At one point I was a proud atheist. I devoured Dawkins and nodded smugly in agreement, while hungrily absorbing Hitchens’s views and laughing along with Gervais at his most skeptical. I would regard with contempt those who turned to religion for comfort, citing the flying spaghetti monster as evidence of their own ignorance.
But I can now acknowledge it was I who held the ignorant beliefs, refusing to allow dissenting views to slither their way into my rigid perspective. My inability to examine the role of the church in getting humanity to where we are now has been exhaustively unenlightened. Organized religion’s importance to billions of people through the ages cannot be understated. Viewed by stringent atheists as a haven for power abusers, regular abusers and the corrupt, it is, for the most part, a community for those who need one. I now support anyone who finds comfort and happiness in that kinship, yet there are several reasons why I don’t need it for myself.
I was somewhat raised Catholic, getting baptized, communioned and even confirmed when the time came. Underneath it all, though, I’ve always felt more Jewish, likely due to my appearance, frugal father and dependence on comedy. And the Buddhists speak to me when it comes to what should guide your actions and awareness. Even so, I’m going to take the easy way out and side with the agnostics. Who knows what’s really going on, where we actually came from, and even so, why should it matter, any more than for a thought experiment.
The sense of community, I get from my friends and strangers, at restaurants and bars and coffee shops and parks and late night phone calls and midnight texts and early evening yelling from my stoop. Stories told by ministers and priests, mostly stemming from a single book, are limiting in their breadth and breath. I get mine from comedians, whose sermons take months to develop and perfect, instead of trying to bang a new one out every week. Films fill the role as well, and I don’t have to feel bad turning them off if I start snoozing. A moral compass, I take from books and thoughts, from philosophers and my own naturally critical brain. Being in touch with my spirituality, I claim I get it from meditation, but more accurately it comes from well-timed mind-altering substances. When it’s time for reflection, I turn to music, baths, and walking around the neighbourhood with my dog. Appreciation for the truly awesome and wondrous, this gets picked up at art galleries and in nature, inside paintings and at the top of raccoon-filled trees. So if you can squeeze any joy or contentment or comfort or meaning out of religion, by all means, go for it. But don’t assume that everyone else should join you, and if your god-like buddy tells you to care about what other harmless people are doing, you should tell them to go straight to hell.