This past weekend, I was in the Triad region of North Carolina to attend the wedding of one of my five brothers’ oldest daughter. It was a beautiful outdoor wedding and reception and the weather was very co-operative. A memorable time was had by all – at least by my wife and I; and, I am sure, the bride and groom.
The weekend’s festivities started with the rehearsal dinner given by the groom’s parents. In a very gracious gesture, they included all of the out-of-town family of the wedding party, including those who were not actually involved in the wedding. So the rehearsal dinner effectively doubled as a mixer for the families to be introduced to each other. And the groom’s family couldn’t have been any more gracious or any nicer.
While we were at that dinner, I was wearing my scarlet letter “A” in my lapel as I am wont to do, and during my conversation with the groom’s father, our host asked me what the “A” meant. I answered that it stood for “Atheist” and we had a brief conversation about the fact that the term atheist doesn’t say anything about what a person believes in – just what they don’t believe in. We also talked briefly about secular humanism. At no time did I get the impression that he was deeply religious. (I also had two other people ask about my scarlet letter, one of whom I know is a tea-party conservative who tried to play the old “what stops you from going out and pillaging and murdering, etc” canard.)
On Saturday morning, I was having a conversation with a couple of my other brothers and a few other people when we got a somewhat panicked call from my father-of-the-bride brother. It seems that they had much more set-up work than they had people to do it and if anybody could give him a hand. Naturally, my brothers and I volunteered and went over to the wedding venue to help. As is my custom when I am out and away from home, I was wearing one of my non-believer T-shirts, a CFI leadership conference T-shirt. No comment was made; we helped out until we were no longer needed; then returned to the hotel to have lunch and hang out until it was time to get dressed to attend the wedding and reception.
The wedding was at 4:00 and it was a very nice secular ceremony; it also had a nice wrinkle that I had not seen or heard of before. (I again wore my scarlet letter, but I assume the word was out because nobody approached me or asked about it.) As the reception was winding down, my father-of-the-bride brother mentioned that they had to have the wedding venue completely cleaned up and cleared out by 8:30 am Sunday morning. So my wife and I and the brother who was traveling with us from Pittsburgh volunteered to help out with the break down so that they could be done in time. Since it needed to be done by 8:30, we could help out and get back to the hotel to avail ourselves of the hotel provided breakfast before it closed down. (Getting up to help out also had the additional benefit of getting us on the road two hours earlier than originally planned – a bonus.)
I wore another one of my T-shirts, this time my RDF “Religion – Together we can find the cure” shirt. So we did our thing, said our goodbyes and all the usual pleasantries, and headed back to the hotel for breakfast, and packing, and heading out. Sitting at the table with us was the bride’s younger sister, herself a hardcore atheist. As it inevitably does when I’m around, the conversation turned to belief and non-belief. My atheist niece said that she was cringing when she saw my T-shirt and the groom’s father looking at it. She said that he’s very religious and she felt a little uncomfortable that I was wearing such a confrontational shirt. She also said that the whole family was fairly religious and that they were very nice people. And I agreed – they seemed like very nice people.
And that brings me to my point (yes, there is a point in all of this). I realize that I tend to be very strident in my criticisms of religion and my frequent references to believers as “delusionals”. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that there are large numbers of religious people who are nice people. Just as I recognize that there are atheists who are real lowlifes.
But I would submit that those nice religious folk would be nice people whether or not they were religious – that religion has absolutely nothing to do with their niceness. Good people who feel empathy for their fellow humans will tend to be nice people regardless of their perceived imaginary friend. And, I also submit that non-believers who are compassionate and caring would be so whether or not they were atheists. Good people are good people. Period.
And that’s the whole point. Why do we need ignorant superstition if good people are going to be good people anyway? Considering the harm and damage that religion causes in so many other areas, is it really worth it to gloss over those evils and give it a pass merely because good people are good people?