I don’t want to talk religion. I never want to talk religion, in fact, with anyone. But, for the purposes of this post, I will share with you my religious beliefs. Or lack thereof, as it happens. I am a scientist, as you know, and have a true scientist’s nature in that not only do I question everything, I also seek answers. And not just in the “I thought a lot about it and here’s what I came up with” way, but literally in collecting data and facts and irrefutable evidence and then putting it all together in an effort to find the most supported, logical answer. As far as religion is concerned, I have read the Old Testament and the New Testament, which together constitute the theories behind Judaism and Christianity, respectively, and parts of the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic faith. I’ve also read Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and have obtained a baccalaureate degree in Biology, during which I studied Evolutionary Biology among many other areas of physical science.
And here’s what I have come up with so far: the Bible (both Testaments) and the Koran are fictional, written by uneducated men (as in, human beings) more than 2,000 years ago and since changed and tweaked by countless theologians and religious zealots . The theory of evolution is the only explanation for our species’ origin (and the origin of every other species on Earth) that holds water. As far as there being a creator, I can’t say I’ve come across any undeniable proof either way, but it doesn’t make sense to me that there would be. From what I’ve seen of all life on this planet, life springs from other life. No living thing comes from just one other, more intelligent and powerful thing, but rather, from countless previous generations of similar life. I feel now is a good time to note that I do believe in absolute freedom of religion and I respect everyone’s choice to believe in whatever makes sense to them. Period.
Which brings me to what this post is really about: the freedom to choose and express one’s religious beliefs, or lack of, whichever the case may be. I’m currently reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, an unbiased, scientific study of the age-old question of god’s existence, on my Kindle. I happen to live and work in a Midwestern city where, it seems to me, as an atheist, I am in the minority. At work the other day, I sat on break drinking coffee, reading on my Kindle when a colleague (a person I respect and whose company I enjoy, who happens to be a devout Christian) asked me what I was reading. A bolder, more secure person would have been honest, would have proudly replied, “The God Delusion, since you asked.” But not me. I lied. I said I was reading Atonement, a novel I’ve read before that has no religious connection whatsoever. I lied for two reasons: 1.) I didn’t want my co-worker to ask questions about my faith to which I would have had to either openly own my atheism or pretend to believe something I don’t and 2.) I didn’t want her to think I was an immoral heathen, which I believe she would do if she knew my true feelings toward religion.
I’m sure there are places in this country where one need not feel the necessity of lying in such a situation but I don’t live in one of those places. And it occurred to me afterward that this phenomenon probably happens more often to those without faith than to those with it. I see people at work reading the Bible on their breaks without any embarrassment or need for defense. Why shouldn’t I be able to be as open about my views? Of course, we live in a country with freedom of religion and legally, I am free to believe whatever I choose. But culturally, I’m not free to express it. Not in some circles. And since I was at work, where religion does not belong anyway, it didn’t bother me much. It would be nice, though, to be able to say we lived in a world with not only the legal freedom to choose our religion, but the social freedom to express those views without the fear of judgment from others who choose to believe differently.
Hope I didn’t offend you.