‘Listen to your heart, think for yourself’
By Mackenzie Kees
We have all seen those people on the side of the road with the signs dedicated to one or another of the various gods from modern religions. These people may force you to take one of their pamphlets, but otherwise seem (relatively) harmless. They feel the need to spread the word of God, and that’s their prerogative — but what happens when that self-appointed privilege starts to interfere with another person’s way of life?
I’m standing in the philosophy section of Barnes & Noble in Pensacola on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve been coming here for the past several months in something akin to a ritual in search of seemingly innocent little notecards.
At the size of an average business card, the notecard I find today is sticking out between pages 19 and 20 of “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. It is red and bears the message: “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. – John 3:18.” The phrase “is condemned already” has been underlined, and following the Bible verse there’s a handwritten message scrawled. It reads: “Why go to Hell? You Must Be Born Again!”
There are several things wrong with this scenario, the most obvious being that this little notecard does not belong in this book. It has been added by an outside party not associated with Barnes & Noble, but by another bookstore in fact, which some argue is unethical.
The second most obvious problem that the notecard’s creator, Bible Baptist Bookstore, does not seem to understand is that most people reading a book authored by Dawkins do not believe in a hell. As such, the message being conveyed will likely fall on deaf ears; at most it will cause annoyance and invoke incredulous feelings in its reader.
If Bible Baptist Bookstore’s intent was to spread the word of God, shouldn’t the message have been aimed at explaining the principles of Christianity instead of just a blanket condemnation against all those who disagree with them? I have only found notecards in books regarding reason, those usually favored by non-believers, which indicates that their goal was not as innocent as just “spreading the word.” The true purpose of the notecard was to tell anyone who picked up the book that they were going to hell for not believing in God.
Most religious people don’t realize that the god they believe in has more to do with the happenstance of birth than it does anything else. People raised in the Middle East tend to believe in Allah, while people born in the West are more inclined to believe in the Judeo-Christian God. Children raised in religious families are usually indoctrinated into the religion of their parents without ever being taught to question it. This perpetuates the cycle of religion being passed on from father to son and so forth, which makes it seem more like a tradition than a true belief.
I will forever be grateful to my mother for stopping this cycle in my own family. Growing up, she always told my sister Libby and I to “listen to your heart and think for yourself.” I was never told that I had to think a certain way in order to get into heaven or else I would be damned to hell for all of eternity. The way the Bible focuses on the horrors of hell could scare the bravest of children, whom are already impressionable, into believing out of fear, and believing in God simply for fear of being reprimanded in the afterlife is not an honorable reason to have faith in Him.
Without being well-informed, it would be impossible to make a reasonable decision about any religion, let alone choose one to practice. I’ve strived throughout my life to make sure that I never squander my mom’s precious gift to me by learning everything I can about all religions, so every time I see another intolerable notecard at Barnes & Noble, I can’t help but be frustrated. I have to wonder if the person behind these cards ever researched religions beyond his or her own. Did he or she even try to understand the world from another religious perspective? What makes him so intolerable to systems of belief different from his own?
As I grew up and evolved intellectually, I came to understand something important about myself: I fit in nowhere. It seems like a depressing thought, but in actuality it is incredibly liberating. I stopped trying to figure out where I fit in and simply let myself be. It was that freedom that helped me to realize I am best described as a Humanist.
As a Humanist, I believe that “human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.” The International Humanist and Ethical Union’s mission statement really spoke to me. It felt right.
After months of holding on to them obsessively, I’ve finally allowed myself to let go and trash the numerous notecards bearing messages of hate and fanaticism. I’ve realized that my obsession with these notecards has more to do with me trying to understand the human psyche than anger. All that is left of my former frustration and indignation is a terrible sadness, but underneath it all hope still glimmers. Hope for the future of mankind and a vision of a world that will finally free itself from the shackles of intolerance. This world will be filled with people who love each other rather than a distant supernatural father figure. It will be a world full of love, acceptance and peace.