humaists

Keep it Personal

Recently, a petition was given to the Bermuda Government in support of same-sex marriage.  After this, there was some media coverage, which included an interview with a pastor.  In her interview she said that while the advocates were concerned with being “on the right side of history”, she only concerned with being “on the right side of eternity.”  She also went on to say that government could not change “divine marriage” and that she has been married for 30 years and gays will “never have that.” I would like to interject here that there are some same-sex couples that have been together longer than her 30 “divine” years.  In conversation with a friend, my friend said that this pastor lacks in expressing compassion for the number of couples that have loving, long-standing relationships that, if left up to people like the pastor, will never be recognized and celebrated in the same way this pastor’s relationship is.  It doesn’t make hers better – it just highlights how quickly some humans can dismiss the lives and feelings of others.  My friend also said that same-sex marriage advocates want equality through marriage enabling all to receive the full rights that everyone claiming to be heterosexual freely enjoys in our society.

So what am I getting at here?  My question is, what happened to the concept of a personal relationship with God?  Dictionary.com defines personal as “of relating to, or coming as from a particular person; individual; private”, or “intended for use by one person.”  So why is it that some religious people say that they have a personal relationship with their God, but constantly try to inject their beliefs into other people’s lives, specifically, using the law?  And when I say beliefs, I am not talking about a high level view of a general philosophy; I mean the nitty-gritty, “Thou shalt or thou shalt not” types of beliefs.  Some are quick to point out to others that they are sinners, worthy of death and need to repent (they even say this to other Christians).  I have even heard someone say how a person who had recently died deserved it because they were not living a “righteous, Christian life.”

We in Bermuda live in a diverse society.  There are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheist, and the list goes on.  Yes, I will admit that in the 2010 census 70% of respondents stated that they were affiliated with some type of Christian denomination (or non-denomination). However, nine percent responded that their religion was “other” and 19% were not affiliated with religion at all.  On top of that, “other” grew by 56% between 2000 and 2010, while “not affiliated” or “nones” grew by 34% during the same time period.  The respondents that identified with a Christian denomination decreased by 12% from 2000 to 2010.  It is obvious that the religious landscape in Bermuda is changing.  With more “others” and “nones”, you would hope that the religious would be more cognizant of this fact, but there continues to be the push to interject beliefs into other person’s lives by some, including through the law of the land.

Do not get me wrong.  Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but this constant barrage of judgments, condemnation and/or evangelism is not fair to those who live their lives another way.  Trying to keep certain laws in place because they are seen as “God’s law” is infringing on the rights of people that do not believe the same.  For example, do you remember the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday?  As times have changed, this law became outdated.  It was once put in place to enforce some religious belief that not everyone followed or agreed to.  Just because some think it is “sinful” to drink on Sunday, doesn’t mean that everyone should adhere to that belief.  If you don’t think you should drink on Sunday, well, don’t drink.

In order to live up to the ideals of the cosmopolitan society we are striving to build and maintain here in Bermuda, there has to be a level of understanding and acceptance that everyone is different, and everyone has a different set of beliefs.  There also needs to be an understanding that just because we believe our principles are the “right” ones for us, that does not mean that everyone else should follow them.  Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind, to be able to entertain a thought, without accepting it.”

I believe that everyone has the right to pursue a philosophy in life that makes them happy and adds value to their lives, as long as it does not infringe on other people’s lives in a negative way.  For some it’s religion, for some it’s education or personal development; there are many ways for people to enrich their experience and live their lives to their fullest potential.  If you have a personal relationship with a God and have a set of personal beliefs, why not keep it just that, personal.  If there are rules that you have personally agreed with your deity to live by, then you live by them.  Do not expect everyone to follow your rules; they are yours and yours alone.

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My Journey (…still ongoing)

question2I like to say that I have always been a skeptic. But, I accept that sometimes our memories can be figments of our imagination. However, I did have questions growing up. I remember hanging out with one of my best friends when we were teenagers and questioning the things we were taught from the Bible. As a gust of wind would go by, we would laugh and say that God was going to kill us because we were asking questions about the secrets of his nature.

Yes, I had questions. But for most of my youth I was a devout Christian, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church. My upbringing was pretty fundamental. I wasn’t supposed to go to the movies, couldn’t wear jewelry, no drinking or dancing and we basically became hermits between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, only to emerge from into the light of day to attend Church and evening Adventist Youth (AY) sessions. All in all, however, I had a pretty good childhood. The comradery that is associated with Christian fellowship is a nice one at times, especially as a child and as I entered early adulthood.

Yet, I had questions.

I usually would ignore these questions or if I asked an adult, I was met with the cliché answers, “That is part of God’s plan” or “God works in mysterious ways.” As I watched people get sick and die, families being separated by divorce, and as things happened in the world such as war, famine and disease, I conjured up fantastic images of a loving god. One who was looking down and allowing all of these to happen so that we could look from the safety of our lives and somehow learn from these events. When they happened to me or my family, I just knew that everything would be OK, because I was cradled in the arms of a wonderful deity that had a plan for my life and these life events would somehow make me a better person and bring me closer to him.

Still, sometimes, I had questions.

I think the first time that I started to actually and seriously question my religious upbringing was when I went off to school at Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL, USA. This was a historically black college and affiliated with the SDA church. Even though I was still following the dogma of my upbringing, I started to notice things. Hypocrisies, intolerances and untruthfulness on the part of the administration there ran rampant. Rumors of the women’s dormitory dean stealing money from the school. Pastors kids dealing drugs (my roommate) and personal incidents of theft of my property. I won’t even go into the black-separatist, black power (racist?) atmosphere of the campus. I was faced with a new question. If I was part of such a powerful, truthful and righteous way of life, why was I surrounded by such seemingly vile individuals (not all of course, there were some nice people there). Unfortunately at the time, still entrenched in religious doctrine, I quelled these questions with believing that “all have fallen short of the glory of God” and everyone was a sinner and….well you know where I am going with this.

Also during this time, I was really falling into a violent inner war with myself in terms of my sexuality. I went through some deep, dark depressed states, contemplating suicide and begging my heavenly father to save me from sin. My relief never came from above.

And now, I had even more questions.

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all

My bough broke when I was living in Atlanta. By this time, I had become disillusioned with my past SDA upbringing and had decided to “get saved” into the Baptist church. It was the easiest ticket to heaven I had ever received. All I had to do was say “Yes, I believe” and that was it. One Sunday, after listening to the Bishop, and during a musical selection by the choir, I was overcome with my questions. Why would God just love me for no reason, no matter what I did, who I hurt, or the like? I was so confused. I left church that day confused. I needed an answer. I was tired of living without answers. So, I did what any person should do, living in the 21st century. I went to the Internet.

Since then, I have learned that it is OK to ask questions and that if the answer is “Just accept it”, you need to look for a different source for your answers. Starting to look for real answers has wiped the mysticism from my eyes and I now see the thinks in a more puristic view.

I have given my story to let other’s out there know that there is nothing wrong with questions. It is when you ignore the questions and delay trying to figure out the truths or facts that you lend yourself to living with ambiguity and possibly never living your life fully.

Do not be afraid to always question!

My experience of being atheist in Bermuda

hi mom

Over a year ago, a lady at my job asked me if I believe in God. My answer was no.

What transpired after that was surreal.

First she asked me if I loved my parents. Clueless as to how that even fit into our conversation I answered “yes, I do, why?” She asked me if they were sick or hurt, would I not pray for them. Of course my answer was “no”, and I had to tell her that did not mean that I did not love my parents. Then she called another lady to let her know that I was atheist, and this other lady told me she loves me (um, lady you don’t even know me) and then they said that they would pray for me at some prayer group.

Other instances are my father telling me, “I know you will come back to Christ one day” and my aunt told me, “When I was your age, I left the church, but I came back, so I am not worried about you.” A cousin of mine asked me “why do I hate God so much?”

I bring these stories up to make two points. One is that there are a lot of nescience and mis-truths surrounding atheism in Bermuda. Being such a conservative and [alleged] christian society, it seems that there are a lot of false narratives out there.  This, most likely, has been perpetrated by religious organizations attempting to squash questioning of parishioners in regards to their faith, and some of it just pure ignorance.

Secondly, I inherently do not mind that someone is religious. If that is your belief, than I am happy that you are happy. My problem comes when people of these beliefs feel it is their duty to make you feel as if you are something broken, or failed or that something is wrong with you.

Some people in Bermuda need to understand that atheists are persons who are just not convinced in the existence of a God, because we have not seen the evidence for such a being. We have morals just like anyone else. We love, we cry, we go through hard times and good times, but we do not look for something supernatural outside of ourselves for dealing with life.

If you are an atheist, stuck in the closet, just know that you are not alone.  There are many others who do not believe in the supernatural.  I just heard the statement that “coming out atheist in Bermuda is almost as bad as coming out as gay.”  But as with the gay movement, the movement of the non-religious is also gaining momentum around the world.  Hopefully one day you can come out of the atheist closet and be comfortable, even in our sunny island.

Eventually, here in Bermuda, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, etc. can have a voice in their own country and not be met with intimidation or misunderstanding.

If you have a story about being an atheist in Bermuda, leave it in the comment section.