Stop me right now if you’ve never seen anything like this on social media:
“I was having the WORST day today! Everything was going wrong. And then when I was picking up my coffee in the drive through, I found out that the person ahead of me paid for my coffee! Thank you for showing me you still look out for me, Lord! <occasionally insert Bible quote of choice>”
I grew up in the Bible belt; an area where in many cases the bedrock of civilization is considered to be the “Good Christian.” The reality is that what you profess to believe in is actually more important than your actions. People will make all the determinations of your character based on your presence in a pew and a cross around your neck.
The leader of our student council in high school was a girl who kept terrorizing my friend (Jewish), telling her that she was going to burn, screaming, in the fires of hell (she was Baptist, by the way) because she didn’t accept that Jesus was the son of God. This Baptist’s family was considered an upstanding pillar in our community.
I remember watching a local man’s political career go down in flames when he ran for Mayor, as the opposition mounted a smear campaign based on the man’s faith alone—or possible lack of it, since he never brought up whether he believed in God. The Catholic man in our town who was arrested for molesting two small girls was forgiven as one of the faithful, since he merely lost his way. He was absolved of his guilt by a priest. His sins—forgotten. He’ll be able to still go to Heaven.
Are they good Christians and Catholics? You might not think so. Or maybe you do. And that’s kind of a problem, isn’t it?
What does it really mean to be good? To be a good human being?
Despite my upbringing, steeped in this culture, these are the questions in the end that I realized that it wasn’t any church’s responsibility to answer. They belonged to me, and me alone. My official break with any organized faith happened by slow stages, as I got older, as I moved, as the great crimes against humanity in the name of gods around the world seemed ever more unforgivable.
I realized that no matter what you might believe in as the reigning supreme being—be it God, Zeus, the Illuminati or the Flying Spaghetti Monster—religion has done humanity one incredible disservice: people now assume a faith is the only blueprint of morality.
But regardless of the invisible entity, when we see ourselves as puppets of a greater force, we start pawning off responsibility for our actions, and the actions of others. And the result is, we get everything from “the devil made me do it!” to “God forced some stranger to buy me a cup of coffee to show me that he loves me.”
It reads kind of silly when I phrase it this way, doesn’t it?
Good is something that we must define and choose—every single one of us. It cannot be dictated to us, fully-formed, in a book. You can be neither a Christian or an Atheist without believing that we possess free will. After all, man’s fall from grace and expulsion from the garden of Eden is a direct result of the expression of it.
Thanking God is an easy expression to take up and a hard one to break; I know this from experience. But when we automatically thank God instead of our fellow man, we do not honour one another as humans. It belittles the efforts of doctors and nurses who put in countless hours in training and service to perform what you’ve labelled as a miracle from God. It hinders our ability to co-exist and seek peaceful resolutions between ourselves. It taints the pursuit of knowledge. It trivializes our system of law, and it marginalizes our role in determining the course of the future of the Earth and civilization.
It takes the humanity away from the stranger who made his own decisions to be kind.
Did a god have a hand in the stranger who bought you your coffee? That’s a question impossible to answer. But the one thing I do believe in is that, if there is a higher power, the games of divine intervention a god might play are deeper and more vast than reaching down to tap someone on their shoulder and encourage them to fork out spare change.
If there is anyone looking down on us, I don’t believe he would mind if we honored a person for the good choices that they make to benefit others and our society before we honor him. I don’t believe a powerful being would gift us with free will and then never let us use it. I believe we would be expected to put it to work; to work together to define good and live in respect and harmony. After all, it would be beautiful symmetry to give us the power to use choice rebuild a paradise we may have lost with one.
If there is no one out there, then all we really have is each other.