Back in May of 2006, I decided to put together a piece for the NPR project, "This I Believe." To date, I haven't sent it in, mostly because it times out over five minutes and as it says what I want it to say, I'm loathe to cut it. In any case, here it be:
I have no faith. While I was raised Christian Protestant at the Northfield Congregational Church in white-bread north suburban Chicago, I never fully bought into the dogma I was taught, but more importantly, I never had any experiential reinforcement which told me intrinsically that there was any substance behind what I was told to believe. Trying to fool myself into believing didn’t work, and it never really has. As an adult, I have occasionally listened to the modern-day purveyors of religion who, convinced of their own rectitude and ultimate verity of their faith, assert boisterously that I must either side with them or perish. Still, the inconsistencies between what they preach and what I remember of the Carpenter’s words confirm for me the lack of any value their particular flavor of faith might have in my life. I ignore them insofar as it is possible, though the din of their cry makes that sometimes difficult.
I have examined other belief systems outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and some such as the Transcendental Meditation system of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi which, at least in theory, do not depend on belief. TM certainly had its moment in the sun for me, but once again, the behavior of its people finally spoke louder than the product they proffered. So long as I was a “True Believer,” I was welcome within their fold, but once I started to question or assert my own points of view regarding elements of their own orthodoxy, I found them to be no more open to external input than the Christers were. I find that, much like Jody Foster’s character in the movie, “Contact,” I am an unrepentant empiricist. Missouri may not be my home state, but you will have to show me if you want me to consider accepting any proposition, certainly any which requires “the belief in things unseen.”
If I believe anything, it is that belief of any sort, particularly religious, is personal. Personal belief, depending on the topic, may have tremendous importance to the person who subscribes to it. It may or may not, however, have sufficient common resonance to be universally shared. Like a taste for jalapeno or curry or Brussels sprouts, one person may immediately say, “Yes, of course, how wonderful!” while another may with equal energy and passion respond with “YUK!” A revelation or epiphany to one person has application to that person, and not necessarily to the world at large. I find it interesting that a disagreement in choice of a meal is far better tolerated than one’s taste in gods, goddesses and beliefs therein. Then again, one does not depend on Brussels sprouts for one’s destination in the afterlife.
In concert with my assertion in the personal nature of intimate belief and that such beliefs may or may not (and more likely the latter) have universal appeal, I also believe that no one can claim a stranglehold on the truth. To me, proselytizing one’s faith, treating it as immutable fact, is an insult to others’ personal integrity. Indeed, such action is absurd, for how does one prove a personal revelation? I submit that the only way is to present such beliefs as an offer which may be accepted or not. If the receiving party finds value in what is offered, then fine, and if not, the beliefs remain the property of the original owner, and should be no less valued for one failure of a meeting of minds.
Sometime back when Hugh Hefner was composing his Playboy Philosophy, he posited that freedom of religion must contain within its boundaries the concept of freedom from religion. I couldn’t be more in agreement. I have my own beliefs, some of which I have shared here. I have no particular need, impulse or drive to convince others to mimic, emulate or follow those beliefs, except that I expect my right to my beliefs to be respected and not treated as a gauntlet thrown down, a challenge to those who presume to know the “truth,” and then further presume to set me free with it. Should someone be curious about my own personal tenets, I’m glad to proffer them on a “take it or leave it” basis. Still, free speech is a right, too, and there are those who will insist on waving their credo around in public. I maintain, however, that their right to wave still stops at my nose.