I was talking to this lady one day about life philosophies and what I feel should be normal in a civilized society. I don’t think my ideas make me special, but she felt it was so outside of the norm that I must have a good pastor. She then asked what church I attend, I told her I don’t attend any. She assumed it was because I was relatively new to the area so said her church was really good if I was looking for a church home. I told her I don’t actually go to church. She then apologized and said “oh, you’re a Muslim”, I cut her off before she could finish to say “no, I’m not a Muslim either”. At this point, she seemed to be out of possibilities, so I said “I don’t follow any organized religion”. Somehow, she took that to mean I don’t believe in God and asked a series of questions to confirm her thoughts. I told her I believe in God, just not religion and she stopped me and said she would pray for me.
Believe it or not, I get conversations like that relatively often. There is shock that I, a non-religious Black man, can have intriguing conversation and a functioning moral compass without religion as the motivator. I’m not sure why so many people believe religion equals good person, non-religious equals bad or lost person. Every time I have the conversation, I ask the same question to the person engaging with me, which is the question this week. If one abstains from bringing harm to others, solely out of fear of penalty, is that person actually good?
I don’t have a fear of hell or anything like that, so the empty promise of not going is not a motivating factor to me. I treat people fairly because it’s what I believe is the right thing for me to do. So if fear is driving you to do the right thing, short of that fear you’d possibly be ok with doing the wrong thing. Maybe that’s just how I see it.