Every time I say those words, I cringe because I know that whoever I’m speaking with will immediately think less of me. And every time, their expressions change from “Oh, what a nice person” to “Oh, what an idiot”.
And why shouldn’t they think this? After all, I live in a very liberal city (San Francisco), and most of the literature on religion here focuses on why religion does more harm than good, or why religion is killing the country, or the stupidity of the religious right. When I have a conversation with a liberal atheist, somehow we always get to how religion is just an excuse for people to discriminate against each other, and in some ways it absolutely is. Using religion as an excuse to not serve someone for their sexual orientation is absolutely despicable. But assuming that every religious person is a small-minded, unintelligent bigot is as harmful.
First off, telling someone that their belief in God — not even their interpretation of the Bible, just your basic belief in a single higher power — means they’re less intelligent or unable of critical thinking is a blow to their self-esteem. The religious right already does this with their children; but why contribute to the hatred and growing number of mental health issues by condemning someone’s simple faith in God?
Second, believing in God (or gods) does not necessarily imply that you’re less intelligent. Some of the most intelligent people I know I met at my church, and the others are Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu (and some are atheist but I’m trying to make a point). On the contrary, some of the least intelligent people I know are atheists, and while they are ideologically liberal, their overall stupidity and inability to think critically reminds me of the religious right. The point is, religion doesn’t mean people are stupid, and nor do stupid people gravitate to religion. You can find stupid people anywhere as long as you look a little.
Now on to why religion has been good for me (keep in mind that I’m not pushing religion, just recounting my experience). I’ve been going to my church for my entire life, and besides teaching me the normal stuff (compassion, love thy neighbors, etc) it has given me a supportive community where I’ve been able to grow and be myself. So while I’ve had my doubts about whether God exists, I’m going to continue being religious because for me, being religious means being supportive, loving, kind, and welcoming. And that to me sounds so much better than anything else.