A simple geographic reminder to those overly insistent, overly-aggressive people of faith

When someone becomes overly insistent and overly aggressive about the truth behind their deeply held religious beliefs, I like to remind them that their deeply held religious beliefs are almost certainly predicated upon geography.

For the vast majority of people, religious belief simply correlates to where they spent most of their childhood. It is not a found or discovered belief but an inherited one. In the United States, for example, 56% of people affiliated with organized religion were born into that religion, and another 20% have merely changed church affiliation within the Christian or Jewish faith.

As a result, more than three-quarters of Americans espouse a religious belief because they were born in the United States to parents who had the same belief. 

But let's be honest: 

If these same people were born in Saudi Arabia, they would almost certainly be Islamic.

If they were born in Tibet, they would almost certainly be Buddhist. 

If they were born in India, they would likely be Hindu.

Considering that 23% of Americans are nonbelievers, this means that less than 3% of Americans are currently affiliated with a religious belief that they did not inherit upon birth and is not based upon their childhood mailing address. 

So relax, you overly aggressive religious interlopers. 

I'm not saying that your geographically inherited religious belief is any less important, meaningful, valid, or spiritually satisfying as a belief (or absence of belief) that is realized only after careful study and introspection.

I'm only saying that this is true if you are attempting to impose your geographically-based beliefs upon others through some political, legal, or economic means.

Your religious belief may be true to you, but just remember why you probably think it's true and let the rest of us believe what we want, absent of any judgment or persecution.  

Rose City Park Church: The sign is real, and the message is fantastic, despite my suggestions for revision.

I assumed that this sign was a fake when I saw it, but no. It's real. 

rose city park united methodist church

It's also both shocking and refreshing. As a person who would like to believe in God and an afterlife but has been unable to do so, a logical, sensible, rational message like this makes religion seem so much more accessible.

Bravo, Tom Tate and company.

I'm also a fan of the Rose City Park United Methodist Church's mission statement (even though I despise the notion of mission statements): 

The Rose City Park United Methodist Church …

 “Where we share God’s love Compassionately and Inclusively

… through Radical Hospitality.”

I could do without the ellipses (of course), but they aren't egregious enough to ruin the spirit of the message.

But it's close.

I also find it amusing that Rose City Park refers to itself as both a city and a park when it's neither. It's actually a small, overpriced (Forbes, 2009) neighborhood in northeast Portland, Oregon.  

As a person who has read the Bible cover to cover three times, I might also suggest changing the word God to Jesus on their sign. Based upon Biblical text, I am quite certain that Jesus would prefer kind atheists over hateful Christians.

The God of the Bible (and particularly the Old Testament) wasn't nearly as reasonable or rational.   

Sunday Assembly, an atheist's version of church, seems a little too good to be true.

Sunday Assembly, an atheist's version of church that is growing exponentially, seems a little too good to be true. 

The idea is simple: it has all of the community spirit, engagement, and inspiration of a church without any of the religious aspects. Each service has at least one guest speaker, from economists to poets, a moment of reflection and, above all, repeated entreaties to get to know the rest of the people there.

Add to this already near-perfect format a combination of “mini-rave” breakout sessions, ‘80s power ballads, competitive games and mass karaoke, and Sunday Assembly becomes almost impossible to imagine.

I think I may have to see it to believe it.


I have a friend who says that for him and his family, God stands for the Great Out Doors, and this allows him to honor and worship what he believes is most important by playing golf, tennis, kayaking or hiking on a Sunday morning.

Not bad, I’ve always thought, but this might be better. 

I think I would still prefer a round of golf or a Patriots pregame tailgate to Sunday Assembly, but if there is snow on the ground and the golf courses are closed or the Patriots are playing out of town, this might be a reasonable alternative.

Why I am a reluctant atheist

I describe myself as a reluctant atheist.

Essentially, this means that I do not believe in God, but I wish I did. I have tried to believe. At this point in my life, I simply lack the faith required to believe. Despite reading the Bible cover to cover three times in my life, I have been unable to find truth in those words.

Truthfully, the more I read, the less I believe.

Adding the word “reluctant” to my atheist label has had an interesting effect on others in terms of their reactions to my position on religion.

For people of faith, the word “reluctant” seems to have added a level of approachability and acceptance that did not exist before. While many people of faith have a difficult time understanding the non-believer and are often offended by the criticism of their religion, they seem to have an acceptance of the idea of a crisis of faith, and they often assume that this is what I am experiencing.

Even when I take a hard-lined stance against a practice or policy of their religious institution, the addition of the word “reluctant” has seemed to temper their anger and outrage.

This has been good.

I tend to believe that my position on God is not a crisis of faith and more rationale and cemented than some of these people of faith seem to believe, but perhaps I am wrong and someday faith will come to me.

Either way, we seem to be able to engage in discourse more easily now.

For some atheists, the addition of the word “reluctant” has been greeted with skepticism and disappointment. They believe that I do a disservice to nonbelievers when I fail to take a strong position on my atheist views.

I try to explain to these people that my position on atheism is actually quite strong. While I wish that I believed in a higher power and an afterlife, I am convinced that neither exists.

“Then why try to believe in something that you know doesn’t exist?” they ask. “Why wish for the impossible? And for someone who has read the Bible carefully, why would you wish for the God described in the Bible?”

They have a point. The Biblical God, particularly in the Old Testament, is not a friendly guy. 

There are tough questions. I often find myself feeling like the little boy who has just discovered that Santa Claus isn’t real but still desperately wants him to be real. It’s a difficult position to explain or defend.

But I think I’ve found my answer. I’ve found my answer in Antoinette Tuff, the Georgian woman who saved the lives of untold numbers of students and teachers with her quick thinking and steel nerves. Listening to her describe the role that her faith in God played during her encounter with the gunman and the humility that her faith has given her in the wake of all the attention she has received was inspiring.

As I listened to her speak, I found myself jealous of her faith, wishing that I could believe with the absolute certainty that she possesses.

There is nothing wrong with wanting something as powerful as faith, even when you are convinced that it is predicated on something that does not exist.