It’s Okay Not To Believe

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It's Okay Not To Believe

It's Okay Not To Believe

I have been living in North America long enough by now to realize that religion — any religion — and faith in general is quite important here.

Religion has never been a part of my life. I grew up in an atheist family. My grand-mother’s father was proudly displaying his lack of faith in the small village he grew up in, at a time where it was not that common to not believe in the big bearded guy above. A famous story goes that one day, the priest climb on the parish’s roof because he wanted to fix a missing tile. His ladder fell and, stuck on the roof, he called for help. My great-grand-father was nearby and taunted him:

— This is as close to Heaven that you are ever going to get!

This still makes my grand-mother laugh. Well, I assume he eventually helped the poor guy, but you get my point. We are a family of sinners. Proud sinners on top of that.

So, when I came to North American, I first had to overcome a few prejudices. In France, there is a strong anti-cult law. As a result, French are extremely foreign to any religion that is not plain Roman Christian, Judaism, Buddhism or Islam. Try it: next time you go to France, mention to your waiter, taxi driver or fellow train passenger that you are an Anglican, a LDS or whatever, and see their eyes widen as they mutter something like “poor you”.

How to define a cult and religion — don’t ask me. The fact is that in North America, there seem to be more religions than soda brands and I’m okay with that. After all, why not? Believe in what makes you feel good.

What I have a really big problem with is proselytism.

The other day, once again, I opened the door to see a woman and man standing in front of me. The conversation we had was quite surreal:

— Hi! (staring at me from head to toes) You are not Chinese.

Indeed, I’m not. Glad we could agree on something — this is so rare these days.

— Do you have a Chinese person at home?

I wish I had replied something witty, such as “no, it’s my Indian day“, but I was too surprised for that. Taken aback, I said that yes, a had a Chinese-Canadian Feng. Did these guys had superpowers?

— Is he here? We would like to talk to him about Jesus.

When I assured them that 1) he wasn’t there 2) he really wasn’t into Jesus (he likes the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2 better), they didn’t believe me and told me they would be back. Can’t wait.

They never bothered introducing themselves (I couldn’t see their name tags) and I didn’t have a chance to see their flyer’s title. Guess I wasn’t Jesus worthy.

Since I live in Canada, at least 30 people tried to convert me. But to me, going door to door trying to explain people they are going to hell is about as useless as a telemarketer who is calling at 11:00 pm to sell AIG stocks. How does shoving your beliefs in my face is going to make the world a better place?

And why this need to convince people your religion is best?

Note that I have nothing against religion. I’m indifferent, the same way I’m indifferent to golf, darts, curling and the Twilight movie. I don’t even care whether God exist or not. We are talking about proselytism and freedom of choice here.

I have never been a militant atheist. I respect various religious beliefs: to each his own. But I do feel I belong to a minority in North America and my position as an atheist puzzled quite a few. “Isn’t your life pointless?” “Is there such a thing as atheist morality?” “You just haven’t found God yet!“.

Give. Me. A. Break.

Trust me, it’s hard being an atheist in North America. Religion isn’t part of private life: it’s everywhere. It bothered me for a while that public buses in Ottawa have religious-supported anti-abortion ads. Abortion is legal in Canada and although it can be your choice not to go that way if you ever find yourself facing this issue, let others make up their mind. I don’t like when people come to my door and try to convert me. I’m busy and you are invading my private space, no matter how nice you are. I don’t like when politicians make a big deal of invoking God. Of course, they can believe, but their job is to serve citizens who are bound to believe in many Gods, or no God at all. It bothers me that moral values are so often associate with religion: seriously, atheists have values too!

Recently, an ad was displayed on buses in Canada and all over the world: “there is probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy your life“. It was a humorist and positive way to bring awareness about atheism, humanism, and secularism. It was meant in a respectful way, with also the idea that churches and various religions do advertise in the bus, so why not atheist? Yet, religious groups claim the statement was offensive. Come on, guys!

I just wish I didn’t feel like I was walking on eggshells whenever someone mentions religion. Please, let me think freely. And stop trying to convert me. Or the Chinese guy at home.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

45 Comments

  1. There hv been calls from the radical Muslims to establish a proper Islamic state in Malaysia governed by Islamic laws (Syariah), and the call is also an ultimate goal of one of the largest opposition parties in Malaysia, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

    Ironically, PAS is practically more tolerant of non-Muslims than the secular yet increasingly Islamic federal government (a tactic taken to woo muslim votes in face of increasing pressures from the opposition). However, the 40%-strong (though rapidly decreasing) non-Muslim community helps to prevent their fiery intentions from going overboard, else they would lose a significant chunk of votes from an important community.

    Also, though Islam stemmed from the Middle East, only 20% of today’s 1.5 billion Muslims live there. 😉

  2. Hey Zhu,

    Is your family an atheist (as in “God doesn’t exist, period”) or is it an “atheist” (as in “no religion but believe in a higher creative force”)?
    Many people call themselves atheist because they are mad against the Roman Catholic Church (which I understand, they have messed up a lot – nevertheless, of all the Christian churches around, I understand them (plus the Anglican and the Orthodox) the best…all the rest, I don’t). And mind you, I am not Christian.

    Religion drives me mad sometimes, but I acknowledge its importance: whether we like it or not, they help controlling the society. Religion is the main catalyst of values…it is a shame, though, that so many (in several religions) are so messed up that don’t have the authority to pass on any type of values.

    “– This is as close to Heaven that you are ever going to get!” – LOL LOL LOL this was a good one LOL LOL LOL…I like your grand-father already LOL.

    “We are a family of sinners. Proud sinners on top of that.” – oh please…what sinners? Do you intentionally kill people? Do you harm your neighbour, are you a racist; are you a rapist; are you miser? If the answer is no, then you are not a sinner. God cares only about your soul, and if it is a good one, then all if fine.
    Now, some religious people will say that if you deny God’s existence you are a sinner…but I say that even the one who thinks that is rejecting the Creator is not in truth, because deep down it knows that there is a Higher Force that created all souls, no matter how much that individual may deny it. That being said, I focus on people’s soul (because there are many who accept God, who go to church every week and then rape women and children, murder people, are damned racists and have all types of character deviations).

    “next time you go to France, mention to your waiter, taxi driver or fellow train passenger that you are an Anglican, a LDS or whatever, and see their eyes widen as they mutter something like “poor you”.” – LOL LOL LOL LOL….

    “What I have a really big problem with is proselytism.” – me too. I am not comfortable with people who try to impose their religion/spirituality on others (and I am talking about Christians and Muslims here; because Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism are not fans of proselytism), and then curse other religions by saying that they are the only ones who are correct…oh please. Nevertheless, I like conversing with religious people, I really do.

    What did they want with Feng anyway? And why did they want him specifically? Be suspicious, girl!

    “And why this need to convince people your religion is best?” – HA…read the Books of St Paul…it all started with him *nodding*.

    Well, every time you look at yourself at the mirror you have found God…tell them that, and you will see their reaction LOL. However, I truly believe in this.

    Religion is simply an organisational institution, but it is far from being perfect. Plus, it is the counter-balance of those who have no religion at all. The world is made of “equilibria” without it it cannot be. So, we need the spiritual (and the religious) people and the people that do not practice any type of spirituality/religion ( I would say agnostic and/or atheist however I, personally, don’t believe in either – they make no sense) to keep things balanced.

    Great article, girl :D!!!

    Cheers

  3. @kyh – Wow, how interesting. I ought to learn more about Malaysia… I’m surprised to see how little I know after all. For some reason, it’s not often in the news, the spotlight is not on this side of the world too much.

    @Max Coutinho – Of all of us, I think only my Dad believes in a higher power. He actually read the Bible and try to understand it, and I think he believes a little. Not in an organized religion, but in something. My Mum is way too anarchist for believing in a higher power… and I think even though I’m a bit superstitious sometimes, I don’t believe in anything BUT mankind, arts and human being. I wish I had faith in something bigger. But I don’t.

    But you are right: I think a lot of people in Europe reject the Catholic church mostly because the bear a grudge against it.

    I do believe great values can be spread through religion, but also through science, through art etc.

    No, we are not this kind of sinners 😆 But it’s true that my family had always been almost “proud” not to believe in a time where everybody believed “by default”.

    About proselytism… you mentioned St Paul: can you tell me more about it? I’m curious!

    I have the biggest respect for believers (with the exception of proselytism) and I do believe religion can bring the best in people. But I still think there are other vectors of “goodness” in this world!

    Thank you so much for your comment!

  4. Wow! I really don’t like the video posted in the last comment. It is like the type of propoganda that was distributed in Germany in the lead up to the Holocast.

    In my opinion, leave others to believe as they choose. If you don’t want your bloodline, culture, etc. to die out then have children.

  5. @kyh – I can’t watch the video, it says “unavailable”…?

    @Angela May – Hi Angela,

    Sorry, I am not able to watch the video to comment, it is unavailable. I kind of get the point from the description though.

    I believe Kyh posted it because we talked about Islam in Malaysia, but I don’t believe he meant anything else. 😉 That said, I understand your feeling. I’m going to try to watch it later.

  6. Oh no, don’t get me wrong. It’s not a video that I made, so I don’t think I’m guilty here too. 😛

    Zhu, the video contains message of evangelism at the very end (just ignore that very part), what I wanna know is what is your view towards the main gist of the video, that is, the waning birthrates of the natives in the Western world which are far from the level that is required to replace the existing population, and that the overall population growth in the West is mainly due to Muslim immigration which multiply in just a few decades.

    It mentions that in France, 25-30% of teens under the age of 20 are Muslims, and in the bigger cities, 45%. If the trend continues, it claims that France will become an Islamic republic (= Muslim majority) by 2037. The video also covered the trends in Canada, US, Uk etc.

    I think you are logical and wise enough to watch this video with an open heart. A video with a bold claim is to spark discussions. 🙂

  7. Hey Zhu,

    Sorry for the tardy reply…things have been hectic (today I wanted to rest, but had to leave home to go vote for the European Elections) – ah Dieu!

    Anyway, you wanted to know more about St Paul: his name was Saul before he was converted to Christianity. He used to be a pharisee (and a Roman citizen) who chased Christians, and one day Jesus (who had already resurrected) came to him and asked him why he was persecuting him; he turned blind and became a follower of Jesus (hence his named changed from Saul [a Jewish name] to Paul [as a symbol of change, I’d say]).

    So, now Paul was the most fervent of all followers of Jesus (i.e. he became a radical Christian) and so he wrote a lot of epistles warning his brothers in faith that the word of Christ was to be spread, for he was God (although Jesus never called himself god nor God – and this is one of the issues I have with the Christian church) and reiterated that he was indeed the messiah that the Jewish people should have accepted (which is another issue I have with the Christian Church, because there are several points that do not add up) and some other radical stuff that Paul came up with (that had little to do with what Jesus taught).

    This being said, Paul was the precursor of proselytism (for he really insisted that everybody was to convert or they would never see the kingdom of heavens).
    Needless to say that I have a real issue with Paul lol lol…I do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and I don’t agree that his philosophy was inspired by God (he was no profet).

    You said “I do believe religion can bring the best in people” in some people it can…in most it doesn’t. Religion should have a specific purpose (to help keep order in society) but instead, many times, it generates chaos. And when it decides to meddle in politics…mamma mia, what a disaster!!

    “Thank you so much for your comment!” – girl, it was my pleasure :D!

    Have a great Sunday!

  8. It’s nice living in a moderately secular country like England. Religion is there if you want it, but I can spend my life without being in contact with it if I wanted. Yes, there are some who go around knocking on doors, but ultimately it’s left to personal choice.

    That’s my view anyway, but of course we also have problems in N.Ireland, which takes religion to a whole new extreme.

  9. Zhu, I just want to ask you this, just to make sure… even though you don’t believe, you still believe there is a tooth mouse right? Tooth mouse (a brethren of the tooth fairy) comes to take your baby teeth and gives you a dollar or a little toy. The tooth mouse has been around for thousands of years, and helps us through the hard times. I believe in tooth mouse. And I hope you do too!

  10. Sorry! Didn’t mean to imply that I was blaming kyh for the video. I just find the “us against them” message frightening and had to post a comment expressing why I find it frightening.

  11. Zhu,

    Love the post; look forward to reading more.

    A quick semi-explanation of proselytizing – I believe its primary value to the faith is not in spreading it (really, anyone swayed by a couple of smiles and a pamphlet is likely not going to remain convinced for long) but in reinforcing those already on board.

    We’re wired, psychologically, to mold our beliefs to fit our notions of who we are. We’ll even harm ourselves in order to avoid cognitive dissonance – someone who believes themselves to be an unattractive, undesirable mate is more likely to sabotage a relationship than change their belief, all without being conscious of what they are doing or why.

    Some very basic beliefs, such as “I am rational” or “I act in accordance with my principles” have subtle and powerful ways of changing our beliefs, given certain actions. If I go door to door talking to people about my belief, but do not really believe it that strongly, I feel incredibly foolish. Since I *am* going door to door, it must be the case that I believe what I am telling these people, and believe it firmly. Because I am not a fool. Once a religion gets someone to take positive action, the rationalization kicks in and the believer more strongly internalizes the message he is spreading.

    I think the same process takes place in cultures/groups which promote suicide bombings. Obviously the bomber needs no reinforcing, but those who knew the bomber, helped him, loved him – they must believe the cause is just, otherwise their lost friend/brother/son died for nothing. And that is unthinkable. The fact that there is so great a cost forces rationalization that there must be a justification for that cost. This is orders of magnitude more severe than saturday morning pamphleteering, but I think the same principle is involved.

    Now I don’t believe this effect is the result of scheming – I’m not that cynical. Rather I think it is simply a property of religions that works, and therefore survives. (I dig memetics, and viewing religions as mutating replicators helps me understand a lot.)

  12. Thanks for the insight into how (some) people outside North America view religion. I find this valuable for that alone.

    This exchange made me laugh hard:

    Hi! (staring at me from head to toes) You are not Chinese.

    Indeed, I’m not. Glad we could agree on something — this is so rare these days.

    I’m sure he thought he had a really excellent way to reach a Chinese person for Jesus, too, and was disappointed not to be able to use it.

    Proselytization makes me absolutely crazy!
    .-= CrackerLilo´s last blog ..Happy (not to have to celebrate) Easter! =-.

  13. Well written. I’m surprised you’ve run into so many people trying to convert you, but some areas are like that.

    Trust me, it’s hard being an atheist in North America.

    Yup. I have religious friends who complain about condescension towards religious people from atheists, and I’m sympathetic to a point. However, here in the U.S., you’ll see politicians and other public figures pander to religious folk all the time, and make obviously ridiculous claims such as “morality is impossible without religion.” Comedians may make fun of religious people, but atheists are never pandered to by those in government (or seeking power in it). Consequently, a healthy respect for atheists is one of important hallmarks for freedom in a democracy.

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