Wednesday, July 6, 2011

An Open Message from a Compassionate Atheist to a Theistic Don Quixote

You know who you are. You almost inevitably break my heart every time we have a conversation. You'll probably never realize this fact and, even if someone were to tell you this, I doubt you'd fully understand why this happens. Truthfully, it is this precise lack of understanding that feels like a kick in the stomach every time I see it demonstrated.

I make a concerted effort not to judge other people too harshly for beliefs and practices that they were taught and simply never thought about. Yet it is so difficult, so terribly heart wrenching to see a person whose beautiful mind is so restrained by the cage of dogma that they cannot think independently. What's worse is when thinking independently is taught as a negative or unnecessary ability.

Whenever I hear you say that the only reason you are good is because your religion tells you to be, I am overcome with both sadness and fear. On one hand, the idea that any person could ever tell another person that they would not be as virtuous a person without them, without their religion or without their God makes my stomach churn. The idea that a person would actually think himself unworthy or lacking without another person, without a religion or without a God makes me want to cry. Many if not most people can learn to stand on their own as an individual and, at the same time, live for others. Those who have learned to do this are the most satisfied and, often, the wisest of people. When I see you and realize that you were never even given the opportunity to become a freethinking individual tears me up inside.

On the other hand, I am frightened by the prospect that someone I love might honestly not know the difference between right and wrong. What's even more frightening is the fact that there is no more reason to believe that God keeps people moral than there is to believe that elves keep people moral. A part of me is very wary of a person who is only held back from killing me where I stand by the the supposed will of an invisible, unmeasurable, mythical being. I want to love and be comrades with you, but I cannot afford to risk my own life and the lives of my loved ones. I have no way of knowing whether or not this fear is justified. That's what makes said fear so deep and awful.

Upon hearing someone I love openly and brazenly adhering to a distorted view of reality, knowing full well that their view is distorted by faith, I feel like a failure as a human being striving for truth and betterment. I write, make videos and brood tirelessly over how I can encourage people that I have never met to open their minds, free themselves from the chains of "what's always been believed" and soar into the vast expanse of "what will be known". Watching you is like watching my best friend from middle school, sinking deeper and deeper into the hole that was her own depression. I tried time and time again to reach out to her, but time and time again, she would refuse my hand. It's a sort of indescribable helplessness that comes with having to care for a caged human who knows not of their own confinements.

I think that, perhaps, the worst part of all of this is that the reasons for your entrapment are based completely on false premises. The arguments you have heard and the "facts" you have been taught are false almost in their entirety. I could take each one and knock them down myself, but I cannot, I dare not for fear of causing you pain. If you were to question my beliefs and ideas, I would be fine. My position of atheism holds no emotion for me. Yet you have put so much personal stock into these cherished ideas that there is no way to extract them without extracting parts of you. There are moments when I see the real human mind behind that curtain of bronze-age mysticism. Moments when you are warm and kind and when you thirst for knowledge and empathize with other people. Then he always retreats behind the black curtain of false mystery disguised as morality. Sometimes I just want to scream and wail and pound the walls as if rattling the bars of a cage could somehow break them.

I know that I sound cold and condescending here, but I don't mean any of this sentiment in malice. Nor to I expect my overwhelming emotions to convince you or any other dogmatic theist. But somehow, I see myself in you. I see the person I once was and I remember that I didn't know what I didn't know. But I had one thing in my favor-- my parents, though theists, were freethinkers and my grandparents before them. They built their lives on hard work and truth seeking. It was because they helped me to be courageous and question everything that I managed to break the shackles of dogma and to love the universe unconditionally.

In the end, I can never be you and never fully understand this reality you seem to think you live in. This is the heartbreaking truth. I want to share the world with you, but I cannot when one of us chooses to live in reality despite its harshness and the other prefers to create a quixotic world of his own.