I Am a Non-Believer

So, I went to church today.

I KNOW, RIGHT?!  It freaked me out, too.

The reason I went is because Martin (you remember Martin, right?) was invited to speak at my in-laws’ church this morning on the theme of reconciliation for the occasion of Veterans’ Day.  He had tipped me off about the gig when I emailed him a love note a week or so ago, so I got a sub for my yoga class, put on a skirt, and for the first time in my adult life, went willingly to a Sunday service so I could be there to support my friend.

The Earth did not tremble.  The maw of Hell did not open to swallow me whole.  I did not spontaneously combust.

I KNOW!  I’m a little surprised, too!

I DID leave the experience with a fair bit to think about, however, and I’m going to try to render some of that thinking here.

Here’s the thing; I love the idea of community.  I love the idea that people can come together and fill in each others’ gaps, or hold one another up, or challenge one another to their best and most authentic selves.  I love the kinds of communities that band together to do good; the ones that see a deficiency or a need and pool their resources – their money, their talent, their time – to address those shortcomings as best they can.  I like communities that are inclusive and welcoming and accepting.

My in-laws’ church is like that, and though my husband has told me that it hasn’t always been so (there was a fire-and-brimstone pastor who scared the shit out of him as a kid), it has been mostly lovely since well before Mr. Chili and I were married (Mother and Father Chili wished for us to be wed in their church and, since the pastor at the time was the aforementioned inclusive and welcoming and accepting – not to mention kind and lovely and funny – I agreed.  That was the first time in my adult life I went willingly to church on a Saturday, in case you were wondering).

Sitting in the Chili pew this morning (yes; they have a pew), I remember thinking that while there was nothing that was specifically offensive to me as a non-believer, I was still a little weirded out by the message that was being subtly sent that the REASON these people are lovely and welcoming and accepting is because GOD DEMANDS IT, and while they never actually said those words in that way, the implication that there is a mandate that originates outside of ourselves to be generous and kind was pretty clear.

This is not a new concept for me.  I’ve been told plenty of times that people are good because it’s what their god requires of them; in fact, this is a direct quote someone said (well, wrote) to me just recently:

“I love other people, my neighbors in a global sense, because God calls me to” (emphasis mine).

I think that this is part of where some of the mistrust of believers toward non-believers comes from.  I don’t NEED a god to tell me how to treat people, and I wonder if those who feel they do don’t understand how someone can be the originator of their own compassion.  I don’t NEED to fear a divine punishment (or seek a divine reward) to be a good person.  My morality is centered on my humanity and my capacity for empathy; it is not driven by a desire for Heaven or a fear of Hell, and it is certainly not based on the edicts of an ancient text which contradicts itself more than it makes sense.

For the most part, the service was lovely.  I don’t really feel a need for the ceremony, but I suppose I don’t begrudge the people who do.  I do think that the service would have been more lovely, however, if we’d been able to leave the idea of a supernatural, external influence out of it.  How about we take ownership of our own behavior?  How about we accept that we ARE strong enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough to take good care of one another; we don’t NEED a god to tell us to be those things because we’re completely capable of doing them on our own.  Reliance on an external force feels weak to me – and emotionally and intellectually dishonest – and even though the people in the elder Chilis’ church have never given me any reason to mistrust their motives, I really do wish that we as a species could finally figure out how to evolve enough to grow beyond what I see as an almost compulsive need for religion.




Filed under compassion and connection, critical thinking, doing my duty, family matters, Friends, frustrations, General Bitching, Home and Family, ideas and opinions, messages from the Universe, Questions, ruminating, social issues, strange but true, this is NOT a drill, Worries and Anxieties

11 responses to “I Am a Non-Believer

  1. L B

    Same page, same thinking here. A red banner adorns our dining room wall. it says “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness. ~Dalai Lama

    It suits me and I believe it. Thanks for your post, as always.

  2. Being one who has been around believers a great deal, I have come to find both good and bad here. I do believe the vast majority are wonderful people who want nothing but the best for people. My father in-law is a preacher; he is a great man. I love him most because when I met him, the issue of race was not the issue, but how I would treat his daughter was of value. We do not agree on many many things. Yet, he does not judge me.

    I do struggle most with Christians who believe their ideological position as a juxtaposition to their beliefs should be legislated. Further, the notion that there is only one way one should think drives me crazy; I ran into issues with this in the past. That said, as an academic, and one who loves a diversity of thought, living in a world of such diversity is a great thing. I do not think that people of faith are incapable of being critical thinkers. Some of the smartest folks I know are Muslim or Christian. In a world of believers — be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc., all add something to how we live. There is a place for atheist and agnostic, as they challenge cultural norms.

  3. “I do think that the service would have been more lovely, however, if we’d been able to leave the idea of a supernatural, external influence out of it.”

    It would have been more lovely FOR YOU. But lovely is not objective. For others the idea of having a helping hand is lovely. I don’t trust any organized religion either but I can’t deny that for many it’s a great comfort and who am I to tell them that they shouldn’t seek help or a good feeling. I’ll tell them they can’t force THEIR lovely on ME but I wouldn’t feel right forcing mine on them either.

  4. Now, wait just a minute. You “went willingly to a Sunday service” on April 6, 2008, with me and my family. You blogged about it.


    I am going to be charitable and assume you have been unusually forgetful, rather than willfully dishonest. I am also going to assume that you will not dispute you went willingly. My recollection is that it was your idea. I said I would pick you up after church, and you asked to come. I was pleased that you did.

    I have thought of the day periodically since it happened. I have heard things in service that have made me think “I wish she could hear that being said in a Christian church.” I have remembered my arm around you that morning. I have remembered the warmth I felt at you being there with us. I have remembered how cool I thought it was that my younger son–then not quite 4 years old–offered his craft to you. I have remembered your smile in accepting it.

    For the record, I think *and* believe. I think some part of you thought that possible once upon a time.

    I’m sad that that person seems to be absent now.

  5. Kagen Alexander

    WELL! Look who’s back! I thought, Bo, that you’d given up on Mrs. Chili? Why are you still here?

  6. Brandon

    How about we accept that we ARE strong enough, kind enough, and compassionate enough to take good care of one another; we don’t NEED a god to tell us to be those things because we’re completely capable of doing them on our own.

    One look at the history of humanity pretty much tells us that we have and continue to fail miserably at that and that condition isn’t changing anytime soon.

    I can understand that if the message you received from the service was simply about being good, that you would find no need for a church. I’m not a fan of those who would imply that you can’t be good without God. You certainly can do good things.

    The question is, who determines what is good and what is bad? Without an objective standard outside of ourselves I’m just as justified in saying that my morality is based on getting what I want and fulfilling my desires, regardless of who I “hurt” in the process as you are in saying that your morality is centered on your humanity and your capacity for empathy. It’s whatever I feel and want it to be. Maybe I am particularly lacking in empathy and can’t manage like you do.

    The thing is, as much as you may dismiss the idea of an objective standard, I think it is safe to say that you don’t live your life as if there aren’t any. When you call out something as good or bad (obviously not talking about food, movies, etc. here) you aren’t saying it is just your opinion and if someone else disagrees, oh well. You’re making an objective claim to being right and that those who would disagree with you are wrong.

  7. Goodbye, ma’am.

    What a shame you never found the gumption to genuinely challenge yourself.

  8. I choose not to engage you, Bo. We’ve been through this before; in fact, you informed me, in an email postmarked four years ago, that you thought it common courtesy to inform me that you were removing me from your blogroll and expected that I would do the same.

    Then, three years ago, you emailed me again after a particularly immature and unsuccessful attempt at baiting me on the blog under a pseudonym, which resulted in my temporarily turning moderation on. In that letter, you said that, “You have my promise that I shall not comment further, whether identifying as myself or anyone else.”

    I took you at your word, even if you didn’t. This is the last time I will address you. Any further comments from you will be deleted.

  9. Anonymous

    Brandon – Many of the horrors in history have been caused and/or supported by religion so I find it difficult to support your “our history shows we are incapable…” argument.

    Bo – If you think Mrs. Chili hasn’t spent time contemplating this (years) before making her statement public, then you don’t know her at all. I know her personally (I call her my sister in public) for nearly twenty years. I know few people who wrestle with ideas and revise their stances (when the evidence is there) more readily than Mrs. Chili. Your snide comment, “What a shame you never found the gumption to genuinely challenge yourself,” is insulting and uninformed. If someone does the homework and doesn’t come up with the same result as you, it doesn’t mean they didn’t challenge themselves. I could just as easily make the assertion that if you have believed for your whole life in a supernatural being that requires periodic worship to guarantee a nebulous “eternal reward” that you haven’t challenged yourself. I could assume you don’t understand science, can’t analyze/synthesize data, and are generally happy believing a comfortable myth than considering the hard facts – but I won’t, because I know nothing about you other than what you have written.

  10. Why do people like Mrs. Chili offend believers so much? Are you so insecure in your dogma that you MUST be surrounded by the like-minded or you cry and throw a tantrum? Are you so narrow-minded that you can’t imagine morality for it’s own sake and not under the threat of eternal punishment? Are you so mired in your faith that you feel that it MUST be forced upon every living person, irrespective their age or background?

    Some people don’t believe in a Christian God . . . or any God(s). And THAT’S OKAY. Think about it – it’s okay.

    What’s not okay is to take insults to your God and your dogma so personally that you have to attack back. If your God is so great and powerful and wonderful – it’ll show without your defense. If your God is so loving, he has no need for your soldiering. If your faith is the true source of all morality and you’re so frightened of the heathens and atheists and Muslims and Jews and anyone else who disagrees, then shelter yourself from all those people and make a vow that you’ll never again read another untoward word from any source of disagreement – and keep that vow.

    It seems to me that you crave offense and relish in persecution, even when none exists.

    • Why do people like Mrs. Chili offend believers so much?

      I’m not at all offended by Mrs. Chili, although perhaps this was mainly directed towards Bo, given their exchange.

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