By Jared LeBlanc

After reading Elise’s recent articles on the Universalist movement (which I’m calling Pan-Universalist because Universalist implies a theology whereas Pan-Universalist could include secular and religious folk), I started noticing comparisons to the way I felt about the world when I first realized I was an atheist.

First, allow me to tell my story. I always considered myself a Christian growing up, at one point vehemently so—church going, speaking in tongues, reading the entire Bible, etc. I was raised evangelical and as a result was very critical of other faiths (Christian or not), mostly echoing the views of my parents. As I grew older and experienced the world, I met many people who had different viewpoints, and I started asking some of the tougher questions that Christianity didn’t seem to have answers for. Starting my education at ULL was a big shift because I’d been home schooled or in Christian private schools for all my life.

Contrary to popular belief, no professor ever directly influenced my religious belief; it was mostly in science or music classes. What affected me was simply meeting such a diverse group of people, but realizing that we are all very similar even across religious boundaries. I began to consider myself more of an agnostic though still called myself Christian,becasue I considered that I lived by Biblical moral principles (Christ’s teachings). I was very accepting across the board of different faiths as long as they had a good moral code to live by.

A second big shift came for me when I started studying biomathematics and population dynamics, which interestingly enough marked a change in thinking for Charles Darwin as well. Typically, animal populations grow until they reach equilibrium, where the death rate equals the birth rate. But what causes equilibrium? Why don’t we just grow exponentially like bacteria? In a word—resources. As the population grows, resources become scarcer, and competition becomes fiercer, which means a higher death rate. All animals are subject to this, even humans.

Humans, however, have the advantage of agriculture that allows us to grow our population beyond its natural limits. Keeping our population checked are generally war, disease and birth control. The lyrics “one of these things is not like the other” comes to mind. Condoms and preemptive or morning-after birth control pills are painless, no-risk ways of maintaining a population at equilibrium, yet church groups seem to fight these tooth and nail.

The thought came to mind, “The Bible wasn’t really written for the 21st century.”

How could it have been? I guess I’d always thought God knew the future so he would have put stuff in his book for the people of the future, but it didn’t seem to fit. Our perceptions of God and morality have changed by leaps and bounds since the Bible was written. But then I couldn’t help but think, “If the Bible was just written by people trying to do the right thing, then they probably didn’t have it completely right,” and that means that it’s up to us to figure out the next step—the right thing to do.

I read Ishmael, by Danial Quinn, on the recommendation of a friend, and the book applied everything I was thinking to our modern society. I was blown away. (The sequel My Ishmael is equally amazing.)

At this point, I knew I really didn’t believe in God at all anymore, but I wasn’t comfortable saying it. A friend gave me Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, to read, and I even felt naughty accepting it and then reading the first few pages (no doubt a triggered emotional response leftover from childhood indoctrination). As I read, I not only realized some of the major problems with religions and some of the philosophical problems with the conceptions of God but also the unnecessary evils that religion can do. As the great Nobel laureate in physics Steven Weinberg said, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.”

The end result of reading Dawkins’ book was that I no longer felt like I needed to stay in the closet about what I’d discovered. But what I’d discovered wasn’t just atheism—it was a connection. I discovered that I felt really and truly connected to the Earth and to every other creature. I’m made up of the same stuff that makes up a gorilla or a tarantula. I felt so incredibly lucky to be in the human species, in the country I was born, at a time when I can actually really know and appreciate all the complexity of life and the immenseness of the universe. I get to live and breathe, talk to my friends, and to understand that none of us is particularly special but all of us working together is an incredible thing.

Perhaps it is us that made God in our image and not the other way around. All of the characteristics we put in God can in some way be found in our society. The massive amount of scientific and medical knowledge is so large and well-documented that it borders on omniscience. The power that we have as a society to heal the sick, comfort people, feed people, and just do good is amazing. Putting all one’s faith in a god makes you focus on the supernatural instead of what’s really there. But when we put our faith in our fellow man, the world suddenly becomes an amazing place, not stricken by a curse, but flourishing with possibility. Goodness doesn’t come from a god; goodness is realized by us, and it’s our responsibility if it isn’t.

Humanism, ethics and moral philosophy help us to discover the moral laws. Biblical authors took a stab at it, but we can and are doing better. It’s time that we break from the human tradition of the past 10,000 years and stop looking to the sky, supposed sacred texts, or pieces of toast for guidance and meaning. It’s time we started really seeing each other, hearing the countless untold stories and understanding the mutual respect it brings. We should live to awaken possibility in others, and be less quick to judge others for race, religion or orientation because we realize that we’re all in this together. So for one man, the movement begins.