I said no thanks and began to shut the door. The young man asked if I would like to receive Bible studies in the mail for a small donation. Again, I said no thanks. Finally the gal asked if they could pray for me to which I, of course, respectfully declined. They looked at me oddly and wished me a pleasant evening as they made their way to the next home.
In my last essay I talked about evangelicalism and proselytizing (Thoughts On Easter and Religious Criticism) so I'll try not to repeat myself here. There are a few interesting things about today's experience that I'd like to talk about.
Money and Prayer
I found it interesting that this couple of evangelicals only wanted to pray with me after they had dealt with the donation issue. On the one hand this makes perfect sense. The goal of their door-to-door marketing may in fact be to save souls and spread the good news of Jesus, but we all know that this is practically impossible to facilitate without money. On the other hand I find their priorities telling. By the lights of Christian theology, prayer is perhaps the most important and, more succinctly, efficacious aspect of religious life. It is direct communication with the creator of the universe. It seems that if one really believed in the power and possibility of prayer, that would be the place to start. Not with petty petitions for small donations in exchange for a vague and, no doubt, proselytizing book about the
"journey of freedom in America."
"journey of freedom in America."
But this is not uncommon. In my tenure as an evangelical Christian I often heard appeals for donations that began with money and ended with the pious "coveting of thoughts and prayers." I recall a 3.3 million dollar stewardship campaign at my first church home, Pelham First Baptist. During the month-long stewardship campaign every Sunday was geared towards generating money for the already purchased (on faith, of course) multi-million dollar annex the church was building. The pastors cunningly wove a thread of practical pleading with grandiose sermonettes about prayer, faith and trusting the Lord to provide.
I always wondered: what if we don't raise the money? Are we willing to interpret our deficit as God's way of telling us not to build the annex? Perhaps 3.3 million dollars would be better spent, I don't know, feeding the poor, restoring broken homes or improving schools and playgrounds for children in the community.
Well, of course not. The church never did raise all of the money but they sure did start building that annex. On faith. It's the kind of confirmation bias that is so obtuse and steadfast that I find myself slightly in awe of it.
Prayer is invoked to make people think that things other than practical solutions are needed to make this material world function. It's a marketing tool. I've written about the ineffectiveness of prayer in this essay (Counting the Hits and Ignoring the Misses). Check it out. Or don't.
Actually, pray about it!
Whenever I envision people coming to my door to talk about religion I like to imagine myself inviting them in, making some coffee and having a civil discussion about our respective beliefs. However, that rarely happens. Life is busy and talking to a stranger about the nature of God is often awkward, time consuming and ineffective. I'm tempted to pity the travelers. Selling a product, whatever it is, door-to-door is a tough job. I remember doing door-to-door evangelism when I was in high school. We were all so terrified and uncomfortable. I remember how mortified one of the girls was when we coincidentally knocked on the door of one of her friends from school.
The last thing we wanted was for these people to invite us in and present rational arguments for why what we were selling might be as harmful as it is wrong. I could see relief in the faces of my would-be converters as I briskly declined their petitions for money and prayer. In many ways the conversation is a miscarriage, doomed before it even begins.
Some people have accused me of proselytizing for atheism on my blog, twitter feed, and facebook page. I'd like to clear that up, if I may. I do spend a lot of my energy criticizing religion for it's harmful side affects. My thoughtful believing friends share my complaints. I decry the anti-science movement of mainstream Christianity as well as it's rampant homophobic bigotry. I lampoon televangelists preying on the weak and disenfranchised. I point out logic fallacies, cognitive dissonance and behavioral inconsistencies. Yes. But this is hardly trying to sell anyone on what I believe. The truth is, people never ask me what I believe.
Many people incorrectly assume atheism to be a belief system. I've written an essay about this problem (Common Misconceptions: Atheism Is a Religion) but I'll briefly clarify: Atheism is a rejection of a claim, not a positive claim itself. As one satirist noted, if atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby. Not collecting stamps may very well be my favorite hobby because I literally do it all the time. See the difference? Some atheists believe in capitalism while others are socialists. Some atheists believe in free love and peace while others believe in mass genocide. Some atheists are kind and reasonable, others are assholes. You see, people cannot be defined by what they do not believe. There is no word for all of the people in the world who do not believe in Santa Clause.
Well, actually we call them adults.
What Do I Believe?
I subscribe to a worldview called secular humanism. Secular humanism is defined as the embracement of human reason, ethics and justice while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, psuedoscience, or superstition as the basis for reality or decision making.
I believe in methodological naturalism as the only reliable way of building models that correspond with observable reality. This is not to be confused with metaphysical naturalism which states that ONLY matter exists. If I were a betting man I would bet on materialism. However, because this is simply unknowable, I respectfully reserve judgment until more evidence is in.
I believe in objective, provisional morality. There is no evidence for either absolute or relative morality. Rather, morality evolves with our understanding of pain values. The evolution of morality is clearly seen in the annals of history and as our bioethics continues to evolve we may even arrive at a place where it is immoral to kill ants. Morality is objective because it belongs to the species, not the individual. This is the most reasonable and rational view of morality I have ever encountered. If you would like to read about it I highly recommend Michael Shermer's wonderful book, "The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share and Follow the Golden Rule."
I believe in the reproductive freedom of women. I also believe in a very serious and evolving conversation about the nature of life, consciousness, conception and value. We simply do not know enough to deny women their reproductive freedom. I believe existing life is more important than potential life. Both sides of this debate have a lot of growing up to do.
I believe that any and all homosexual bigotry is unfounded, shameful and evil. It is a monstrous movement completely motivated by religious fundamentalism and will be a hallmark of religion's dinosaur-like relevance in the evolving moral world. To all of my Christian friends: if you want to stay relevant you must amend your archaic and disgusting hatred for homosexuals. It will mark your extinction in social discourse. You can evolve or die.
I believe that the question of god's existence is unknowable. Supernatural phenomenon are, by definition, outside the purview of science. In regards to the existence of god we are all agnostic. We simply do not know. I dissent from my believing friends by rejecting the claim of god's existence based on insufficient evidence. Belief and knowledge are two different things. I do not believe in a god or gods but this is not to be confused with the false assertion that I know there is no god. Please seek to understand and integrate the difference.
Lastly (for now), I believe in people. I believe that, despite our differences in belief, we can find a way to exist together respectfully. We can find a way to be good neighbors and co-workers. We can find a way to make beauty together and undo the ugliness of the world. Make music and art. We can listen to one another and grow and be known. We can taste the best of what it is to be alive and aware in such a brilliant and stunning universe.
We're all in this together.