his stance regarding a woman’s right to choose and also gay marriage. I think inherently he knows injustice when he sees it (except maybe on torture at Guantamo Bay.) But like his father he has a broader vision of America, but his wings have been clipped by religion.
There may be some I haven’t heard of, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it here if there are, but to my knowledge no Mormon political leader has ever been exposed in a sex scandal. And yet, all the Evangelical political leaders who have, Newt Gingrich, John Ensign, David Vitter, Mark Sanford, all who ran on their moral and family values, dare to point fingers at Romney and tell him he’s not worthy to be president because of his religion.
This is my trouble with religion. It seems to invoke a divide and conquer mentality. It assumes that there is not enough for everyone. That if it’s not done our way, it’s not good enough to be done at all. This God discussion article by Dakota O’Leary gave me hope. It’s about a scholar who did research and then wrote a book which clearly demonstrates that you don’t have to believe in God to be good.
My new spiritual awareness, just like my prior religious instruction, tells me that I am a child of God. The difference is, unlike the religious doctrine which teaches we must go through certain rituals to become perfect, I now believe I am perfect just the way I am here and now. That understanding allows me to love and appreciate the magic in life, while creating a deep desire to expose the beauty in all of creation. I no longer want to focus on the darkness that lurks in the belief that we are separate from that guiding force which draws us together in harmony.
What I’ve uncovered in my search for truth is that this connection we feel called love hits the godless and the God-fearing alike, and I believe love is the glue that binds the universe together. Once we honor each other and our differences, that very love will guide us to the truth of our existence. What that means for each of us may be different. What matters is that we understand it now while we are stewards of each other and the planet. If we don’t learn to love one another, or at least respect each other, the best we can hope for is continued perpetual wars over land, religion and oil.