Although the new Banana Boys video is amusing in its ham-fistedness, I want to be serious for just a moment about its inclusion of one my particular bailiwicks—the claim that god-belief/religion/god(s) is the singular genesis of morality.
Sayeth Kirk Cameron: "Only God can take the sinful heart of a man or a woman and cause them to love that which is right and just and good."
Sayeth Melissa McEwan: Utter fuckery, that.
I'm certain there are people in this world who are better people because of their belief in God. In fact, I'm sure there are denizens of this very community who would say that very thing—and more power to them. I don't begrudge anyone their own experience.
My point is only this: It is not the universal fact so many religious people assert it to be. You see, I am a better person as an atheist than I ever was as a Christian.
Much of that is about religion, rather than strictly God-belief itself, but the two are inextricably intertwined for most people (and they certainly were for me). Religion made me self-loathing (no amount of bullshit about equality in God's eyes can undermine the message of refusing to ordain women), but, worse than that, it forced me to label and categorize people—believers, non-believers, sinners, saints, good, evil, redeemed, condemned, us, them—to see the world in black-and-white binaries that closed off half my heart.
And it made me reluctant and unable to admit my failures. Despite all the emphasis on forgiveness, there was never a clear pathway to fully own that for which I was meant to seek absolution. I confessed my fuck-ups to God every week in a monotonously recited plea with the rest of the congregation, and I meant it—but I didn't know how to apologize to the human beings I'd hurt, not really. I didn't know how to accept criticism, or make amends. And I sure as shit didn't know how to examine my privilege.
God may have loved me, and sent his son to die for me, and forgiven me—but he taught me diddly-shit about being a privileged person with internalized prejudices. Love one another. Well, swell. Except loving someone doesn't always prevent me from hurting them. And getting right with God didn't get me right with the people I'd hurt. The message of the savior was that I could sit back and be saved with minimal inconvenience, not to mention negligible self-reflection. I could be stingy with my willingness to admit to anyone other than God my wrongdoing, my mistakes. If it was selfish to let other people live with the pain I caused them, it didn't matter: I needed God's forgiveness alone.
I was learning how to get into Heaven. I wasn't learning how to be a good person.
I wasn't kind; I was judgmental, which is the poisonous soil in which a lack of kindness grows. Giving myself permission to let go of the judgment that was such a fundamental part of god-belief has been one of the greatest gifts I've given myself, and the people around me.
Where once I had judgment, I now have compassion. Where once I was creating distance from other people, I now create connection. Where once "being good" meant following rules for personal reward, now it means something very different: I value life, and the humans living it, much more strongly because I view it as finite. I've only got this life to get it right.
That's not everyone's experience, but it is mine—which I share only to make clear that no one, no one, can rightly claim to have the market cornered on what elicits goodness in humankind. God did not take my "sinful heart" and make me love, or even know, "that which is right and just and good." Walking away from God did that.
Many atheists will say that walking away from God opened their minds; it did that for me, surely, but walking away from God also opened my heart.