Dear Rabbi Gellman
I'm not an atheist, I am an agnostic. I realize that to many folks of the religious persuasion, that difference is slight; they don't get the idea that I have a spiritual life but simply do not like having a religious life. In this, I mean that I don't want the rituals and Big Men Telling Me What To Think. My husband and I get our experience with God/the Kozmik All/the Ineffable One/whatever you call it by walking in the woods, by admiring the beauty of the universe, by seeing the curve of our daughter's cheek when she's asleep.
We don't tell other people what to think. We don't go around grabbing people on the streets and saying, "Fool! You are lost! You are being led around by Big Men Telling You What To Think! Experience God/the Kozmik All on your own, and you will be set free!"
But the fanatical religious people out there do that to us, figuratively and literally.
We have evangelical Christians doing their very best to get "creation science" taught in our schools as science. We have fanatical Muslims bombing our people going about minding their own business. We have orthodox Jews pushing Palestinians out of the Middle East, and Palestinians doing the exact same thing, for the exact same reason.
All of this in the name of "religion".
We have people all across the United States insisting that Terry Schiavo be kept alive. We have people all across the United States trying to mandate how I or my daughter handles an unexpected pregnancy. We have people all across the United States insisting that people who don't have religion can't be moral or ethical people, that they live lives of "existential despair".
I am not threatened by the idea of God.
I am threatened by people who insist that their
idea of God is the One and Only True God.
I am threatened by people who use their idea of God as an excuse to wage war.
I am threatened by people who insist that I follow their idea of God, or else...
I am irritated by people who claim that my life is filled with "existential despair" because I don't follow a religion. I am irritated by those who claim--either outright or by implication, like you do--that being without religion means that people will submit to their "desires to do what we want when we want to do it". To me, that implies that people are by nature vile and evil, willing to commit any and all nasty actions at the slightest impulse. What a dark vision of humankind! Why do religious people believe that humankind needs a carrot and stick approach to behave well? Behave well in your current life and you will be in heaven in the afterlife...what about behaving well in the current life simply because it's the Right Thing To Do? Does humankind need a numinous Father figure to Do Right? If so, then we are lost. All of us.