God in America
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"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" - Epicurus

How Do You Imagine God?
God in America and USA WEEKEND Magazine are partnering to explore Americans' images of God.

How do you imagine God? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I imagine "God" as a human made creation used to explain a world that didn't make sense to our ancestors as well as a mythical being used by elites throughout history to control the masses. God is a concept that measures our ignorance of ourselves, the world and the universe.

My Beliefs

I believe ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I believe that the evidence is clear that the Judeo-Christian God is a myth just like ever other deity worshiped throughout human history. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence and every religion has failed to prove their assertion that their deity actually exists. So I can say with complete confidence that there is no "god" as described so far by humans. As a rational, thinking person I am always open to new evidence and I understand that some higher form of life may exist in this universe or in the multiverses but it has yet to reveal its existence to us.
My most powerful moment of belief was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator When I was young I accepted the belief system I was taught in church as it never occurred to me that there were other views, beliefs and myths in existence. I remember praying and fully expecting the deity I had been told existed had heard my petition and would act upon it. I also felt the same way about Santa Claus even though he brought me gifts that I hadn't asked for while ignoring my wish list.
My greatest moment of doubt was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator When I was old enough to understand that something was seriously wrong with the belief system I had been taught to accept on faith. The more I read the Bible the more I came to see the blatant contradictions and implausible claims. So from my early teens on I had serious doubt about the veracity of what I had been told was the ultimate truth since no one could answer my questions about the problems with the biblical narrative. It was very frustrating to be constantly told to just accept these contradictions and incredible claims on faith.
My spiritual life means... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Since there is no "spirit" in the Christian or other religious sense I take spiritual to mean that part of our psyche that is in tune with the natural world. I guess you could call it Spinoza's or Einstein's spirituality as it appreciates the wonder of our Cosmos without relying on a creator or other form of supernatural being. I love astronomy for this reason as the universe is spectacularly beautiful and wondrous.
The biggest misconception about my faith/belief system is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator That some religious minded folk are to determined to label my atheism as a religious belief system. I do not deny God's existence since it has never been shown to be factually based. It is like saying I am a tooth fairy or Easter Bunny atheist. The lack of belief in any of the worlds' mythical deities is just that as atheists come from every walk of life and worldview. All we agree on is that no verifiable evidence of any supernatural being has ever been presented.
My spiritual role model is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator John Lennon and Gene Roddenberry. Both of these great men were brilliant, insightful, witty, profound and brought a positive Humanist message that foretold better days ahead for our species. Yet they were not perfect beings as they were both fully human with the foibles, flaws and issues found in all of us. Lennon's music brings us closer to our humanity where we care about working for more peace and love in our dysfunctional world. Roddenberry Secular Humanism led him to create an amazingly influential family of television series starting with the Original Star Trek. Using the allegorical world of science fiction, Roddenberry was able to address serious issues about our humanity including our misplaced faith in alleged deities while creating a vision of the future where humanity will evolve past our present petty ethical failings. It is a Utopian view of a future where we will be fully actualized outgrowing our primitive need for religious myth.
The tenet/practice/teaching I appreciate most about my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Be the best person I can be and do all I can to make this world a better place right here, right now as we only get this one life to make a difference. Once we are dead there is nothing left of us except the impact and memories we made while we were alive. Some people may need the threat of eternal punishment to be ethical people but as an atheist I know the responsibility to be a good citizen, neighbor, family member and friend rests entirely with me. So I fully support human and civil rights efforts as the rights I defend for others are the rights I defend for myself.

My Faith History

As a child I believed ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator As I was taught in church. I accepted these teachings without question because when we are young we do not have the cognitive ability to for critical thinking at that age. This is why religions push indoctrinating children before they get old enough to question their authority.
My spiritual journey has been ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Very exciting. I was able to evolve past the belief that some invisible sky god controlled the universe. This allowed me to see reality as it truly is rather than how religions try to deny reality. This allows me to be fully human and embrace my fellow humans on this tiny pale blue dot of a planet orbiting through space in this unimaginably vast universe.
I was raised as ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I grew up attending a rural Tennessee Missionary Baptist Church.
Are your beliefs or practices different from your parents? If so, how and why? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My mother remains a Baptist despite our many conversations on how her religious belief makes no rational sense. We have reached a detente where we agree to disagree on religious matters. My father has long been agnostic but he never told me how to believe.
If you have children, did becoming a parent change your relationship to faith? If so, how? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator No children.

How I Practice My Faith

Where and when do you practice your faith? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I do not have a "faith" so I have nothing to practice.
Does your family practice more than one religion or faith? If so, how do you blend the traditions? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I still exchange gifts with my religious friends and family members at Xmas. I do not attend any religious services with friends or family as they know I am not one of the faithful.
How easy or difficult is it to live your faith? Why? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator It is normally pretty easy living my non-faith but on occasion I do get harassed by a believer who thinks it is their mission to make me see the the error of my ways. It is difficult in communicating the historical fact that our nation was not founded on the Christian faith despite what Glenn Beck and other right-wing ideologues may claim. So I find my civil liberties constantly under attack by those who mistakenly believe it is their right to impose their religious dogma upon me (& our society) using the power of the government in violation of the Constitution.
In my house, the thing that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I am a historian and my house is filled with a plethora of books about the history and study of religion and myth. Not only have I read the Bible several times but I have a great many books about Christianity and Judaism to put the various versions of the bible in context. I study religion the same way a doctor studies illness. You can't find a cure without studying and getting to know all you can about the disease. My faith rests in our humanity rather than the imagined supernatural.
The song/book/film that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator John Lennon's "Imagine" is the perfect song that reflects my worldview. Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" is the perfect movie that illustrates just how silly the whole religion thing is when you see the world how it is rather than how you wish it to be.

Religion & the Public Square

What should be the role of religion in politics? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator In the private arena religion is free to participate in the free market exchange of ideas. I have no issues with people of faith opining about their beliefs in public places and on private property. So if your faith demands that you support one candidate over another that is your right. What I do find disturbing is when politicians use religion as a way to manipulate the masses. Just look at how many politicians hide behind religious platitudes pushing their religious agenda while being engaged in blatantly hypocritical personal behaviors. The government on the local, state and federal level has to remain neutral when it comes to religion. This means the government cannot promote any religious faith as it violates the separation between church and state. The reason our nation is so religiously diverse and popular is because the government has been Constitutionally bound to secular law. If the right-wing radicals erode this wall of separation it will be to the detriment of every American citizen as when the civil liberties of one American is denied it is denied to all of us. Our Founding Fathers were wise to leave us this Constitutional mandate which prevents the tyranny of the majority from forcing their beliefs upon the minority.
Should courses about religion be taught in public schools? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator If teachers could be trusted not to push their personal belief system upon their students then yes, absolutely religion should be taught in public schools. It should be a literature class where students get to study the Bible, the Koran and other "holy books" so students can learn about their impact upon our culture and language. You can also use a cultural studies class to teach students about the various religions of the world. The sad reality is there would be plenty of teachers who would use this educational opportunity to present their religious belief system to the students as being fact. So if we do teach religion in public schools we must remain diligent that the secular purpose is not hijacked by faith based teachers.
Should the Bible, Torah, Quran or other religious texts be taught as works of literature in public schools? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator As I just stated previously I would teach a class on these texts the same way we teach Shakespeare as great literature. As long as the teachers present an evidence based study of these texts making sure not to favor one over the others or to state that these are books of fact rather than myth then it would work. I know I enjoyed my classes in college on the various religions of humankind especially the history of Judaism and Christianity.
Is interfaith dialogue important? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Most of the violence in the world is driven by religious zealotry. 9/11 was a faith-based attack on our country by fervent Muslims. You would never catch an atheist suicide bombing anything as it takes a serious belief in an afterlife of rewards to commit such atrocities. Our current brouhaha over the Muslim cultural center in NYC two blocks away from Ground Zero shows how ignorant Americans are about Islamic faith. We have engaged in two wars in the Muslim world and now more than ever it is important for Americans to learn about the diversity of practice found in Islam. As long as both sides cling to their narrow stereotypical view of the other we will never have peace on this planet.
Do you feel comfortable discussing your faith with others? Why/why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I do not initiate a conversation by announcing I am an atheist and then try to "convert" a person of faith. Being without a supernatural belief allows me to view religious discussions as a neutral observer. When I am asked about matters of faith I am honest and tell the person or person about my atheism. I am content to allow others to believe what they wish but I do ask that they respect my lack of belief with the same courtesy or accept that I will confront them with the evidence based history about their belief system.
Do you feel that you have a duty, because of your faith, to put your beliefs into action? What are some of those actions? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I do not have a faith but my atheism and Secular Humanism does drive me to give back to the community and my fellow humans. I support selected charities that work to make life better for those who have little or no resources of their own. I support human rights and civil rights causes which benefit all of us. I support environmental causes as we have just this one planet to inhabit at this time. The main concern is that I have to act now to help make the world a better place as once I am dead then my existence will have come to a permanent end. I also volunteer for various causes, cultural events and museums.
Are religious beliefs compromised by engaging in politics? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator When politics and religion mix the usual outcome is to the detriment of both. There are occasions when religious activism benefits all of us like the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's. An example of politics and religion mixing tainting both can be found in our very own Sen. David Vitter. He ran for office as an upstanding family-values Christian yet he had been having affairs with prostitutes for years until he finally got caught. The local right-wing religious groups never questioned Vitter nor did they change their support of Vitter. The religious right seems content to get in bed with hypocritical politicians as they want the political power to push their faith-based agenda. So they violate numerous Biblical commandments and moral directives to support politicians like Vitter who talk the talk but personally don't walk the walk. It takes a person of faith to sell their soul to the proverbial devil.
Has 9/11 had any impact on your thoughts about religion? Are you more/less interested in learning about other religions? Do you feel more/less comfortable expressing your religious beliefs? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator 9/11 was simply one of the most spectacular incidents of faith-based violence. Faith-based violence permeates the historical record back to the earliest documents we have discovered so far. It is hard to settle any dispute when one or both sides claim that their position was mandated by their deity. The Jews in Israel believe that YHWH gave them their land and no amount of diplomacy or war will change that belief. The Muslims believe that Allah gave them the land and diplomacy and war will never change their belief. Many Americans support Israel because their Christian beliefs requires them to do so all the while these same Christians believe that these Jews murdered the Christian Messiah. Christians have a long history of wars, Crusades, Inquisitions, collusion with political authorities, etc., that has brought untold misery, suffering and death to humanity. As a historian I am well aware that Hitler was a man of faith who made a deal with the Vatican while the Nazis murdered millions of Jews, atheists and other "undesirables." So arguments that Hitler was an atheist ring hollow. Stalin may have been an atheist (he spent time in a monastery so who knows what he really thought) but he replaced the Russian Orthodox Church with his own cult of personality which shows any dogmatic belief is hazardous to human health, wealth and well-being. In order to reach an understanding with others we have to get past the rigid dogmatic faith-based beliefs of people, politicians and nations as a rational, reality-based dialectic must occur between all parties to secure the human rights and civil liberties of every American and to work with and be at peace with other nations. I continue to study Christianity and other religions because the more you know the better you can interact and work with those of differing faith-based beliefs.

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Published October 11, 2010

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