One of the quickest ways to piss someone off is to tell him or her that you do not believe in God. I've always wondered about this, because belief isn't something you choose, really, though you can partially convince yourself of something if you try.
I saw that this year with my son. He is 9 years old and desperately wants to believe in Santa. He knows the truth deep down, but he's really trying. He knows he can ask me if he wants and I will tell him, but he doesn't truly want the truth. He did "google" it and when I asked what he found out, he told me, "Well, it's not good." It about breaks my heart to imagine him, sitting at the computer by himself, entering the search terms, "IS SANTA REAL?"
(Noah, Christmas Eve 2010)
Just in case, he insisted we set out cookies for Santa, and only the kind that he figured Santa would like. ("Well I did ask for a lot of stuff this year, mom.") He wants so desperately for it to be true, but I can see in his face that he knows the sad truth.
Religious training in my family was quite thorough. We went to church multiple times a week, I went to church camp (which was eerily similar to that seen in the movie, "Jesus Camp"), I even went to a Christian high school for a year. I was baptized, old school style - under water. Our lives revolved around the church. As a young person, I didn't doubt that God was real, but I did doubt that the Bible was the word of God. I never would have stated that out loud, but I had many problems with the Bible. I'll save my opinions on the ethics of God's behavior in the Bible for another time, but suffice it to say that I do not now, nor did I ever believe that the entire world's population was derived from Adam and Eve, nor from Noah's family (which would have to both be true if the Bible is to be taken literally.)
(Photographic evidence of me at church camp. Can you find me?)
So even as a child, I could not take the Bible literally, even though the church I was raised in most definitely taught it that way. It is easier for me to get the message of forgiveness and renewal from the Lazarus story than for me to actually believe that Christ raised someone from the dead. I'll also avoid the issue that I have with Christian churches for now. I don't believe they are interested in Christ's teachings for the most part. I think they are interested in the opposite of what Christ taught - namely money and self-righteous power. But I'm not talking about that today.
Today I am talking about belief. A Christian friend asked me, "What if you're wrong?" When I asked what if it is she that's wrong, then she said, "Well, then I've just lived a good life, nothing lost, but if you are wrong you go to hell." Of course that's only true if her beliefs and mine are the only options. If the ancient Greeks were right, we're both screwed. But let's say there are only those options, there's no God or there is the Christian God as proclaimed by the protestant church (because she's protestant). Then what? Shouldn't I believe? Shouldn't I put those cookies out like Noah does?
Sure, but I don't. I was taught that God knows everything and is everywhere. Then would putting those cookies out have any chance of fooling God? I'm not being obstinate, refusing to believe. I just don't believe. I can't help it. I've hidden this for most of my life, but it's the truth. I just don't believe in a decision-making God. (If you want to define God as the combination of all the love and life of the universe, then sure, but that's just a way for us non-believers to avoid the atheist label.)
I think like a scientist, because that's what I am. I know there are scientists that believe in God, but not very many, and my scientist friends who are believers do not use the same standards that they apply to science to their belief in God. Of course not. God is all about faith. Science is about proof. I understand that not everyone thinks the way I do. I respect that and I don't get angry with them for believing. Why does it seem to make people angry and sometimes self-righteous and judgmental to hear that I don't believe?
For the record, I try to live by many of Christ's teachings (and those of the Buddha and Martin Luther King, and even Dr. Seuss), because I do want to do good in the world. Not because I fear going to hell, but out of a true sense of morality. I did learn a lot of great things at church. But going to church did not keep me out of trouble and leaving the church hasn't gotten me into it.
I don't want to minimize what gay people go through when they tell the truth of who they are to their friends and family, but I really feel like I just came out of the closet. I suspect, though, that just like the experience of many gay people, most of my friends already know.