I went to my granddaughter’s birthday yesterday. It was a nice time and we had a great time watching the kids have fun.
I love getting together with family. In this case, it is my wife’s family who we were spending the day with. My family is spread out across the country and, since my mom died 12 years ago, I haven’t really kept in touch with most of them. She was the one who kept in touch with everyone.
I love my wife’s family. Like any family, they have their dramas and such, but they are a wonderful group of people whom I really enjoy being with.
My mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, and one of my brother-in-laws are all very religious. They attend church regularly of various protestant denominations. I found myself thinking a lot about this yesterday as I sat and watched everyone celebrate.
I, as anyone who reads my blog knows, am an agnostic. I also have a very low regard for organized religions of any kind that is based in personal experience and observation. But, I couldn’t help thinking about how much my brother-in-law’s new faith (he had been fairly uninterested in religion until recently) seems to bring him happiness.
I can relate to this, having had my own mini religious revivals over these many years. And it struck me as I sat thinking that belonging to a church is really more of a social activity rather than a religious one. Of course I knew this already, having read about this before, but it made me wonder if it would have made any difference if my brother-in-law had become involved in, say, The Toastmasters, instead of a church. I suspect that he may have found that belonging to any kind of group that gave him support and encouragement would have the same effect.
And this brings up the really important question: do we, as Americans, cling to our supposed Christian values because we truly and deeply believe, or because we like being a part of the social network that belonging to a religious organization like a church brings?
I suspect that the answer to this question yes.
Of course, the situation is much more complicated than such simple answer might suggest. Many, probably most, of us have been brought up in some kind of religious faith. This automatically predisposes us to accept the idea that having religious faith is an important part of being a good citizen and a good person.
The one, however, doesn’t automatically have to assume the other. You can be a good person and a good citizen without having any kind of religious faith. After all, as I’ve mentioned before here a couple of times, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were all what we would call Deists. They believed in a God, but not one who gave inspired revelations, engineered miracles or otherwise interfered in any way in the lives of humankind, or who answered prayers. They believed that people are wholly responsible for the lives they lead and that doing good was important for its own sake, not to appease the will of any creator.
Today, these views are looked upon as sacrilegious but I doubt anyone would argue that any of these Founding Fathers was not basically a good person or a good citizen.
As for my family, I have to say that they are all good, decent people. But I think that they are so in spite of their religious beliefs rather than because of them. I know that my brother-in-law was a kind, caring and good person before he became very religious, so obviously, being kind, caring and good doesn’t necessitate being religious.
So, how do I reconcile my adverse feelings toward religion and my acceptance of my family member’s beliefs? Well, I don’t. Because I have always believed in taking each person as they come based on how they behave, not on what they believe. For me, the person is separate from their beliefs, unless those beliefs start to influence their behavior in adverse ways.
And this isn’t going to stop me from speaking out for better education in critical thinking skills, for better science education in our schools and the media, and for an end to the influence of religion in any and all public institutions and forums.
Christians love to say, “Love the sinner and hate the sin”. Some non-believers like to say, “Love the believer and hate the belief”. Well I hate pithy little sayings like those, so I choose to paraphrase the late George Carlin who, when talking about religion, said that religion is like a lift for your shoe, but let’s just not go nailing lifts onto the natives feet. You get the idea.