Give Your Religion a Break on “No Faith Day”
Growing up religious, I remember being told: “You must water your faith or it will die!” as if religious faith is a type of dainty houseplant. This may be true, but houseplants generally don’t need watering every day. Likewise, your faith can undoubtedly use an occasional break from the flood of your exhaustive prayers, your tireless reading of scripture, and your capricious sense of guilt.
Sundays aren’t enough and Sundays plus religious holidays aren’t enough. Faith demands your attention every single day. This becomes exhausting. In theory and in practice, the need to exercise your faith nonstop is basically slave labor for the imagination.
The obvious solution to this difficulty is to institute an annual break from faith. I suggest making it a holiday. Call it: No Faith Day. One day a year, you give your sopping wet houseplant a chance to dry out a little.
I’m willing to bet that the idea of abandoning your faith (even for a 24-hour stretch) sounds terrifying. At least in terms of Christianity, the worst possible thing you can do is turn your back on God. That’s worse than murder, adultery, and coveting your neighbor’s chattel all put together. It’s really horrible. It’s the absolute worst thing.
But just imagine for a moment that turning your back on God actually isn’t the worst thing. How do I know that’s even possible? I tried it. And on No Faith Day, you’ll see what I mean. If you try out not having faith for a day, you’ll see that fearing God not only doesn’t make much sense, but that it’s also rather hilarious.
You don’t even have to wait for No Faith Day to see what I mean. Just think of Zeus. Imagine spending your whole life in fear of turning your back on Zeus. Hilarious, right?
I remember one night, about the time I went away to college, I lay in bed teasing myself with a seemingly wicked challenge: what if I didn’t pray tonight? I’d skipped plenty of prayers, of course, but never intentionally. To do so would in effect be to say: “I don’t need your blessing tonight, God; I got this on my own.” And underlying that would be the whisper, “And I’m okay on my own because I know you’re not really there anyway.”
These were all just private, sleepy thoughts. But they were so much more than that, too. In that moment, I learned more about the nature of religion than I had ever learned from reading the Bible (the whole thing, KJV, twice over), or studying the works of the great theologians. In short, I learned what a powerful hold religion had over me.
I had already had doubts about the historical and philosophical claims put forth in the Bible, but those doubts had never caused me much concern. It wasn’t until that night when I took a break from praying that I actually found a place in my brain for the doubts to latch onto.
Now, “doubts” is a loaded term for religions people. Instead of this term, I should say, simply, “blatantly obvious facts.” Or, in other words: things that are routinely taken for granted by modern academics in any given field, be it history, geography, anthropology, moral philosophy, biology, chemistry, astronomy, etc.
If religious texts are to be relied upon for issues relating to the celestial realm, then they should be able to get the facts right about our physical world. But they don’t. Instead, religious texts represent the world exactly as one would expect them to if they were written by nomadic people who lived thousands of years ago. We’re talking people who thought it sensible to sacrifice animals in order to influence weather patterns. They didn’t know about, for instance, atmospheric chemistry. So they didn’t write about it. Instead they wrote about sacrificing animals.
Any average third grader in America knows more about the nature of the world today than the people who wrote the Bible. For example, third graders know about germs, they know about gravity, and they know that the Earth travels around the Sun. If the Bible were written by an omniscient being, the text could have at least included a paragraph or two about the existence of germs. A good Christian might counter that God didn’t choose to reveal information about germs because [some hypothetical reason or another]. No Faith Day gives this same good Christian the opportunity to observe the more obvious conclusion: The Bible didn’t include any details about germs because the book is manmade, not God-inspired.
By the same token, if religious texts are to be relied upon for issues relating to morality, then they should paint us a clear picture of how to act morally. But again, they don’t. Just consider the Ten Commandments. To quote Sam Harris from Letter to a Christian Nation:
If you think that it would be impossible to improve upon the Ten Commandments as a statement of morality, you really owe it to yourself to read some other scriptures. Once again, we need look no further than the Jains: Mahavira, the Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a single sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being.” Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically defensible reading of the Bible.
The night I decided to skip praying was, in a sense, my first time celebrating No Faith Day. I look back on it as an important day in my life. I enjoyed that “holiday” so much, in fact, that I have since decided to celebrate it each and every day. If I were still a Christian, I would say something to the effect of: It’s like Christmas 365 days a year!
The fall semester for college often starts during the first week of September. That’s right around the same time I first eschewed prayer. I’m sure my experience is not unique. So, I propose making September 1st the official date for observing No Faith Day.
Mark your calendar: Blatantly obvious facts shouldn’t be ignored. Fearing God is hilarious. Give your houseplant a break and celebrate No Faith Day.