God is love? Why am I not seeing that?

And when will we ever have religious tolerance?

The other day, I read an article shared on Facebook by my friend Derek, an active member of the Skeptic community who is mostly known for his fight against the anti-vaccine movement. Although Derek has been sharing tons of articles about vaccines and the harm currently being done by the anti-vax movement these days — after all, measles is on the rise because of parents opting out of the MMR vaccine for their kids — this particular article was about the role of religion in child rearing. Titled “Godless Parents are Doing a Better Job,” it summarized information in an Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece titled “How Secular Family Values Stack Up.” That, in turn, summarized the findings of several polls and studies.

Because so many people seem to think that atheists and non-believers in general — the so-called “nones” — are amoral and likely evil, it was good to see an article that confirmed my thoughts on the subject: that belief in a God has no bearing on a person’s morals. I shared the article on my Facebook timeline with the following description:

Takeaway quote: “Parents who raise their kids without religion are doing just fine, studies say, possibly even better. Overall, not believing in God seems to make people and their offspring more tolerant. Less racist. Less sexist. Enviro-friendly. And their kids care less about what’s cool, which—say it with me—only makes them cooler.” That last bit also makes them more practical and more likely to live within their means — something that has made a huge difference in my life and my ability to be and stay happy.

My post got a modest two “likes” and, more surprisingly, two “shares.” One of the shares was by my friend Barbara, who used the description:

An interesting article, sure to stir up lots of discussion. And I would love to know more about each individual study. For me, the take home is that a strong moral foundation, no matter what you call it, is the key to successful parenting.

Clearly, Barbara drew a similar conclusion to what I did, although she did hint at skepticism by saying she wanted to know more about the studies.

Sadly, Barbara’s Facebook friends weren’t quite as open-minded about the piece. Most of them latched on to the unfortunate lede of the article:

Hate to break it to you, Bible thumpers: Parents who raise their kids without religion are doing just fine, studies say, possibly even better.

Ouch. Apparently, believers don’t like the phrase “Bible thumpers.” Although the author was trying to be cute, all she (not he, as those who claimed to read the piece referred to her — I guess there are some men named Tracy, although their profile pics don’t usually show a woman holding a small child) managed to do was alienate anyone who dislikes that trite descriptor. I suspect that most stopped reading there, because their comments were more about the author’s bias than what came after that first sentence.

I see a lot of that. People who simply switch off their brains when they get to a word or phrase they don’t like. It makes it tough for writers to get what they want to say out if they have to worry about a choice of words offending a particular part of their audience.

(I suspect that the title of this post will have the same affect. How many people will comment without bothering to read it? Read the comments and figure it out for yourself.)

I attempted to comment about this from the point of view of a non-believer:

I agree totally with Barbara when she says that a strong moral foundation is necessary. But I do not believe that God or any religion is necessary for that moral foundation.

This particular website tends to present articles with a very definite slant — likely to fire up emotions and get hits — but if the conclusions presented here are backed up by real studies, the presentation tone is beside the point.

I also do not see how she is singling out Christians in any way. And doesn’t really make a difference that there are more people who believe in God than people who don’t? The “nones” are a growing segment of our society. When faced with the choice of a country run by politicians who want to insert religion instead of science in our schools, I’ll vote for a “none” any day.

I then took it a step farther:

As you’ve probably guessed from my comments, I am a non-believer. But I was raised as a Catholic including regular attendance at Sunday school until after Confirmation. Still, I don’t think I ever really believed that there was a higher power in control of the show down here on earth.

About those studies…

I’ve had time to do some searching. Here’s some reading material for those of you who think atheists are amoral. Educate yourself:

Religion Doesn’t Make People More Moral, Study Finds,” livescience, September 2014.

Atheists More Motivated by Compassion than the Faithful,” livescience, May 2014.

Study Reveals Atheists Are MORE Compassionate And Generous Than Highly Religious People,” Addicting Info, May 2012

Highly religious people are less motivated by compassion than are non-believers,” UC Berkeley Newscenter, April 2012.

Atheists ‘just as ethical as churchgoers’,” The Telegraph, February 2010

Believers seem to think that without belief in a God to punish us for our “sins,” people will have no moral foundation for life. Studies have shown that this is not true. And no, unfortunately I cannot provide links to such studies at this moment. As a nonbeliever, I think it’s sad that people need to live in fear of punishment by God to simply do the right thing. I don’t need a list of Commandments to tell me what’s right or what’s wrong. It was not me, the atheist, who committed adultery – it was my believer husband who did so. It was not me, the atheist, who stole and misused funds given to me by people who trusted me – it was more than a few televangelists preaching the word of their God.

It’s the hypocrisy of believers — not all of them, I hope — that makes me angry. Yet I’m still very tolerant. As far as I’m concerned, people can believe whatever they want, as long as their beliefs do not harm others. Sadly, very few believers are tolerant of people like me who do not share their beliefs. Tell me: who’s on a higher moral ground?

I was ignored. The comments continued to revolve around the bias of the author, continuously referring to her as “he.” They were clearly made by people who had not bothered to read the entire piece or the piece it was based on. Instead, they took offense at “Bible thumper” and focused their angry comments on that.

Finally, I commented:

As usual, everyone misses the point.

And that’s when the attack turned on me. Someone said:

The point you’ve missed, Maria L, is that if you believe in God, it’s about love, not punishment.

It’s about love?

God is Love?

They Say God is LoveI remember “God is love” from Sunday school. In fact, it’s the only thing that sticks with me all these years later. I’d like to think that they tried to teach us more than that simple phrase, but, in all honesty, that’s all I remember. It’s almost as if it was pounded into our heads.

Heck, I don’t even remember any Bible stories being taught.

But even back then, “God is love” was meaningless to me. And as I sit here, I still can’t imagine what this is supposed to mean.

And if a belief in God is “about love,” then why do religious folks bring moral standards into the argument all the time? Why do they say atheists are amoral? Love and moral values are two different things.

Aren’t they?

Seems to me that the person who responded to my last comment was just regurgitating the same nonsense they pounded into our heads in Catholic Sunday school. It didn’t make sense to me then and it doesn’t make sense to me now.

In fact, given the history of the world, God seems to represent just the opposite: a reason to hate.

God and Hate

Try — if you can — to look objectively at the role of religion in current and past conflicts.

Nowadays, the big problem is terrorism by radicalized Muslims who believe that the world should be run according to strict adherence to Sharia Law. This set of laws is painfully outdated and ill-suited for today’s world. (Yes, that’s my opinion. Read the law objectively before you tell me you don’t agree.) Worse than that is the simple fact that since it is based on the Qur’an and Hadith — which have no bearing on non-Muslims — there’s no chance that it could ever be adopted by the entire world.

Yet there’s rampant hate, murder, and terrorist acts by these radicalized Muslims who claim that they are acting on the will of Allah — their name for God.

(Or is it a different God? I’ve never been able to figure that out.)

But it’s not just Muslims committing atrocities in the name of God. You don’t have to look back very far to see radicalized Christians bombing abortion clinics and killing doctors because of their beliefs. Heck, Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to information about anti-abortion violence. Is this any different from Muslim terrorism?

And what about the Westboro Baptist Church‘s unsavory practice of picketing funerals — including the school children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School and those killed at the Boston Marathon bombing — to somehow protest gay rights. (Yeah, I don’t get the connection, either.)

You want some more information about Christians behaving badly? Check out Wikipedia’s Christian Terrorism page. (I didn’t even know there was such a thing until I started researching for this blog post.)

Hateful acts perpetrated in the name of God isn’t a recent thing, either. Look back in history and you’ll find the Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Crusades. These are just three examples off the top of my head. I could spend all day searching for, reading about, and linking to other examples.

By why bother? I think I’ve made my point.

Non-Believers as Targets for Hate

I guess what bothers me most is how many people simply hate non-believers. I’m not sure why that is. If God is love, then surely that love should help believers tolerate the different viewpoints of others. After all, what is love?

Wikipedia defines love as:

Love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection (“I love my mother”) to pleasure (“I loved that meal”). It can refer to an emotion of a strong attraction and personal attachment. It can also be a virtue representing human kindness, compassion, and affection—”the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another”. It may also describe compassionate and affectionate actions towards other humans, one’s self or animals.

Yep, I added the emphasis.

If this is love and God is love then why are so many who claim to believe in God so full of hate?

Why can I, as a non-believer, have tolerance for religious belief systems when believers can’t have tolerance for mine?

Back to the Study Results

The article I should have linked to, the one without the offensive “Bible banger” phrase, is the one in the LA Times. If you haven’t read it, go do it now. It’s short and I promise it won’t offend you, no matter what you believe (or don’t believe).

It presents some conclusions that I find both confirming and reassuring. Because I know that most of you won’t bother to read it, I’ve shared a bit of it here:

For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs. As one atheist mom who wanted to be identified only as Debbie told me: “The way we teach them what is right and what is wrong is by trying to instill a sense of empathy … how other people feel. You know, just trying to give them that sense of what it’s like to be on the other end of their actions. And I don’t see any need for God in that. …

“If your morality is all tied in with God,” she continued, “what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children … no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”

The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Aren’t those all good qualities we want in our children and adults?

And look, Ma, no God!

Comments

Go to it. I know you have something to say.

I suspect this post will make the rounds of the religious websites, which will use it to show how evil atheists are. Whatever. It’s the same old, same old to me. I’ll just let those comments stand as they come in. I’m sure a good percentage of them will reinforce the truth of what I’ve written here.

I could remind commenters to read the entire post before commenting but most people can’t be bothered. The kinds of commenters who have nasty, hateful things to say don’t have time to actually read what they’re commenting on. They have lots of other sites to visit to spread their hate. It’s more efficient for them to zero in on a post title or sentence or phrase and comment on that.

But I also welcome comments by others who agree with what I’ve said — especially from those who can help me understand why this problem exists and what we can do about it — without pretending to believe something we don’t.

18 thoughts on “God is love? Why am I not seeing that?

  1. Excellent post, I absolutely loved every word. (Yes, I did read every word before commenting). I have tried to articulate something similar but it went in a different direction.

    I have shared this on my Facebook page and Twitter feed, just to spread this wonderful gem. Thank you for taking the time to write it, along with researching and adding links.

    Peace.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on what I wrote. It’s hard not to be angry spiteful when I feel as if I’m constantly under attack for my beliefs/non-beliefs. (I didn’t even another Facebook friend hinting that he thought atheists were “hopeless.”) Tolerance is the way to go. Live and let live.

      And yes, peace. :-)

  2. Well said, Maria! You have said exactly how I too feel. My children were all raised by two atheists and they are incredible citizens. My youngest, however, turned to religion when she was 16 and that is okay, she has retained her instincts as to what is right and what is wrong, I figure she needs something. When my grandson was about 6 he asked me why I never went to church. I told him, “Because I think a person can be really good without going to church” and let it stand at that. I was not going to cause any friction between myself and my daughter. Sure wish I could know what she needed. Since then, I’ve decided that most people who need to believe are lacking something. I don’t know if it is self-esteem, lack of confidence in one’s own decisions, fear or something else. My daughter doesn’t seem to meet any of that criteria. But to me it is a sign of weakness, not of strength. I too see many examples of the “religious” not doing what is best for society. You pointed out just a few. In my opinion, religion is the root of all evil. Yes, there are good people too and I accept them, but usually that acceptance is not reciprocated. Thank you for speaking out. I am much more outspoken now in my later years than I was as a youngster and I resolve to improve. Over the last 20 years or so, my friends have realized that I don’t believe, don’t pray and don’t drink liquor. Remember the days when it was expected that we provide liquor to our guests? . .

    • While I tend to agree with your comments regarding weakness vs. strengths, I prefer not to go any farther than that. I try so hard to keep an open mind about this stuff, but it’s hard when you see so much bad stuff done in the name of religion. I keep reminding myself that not all religious people are bad. It’s just a small percentage. But since there are so many relgious people in the world, the bad apples seem to outnumber those of us who aren’t religious at all.

      I just read Kat’s blog post about religion. (She commented above.) You might want to check it out: Religions are Just Security Blankets. I think you will also agree with much of what she said.

  3. Wow…so many thoughts on what you’ve written. And before I go any farther, just wanted to say that I did read your whole post, and I actually read all your posts and have commented before (I am learning to fly helicopter.)

    I am a Christian myself, but sadly I have to agree with just about everything you’ve written. These are the questions I’ve struggled with, having been raised in a strict Christian home. Sadly, most people that claim to be Christians treat people worse than those that don’t! They use their religion, their standards, as a source of pride to make themselves feel better than everyone else. They totally miss the point of being a Christian…like Christ. There was a point in early adulthood when I was sick and tired of the mess and hypocrisy and ready to give it up…and then I met some people that truly were Christians, that were real, that really did love and care about others. But sadly, this is not the norm. :-(

    It’s sad that a small amount of people inside a denomination can bring a bad name on everyone. You mentioned the crazies at Westboro Baptist. What a messed up group of people!! But I am Baptist, have been since I was born 28 years ago. I’ve been to hundreds of Baptist churches in the south east, and I think it’s safe to say that no one in any of these churches agrees with Westboro!! It’s often been said that it’s a shame they use the Baptist name!

    On the other hand, Baptists, especially in our area, are known for being critical. We have a preacher friend who started a church with an emphasis on helping the inner city homeless people in the area. After struggling, he realized that the Baptist name was giving a him a bad name, and he changed the name of his church from Baptist to Christian. Of course there was an uproar in the Baptist community, but this guy is real, and truly wants to be Christlike and help people. And without that name to hold him back, he has been able to show people true love. :-)

    So, sadly, though I have to agree with you, there are a few Christians out there that are real. It’s such a shame that this is not the norm, though!! :-(

    • First, don’t be sad if you have to agree with an atheist on certain points. Agreeing with me on some things doesn’t mean you’ve given up your belief in God or other parts of your religion.

      And I know that Westboro doesn’t represent all Baptists or all Christians. We can all be glad about that.

      I wish more people were truly Christ-like — in other words, followed the teachings of Christ. You don’t need to be Christian to be a good person who cares about his/her fellow man. Heck, you can even be an atheist. :-)

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post. I love getting thoughtful, well-presented comments from all sides of an issue.

  4. I seldom mention my “religious” beliefs, as they’re so deeply personal. I have friends of all kinds of belief systems, and I’d like to think I’m open-minded and accepting, whether or not I feel the same about my own life.

    I do find, though, that it’s the judgmentalism, the criticism, the condescending attitudes that get in the way. I remember my dad truly believing that if you didn’t believe what he did that you were wrong. Period. Lots of people are that way. I’m not one of them.

    I have my beliefs. You have yours. Others have theirs. In my ideal world, we’d each respect that. This world is not my ideal world, though.

    Oh — and just FYI… I grew up in a very conservative baptist church. By age 12 my parents had enough of the judgmentalism and changed to a much more open-minded presbyterian church. That seemed to fit a lot better. It still held a lot of roadblocks for me, though (like they still believed non-christians were doomed to hell… when I asked about people in distant places who hadn’t even heard of Jesus Christ, I got blank looks or comments that it was our job to find them and let them know… still didn’t answer my questions, of course.)

    I was always curious, wondering why people believed what they did and wondering about all kinds of religions. I went to a variety of churches with my friends, discussed their beliefs with them a lot, and I explored a LOT.

    In college I ended up taking a lot of religious studies classes to continue my exploration. I could have declared it as a minor and then some (not sure why I didn’t… I guess it didn’t matter, as I was just exploring).

    Long story short, I’ve gained quite a perspective by being open-minded, curious, and exploring people’s beliefs. My own beliefs are my own. I do believe in God, but not the one that people try to define… as people muck it all up, IMO. I do believe many religions are seeking the same things but in different ways. I also don’t think atheists are evil or amoral… they’re my friends as well.

    Sadly, from what I’ve seen, my own open-mindedness is not shared by so many. I’ve seen people who believe in God judge and criticize those who don’t believe exactly the same as them, and I’ve seen people who DON’T believe in God criticize those who do… I see all sorts of silliness. I wish people could learn to just be accepting or at least respectful of other’s views. Wars are over religious beliefs, after all… and it’s just ridiculous, IMO.

    • I agree with you entirely on all points, Shirley. In my opinion, religious debate is kind of silly. Believe what you want and let other people believe what they want. What’s the big deal, right?

  5. I would classify myself as an agnostic, but with definite atheistic leanings. I am in complete agreement with your post and MOST of your other commenters. It is my general opinion that from the beginning of recorded time, there are few basic reasons that cause conflict. Natural resources, or the lack of same, and religious conflicts, plus the simple need of some for domination. I have friends of several religions, and tolerate their belief as personal, and does not affect me. One of your commenters mentioned an automatic trip to hell if you aren’t of their belief, and was surprised it wasn’t Catholic. Evidently there are others who share that opinion. I enjoy reading your posts, but have seldom commented. Please keep up the good work. Alan

  6. People who choose to lead their lives free of religion and other superstitious beliefs have to actively think about what constitutes a moral and ethical existence, while religious believers have that dictated to them by someone else.

    Atheists and agnostics then have to confirm and reinforce their moral and ethical choices through their actions, while religious people appear to believe that they can do this simply by professing the depth of their belief though words.

    In my book, actions speak louder than words.

    • You nailed it, Sean. Actions definitely speak louder than words. It’s a shame that more people don’t understand this.

      Organized religion is like a club. When you claim to be a member and “prove” it through participation in rituals and attendance at a church, synagogue, or mosque, people assume that you’ve got moral standards. In contrast, if you’re not a member of the religion club, they assume that you don’t. I think that’s what bothers me most about organized religion. If you’re not a member of the club, you have lower standing in the eyes of certain members.

  7. Talk is cheap, which is why TV preachers give out so much of it. I think their record as far as actions go speaks for itself.

  8. Well put Maria.
    Morality is not owned by the believers. Trying to be a decent person should not be an exclusive sect.
    As the agnostic product of a Catholic mum and a notionally Protestant dad, I know too much already about that particular interface.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment. You got me back here today to re-read this. I really wish more people — both believers and non-believers — would take the time to THINK about this issue objectively instead of making judgements based on their belief systems. Good people are good, no matter what they believe (or don’t believe).