Sinners or saints?

By Jonathan Koepke

Columnist’s Note: This editorial column is of a disturbing nature. It is not my intention to personally offend anyone. I am simply trying to expose an alternative view of the universe. Please do not send out a crusade to publically burn me at the stake.

Have you ever been flipping through the channels late at night only to suddenly find yourself watching Benny Hinn for 20 minutes with no logical explanation aside from utter fascination? Lately I have found myself watching more of the Trinity Broadcasting Network than is healthy. I also have come to the conclusion that the most interesting part of the televangelist programming is the fact that so many people believe so fully in one doctrine so completely that they pass out and twitch on the ground like a fish out of water. Forget the ridiculous costumes and the crazy lady with the bad wig and 50 pounds of make-up, the real fascination is with the audience.

Judging televangelist shows as representative of the religious community as a whole is completely inaccurate, but it does point to something rather unusual that I find interesting. The true believers are those who defy my own understanding of reason, logic and factual knowledge. These people are on the extreme ends of the religious community. They are those that take literal interpretation of every word in the Bible or the Koran, or any holy text for that manner.

These individuals are those that would defy all modern science and attest that the sun revolves around the Earth and that the Earth itself is only a few thousand years old, and other such ideas that have simply been proven wrong. I wonder what it takes for people to turn the other cheek to such widely accepted views and follow a path that has outlived its usefulness.

I would say that most people are moderately religious. Ninety-nine percent believe in God or a God or a Creator or some other mystical binding force. Yet, there is a portion of those people that have the undying faith and religious fervor somewhat equivalent to the Spanish Inquisitors, minus the whole trial and hanging part.

For my own point of view I need to make a few points clear. First, I am an atheist. I am outside of every religious community on the planet. The way I figure it, everybody is considered damned in the eyes of someone else in the world, so why not be damned by everyone. Secondly, I am not attacking individuals for their personal beliefs or faith — you can believe whatever you want. I am marveling at true faith rather than criticizing anyone for their opinions.

True believers of any faith, not just Christianity, seem to me to be so sure of themselves. I cannot imagine having such an unwavering view of the universe in such a logic-defying manner.

For most people, religion is a really important matter, and that is probably not a bad thing. Most people have reconciled modern science and our understanding of the universe to fit within modified religious doctrines. These people are the majority of the nation’s population, and their opinions and beliefs make sense, yet there remains a few people who are seemingly without any rationality whatsoever.

For the most part, religion teaches good lessons and morals. Yet there is a less attractive side of religious fervor such as persecution and offense to non-believers. Everyone says freedom of religion is a good thing, yet no one really says much about freedom from religion.

A popular conception of atheists is that they have no morals and would do anything to anybody and not care or worry about it. Under this perception people need to be scared into being good, rather than having good without other incentives, i.e. Hell. You don’t necessarily need religion to have good morals and compassion.

I consider myself a very compassionate human being with strong morals and a desire to do great things in the world and to do so honestly and openly. Yet, I do not believe in religion. So am I damned, and am I a bad human? You tell me.

Historically, religion has been pretty dark in Western culture, emphasizing original sin, damnation, persecution and a life of deprivation. In recent years though, things seem to have taken a turn in a different direction. Religion, and Christianity especially, has taken a direct turn to the positive. One such example is the evangelical works of various campus organizations. These people are positive, open and willing to discuss matters of faith with you. Even if you disagree, they do not cast you away or insult you. Positive religious teachings are what religion in general needs to be more about.

Deeply religious people do not bother me, they interest me because I want to figure out how one gets to that point in their life. I don’t hate people for their religious beliefs, I simply don’t believe in them. I don’t think that they should be punished, just as I don’t think I should be punished for not believing.

As Easter approaches I recognize that this event is a very important one for many people. I am not asking you to give up your religion or your faith, I simply am asking that you consider the fact that I and others like me still can be good people without faith. Atheists want to live a peaceful and free life just like everyone else. Rather than simply bash religion or Christians, I am trying to explain an alternative view, and my own fascination with matters of faith. Perhaps it is my own weakness that prevents me from believing, yet I like to think otherwise, but it’s a possibility that I am wrong. If I am wrong, I sure hope this God dude takes it easy on atheists.