The Irreligious, an invisible minority

posted January 7, 2016

NOTE: I originally published this piece last month, and pulled it down afterwards because I felt, hey, it’s the holidays, of course the believers are talking about religion. I also have friends, family, and clients who are religious. I didn’t want any of them to feel like this major part of their lives was off-limits with me. Several of you told me to re-post it and I appreciate the support. I want believers to understand that my life, and the lives of others who reject religion, is no less spiritual or thoughtful or whole without a god to watch over us.

I am part of the roughly 20% of United States citizens who is Irreligious. That’s a bit different than Atheism. Atheism takes a firm stand on the existence of gods. Irreligion takes a stand on religion with a polite, “No thanks,” and calls it a day. It’s like a flowchart where the first question is: Do you believe in religion? If you answer No you don’t proceed to the next question.

There are likely religious people who would say I have those flowchart questions backwards, but you’d already have to be a believer in order for that logic to prevail. If you’re religious, your god is no doubt older than your religion. I put the question of religion first because while all Atheists are irreligious, not all irreligious people are Atheists. To an irreligious person like me the question of gods is irrelevant.

A little of my religious background

I was raised Catholic and was very active in the church up until my teenage years. I was a believer. The more I read and learned though, the more I encountered objective information that was contrary to the tenets of the religion I was raised in. I explored other belief systems in an effort to do right by the god I was taught to believe in. I read:

  1. The King James Bible
  2. The New Catholic Bible
  3. The Hebrew Bible
  4. The Quran
  5. The Bhagavad Gita
  6. The Upadishads
  7. The Tao Te Ching

I expected to find a unifying string, a humanist belief that tied them all together. Once I found this string I thought it would prove to me the existence of a higher power. That wasn’t my experience. In every text, whether taken literally or as allegory, there was something deeply unsettling to me. I found god-inspired or god-administered violence in all of them. I found incomprehensible rules about what a person can eat, say, or wear in all of them. I found information far removed from things since proven by the most basic of sciences.

There was nothing objective about these texts. There was also no original source material. These were written long after the fact, by people (near-universally men) with agendas of their own. In my reading and personal experience, religion relied on the indoctrination of children and the lifelong compliance of their members to maintain themselves. There were thousands of religions at one point, and now they have been distilled down to a relative few.

In my reading I did find a single unifying string, but unfortunately it boiled down to this is true because we say it is. So I left religion, but not without a bit of trepidation. Was my rejection going to be met with divine retribution or regret? I held my breath for a few years and nothing happened. I was, in fact, happier, less ashamed, and I felt more compassion for the people around me. Everyone had their struggles, and I could relate to that. I focused on the simple belief that all people deserved to be happy and that my actions either contributed in a positive or negative way.

I had rejected religion, but I wanted the people I came in contact with to have the same freedom of choice, to find a belief system that served their happiness. As far as my irreligious moral compass, The Golden Rule was enough. It was what I learned Kant called a categorical imperative. If I want to be treated well, I have to treat others well. It’s pure reason and it’s wonderful. It’s objective, it’s comprehensible, and most importantly, it’s universal and simple. There is no complex mythology necessary to enforce the logic of The Golden Rule.

I’m not an evangelical irreligious person. I’m only speaking up now because I’m inundated lately with religious discussion everywhere I turn. It’s impossible to get away from. All I want is for religious people to realize many of us find the relentless discussion of god and religion, as if they were objective and tangible, to be offensive.

It’s as offensive as me showing up to a place of worship and reading this blog post aloud.

I think many, if not most, believers have the best intentions. There are absolutely no hard feelings, I just want them to realize that beliefs systems are not universal truths. They are, at the end of the day, just opinions about something unknowable. Mine is no better than theirs. Can’t we talk about something else? How was your day? What are your hopes and dreams? I’m up for anything, really, so long as we can leave out the supernatural.

Okay. And the Kardashians. If I have to pick one, let’s put religion back on the table.

FURTHER READING: Good Without God in 2016

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