This I Believe

Rebecca - Burbank, California
Entered on August 22, 2006

I believe in Mankind. I believe in Mankind, because I don’t believe in God.

This belief has not been clearly defined in me until quite recently. I had an experience with a co-worker that, truly, unnerved me. We were at a big convention together killing time in our company’s booth and the subject of spirituality came up. She is a devout Buddhist and something about that made me feel like I could speak freely about my own lack of spirituality, so when she asked me if I had a faith I practiced I told her I was an Atheist.

She paused for a moment…

“You mean Agnostic?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t believe in God.”

“The Christian model of God?” she ventured.

“No, God in general. Any model.”

She dropped the subject like a hot potato and I found myself, quite suddenly, discussing the weather.

After a tense afternoon together we went to dinner and she broached the subject again.

“I really worry when you say you don’t believe in God.” she said, hoisting a glass of expensive fizzy water. “I think that people have to believe in something even if it doesn’t fit into any organized religion…otherwise…well…life would be filled with such despair! How can you believe in…nothing?”

I was so taken aback that I didn’t know how to respond.

“Well, I…it’s not that I don’t believe in anything….I believe…I believe…in…lots of stuff.”

And with this astoundingly articulate answer, I let it go.

Mind you, she is a lovely and intelligent woman, of whom I am very fond, and I think that she actually regretted what she said because she sensed I was hurt. And I was, although I couldn’t quite understand why.

It took me weeks to figure it out, but figure I did, when I saw a TV news piece citing a poll saying the general public finds Atheists to be “not trustworthy.” Most people would choose not to befriend or do business with someone they knew to be an Atheist because they don’t feel like an Atheist has a system of beliefs that would make them live their lives honestly.

YIKES! I thought. Me? Not trustworthy? Bereft of a belief system? This is very serious stuff. I don’t think I would want to hang out with me if I didn’t have any sort of belief system! I mean, well…YIKES!

That was when I figured it out; it’s the thought that someone would think I had no beliefs at all that hurt. On the contrary, my morals are extra, super-duper strong precisely because I don’t believe in divine reward, or retribution.

I believe in goodness for its own sake. Goodness is in us all as members of the Family of Man but, at the same time, we must strive for goodness in ourselves and nurture it or it will surely die. If I am not responsible for cultivating my own goodness then no one will be. You see?

I believe in kindness for its own sake because kindness, in turn, begets more kindness. Hatred and cruelty begets more hatred and cruelty. This is evidenced in the most basic sociological models; the man who is beaten and treated like an animal is very likely to behave like an animal and beat someone else in turn. (Maybe I should dump the ‘animal’ analogy because, well, animals are much nicer than we are. They ‘re less likely to pound on their children and call each other bad names, doncha think?)

Every day, especially these days, I have to believe that the nature of mankind is basically good. Not because we were made that way by a benevolent being but because we are learning to be good. We are evolving and, despite governments, terrorists and Mel Gibson, we have a great future ahead of us.

I believe there is no reward for me at the end of my life other than the legacy I leave in my son and the people I have affected in a positive way. Because I’ve chosen to be kind and good they might think well of me or have a better moment in their life because of something I did. That is the immortality I strive for.

By the same token, I believe there will be no punishment for my actions other than those imposed upon me by the human race and the damage I inflict upon my own heart. “Hell” is something I create inside of myself with the shame I feel when I fail my brothers and sisters on this earth. And that is scary enough to keep me in line, believe me. To my mind, the image of Satan looks like a little bunny rabbit when he stands next to the great demon, Self Loathing.

Atheism is a tough row to hoe, my friends. I stand in awe of my family and friends who have devoted themselves to a faith and I often wish I could be more like them. My life would be a less worrisome place if a god were in it. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have prayer to lean on rather than cranky conversations with my own conscience. (Picture Jiminy Cricket with lots of tattoos.)

You can trust me, not because I’m afraid of Karma or God, but because I know that treating you fairly, and with kindness, is right. You are my blood. You are my hope for this planet, for me, and for the future of my son.

This, I believe. I believe strongly… and I do not despair.