(Via A.)

I used to fret a lot about what to believe. How, given the multiplicity of belief systems and ideologies, could anyone possibly make any sense of it all? How could you decide? Everyone argued the same facts differently or presented a different set of facts or reasons justifying their position, and I, stuck in the middle, didn't know what to think. Ultimately, I felt doomed to having either no opinion at all, just picking a convenient belief system and sticking to it out of sheer stubbornness, or spending the rest of my life flip-flopping without any rhyme or reason. Oddly enough, I convinced myself that I was okay with that. After all, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," right? Why not content myself with that and stand wherever I happen to fall at the moment?

This didn't satisfy me though. I felt there had to be a basis for believing what you believed. I felt there needed to be some fixed criteria at least for believing what you believed at any given moment even if the contents of your beliefs changed over time. But what?

It took about a year of therapy and some reading suggested to me by a colleague, but eventually I found the answer. It started out as a small hint. Something I picked up in a book and some articles I read. I didn't particularly like the consequences of this new approach when I thought about it, but the idea intrigued and fascinated me beyond the point that I could ignore it. Frankly, it scared me, because I knew it would change who I am and how people saw me. Yet, at the same time, I felt I had to try it out. As I look back now, I'm almost embarrassed at how obvious the answer turned out to be.

Quite simply, I decided I would no longer believe anything for which no evidence existed. What's more, I would no longer build my life around any ideas or beliefs that could not be supported by evidence. Rather, I would rely on myself, my intellect, and what I could see, feel, taste, touch, and justify through reason.

It hasn't been easy. I've experienced some guilt, and I still struggle to avoid old ways of thinking. And, to be frank, I've been so shy about coming out of the closet that I even still attend mass. But even if I'm sitting in the church pews listening to a sermon, I think to myself, "Do I really believe that?" Sure, I may think the priest has made a good point about morality, but the supernatural gobbledygook sounds just plain silly to me. I take whatever I find useful from a few different religious traditions, but I don't buy into it all. I find practical value in the community and thinking about the fact that there are more important things in life than what our consumer culture preaches, but I don't believe any of those things come from a supreme being or from any kind of supernatural order. I do or believe certain things because they work, not because the imaginary "Big Guy Upstairs" expects it of me.

Furthermore, I refuse to believe that a supposedly kind, merciful, and loving god would insist that anyone refrain from using their intelligence. That a god who cared about people would be so emotionally manipulative as to author or inspire scripture that the evidence clearly contradicts simply to test us. And, failing that test, he will send us to hell. That seems cruel and manipulative. If a person did that to their own child, we would call that person a sadist. If a man did anything like that to his wife, we'd consider him an abuser. Yet religion tells us this is the basic modus operandi of a god who allegedly loves us.

Think about this. Most christian denominations consider it a sin to question their theology. Totalitarian governments do the exact same thing. Only instead of threatening you with jail or torture, religion threatens you with eternal damnation in the fires of hell if you refuse to tow the party line. That's not hope, charity or love, folks. That's manipulation and cruelty. When you raise a child that way you're basically using guilt to cripple a child's intellectual curiosity. I can say from first hand experience that it is very difficult to understand just how disturbing this kind of thinking is until you manage to step outside of it yourself. It's the stuff fascist dictatorships are made of.

I don't dislike religion or religious people. Actually, almost everyone I know and love practices religion in one way or another. I fact, I think religion can, in some ways, serve a useful function in society. While I'm not out to ruin anyone's Christmas dinner or anything, I refuse to let fuzzy thinking infect my brain or otherwise indiscriminately drink the Kool-Aid served up by organized religion. I stand on my own two feet, listen with my own two ears, and use the space in between to make up my own mind.

I believe that life came about through evolution. I believe the world started with the Big Bang. I think science can and will explain our existence on this planet, and relying on science and its methods is the best way to make decisions about our individual and collective lives. We are mature enough as a species to think for ourselves without resort to myths that purport to explain our origins and guide us into the future without the support of physical evidence. I believe the answers to life's big questions will be discovered through the scientific investigation of nature.

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