Want to be Better Person? Consider Leaving Organized Religion

Want to be Better Person? Consider Leaving Organized Religion October 21, 2021

According to the 2019 American Values Survey, 40.5% of Americans agree that it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values. 58.8%, however, either disagree or strongly disagree.

That’s good news.

A quick note about the survey:

The American Values Survey is an annual multi-issue survey on religion, culture and public policy . . .  to help journalists, scholars, pundits, thought leaders, clergy and the public better understand debates on public policy and the religious and cultural atmosphere that is shaping American politics and society.

(Suffice it to say, the survey is a good source that tackles many of the questions inquiring minds want to know about what Americans are thinking on a range of topics, including speculative questions about God and religion. Check it out if it suits your fancy.)

That said, I had one disappointment with the results. I devoured all 57 pages of the survey and didn’t find the question I want to have answered: How many Americans think that they need to discard religion altogether in order to become a more ethical person?

In other words, let’s flip the question on its head. because I think it’s imperative that people stop following organized religions if they want to become better people.

Why did you leave religion?

Believe it or not, many people leave religion because they realize their ethical standards are superior to the morality offered by their faiths. Are you one of them? / Image by Schäferle from Pixabay

I still get asked this question from time to time and the answer I usually provide is that I left religion to become a better person. By better, I really do mean having a stronger and broader ethical foundation to stand on than my faith was providing for me.

You see, religion has a way of making a person focus on their own lives to the exclusion of everything else. When a person is in a religion little matters except the salvation of their soul. One is simply too preoccupied with their faults (sins) and working so hard to earn God’s favor that other concerns fade from view.

This is not my opinion insomuch as it’s based on biblical mandates. Christians believe that Jesus may come at any moment, that their faith must consume their lives, and that they might even have to forsake friends or family members to pursue their beliefs. It’s this kind of personal devotion that leads to what I call having an us and them mentality.

Having an us and them mentality is cherishing the tribal notion that only me and my people matter. It’s a contrived bias in which believers tend to think they are right and everybody else is wrong; that their people know the truth and no other faith-based group measures up; and that they are justified in saying and doing what they want because they think God is giving them their marching orders.

I saw the moral implications in this way of thinking straightaway upon my conversion, and it was an eventual deal breaker for me.  I thought it wrong to think about people and to interact with them in this way. I didn’t want to feel animosity or disown family members and friends who didn’t believe as I. I couldn’t justify the level of arrogance required to think that I was better than others.

In other words, I had to leave religion because it became a moral imperative.

And when that moment arrived when I had to make my break from religion, I couldn’t wait to reengage with humanity again. To become a participant in life. To dive headlong into all the wonders of human existence—and yes, the horrors too—because this is the only way to engage in life and find ways to make a difference.

This is just one of the reasons why I left religion to become a better person. I’ve got many more, but perhaps readers have a few they’d like to share?

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About Scott R Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister, a member of the Clergy Project, and writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. He is the author of the novel Blind Guides, Picking Wings Off Butterflies and How to Escape Religion Guilt Free. You can read more about the author here.

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7 responses to “Want to be Better Person? Consider Leaving Organized Religion”

  1. I’d go a bit further than that. I believe that religions damage our ability to morally reason and consider various ethically “muddy” scenarios which we find often in society. It damages our ability to recognize other fellow members of humanity. It warps us.

    Once, it may have been useful to help when we were resource restricted and ignorant. We needed some social structures as little family tribes grew to larger villages and then, to towns and now, to these mega cities. However, religion doesn’t scale up to match the demands we need for humans to thrive in this world. We don’t live in little villages. Some people in NASA can call people who are currently orbiting the planet. It’s like using an inch sewage pipe for your home when you really need a 6 inch sewage pipe to account for the fluffy toilet paper.

    I even wonder if the tribalism that we notice is that innate to our human species. I used to think it was a part of us, but then, I started thinking about my DNA. I’m not fully homo sapiens. Apparently, some of my ancestors saw members of cousin hominid species and said “Yeah, I like what I see”. I mean, that isn’t extraordinary in itself. Even now, in rural areas, we have conservatives raping cows and sheep. I mean, why do bestiality laws exist? Because it happened. That’s a reactive law not a proactive law.

    What was extraordinary is that I exist and that dozens of my fellow humans share some fragment of that ancient exchange. Why? Because it meant that my halfbreed ancestor who was the product of that union was cared for while still a helpless infant. My halfbreed ancestor was treated as “team humanity” and was able to find “friends with benefits” and possibly even “true love” enough to have children who were valued and probably loved. Those children had children until I was born. Think of what that meant.
    My species has a long history of infanticide when the baby can’t or shouldn’t be. My ancestor wasn’t dropped just because he or she was half other hominid. Instead, my ancestor was counted as a member of humanity. Neanderthal, Denisovan.. We all have that genetic trace of when our species weren’t that tribalistic at all. What happened to degrade that humanity so that now, we have conservative Christians cheering for the deaths of muslims who had the unfortunately reality of living in Iraq? What happened to degrade that humanity so that now, we have shia fighting sunni?

    I’m not solely blaming religion. It’s probably a multifactorial issue because … well, all human societies that we are aware of have had issues with the other. Our religions do reflect some of what we are. But maybe, religion doesn’t help and shouldn’t be considered a cure but rather, a sweet poison like McDonald’s supersized meals which can lead a person to multiple health issues if taken to excess.

    To tie that back.. I question whether religious people are capable of making moral judgments. Are they just transmitting the values that existed 10,000 years ago and have no bearing in this society and this world? Are they basing their morals on their imaginary friend? Are they basing their morals on the holy fetus – an imaginary construct that was ginned up to get votes? Did religion damage their ability to reason or were they naturally damaged and thus, always incapable of making moral judgments? I wonder. (i mean, we know that words can shape our perception and how we will behave and perform. Is it so unreasonable to wonder if religious people are the equivalent of rabid animals who will turn on us the moment they think their god tells them to shoot up a gay club or a muslim mosque or a jewish synagogue or a democrat’s fundraising event? )

    Personally, I’d like a world where religiosity was viewed as a potential gateway to a mental disorder. Maybe offer them mushrooms to give these poor individuals a sense of “spirituality” without all the cons and baggage of religion.

  2. I think tribalism is very much a part of our nature, and it’s not a stretch to say that the instincts involved with tribalism is “survival of the fittest” happening in real time.

    You are really delving into the nature of human nature here. I think almost everyone is blinded by the illusion that we are a perfect species, that we need only tweak a few human characteristics and we will have reached perfection.

    Western civilization can probably thank the Abrahamic religions, with its myths about creation and the fall of man, for our ignorance on this matter. What the Bible teaches about humankind is that we were created perfect, but due to the influences of sin we have become these pitiful creatures. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    The reality is, humans are merely an evolving creature, one that has been evolving for millions of years and will continue to do so for many more millions of years. We don’t have a clue where we are within the continuum of our evolution. We are just as capable of devolving as we are of evolving into something greater.

    I like your McDonald’s analogy. I have a similar one, based on a few of your comments. In a way religion works when we consider how primitive we still are as a species. Billions of people still need to focus on mantras like keeping the 10 commandments and other accolades like “love others as much as you love yourself,” just to prevent them from killing their neighbors. But this “good” quality of religion represents only a small fraction of the impact of religion in a person’s life and in our world. Most of the world seems intent on using religion to do precisely the opposite, to provide a god-ordained reason for people to kill their neighbor. (Which pretty much summarizes the cause and effect of religion in Old Testament times as well as the Old Testament itself.

    You said:

    “I question whether religious people are capable of making moral judgments. Are they just transmitting the values that existed 10,000 years ago and have no bearing in this society and this world?”

    I’d say, that given the roughly 3 billion people around the world that still use the Old Testament as a moral guide, (or other similarly written ancient texts), that in terms of ethical growth, humans have about 10,000 years to catch up to where we need to be to meet the demands of living in a global community. In other words, as long as we are still using the Bible as a guide, de-evolving rather than evolving is probably where we are headed.

    BTW. Interesting visual about conservatives, cows and sheep! Definitely and indicator of how primitive we still are as a species.

  3. JH, that was a very good response. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days.

    Many of us walking around today have some tiny proportion of Neanderthal or Denisovan blood. While you think of it as beastiality, I think early humans were close enough that different species of human wouldn’t trigger people to think “animal”, just as different races today don’t.

    I do think some people need a rule book and a foot on their throats to make them live in social…and some don’t. I’ve been thinking about this tendency a lot recently with the vaccine refusers. We have a shot that works very well (nothing is perfect) to prevent a horrible death. Even if a particular person believes they’d be absolutely fine if they got it, an empathetic and mature person realizes that there are some who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, or some for whom the vaccine just doesn’t work (remember my comment above about nothing being perfect).

    By taking the FREE shot, a person lessens both their chance of dying horribly, and the possibility that they might be just fine but might pass the virus on unwittingly to a loved one…or a stranger.

    Didn’t Jesus Christ–who many of these people claim to worship–say, “I do this for you”?

    Instead, what we’re seeing is a childish, hysterical, “I don’t wanna and YOU CAN’T MAKE ME”. Now that employers are demanding vaccines, the carrying-on has reached new heights. These people are stupid and selfish.

  4. A thought experiment . . . let’s say all the logical, scientifically minded people took the vaccine and lived, while all the irrational people didn’t and died off? How might this event change the evolution of our species? (To a certain extent, this is happening in realtime in America. Anti-vaxxers represent the “breed” of humans that are dying off while logically minded vaxxers are living to continue procreating!)

    My wife happens to know a few nurses that are loosing their jobs because they refuse to get vaccinated. They all offer a range of excuses, but one of the excuses is “I just don’t like to be told what to do.” I can imagine a toddler saying this, but not a grown adult. It comes with the territory . . . a part of being an adult is learning to live with being told what to do all the time.

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