An Open Letter To A Radical Atheist

Dear Friend,

I would first like to apologize for being quite long-winded, but I have a lot to say and this letter does not even scratch the surface of what would like to express. I do not pretend to operate under any pretence that religion plays an active role in my life any more than it does yours. I am an agnostic raised in a Catholic household and have gone to a Catholic school since kindergarten. It took me years to start to figure out what I believe and now that I’ve started to really think about it, I still fight with the idea of a God, but I do believe that there is some order to the universe. As someone who lives and breathes math and physics, I think that this may be a point we can agree on. There are still so many phenomena in the universe that current science cannot yet explain, so the human race is left to try to come up with a viable explanation. But really, apart from all of the science and the, well, deeply human desire to understand the universe, we can only look at the wonders in front of us in awe at just how intricately woven the fabric of our world is.

Moving past all of the philosophical stuff and what people generally struggle with in terms of belief, I want you to come with me to look at religion through a more objective lens, with less emphasis on the actual belief and more on what it means to humanity as a whole. You could make the argument that religion holds back science, and historically, you would be correct. Prior to the renaissance, much of what science was attempting to explain was viewed as heresy by the Catholic Church. I would counter that argument by reminding you that the invention of the astrolabe, most early algebra and the first mentions of the algorithm can be traced back to the Islamic Golden Age. One could also absolutely argue that religion has been and is a source of major global division and by extension, major conflict. The Jews were considered a scapegoat in WWII, divisions between Hindus and Muslims continue to create friction in the far east and the brunt of terrorism, or at least what Western media exposes us to, is blamed on ISIS or other radical Islamist groups. It is true that religion and mixing state and faith have historically been and currently are sources of conflict, but so is any large difference in ideology. Until our society fully learns that what someone believes is not a complete definition who they are, religion will be a point of contention. However, this does not mean that it has not made valuable if not integral contributions to the world that we know today.

11 Nov 2006, Paris, France --- Symbols of the Three Monotheistic Religions --- Image by © SÈbastien DÈsarmaux/Godong/Corbis

What you are failing to recognize is that to many, many people, religion is an essential part of their identity. It represents morals, values and beliefs, as well as where they come from, their ancestry and the hundreds of years of history that collectively contribute to who they are. By taking digs at religion as a whole, you are directly denying the validity of someone’s personal identity. That is completely unacceptable and, in my opinion, lacking basic human kindness and decency. On the other hand, religious groups are to thank for an enormous proportion of social justice work because they believe that what they are doing is basic goodness. Yes, I make my jokes about religion and complain about having to take the courses in school, but in the end, I acknowledge that faith is deeply personal and that no there is no right or wrong answer to what constitutes valid beliefs.

You also do not acknowledge that there are religions that make no mention of God(s) or the notion of a creator. Take Buddhism for example. Your point of view is completely hinged on the concept of God and that in believing in one or multiple deities, that somehow means that they cannot fully understand or appreciate scientific knowledge. Yes, there are still people who don’t believe in evolution even though we know that evolution is scientific fact, but it’s still incredibly rude to insult people for that belief, or any belief for that matter. This is especially true considering the cultural implications of religion.

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So much of our modern society has some sort of origin that can be traced back to religion and belief systems. From the Olympics, to the massively commercialized and americanized celebration that we still have the audacity to call Christmas, to iconic art and architecture, our world would not be the same place without the past and continuing influence of religion. After all, if you view time as a continuum beginning from the moment of the birth of the universe, every moment in history has fallen into place in such a way that you and I are right here, right now. Even changing the most minute moment in history, the world we know today would not be the same. Without religion, our world would be vastly different and neither you nor I would be the same people, that is if we were still born in this alternate reality.

Finally, I would like to touch on what I believe is the most important point. Religion and faith and believing in something, whether that be in God, an inherent order in the universe or that the world revolves around oneself is a massive source of hope; hope for a better tomorrow, hope that being a moral and ethical person is a self-perpetuating cycle, hope that there is still good in this world. By denying the validity of religion and calling it a joke, you are denying the most poignant and enduring source of hope in the world: the belief that there is something bigger than us. If that isn’t a reason to leave religion be, I don’t know what is.

I believe that every person’s beliefs are valid and that they have the right to express them. However, my tolerance runs out when someone’s beliefs actively hurt or devalue others, and that is exactly what you and your constant counter-religious tirade are doing. I am not asking you to change your beliefs for my benefit, only to recognize that what you say can hurt other people more deeply than you may realize.

Much love,

Your friend Talia

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