I got an interesting piece of hate e-mail the other day. Most of it is too nasty to print, but the part that I found interesting was the claim that I am a nonbeliever. This in and of itself marked me for death and eternal damnation, and disqualified me from making any honest comments upon anything.
I’ve heard this many times. The God of Love seems to attract followers filled with hate no less so than does Allah, the All Compassionate and All Merciful. It is an irony not unique to Christianity or Islam, but one that Christians and Muslims must (but usually don’t) deal with in public. It is much easier to deny the authenticity of hate filled Christians and Muslims than to admit that one’s religion has a shadow side given to hate, death, and murder.
Anyway to the question at hand: Am I an unbeliever? The answer depends on what it is I am supposed not to believe in. If you are Christian who believes that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are Muslim who believes that the Qur’an is the final word of God, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are a Jew who believes that Torah is the only revelation from God and the Jews are God’s Chosen, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. If you are a Hindu who believes that Krishna is Lord, and expect me to believe the same, then I am a nonbeliever. But if you believe that the universe is a single system of intelligence evolving toward greater and greater levels of consciousness, and that it is possible to realize yourself as a manifestation of this intelligence, and that doing so makes you a vehicle for compassion and justice, then I am a believer after all.
In other words, a nonbeliever is simply a person who doesn’t believe as you believe. There is no absolute standard for belief or nonbelief, and labels such as believer and nonbeliever are relative to the particular standard held by the person doing the labeling. The only value such labeling has is to make the person doing the labeling feel a bit more secure in her position. It is totally self-serving and without any objective truth-value whatsoever.
The whole thing saddens me. I would like to retire the words believer and nonbeliever in favor of different believer. Everyone believes something. No one believes in nothing unless Nothing is what you believe in, which, of course, makes that person, too, a believer. It is not right to call atheists nonbelievers. They have beliefs. Just not ones at home with a supernatural Supreme Being.
So please lets begin to speak of one another and ourselves as different believers. Let us believe differently if we choose. And, if we must label (and I sense that we must) let that be the only label we toss around.