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I was reading a fantastic post by my friend Wil about how he ended up as a “believe whatever you want just leave me out of it atheist” and was reminded of a very similar path I found myself on. I’ve written before about coming to terms with my own beliefs, or lack of beliefs as the case may be and fitting those in with my very religious family and upbringing. Growing up I went to many schools run by monks and nuns and was very frequently faced with the “believe, or else” philosophy of christian religion. I was regularly threatened with eternal damnation if I didn’t do any number of things, religious or otherwise. A family member once tried to exorcise the demons from me because she didn’t like my attitude. These people use threat of hell to create fear to build power and when that became obvious to me as I kid it lost all it’s power. When you realize someone is just trying to scare you into doing their thing, and that they are threatening you with made up nonsense, it’s really hard to get behind anything they have to say. You start asking question. And in my experience, those kinds of folks really don’t like being questioned. This reminded me about something I blogged about almost exactly one year ago about a pastor – a full grown man – bragging about punching a kid who wasn’t buying into his crap. I wrote that post on the occasion of National Religious Freedom Day which as it turns out is tomorrow.

It’s one thing to lament about things that happened back when we were kids, but in todays world the topic of “believe or else” is unfortunately just as current. And I’m not even talking about extremist events like the terrorist group ISIS beheading people on YouTube because you don’t even need to look that far. The United States prides itself on being the land of freedom, with freedom of religion baked right into the Bill of Rights, yet our currency declares allegiance to a supreme being (that was added in 1956 by the way) and Saudi Arabia considers atheists terrorists. A crime punishable by death, by a country that just last week beheaded 47 people in public for various crimes, most of which weren’t capital. This from a US ally and member of the UN Human Rights Council. One has to question the level of religious freedom and tolerance that exists a country that helps decide global human rights thinks it’s OK to kill people because they don’t believe in their personal favorite fairy tale. How many countries is that now that I can’t travel to, for fear of being murdered because I had the audacity to think for myself?

Thinking about all this causes me to constantly weigh out my own feelings. I think everyone should have the freedom to believe whatever they want, including the belief that all these superstitions are a bunch of crap. And I think they should grant me the same to me. I think if everyone just left everyone else alone to their own conclusions we’d be fine. But the fact of the matter is that for so many of these people, the only way they can feel good about their own choices are to condemn the choices of others. All religions have blood on their hands, and it’s almost always from people who decided to believe something else. And it’s because of that I can’t help thinking how much better off we’d all be without any of it.

So happy Religious Freedom Day, I look forward to the time when I can say that while actually enjoying religious freedom. That day certainly isn’t today.

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