Since turning 40, I have taken some time and reflected on my interaction with the world around me. Some might say that this is my midlife crisis, some might say this is me coming to terms with the eventuality of my own mortality. Call it what you will.
NPR used to have a segment that was called “This I Believe” where people would write down what was at their core, belief wise. It was a cool segment and there were essays written by celebrities, as well as ordinary joes like you and me. It was one of my favorite segments, I haven’t listened to NPR in a while, and I’m not sure if they ever play those anymore, but if they do, you should take a little time and listen. The essays are insightful, well written and some were downright brilliant.
Mine will not be. What your are about to read will be raw, unpolished, unrefined and most likely offensive to the sensibilities of a lot of people I know.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, no matter how wrong or generally misguided it may be, myself included. While you may not agree with everything or anything that I am about say; I ask that you read it all, as it will give you some insight into who I am. If you are an old friend this will by no means shock you, however if you are a newly acquired friend or acquaintance you may find yourself a bit dismayed by some of what is to follow, so please be warned.
I grew up poor, welfare poor, with a mother who could be best described as a grifter. If you don’t know that word I suggest you get a good dictionary (think Oxford English). Growing up with a person like this at the helm of your childhood can lead you to think differently about the world around you. I learned at an early age that there was really no one who you could rely on other than yourself; as everyone out there was either predator or prey. People were things to used and discarded when no longer deemed useful. While this sounds horrible (and I assure you upon reflection, it truly was) it did foster a sound sense of self reliance, and believe it or not self assurance.
Growing up with a grifter as your main parental unit also means that you move around a lot. Take a second to absorb and take that in, because you probably don’t grasp what I mean unless you grew up the child of a military person. When I say we moved a lot, I mean a whole lot. By the time I was 12 I think I had lived in at least as many states and probably two to three times that in terms of actual places where I would lay my head at night. This meant that I never had really good friends, because I wouldn’t be anywhere for more than a few months at a time. Why bother getting to really know people if you were just a transient being in their lives. Living this way actually fed into the whole people as a commodity mentality. While I didn’t know it at the time the nomadic lifestyle we were living was actually doing me a service. It taught me to not be shy, I was that kid who would arrive somewhere and instantly find people to hang out with and be “friends” with. It also led me to be loud, gregarious, and brash. I was that loud kid whom everyone liked immediately. Unfortunately I was also that kid that every parent felt a deep sense of pity for when they learned about my mother. Needless to say I tried to not let people meet my mother for as long as possible.
Growing up the way I did didn’t foster a great sense of morality. When you have a parent whose main objective in life is to see how much they can get from people, you are starting life aiming low. As a child I never knew that this was not the way things were supposed to be. I thought everyone was just like good ole mom; only looking out for themselves. To this day, I honestly believe that my mother did not have my best interests at heart growing up. I, like everyone else she encountered, was just a tool, a commodity to be used. I was another instrument in her plans for the confidence game she called life. I happened to be a rather useful tool, as my dad paid a monthly amount of money that was supposed to be helping pay for the things I needed.
I can remember when I was about 8 meeting a kid whose parents were together and had always been, and thinking that his family was weird. They had lived in the same place for longer than he had been alive. Both of his parents worked actual jobs. That’s not to say my mother didn’t work, she just never really worked. She would have a part time job so as to look like a semi-respectable member of the community. I mean she didn’t want to be seen as the gold digger that she really was.
I think that given the circumstances of how I was raised I have turned out pretty OK. Sure I’ve had my moments where my moral compass has been off, and I still have a duck and cover kind of response to some things, but all in all, I think I have become a well rounded and decent person. I don’t generally shy away from a challenge and I tend to take most things in stride. I would like to believe that as a whole I turned out alright, and have had a positive impact on the world around me. I try to be fair, I try not to take more than my share, I try to help out people when I can.
I honestly feel that how I was raised has a lot to do with my views on religion. I lived in a lot of places where kids shouldn’t live, I had more “dads” than any kid should ever have. I saw a lot of the dark and seedy things that young, impressionable children should never be exposed to.
I saw people who gave 10% or more of their earnings to their church, when I was living right next door and could have benefitted from that money far more than the institution that they were giving it to. I can’t count the number of nights that I went to bed hungry, or cold, or lonely or scared. On more than one occasion I can remember thinking that if there was a god, why was he making me live like this. All those times I went to bed with a sense of fear or hopelessness seemed to strengthen my belief that there was no real purpose for life, there was no great and benevolent creator looking out for us; because if he was out there and he let me go to bed with too little food, or not enough money to have heat, or whatever, then he was a cruel and heartless creator ans I had no need of him. If this was the truth I would rather believe that there was no great power looking down on us, rather than one who, like a kid with a magnifying glass aimed at an ant hill, would sit back and watch us suffer. Don’t get me wrong, I looked into several “flavors of religion” as a young person, and always came to the same conclusion.
I became a militant atheist at the ripe old age of 18. I had seen enough, and heard more than enough of the religious rhetoric to form my opinion and I was damn sure going to let everyone know. I knew plenty of “bible thumpers” growing up and I became the antithesis; I was a “science thumper”. I would try to systematically teardown everything people believed about religion and force them to see my point of view. I can remember looking at a bible, no studying it really, to find all the paradoxes and hypocrisies. I would debate, or more aptly berate, any religious person who dared to spar with me. I remember on more than one occasion bringing other kids to tears because I would make the fight personal. This phase lasted well into my 20’s; I remember I had a neighbor once who walked up to me and asked with sincerity “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior” I bluntly said “No”. I asked him if he thought his religion was the one true and correct one. When he said yes, I then proceeded to lecture him on why his brand of religion wasn’t the correct one. I was a complete ass; I realize this now that I am older and have seen more in my life. Needless to say I have mellowed as I have gotten older. I am no longer a militant atheist, nor have I found religion. I’ve come to realize that I don’t care. I personally don’t think that there is a god out there, I’m more apt to believe that we are some weird science experiment for aliens or a completely random coincidence than to think that there is one all knowing, all seeing creator. That’s my opinion and you’re welcome to agree, disagree, and/or not care about it, as I have decided to not care what your belief may or may not be. I do not say that preceding statement with any intended malice, I truly do not care what your beliefs are. If you are a decent person than we can be friends, regardless of how misaligned our beliefs may be.
I will not push my beliefs and values on you, and I ask that you do the same. I have come to the realization that what you believe shouldn’t predicate whether or not we can be friends. I have a very close friend who is a devoted Christian (he and his family are what I consider the best example of how Christians should be.), I have another who is a non practicing Christian. We have decided to agree to disagree about that one aspect of our lives and move on. Life is too short to get hung up the small stuff and yes to me that is a small item.
Below is the cliff’s notes version of my beliefs. Many of which have equal bearing whether or not your are a religious person. Please take them for what they are. A means to gain a little bit of insight about me, nothing more nothing less. As I stated This was not meant to offend anyone, but if it has, I understand. I hope you can see past it. If not, again, I understand.
Things I believe:
An intelligent persons does not need the promise of a heaven to do what is right.
Character is doing the right thing even if you would benefit from doing the not so right thing.
Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your actions do.
Ones beliefs are like ones genitalia, it’s great that you have it, but no-one needs to see it.
There are good Christians, there are good Muslims, there are good atheists just as there are bad Christians, bad Muslims, and bad atheists.
People are people, judge them on what they do, not what they believe, not what country they come form, not how they look, nor by the color of their skin.
Children are born scientists, uncoupled from belief. Their minds are wide open to all possibilities, we indoctrinate them into a closed minded belief set when we saddle them with our beliefs. We should let them explore, and decide on their own what they want to believe or disblieve, and love them in spite of any choice they make, not chastize them for it.
All people are created equal, it is our beliefs that determine their worth and ultimately burden them with inequality. If we cast away the baggage we were given by our predecessors and see people for what they are or could be, we see that we are all, at the core, the same. We all just want to be loved and accepted for who we are, not what we believe.
In the end I hope to be remembered for all I did to help others and to make this world a better place, not for what I believed or did not believe in.
We should all strive to know more about the world then we knew yesterday and to try to lessen the suffering of others. (this was paraphrased from a quote be Neil deGrasse Tyson, but it is part of what I believe he just said it better.)
I look forward to any comments that you may have.