Warning! If you love my atheism but hate my politics, you might want to skip this post. You have been warned.
“It is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to prescribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
No, I am not talking about Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27, 28:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
As sexual creatures, most of us have lusted after someone at one time or another. The pious among us who say they have NEVER done this are, let me see how I can put this, LYING! The mental infidelity I am talking about in this post happens when we profess to believe things that we know we really don’t believe or we say one thing but do another. Paine calls this mental lying.
All of us can have times in our lives when we doubt what we really believe. The process of deconversion is a messy process laden with doubt. When breaking from a theological system of thought like Evangelical Christianity, it is not surprising that the person deconverting has a lot of doubts and might even have inconsistent or contradictory beliefs. Often they know what they DON’T believe, but are uncertain as what they DO believe.
Like many people who left Christianity, my path out the church was long and arduous. For a time I was an emerging/emergent Christian. Then I moved on to liberal/progressive Christianity, stopping briefly to dabble with universalism. Ultimately, I embraced agnosticism and atheism. Humanism became the foundation for my moral and ethical beliefs.
These days, I am far more concerned about presenting and advancing the humanist ideal than I am being a general in the atheist army of faithlessness. Like many atheists, I have reached a place in my life where I have little taste for the wars between Christian fundamentalists and atheists. No one wins and everyone smells like shit when the war is over. I understand the need for newly minted atheists and agnostics to get the feet of religion off their neck. Really, I do. However, to quote the Apostle Paul:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
Sooner or later, hopefully sooner, we have to grow up. As an atheist/agnostic/humanist/liberal, I want to devote the rest of my life to understanding what it is I really believe. Once I am relatively sure of my intellectual/moral/ethical foundation, then I want to put those beliefs into practice.
We rightly and quickly point out the hypocrites in Christianity. They are easy to spot because they are everywhere. We watch with glee as they say one thing but do another. They publicly say this I believe, but in their heart they really don’t believe what they are saying. They preach of hell and judgment, yet they live lives that seem like a contradiction of their moralizing. They speak of heaven and just passing through this world, yet they live in expensive houses, drive fancy cars,have maxed out credit cards, and own the same worldly accoutrements as their atheist neighbors. They preach up sexual fidelity and heterosexual marriage, yet they screw around and get divorced just as often as their unwashed, uncircumcised Philistine neighbors.
As an atheist/agnostic/humanist/liberal, I know what life I don’t want. The Christian church is my Egypt and I have no intentions of going back into bondage. As the old gospel song goes, I have come to far to turn back now. As I intellectually mature, I want what I say publicly to match what I really believe. I’ve had a lifetime of hypocrisy and I want no more of it. I want to be, as Thomas Paine calls it, mentally faithful to myself.
If I have learned anything in life it is this…give a person enough time and they will always reveal in their behavior what they really believe. The Bible says in Proverbs, as a man thinks so is he. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” We show with our actions what we really believe.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Not, blessed are those who think peace is a good idea, but blessed are those who make peace, who pursue peace. Right-wingers, theocratic preachers, and military hawks, speak of peace, yet in their heart they really believe in power and dominance. Christian George Bush spoke of peace in the Middle East, and then proceeded to slaughter tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi and Afghan men, women, and children. His lips spoke of peace, but his heart spoke of imperialism, cheap oil, and getting even.
Even now, these same saber rattlers are trying to goad President Obama into military conflicts with Syria, Iran, and Russia. With their lips they speak of preserving the peace, but what they really believe in is American exceptionalism and global domination.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, rightly stated that war NEVER brings peace. It only brings a cessation of hostilities. In the 56 years that I have been alive, the United States has fought one bloody immoral war after another. Our leaders speak of America being a city on a hill, a place where freedom and democracy reigns. Yet, these very same leaders have no problem with incarcerating more people per capita than any other country in the world. They have no problem spying on us and invading our privacy. They speak of being concerned about the poor and the sick, yet they stand in their congressional office with their pants down getting a daily blow job from those who really own their hearts, lobbyists and corporations. Again, they say one thing but really believe another.
Global climate change is ravaging our planet. Only the deliberately ignorant among us ignore what is happening. Our planet is warming rapidly, and by the start of the next century, according to some models, rising sea water could be lapping at the doors of Harvard University. Hurricane Katrina and Sandy have taught us nothing. Oh, we talk like we are serious about climate change and environmental degradation, but our actions speak louder than our words. We want the deified American dream and American way of life, and the rich among us are determined to keep this way of life even if it means tens of millions of Americans end up in the poor house. As countries like China and India enter their own industrial revolution, they want to have the same prosperous life that Westerner’s have. Not only can we not survive their prosperity, neither can we survive the prosperity of the West. Continued, never-ending economic growth and prosperity is a delusion that will end badly. Some day the last widget will be bought, then what?
I, for one, am weary of speeches, slogans, bumper stickers, programs, action alerts, news reports, blog posts,and books. Men like Al Gore scold the world about global warming, and then fly around the world in fuel guzzling jets, drive SUV’s, and live in houses that could support a dozen or more families. Their lifestyle doesn’t line up with their words.
Each of us need to ask ourselves, what is it we really believe? Do our words match our beliefs? Even more importantly, do our actions match our beliefs?