Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Originally published in Freethought today:
There are many religious believers in my life, most of whom are good people, kind, compassionate and empathetic in their everyday actions. It can be hard to square their beliefs with the god I was taught to believe in growing up as a Catholic.
As I started to question the god I learned about, I came to reject the narcissistic, sadistic and hypocritically judgmental deity of the bible. However, in my social circle, I was an anomaly. Somehow, the people around me were able to parse the good parts of the belief system from the objectively awful parts. I was taught that man was created in God’s image, but all the good people I know are nothing at all like the god of the bible.
One afternoon, my husband and I heard a lawnmower on our property and we looked outside to see our Christian neighbor with his lawnmower. When I asked him why he had mowed our lawn, he said that he had noticed that my husband’s work truck had stayed in the same place for several weekdays in a row. Aware that my husband was not one to let our lawn get to an unsightly length, he thought he may have been sick, and decided to mow it for us. It turned out that was exactly why our lawn had gone uncut, and we were grateful to our neighbor. The only reason that we knew our neighbor was a Christian was because he had politely invited us to a church service when we first moved in. We respectfully declined. That was the one and only time he mentioned it. For the entire time we lived next to him, we traded friendly words and kind favors.
However, other believers I know seem to emulate the dark side of the god of the bible. They are polite with their first invitation, expressing disingenuous understanding when the offer is declined. But they then continue with the questions and offers of salvation, moving from passive-aggressive comments to outward hostility when their invitations are repeatedly declined. They finally digress into open disdain and threats of eternal damnation, reminiscent of the god of my childhood nightmares — the one who would sentence otherwise good people to an afterlife of hellfire for the simple transgression of unbelief.
When I came to the conclusion that there was no god, there was a certain period of grief at the loss of the good parts of the god I was taught. He was the one who looked out for me, loved me and would invite me to hang out with my grandma when my life on Earth was over. So, I do understand the reluctance for some people to let go of that belief. It seems that sometimes, rather than give up the idea of God, people may reinvent him in an image that is moral, just and kind.
Ultimately, it is hard for me to understand how anyone can live their life believing they were created in the image of such a malevolent deity as the one depicted in the bible and not reject it outright. I think they actually have rejected that horrible deity, however. Maybe realizing that the one who found it necessary to drown the whole world except for one family and two of each animal was not worthy of worship. They simply recreated a god in their own images: A god that goes out of their way to help people and asks nothing in return. A god that really does love unconditionally. A god that created heaven for everyone — believers and nonbelievers alike. A god that couldn’t care less whether you believe or worship it.
While I do not believe in any gods, I do believe in the goodness of my fellow humans. They are the ones worthy of my praise and admiration.