It’s not a secret that I’m not an atheist. In fact, in some of the circles I used to run in, it was a problem. People with scientific minds and people who were supposedly open-minded used to tell me that they found it hard to believe that such a science-oriented, evidence-relying person like myself could believe in a higher power. Some of them unfriended me in person or on social media, or they just plain told me that I was not welcomed to be around them because of it. They said that it made them uncomfortable that I didn’t think like they did.
Those people were in the minority, however. I’d say that 95% of people who differ from me in a religious or spiritual (heck, even political) way are cool with me… And I’m cool with them.
Today in the mail, we got a letter from the American Humanist Association:
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the argument that people can be good without believing in God, or a god. I know plenty of people who are atheists, agnostics, or of different religions and beliefs to my own. They don’t threaten me. They don’t upset me. I’m not worried about their afterlife. That all is a very personal choice that must be made by each individual person. It’s part of being free, thinking human beings with autonomy.
However, I’m annoyed at this letter because it mirrors so many similar letters from religious and political organizations. Inside this letter came a “membership reply form” where, if I were to sign it, I would be agreeing that “The Religious Right does not speak for me and my values. As a non-religious American, I’m proud to help raise awareness of being good without a god.” Then I have the option of giving as much money as I want.
Here’s the thing… My wife and I are not religious, but we’re also not atheistic. No matter how much my wife wants to think she is a heathen, out of the two of us, she’s the one with the most faith. She’s the one that sees purpose and meaning in how the universe works. Me? I see randomness and chaos with statistically significant occurrences that need to be seen with a skeptical eye because they can be just as much happy/sad coincidences as they can be signs from God.
You really don’t want to get those two things confused — coincidences and acts of God — because it can be embarrassing.
In fact, I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in the letter:
“The American Humanist Association provides a humanist perspective in strong support of separation of religion from government, preservation and restoration of the environment, protection of civil rights and liberties, and promotion of personal choice regarding introduction of new life, family structure, and death with dignity.”
If you know me, or you’ve read the blog for a while, you know that these are all things that I can get behind. Likewise, I don’t think that those values are mutually exclusive from people who believe that there is more to the human story than what we can test. If anything, at least in this country, much of the civil rights movement has been borne out of the religious groups within marginalized communities.
What I cannot get behind is a random letter showing up in the mailbox, asking for money, and bringing religious (or non-religious) sentiment into it. If I want to give money to a good cause, I’ll go find you, not the other way around. This letter feels to me no different than the many religious letters that I get, also asking for money because the “heathens” out there are out to “destroy America.”
And a sticker, like the thousands of others I’ve thrown away from churches? Really?
“Does it bother you to see your federal tax dollars supporting faith-based organizations?”
No, not really. Many faith-based organizations do a lot of good work in communities where there is a void of action by other organizations. It bothers me when they put conditions on who gets their good will, and I will never approve of an organization that only helps a certain social, political, or religious denomination.
“You may have heard of… Neil deGrasse Tyson… — they are good without a god.”
On this, Neil deGrasse Tyson had this to say:
I agree with him that there is a lot of baggage associated with putting labels on ourselves and others. Or stickers. And I agree that there is no time for these things. So this will be one of the few times this blog touches on the religious, because the only categories I want to put people in are wether or not they’re good, not whether or not they’re good with or without a god.
There is John Green, author and vlogger of YouTube fame. He echoes some of the sentiments of Neil deGrasse Tyson:
And here is Hank Green, John’s brother, answering if he believes in God. Watch it until the end:
But I would like to thank the AHA for reminding me to give money to Doctors Without Borders before the year ends. Now that’s an organization that is doing God’s work.
(See what I did there?)
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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