There Is Meaning Without Faith
I grew up in a fairly secular household. While my parents and grandparents had their own ideas about religion and God, the topic was never discussed in our house. There was never a moment in my childhood when my parents approached me about faith. I was never instructed on the sermons or rituals of Judaism (mother’s family) or Christianity (father’s family). I suspect that such topics were out of place in the Soviet Union, especially for the Jewish population.
After coming to America, many of my family members attended synagogue for the first time. In fact, I have extended family that became practicing Orthodox Jews. My immediate family, however, was barely religious. The extent of my participation in Judaism was the Shabbat service on Fridays for several years. Over time, I limited my attendance to just the holy holidays, and, eventually, I ceased attending service altogether.
I don’t remember a distinct moment when I stopped believing in God, but I also can’t remember a moment when I started. People often speak of hearing or seeing God in their lives or having spiritual experiences. There was no such moment for me. My attendance at the synagogue was merely a routine that I followed until I could choose not to. I listened to the songs and the Rabbi’s sermon, but none of it ever resonated with me. Despite the absence of religious guidance, I have lived a life trying to emulate the better virtues and find my cup full.
Faith is incompatible with reason
“Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals.” — Christopher Hitchens
The cost of faith was always too high for me. To have faith in something means to believe in it regardless of intervening revelations. Meanwhile, to put stock in reason means to hold the values of logic, rationality, and evidence above personal bias and belief. Faith and reason are like two bubble universes that may coincidentally graze each other, but, ultimately, operate under different rules.
In more enlightened times, religious followers would argue that faith and reason are, in fact, compatible. In October 2014, Pope Francis gave credence to the theories of evolution and the Big Bang as being compatible with Christian doctrine. It is certainly a more liberal stance than when the Church used to execute scientists as heretics.
The problem is that theists still demand the presence of God in the universe and will hold their gospels as sacred. However, there are no sacred texts in science. There are established theories and laws that are generally accepted as true, however, no theory is beyond criticism and revision. While, there are moments where religion will tip its hat towards science, where there is conflict, God will triumph in the eyes of the devout.
By holding faith above reason, there is an ever-present danger that faith will be used to justify immoral action. From the crusades, when Christianity was spread by the sword, to modern actors such as ISIS, faith and devotion have been used as justification for some of the most heinous acts in our history. Even in our western culture, zealots have used faith to distort education, deny reproductive rights, and attack the LGBT community.
Faith is a platitude, a crutch to hold up one’s biases despite mounting evidence to the contrary. At best, people will cling to ideas that have no reasonable foundation. At worst, faith can be used to subvert rationality and perpetuate evil.
Whether it is faith in God, friends, or family, blind acceptance cheapens our existence. I love and respect the people in my life because, throughout our time together, they have demonstrated kindness, understanding, support, and many other qualities that make them incredibly valued partners. Recognizing these attributes, rather than relying on blind faith, is a much more sincere way of honoring their part in my life.
You can be a good person without the threat of damnation
Kindness and empathy are not only virtues, they are necessary for the continuation of our society. Religion does not have a monopoly on these qualities. I was raised to care for my family and friends and to recognize the suffering of others. Neither my parents nor my grandparents were raised in religious environments. Yet, we are not criminals, nor have we been cruel or deceitful to our neighbors.
The influence of religion on law and order cannot be discounted. Whether through scripture or the sermon, religion can be seen as a unifying force that promulgates ethical teachings. However, an examination of history also reveals that religious organizations were more than vessels for God’s will. They held power and sway with the authority to act as judge, jury, and executioner.
“The Inquisition was a powerful office set up within the Catholic Church to root out and punish heresy throughout Europe and the Americas….the Spanish Inquisition was a dominant force for more than 200 years, resulting in some 32,000 executions.” — Cullen Murphy
There is a belief that the abandonment of religious values would result in a lawless and godless society. Visions of post-apocalyptic movies are brought to mind as scavengers raze buildings and disregard the social order. However, in a society bound by secular laws, is there still a need for religious guidance?
Nearly every denomination of faith has a dark past and, in many cases, a questionable present. Society should not take guidance on moral, social, and political issues from organizations whose teachings are rooted in prophecy and bathed in blood. We put too much weight on the positive teachings of the church and minimize the fallacies.
“I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [mind] and here [heart] and what you decide to do every day will make you a good man…or not.” — Kingdom of Heaven
The building of a better person starts in the home, not the church. We must raise our kids to be empathetic and kind. Not for fear of God’s damnation, but for the simple reason that a positive community will be mutually beneficial for our co-existence. Parents are not just the builders of family, they are the foundation of our society. The positive virtues that they instill in their children will resonate in perpetuity.
There is no scripture to define life, the meaning comes from you
“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” — Stanley Kubrick
We live on a spec of dust in the cosmos. The notion that, out of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, our galaxy is chosen by God is the ultimate form of hubris. The reality is that death, eternity, and cosmic indifference are frightening concepts. The scope of scientific discovery cannot quell the endless questions about our existence. Where science may always lack answers, religion steps in to wrap mankind in a security blanket to scare away the darkness.
Scripture provides a finish line that science never could. An explanation of the final resting place of our eternal souls. Just like praying to Poseidon for a safe voyage quieted the fears of ancient greeks, so does an eternal afterlife in God’s embrace pacify the masses. There is a reason for suffering. There is a reward for morality. With those thoughts, religious followers can move through life content.
The reality is that nobody can say what happens after death. There is no way to measure or observe the care or indifference of God. The only thing we know for sure is that our time on this planet is limited.
When we are no longer bound to the will of an unknown, unseen, entity the world opens up and the real journey begins. It is the responsibility of every person to fight contentment and seek out greater meaning in their own life. When I think back to my childhood, in moments when I was embarrassed, I remind myself that nobody pays as much attention to me as I do. Without a watchful universe, your choices truly belong to you.
My life is filled with memories of rain-filled afternoons hanging out with my sister. Board games played with friends. Poems that filled my world with beautiful prose. The taste of my grandmother’s cake and the smell of my mother’s piroshki. I have made choices that I am proud of and ones that I regret. I have watched crushes move on and friends move away. I have lived a thousand lives through the books that filled my shelves. I do not need to wait for a final reward, I am already living it.