Discrimination
Discrimination
Discrimination

Don’t Tell Me My Life Sucks
I'll Make That Decision

It’s probably not the best sleep therapy, but when I have trouble falling asleep at night, I often put my earbuds in and listen to a debate between a non-believer and a Christian apologist on YouTube. Typically, I fall asleep within 15 or 20 minutes, well before the debate is over, and may or may not remember much of what I listened to the next day.

But last night, I listened to a debate—all of it—that did not permit me to fall asleep. In fact, it left a deep impression on me. The discussion was between Andrew L. Seidel and Christian apologist Tom Trento. The topic was "Does the God of the Bible Exist?" (I’ve included a link to the debate at the end of this article.)

The primary reason the debate had such an impact on me was that the 5-minute opening statement by Andrew L. Seidel is probably the best articulated short statement advocating non-belief I have ever heard. In fact, Seidel is the first person who has caused me to think someone might have the potential to fill the gap left by the passing of Christopher Hitchens.

But there was another reason I was stirred by the debate.

Both participants made closing statements, which, according to the ground rules, were not to be interrupted by the other debater. Tom Trento spoke last and used a significant portion of his remaining time to proclaim that Seidel was a hypocrite for asserting that he—or any non-believer—could live life with meaning, morality, or purpose.

I’m not prone to intense emotions just before I fall asleep, but I felt a stab of anger as Trento leveled the accusation against Seidel. If you’re a non-believer, I’m sure that like me, you’ve had the same accusation hurled at you, "How can you have morals and meaning in your life if you don’t believe in God?"

Last night, I was able to summarize my reaction to this recurring challenge in one sentence:

The continual assertion by believers that non-believers are incapable of living life with morality, purpose, and meaning is demeaning and disrespectful at the deepest level and in the same neighborhood as an ethnic slur.

This repeated accusation is not only demeaning and disrespectful, it ignores reality, is prejudicial, reeks of hypocrisy, and presumes the ability to read someone else’s mind.

Morality? Having served as a minister for more than 35 years, I can tell you that any honest pastor will admit they have some congregants that are an embarrassment to the faith—people who generate surprise, even shock, when others learn they are professing believers. And that same minister will tell you their congregation includes multiple levels of morality, integrity, and sincerity.

Many God-fearing people are highly unethical and the same is true for many who don’t believe. But many people are good, salt-of-the-earth individuals, both inside and outside of faith.

Reality is that millions of non-believers do live highly ethical lives that feel purposeful and meaningful to them, and often to the people who are touched by their lives. Do non-believing EMTs, doctors, and nurses live meaningless lives? Do agnostic scientists who develop vaccines to save lives lack purpose? What about principled schoolteachers and devoted parents who are atheists? Do the inventors of the components of smartphones, computers, and safer automobiles lack purpose and meaning if they don’t believe in Jesus? I think not.

Believers and non-believers get divorced, experience depression, and often make bad decisions. In short, we are all imperfect humans who live and achieve at different levels. And it’s safe to say that how much purpose and meaning a person feels varies from one individual to another even within a religious tribe and, for each individual, the perceived level of purpose and meaning can vary from day-to-day.

While morality or the lack of it is often visible to those who witness a life, a person’s deepest motives, their unvarnished level of honesty, and the sincerity of their commitment to others is known only to them. And that’s even more true of having a sense of purpose and meaning. So, telling someone else that his or her life isn’t—and can’t be—one of purpose and meaning because they lack the "right" religious beliefs is not only prejudicial and hypocritical, it’s also absurd because it’s based on an assumption that one person can know how another person’s life feels to that individual without ever asking.

I'm not interested in playing the victim role, but when someone tells me my life sucks based on some preconceived idea of what is and is not possible for me based on my views about God or religion, without showing the slightest curiosity about how my life is lived and how it feels to me, I’ve decided it’s appropriate for me to react as I would to any bigoted slur that might be leveled at me. Hopefully, I can choose to be calm and measure the words I utter in response, but I’ve decided that it’s also okay for me to feel angry and offended.

If I’ve broken a law, violated the rights of someone else, or have failed to show compassion and empathy toward an individual who is hurting, I need to be accountable for my actions, and it may be helpful if someone reminds me of that. But please don’t tell me my life sucks because it lacks purpose or meaning. Evaluating the presence or absence of meaning and purpose in my life is my job!

March 12, 2021 - Tim Sledge Copyright © 2021 Insighting Growth Publications

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While it’s not what prompted or inspired this article, this is too good an opportunity to resist a plug for my book, How to Live a Meaningful Life: Focusing on Things that Matter.

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