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Letter on Religion

Thank you for writing to me about how you felt about your religion. You wanted a response - and I wanted to tell you the things I’m about to over the phone so you could actually hear my voice - I wanted you to know how honest, sincere and open I’m being in what I say. How much I believe in what I’m saying. We never seem to get the chance to discuss this, and when we are on the phone, it does seem a little difficult to say, “hey, let’s change the subject to our differing religious beliefs.”

So, so you don’t think I was avoiding the questions, I’ll answer them now, point-by-point, from your previous letter.

You first ask me what I think happens to us when we die. You believe one of two things happens - you’re either saved by Jesus Christ and spend eternity in heaven with God, or you spend eternity separated from God.

Whoa, I think I’ve got to cover some other ground about me before I even respond to that one. Okay, here goes: I’m a very rational person by nature (you may not think so by some of the stupid things I’ve done in the past, but I’ve grown up, as have you, and I’ll get into all that later). There is no proof that a God exists - that is inherent and necessary in religion, abandoning reason and having faith that a God exists. And for every situation where a religious person refers to God’s influence, I can give at least three other possibilities that are more grounded in reason - reality - than theirs. The concept of a God doesn’t make sense to me when there are so many other, more rational, possibilities. Something has to be proven to me in order for me to believe it. Or at least be provable.

Morals taught by religion and the notion of a God are not usually bad, in fact, they are often quite redeeming in society - not killing people, being monogamous, being kind to others - but those are morals, virtues, values, which by definition are not based on religion. One can learn good values, morals without a God or religion. It’s just that most people, as I see it, cannot see a consequence to being “good” unless the consequence is a God. I see consequences in doing good, for myself as well as others, and that is why I choose to be a good, kind, successful person.

Okay, I think that starts to cover the basics, so now I can go back to your letter... You believe there are two possibilities for you when you die. Since I don’t believe in a God, I believe one thing happens - you die (worm food, to be rude). That I believe is the other major reason why religion and this notion of God has existed for so long - because people are afraid to face death - people really don’t want to believe that death is an end for them. Well, it is an end - for their body, for their personality - of course, their matter and energy go on to exist in new forms after their death, but when you die, you die. That’s what I believe. Your memory can last in others, you can have an effect on other people’s lives after your death, but when you die, you simply cease to exist.

Then you say that you want me to be in heaven with you. Thank you, I really thought that was very sweet. If there was a heaven, I’d want to be there with you, too. If there was a heaven, I would hope that your God would look at the life I’ve lead and think I’m a good person and give me the chance to be a part of his Kingdom after my death. After I’ve seen his existance. If your God was unwilling to give me that chance, then I don’t think I’d like your God.

Then you refer to sharing the joy of heaven with me, and the joy of being with the Lord. There’s another joy I experience, not related to a God, which I don’t think you realize. I’ll explain in a moment.

Yes, you’ve always claimed to be a Christian, and sometimes you haven’t led a very Christ-like life. Most people are that way, and it bothers me that people claim to have beliefs but don’t live by them. They’re not really beliefs then, and all these people are lacking a belief system that they understand. The fact that you’ve decided to actually pay attention to the beliefs you claimed to have before is an admirable thing.

Personally, I think you’re going in the wrong direction, because I think the structure your beliefs depend on - Christianity - is a falsehood, but at least you’ve decided to live by the beliefs you’ve claimed for so long.

You write that since your decision to grow in the Lord, you haven’t felt like running away and trying to fill an emptiness in your life with alcohol or sex. That’s good - we all have to come to that point at some time in our lives in order to adhere to a value system. I think I’ve come to that point as well, but by a different means.

Then you ask me: which is better, being a super-intellectual who doesn’t believe in God and has an emptiness in their life, or being the person who has Christ in their life filling that void?

Wow. There are a two things I’d like to say about that last sentence. First, it’s funny how a super-intellectual doesn’t believe in God, but apparently you can’t be a super-intellectual and believe in God (well, that’s true, but I didn’t think you’d write it). Second, you forgot my category - being a super-intellectual who doesn’t believe in God and has no emptiness in their life. I fill my own void. I am whole.

You see similarities between us, and you say that in my searches for the right party or the right man I was looking for Jesus. Well, in the past I suppose I was searching for something else when I was looking for the right party or the right man, but I found it. Myself. I’ve discovered that I’m an intelligent, powerful, beautiful, dedicated, driven woman who can do whatever I set my mind to. I’ve discovered that when I use the best tools I have - my mind - I can succeed in making myself happy, in accomplishing my goals. And you know, knowing that about myself, believing in my abilities as a person - gives me the drive to do what I want and need with my life, and makes me truly happy, deep-down happy. It gives me what you call joy.

And it gives me even a greater joy knowing that it is my mind - my mind, my abilities, my power, not some God’s - that makes my life complete. I have complete dominion over my life. I’m the one I answer to.

I can have a bad day or I can have a good day. Something wrong can happen to me or my circumstances. But I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of, and I have no regrets, and I know that I’ll make it though anything I choose to tackle. I’ll make it through what I choose to tackle, not what your God helps me through. And knowing that I’m a complete human being gives me great joy.

You write that God has helped you in your dealings with AIDS. I’m sure it has - when your world doesn’t make sense, when you’re faced with your own mortality, it’s a great comfort to make sense of it all.That’s often a course of action for many people who get AIDS, when they don’t feel they are strong enough to depend on themselves. People I know in AIDS groups say that’s one of the common routes for people who find out they have AIDS. That’s one of the steps most sufferers of traumatic events go through. That’s what victim-blaming is in cases of rape - it makes no sense that a man did this to a woman, but if it is the woman’s fault, the woman could know what she did wrong - correct the actions of the woman, and the woman is safe from rape - but it’s just not true. This is what you’ve done with your God. God was your answer to all of your questions - not the right answer, in my opinion, but an answer when you could find nothing else.

You say that God is using your situation to help others. No, you’re using your situation to help others. It’s that simple.

You feel that your church is a place for activism. Your church rejects homosexuality. Your church doesn’t believe women are on equal footing with men. The Bible says so. Activism within the church could mean the sharing of values and morals and good beliefs, but I fear that activism within the church would mean the spread of narrow-minded ideas such as homophobia and sexism.

Then you share a few verses with me. The first is John 3:16 (He gave His only son...). You then say “That’s unconditional love. God loves me and you no matter what we say or do. I think that’s wonderful.”

I don’t think that’s wonderful. It makes no sense to give unconditional love. If love is unconditional, then there is no value in it. If you love something or someone whether that something or someone is good or bad, you love something or someone whether you want to or not, then it is not earned, it is not chosen, and it is not a value and it possesses no worth. Value is a standard to be judged by; worth is defined as deserving of or meriting. To me, love is a standard that people earn and therefore deserve, and that is what makes it valuable to me.

You say you can’t believe you lived as long as you did without believing these words. “Yes, it means you don’t get the credit for the things you’ve done, but at the same time, you realize the Lord has a hand in it,” you write. But God didn’t have a hand in it, Gods have been created by people throughout the ages to answer the unanswerable. People created rain gods when they didn’t understand the weather. People created gods for harvests when they didn’t know if they could sustain themselves, when they didn’t have the knowledge to harvest successfully. People created gods that reflected the stars and planets when they didn’t understand the universe beyond the world. People created a God to explain how the world began, how to live well, and what will happen after our lives end. All these gods reflected the image of man and earth. But they were all created.

God doesn’t have a hand in what you do, you do, and you should thus take responsibility - and credit - for what you do.

“Yes, bad things still happen, but you know that God will see you through them,” you write. Yes. bad things still happen, but you know that you will see you through them, you, not your God.

And that brings us to the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness comes and goes. Joy is forever. I even have times that aren’t happy, but I never lose Joy or Hope.

You wrote that sentence, and you wrote it about your God. I could have written that sentence, but it would have been about me.

You really want me to experience the same joy you have. I think I do. And my joy comes from within. You can’t find joy from within, so you find it in your God.

Then you write: “Now let’s say I’m wrong. When you die, you’re just dead and there’s nothing else. Well I’m still happy trusting in God and I won’t have lost anything.”

The thing is, if there is no God, you have lost - you’ve lost your life. You’ve spent your life living for something that wasn’t real, that didn’t exist. You’ve spent your life relying on something other than yourself. You’ve spent your life under false assumptions, not to your full potential, doing what you were not meant to do as a human being. You’ve wasted your life. And to someone who doesn’t believe in a God, you’re life, this lifetime, is all you have, so you’ve lost everything.

“But if I’m right, wouldn’t you like to be with me in heaven?”

As I wrote before, if there was a heaven, I would hope that your God would look at the life I’ve lead and think I’m a good person and give me the chance to be a part of his Kingdom after my death. If I saw a God, if he was shown to me after I died, I think I would be on my knees praising (I mean, you’d have to respect the guy if he really did everything religion claims). If your God was unwilling to give me that chance, then I don’t think I like your God. Besides, that wouldn’t be a God that loves me unconditionally.

---

I don’t think you’re some brainwashed right-wing preacher, as you write. I do think you have intelligence. I also think you’re scared. I think most of us, most people our own age, still feel as invincible as we did when we were too young to understand death, and none of us are really ever ready to face our own mortality.

I wish I could help you with your fears. I don’t know the right words to say, but I know that the answers are within you, and you just have to look for them.

I have thought about this, I wouldn’t just cast aside what you say (I think this letter is evidence to that...). But I’ve thought about this for years; you’d have to do that in order to have a cohesive value system.

And I don’t think this because I think the world is cruel and evil. In fact, I think there is the opportunity for great happiness and joy in life, for great achievements, and for great minds to prosper. But for great minds to prosper, they have to follow reason. Faith may be acceptable for hunches about unimportant day-to-day events, but not with your life.

You have to take your life into your own hands and make it what you want.

I know you won’t read this and agree with me, I’m just hoping you understand me and not worry about me (I get the impression that you do - that you think I have a void in my life and it is only filled with depression, and that’s simply not true). As we grow up, grow old, mature and gain knowledge, we have to come up with a comprehensive value system in order to make our lives complete. I think I’ve done a pretty good job for myself; I’m sure there’s a lot more learning I have to do in my lifetime, but I think I’m on the right track. I hope you are, too.



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