The Value of Understanding Other People’s Beliefs

I saw a news story today that bothered me a bit. Apparently, the United States Air Force is threatening to not let a soldier serve if he does not agree to violate his own beliefs. What are his beliefs? He’s an atheist.

A person who does not believe in God. That used to bother me and make me a little sad at one time in my life. “How can you look at all the majestic and wonder of the world and the Universe and not believe there is a God?” I thought. Then I would comfort myself in thinking that this person probably was still searching for his or her beliefs and they would eventually find God. This year I had a revelation that opened my eyes and heart to what it can mean to be an atheist. More on that later.

I was raised a Christian. I went to a variety of different churches growing up. When I was 20 years old I sat down and read the whole bible front to back. I discovered I needed more than just the Judeo-Christian bible to grow spiritually.

That is when I began exploring Buddhism. Through the years I have become a student of religions. I am always listening to and reading about what other people believe. Much of what I learn does not resonate with me, but other parts of what I hear become like missing puzzle pieces that connect with ideas that have resonated with me. You can say I am a spiritual explorer picking and choosing the pieces that fit me best.

And why not? Why does anyone have to align themselves with only one belief, one dogma? How can anyone say one religion is the only truth and all others are living a lie or a partial truth? I love the story about The blind men and the elephant. Each man can only feel part of the elephant and thinks they know the whole truth based on the little section they have access to. We only have access to parts of stories. The more we explore the more we can learn.

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But the question I used to have in my mind was “where do atheist fit in the story?” If they do not believe in God what can I learn from them? For a long time, I assumed they were people who believed only in science and nothing else. I assumed that perhaps they had something happen in their life that made them close the doors to the idea that there was a God. It was sad.

Then, one evening after a huge rainstorm had passed by leaving a field in Atlanta wet and muddy, my 2 boys and I stood in the humid air with a crowd of others who were waiting for a music festival to resume. It was the Candler Park music festival and the next person on stage was going to be an English chap named  Frank Turner. He began to play and we began to dance around – not really knowing his songs yet and therefore listening closely in order to learn more about this chap.

Then he began singing a song to the tune of a church hymn. But the catch phrase of this catchy song was “There is no God.”

Below are a few lyrics that stood out for me. :

I know you’re scared of dying man and I am too,
But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t gonna see us through,
If we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time,
Then in the here and now then we can try and do things right.
We’d be our own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve

There is no God,
So clap your hands together,
There is no God,
No heaven and no hell.
But there is no God,
We’re all in this together,
There is no God,
So ring that victory bell.
Maybe it was the air (it was a music festival after all). Maybe it was the English accent. Maybe it was the clapping of our hands during the song. All I know is all of a sudden Atheism made sense to me. The line that resonated is “we are all in this together.”
For months after hearing this song I had to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew. I had to take the puzzle piece of atheism and include it in my spiritual picture that had been created from many other spiritual beliefs.
In the end, I still believe in God, but I have become more grounded and believe in taking more responsibility for myself and my fellow man. We’re all in this together.
With this in mind, if that atheist in the Air Force is flying to protect my country and my family because we are our “own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things mere mortals can achieve”…then please let that man fly and stand up for what he believes.
My lesson is that assuming someone else’s beliefs are wrong and not listening to why they believe what they do, not only will cause you to treat them poorly, but you will also be missing out on the gift of connecting with another spiritual heart and learning from each other.