A Humanist’s Declaration of Independence

Dearest Family and Friends,

At a point in my life, it became necessary to honestly examine the religious dogma presented to me as fact, and upon finding it lacking, throw off its shackles and assume personal responsibility for my actions. A decent respect to the opinions of family and friends requires a declaration of the causes that prompt my rejection of religion.

This decision required a lifetime to reach, certainly not something that happened impulsively with little thought. There was no born-again moment, no one single reason. Rather, it was a thousand points of light illuminating my ignorance until belief in God simply faded away. Each day I find more reasons to doubt the existence of a Supreme Being, and perhaps more to the point, more reasons to speak out against theism in all its manifestations.

As a child, I attended Sunday school where I was indoctrinated in the biblical tales of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Moses, Jesus, Jonah, Noah, and many more. I sang the songs, learned to fear Heaven and Hell, and all the other things a good Christian child is taught. In high school, I graduated to Revelations, the Antichrist, the Number of the Beast, and the whole End-Of-The-World prophesies. As a senior in high school, I had demons cast from me, spoke in tongues, and prayed for the Rapture. I swallowed all of it, hook, line, and sinker.

As a young man, I was unequipped to recognize the inconsistencies in what I was being told was Ultimate Truth, too involved with teen life to bother with anything more cerebral then Friday Night Lights and Saturday Night Fever. It would have been unthinkable to question the minister or his deacons, let alone disagree with them. Eventually, as I grew older, science and philosophy advanced within my mind until religion had no place to hide. Yet, I did nothing, content to simply remove myself from the church and let sleeping dogs lie. I assumed that religion was not bad, simply misguided. I believed freedom of religion required I respect another’s strange beliefs, or at least their right to hold them. I also bought into the idea that morality and religion were two sides of the same coin. All of which I now believe to be in error.

911 changed everything. I admit that before 911, I knew about the troubles between Jews and Muslims, between Catholics and Protestants, between Sunni and Shia. I read about Constantine, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the conquistadores, and others intent on spreading and protecting their religion at any cost. (Growing wealthy and powerful in the process is purely coincidental, I am sure.) The stories were often brutal and despicable but I was able to push them into ancient history and tell myself that modern people know better. It was convenient to ignore Jonestown, Heavens Gate, and Waco as aberrations in American society, not anything I need worry about. I was able to compartmentalize and ignore that religion was the root cause of all this pain and death. I find in all good conscience, I cannot do this any longer.

I have concluded religion not only does not deserve respect, but with nuclear holocaust hanging over our heads, it requires every reasonable human being actively resisting its madness. I have no doubt that people can make Revelation’s prophesies come true. It is not farfetched to say some crazy-for-power politician will someday drape the title of Antichrist around himself like a badge of honor and try to destroy planet Earth. I do not want my generation to fulfill the promise of Armageddon. It’s INSANE!

The reasons forming the foundation of my open rejection of religion are many and complex. I have neither the desire nor inclination to go into any one of them in any depth in this letter. The evidence fills libraries and permeates society. Instead, I will summarize the main points.

The Bible: There has been tons of research done on the bible but the fact is, only when a person accepts that our ancient ancestors wrote it and not the Creator of the Universe, do its contents start to make sense. It seems readily apparent, that the Old Testament is a distorted history of the ancient Jewish people, certainly not a moral guide for humanity. Today, anyone who repeated the events within its pages would be arrested and thrown into jail.

Biblical authors explained the unknown with demons, gods, and superstitions. Who can blame them? They did the best they could under the circumstances. After all, they thought the world was flat because their eyes told them so. They believed the sun, moon, and stars revolved around them because their eyes told them so. They believed in God(s) because their parents told them so. They did not have the benefit of humanity’s incredible scientific progress over the last few centuries to help them decide.

The claim of a single author for the Pentateuch has been known to be false for centuries, even though the bible declares it to be Moses (Exodus 24:4). It is clear the Old Testament is a collection of ancient stories passed from one generation to the next, finally written down long after the actual incidents that inspired them. Word of mouth is a notoriously bad way to pass information from one person to another, let alone from one generation to the next. Much later, men decided which stories to include in the bible and which to destroy, and destroy they did, burning rival texts and killing the monks who scribed them. From the fragmentary manuscripts that have survived, it is apparent that the text has continued to evolve as men refined religion to meet the needs of those in power.

The New Testament is not any better. On one hand it says to turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, and makes promises of eternal life, but only for those within their group, those who believe as they do. On the other hand, it gives the death penalty to homosexuals, errant teenagers, and anyone found working on the Sabbath, not to mention condoning slavery, gender discrimination, and racism. Over the centuries, Kings and Popes found within its pages a powerful means of controlling the citizenry, providing the excuse for doing despicable things to those outside their group or those inside who spoke against them.

The New Testament’s central theme of Jesus sacrificing himself for humanity’s Original Sin leaves me speechless in its primitiveness. Are bloody sacrifices the way to God’s heart? Apparently they are. Believers repeatedly inform non-believers that Jesus died for them. When you ask why, they begin speaking of the Original Sin.

It has become increasingly obvious to me that religion is not about seeking truth and this is no exception. The Original Sin is all about subjugating women! Eve’s sin of curiosity has been passed down to all women since time began. Mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, for thousands of years have borne the weight of Eve’s indiscretion. Does that make sense to anyone? Nowadays, do we hold anyone responsible for the actions of an ancestor they never met? Or even one they did? This reeks of ancient societies where a person born into a caste had no way out, slaves bred more slaves, nobles bred more nobles, and peasants bred more peasants.

Enlightenment from such a narrow view has come at a high price and I fear religion, at its heart, seeks to take this freedom away. How many have gossiped that so and so is marrying out of their religion? Do you then ask what religion the children of such a marriage will be raised in? If so, then you have participated in one of the most destructive aspects of religion, its ability to divide humanity.

I think it is quite possible that Jesus existed but reject all the supernatural nonsense attached to him after his death. Some of what Jesus is attributed of saying is appropriate for us today, but most of it is not. Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest men in American history, took it upon himself to cut out the crazy parts of the bible and leave only those things that Jesus said which made sense to him personally. The resulting Jefferson Bible is only a fraction of the uncut version and is a fascinating read. There is no doubt in my mind that if Jesus were alive today, he would be a Liberal. That fact burns some people and they grow quite agitated when they hear it. I think it is because they know deep down that it is true. WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? …about the Mexican immigrants? …about feeding the hungry? …about tending the sick? …about the rich getting richer and the poor, poorer? …about wars and the lying politicians who start them? …would Jesus throw the first stone at a homosexual? …would he condone our current politics of character assassination, hypocrisy, and greed? …would he have health insurance? …and a million other things?

Religion in its many forms has spawned an entire class within society. Priests, ministers, rabbis, and imams all make a living at convincing others of things they cannot prove. They interpret scripture to agree with their opinion of what religious doctrine should be. Others boldly change biblical text or better yet, publish their own holy books entirely. Those in mainstream Christianity, if such can actually exist, denounce them as cults ignoring the fact that their religion employed the very same tactics only a few centuries before. You are sorely mistaken if you think the King James Version, or whatever bible you hold most precious, matches the ancient text. It is simply another rewrite in a long history of rewrites. The truth, as I see it, is quite simple and straightforward. All holy books are manmade. Nothing else makes any sense.

For those who truly believe the bible is the infallible word of God, no amount of evidence to the contrary will shake that belief. Just ask yourself this, if men wrote it while under the spell of God so long ago, why has it changed so much since then? Or perhaps a better question is, why would an omniscient God put his directives to all of humanity into such a fragile container knowing it will be twisted by mere mortals? Human language changes almost daily and even ethical men will make mistakes in transcribing. Once an earthly origin of the bible is accepted, Christianity collapses. The same can be said of the Holy Qur’ân, the Book of Mormon, and the Torah. In spite of what I was taught as a child, Man is not made in the image of God, God is made in the image of Man.

The Incredible Tree of Life: The age of the Universe is about 13,000,000,000 years. The age of the Earth is about 4,500,000,000 years. The first sign of single-celled life is about 3,500,000,000 years ago and the blossoming of multi-celled species about 500,000,000 years ago. People, as we know them today, show up less then 200,000 years ago and our written history begins only about 10,000 years ago. This is in direct opposition to what the bible says. Even if a person does not accept the numbers, how can they not see that our world is very old? One need only look at the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley to see incredible age. Fossil evidence shows that life has evolved over a very long time. Use a pair of binoculars to gaze at the moon. Its pocked-marked surface speaks of extreme age. To those who say that God created the world to make it appear old, makes God dishonest and a liar.

Humanity is unique but not in the way religion wants us to believe. For centuries, it has become increasingly obvious that life is more than simply a creation of some Omniscient Being that we can neither see nor touch. Life is something far more fascinating. 150 years ago, Charles Darwin postulated the revolutionary hypothesis in which populations of species change gradually over many generations. This idea has since become a fully accepted scientific theory, right up there with the theory of gravity, germ theory, and a thousand other theories our technological society depends upon everyday. Darwinian Evolution explains facts supported by real evidence. For anyone to still believe in Biblical Creation ranks right up there with believing the Earth is flat and the Sun revolves around it or that demons and spirits are responsible for disease.

Literally, every discipline within science uses some form of Evolutionary process to explain things, many of them having nothing to do with biology and life. Astronomers describe the Evolution of the stars and of the cosmos itself. Geologists describe the changing face of our Earth over incredible lengths of time. Physicists describe the transformation of matter and energy. There are many, many such theories. It takes a truly gifted believer to turn their back on the incredible array of scientific discoveries in favor of what the bible says.

I can see why clergy do not want their flocks to understand Evolution. Evolution undermines the whole idea of the Original Sin, which undermines the whole sacrifice thing. At the slightest hint of skepticism, this shaky pillar of religion fails like a New Orleans levy in a Cat 5 hurricane. Religious leaders seek to confuse their followers with ridiculous personalizing statements such as “Evolutionists want you to believe you are descended from monkeys” or “Darwinists say you are the result of pure chance”, neither of which is meaningful within the framework of the actual theory. Creationists find something offensive, it does not matter that it is not true, shove it in our faces, and claim loudly the other side is responsible. This is a long-standing tactic used throughout history by many individuals and organizations. Cast a little doubt here, sow the seeds of uncertainty there, and before you know it, you have a group of people believing something that is not so.

Religious leaders fear Evolution because Evolution has exposed the most fundamental doctrine in the bible to be false, threatening something they have devoted their lives believing. God did not create Adam from mud. He did not take from Adam a rib to make Eve. Eve did not sin by eating from a mystical tree of knowledge. Humanity is not the center of the universe or made in the image of God. Instead of this fairy tale, and not a very good one at that, we are realizing that Homo sapiens are part of a truly magnificent Tree of Life that extends back in time far beyond our meager ability to imagine it. Even the people who study Earth history can never truly grasp this vast expanse of years. We are human and judge time on a human scale. A few thousand years seem like forever to a being who lives only a few decades. The Tree of Life extends over a far grander scale than a single human life, stretching far into the past. Humans, and the other life forms that coexist with us at this moment in Earth’s history, are the product of billions of years of Evolution that continues even as you read this letter. To me, this is far more spectacular and awe inspiring than any God humans can invent. However, because Evolution threatens a cherished belief, some people refuse to look at this wondrous reality, focusing instead on the simplistic version of creation found in the bible. I admit, it can be difficult and time consuming to study biology, geology, astronomy, and physics. However, all of humanity benefits when another person takes a bite from the tree of knowledge, when one more person understands that life is not a gift but is a treasure.

Afterlife:  The human brain is a fantastically complex organism. Paleontologists have traced the enlarging of the human brain back millions of years, comparing fossil skulls with modern ones. Others researchers have determined regions within the brain that are older and furthermore, the older the region, the more basic the function it controls. Although this has been known for some time, it is only within the last few years that diagnostic tools have become available allowing scientists to observe the shifting energy patterns within the brain as people think, making direct measurements of dynamic processes as they occur. Imagine watching as sight, sound, touch, smell, speech, creativity, and order emerge from the chaos. They are exposing the electrochemical nature of thought and emotions, of memory and belief. The light of science is rapidly uncovering our individual personalities perhaps to the point that someday we will read thoughts directly from fundamental brain patterns. Scary thought, that someone someday will be able to read my thoughts. But, as my mother is fond of saying, we will cross that bridge when we get there.

 No, this research lays bare another fallacy among humans, that body and soul are separate, that a personality can survive beyond the death of its brain. Again, it seems intuitive that the part of me that thinks and feels, and loves and fears, is separate from the part that pumps blood and breathes air. However, belief in the afterlife is based upon a misconception. There is an ever-increasing mountain of evidence that mind and soul are not separate entities. When someone dies, the electrochemical process in their brain ceases, just as it does in all animals. All thought is gone, all pain is gone, all personality is gone. I have come to the conclusion that there is no Magic Kingdom where our soul lives forever. Humanity makes its own Heaven and Hell right here on Earth. The acceptance of deaths finality makes this life even more precious, which brings us to the last point.

Morality: Somewhere somebody is saying at this very moment, that their particular religion is the foundation of human morality. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sense of right and wrong is instilled within us from childhood mostly by our parents, but others in the community as well, our teachers, our friends, and even the person taking our money at the grocery store, all contribute to a child’s growing moral judgment. If anything, religion provides an excuse for bad behavior.

Anybody who reads the bible knows of the many despicable things found between its covers, Lot offering up his virgin daughters for sex (Genesis 19:8) and later impregnating them himself (Genesis 19:36), Moses commanding his armies to commit genocide keeping only the virgin girls and livestock as booty (Numbers 31:32-41), Jesus instructing how slaves were to be beaten (Luke 12:47-48). The command to believe or be damned strikes at the very heart of religious intolerance (Mark 16:16). What is free will if this is the result of applying it? And what about the subjugation of women? (I Corinthians 14:34-35, I Corinthians 11:3, Colossians 3:18, I Timothy 2:11-15, Revelation 14:1-4). It is expounded upon many times in the New Testament, women are to remain silent and submissive to men, women defile men, etc. If you are sick, do not go the doctor, instead spread oil on your body and pray for healing (James 5:14-15). Jesus demanded total devotion to Him, just like modern dictators (Luke 14:26). Is it Christian values to turn your back on family (Matthew 10:37-38)? Granted, there are some good teachings within its pages, but all in all, the bible is a lousy place to find irreproachable morality.

Why am I Speaking Out? In many places around the world, Christians gather in churches large and small to worship God, while elsewhere, Muslims trek to their Mosques five times a day to pray to Allah. For most of my life, I thought that was fine, that people should be free to believe what they want. But now, with global war looming over everyone’s future, this separation into opposing camps scares me more than any act of terrorism. Religion is again casting its dark shadow over humanity.

In the Western democracies, citizens let their freedoms slip away while granting increasing power to a select few in some misguided hope of security. On the other side of the planet, Muslim children learn the ways of Mohammed and jihad. Into this incredible global sectarian alignment, increasingly powerful weapons are being introduced at an unprecedented rate. America’s military budget is by far the largest in history. It eclipses the combined budgets of all other nations on Earth. America’s defense industry consistently churns out the most sophisticated weapon systems in the history of warfare. This would not be all that bad except that arming other nations is a major part of American Foreign Policy, especially under the Bush administration. Weapons sales are big business but who can deny that putting 200,000 AK47s into the hands of violent men is a bad idea? It is a situation that worsens daily. Within a single week, my local newspaper ran stories of American defense contractors selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Europeans selling to Libya, and Russians selling to Iran. There is lots of money to be made arming the world, but who will pay the ultimate price? Can any doubt that the coming conflicts will be draped in religion? Or that the wars we are enduring now have religion at their black heart?

Any fool knows that war is a poor substitute for diplomacy and the Rule of Law. What should have been an international police effort to track down lawbreakers after 911 is now a disastrous war against the citizens of Iraq, largely interpreted within the Islamic world as Christians against Muslims. This has only strengthened our enemies, making them out to be worthy of such an effort while etching into stone the religious lines that divide us. Bin Laden is a criminal and should have been treated as such. Instead, President Bush has made him the most recognized face in the Islamic world. Stupid! Stupid! STUPID!

There is truth in the saying, a person does not choose what they believe, belief chooses them. I did not set out to disbelieve in God, or conclude that religion is a bad influence on society, it simply happened. How can I be other than who I am? If God does exist, then He made me this way and if He is omniscient, then He did it on purpose. I think it much more likely that God exists only in the minds of people, who are, in reality, products of billions of years of Evolution. For me, this makes my life much more meaningful, much more precious than any belief in the supernatural.

I do not think badly of anyone simply because they kneel in a church or mosque. These institutions have been the center of community life for millennia and human beings have a built-in need to belong. It is a deep instinct within us all. We congregate into groups that, historically, become intolerant of those outside the group and therein lies the problem. It is because of this human drive towards exclusivity that anti-segregation and anti-discrimination laws are necessary. Without these laws, America would quickly revert to separate-but-equal racial segregation, regulate women back to second-class citizenship, and increase the divide between rich and poor at the expense of the middle class. Humanity’s tendency to form religious groups that persecute outsiders has been a major contributing factor in much of the recent strife in Germany, Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq, Sudan, and countless other places and times, not to mention right here in America. Who can forget the image of the KKK’s burning cross? Or the raised fists of Skinheads, marching in the streets of Middle America, a Nazi flag held defiantly aloft by the angry young men? Or the smoldering remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City?

Racial divisions provide fertile ground for slavery and servitude while perpetuating the caste system. Gender divisions encourage the repression of women, and religious divisions inspire a wide range of action from nonviolent discrimination to complete genocide. Only in the last few centuries have these divisions been suppressed by Rule of Law in the name of freedom for all. Rational people call these changes progress.

Allow me to present some facts from a slightly different angle. After nearly a century of heated debate, in 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was finally ratified thereby abolishing slavery throughout the United States. It took another century to declare racial segregation unlawful. Before 1968, many States prohibited interracial marriage. American women were only granted the right to vote in 1920 and in Switzerland in 1971. We think of ourselves as enlightened but in reality, we are children only beginning to emerge from the depths of our ignorance.

To answer my own need to belong, I searched until I found a group of people who have come to the same conclusions. Humanism promotes individuality, nurtures the goodness within each of us, seeks rational ways of solving problems, and places the foundation of morality squarely on empathy and understanding. Humanists believe that this life is all we have and treat it with the respect it deserves, setting aside the empty promises of Heavenly rewards and the Hellish threat of eternal damnation. For me, humanist philosophy represents the leading edge of humanity’s never-ending quest to understand and finally accept reality as it is instead of how our primitive ancestors thought it should be.

My greatest hope is that a few centuries from now our descendants will look back and applaud this generation’s courage to finally set aside ancient superstitions, accept responsibility for our actions, and put a stop to the dangerous delusion that is religion. If we cannot, humanity’s future looks bleak.

• • •

Charles Lee Lesher (http://charleslesher.com/) is an aerospace engineer with a BS in Engineering Mechanics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MS in Material Science from Arizona State University. Evolution’s Child is his debut novel and the first book in the Republic of Luna series. In it, he explores religion’s role in a technological future. He lives in Arizona with his wife and family.


A Humanist’s Declaration of Independence — 10 Comments

  1. Great essay, Chuck.
    As a retired science teacher I concur with your conclusions and admire your concise, enlightening presentation. I, too, came from a very religous family and a community that tried to make a person feel guilty if they had any doubts about the bible or religion.
    I say, what is the evidence? Follow the evidence. The scientific method is the best way to evaluate the evidence. I believe that this beautiful world is controlled by natural forces. Paul

  2. Good read. The problem with ALL organized religions is that they become political organizations and must gain power over their followers. This requires some form of manipulation, and as Hitler discovered, tell a big enough lie often enough, they will believe it. Humanistic philosophies and scientific explanations certainly help one to understand a little bit about reality, but the strongest human motivation is fantasy. Facts are boring. Myths can be motivating! Here is the challenge: to find a philosophy that incorporates some form of fantasy.

  3. Paul, thank you for the kind words.
    Even after coming to the conclusion that religion is so easily twisted into something undesirable, speaking out against it was still not easy. People become so entangled with religion, so invested into it by time and money, that belief becomes mandatory and anything that challenges that belief becomes the enemy. Because of this, they teach their children the same as they were taught, raising the next generation to believe the same improbable things. This has gone on century after century until no one knows who, what, or when it started.

  4. Hi Leonard,
    I believe all philosophies incorporate Fantasy. The only difference between Humanist philosophy and the others is the growing mountain of Scientific evidence supporting Humanist positions. No one has seen the minuscule workings of Atoms and Subatomic Particles, yet we believe they exist and, using that knowledge, can predict the future to a limited extent. We cannot smell Gravity, or hold Evolution, yet these are useful fantasies. Simply stated, theories are fantasies based on repeatable evidence. Imagination is one of the foundations of intelligence, the persistence of memory being the other.

  5. Chuck: Glad you have decided to speak out. I very much agree with your development – so many of us have similar backgrounds, but hesitate to voice our developing beliefs. Most of my similar beliefs have appeared in my poetry and prose as of recently. My hesitancy to “speak out” is mostly because of the observations I have made of those truly “lost souls” who just might have destroyed themselves without religion. My current approach is to educate them – even if they are left only the demise of religion….sometimes it just may be better than their original gutters. Yes, this troubles me.

  6. Carrington: the fact that some people gain hope and stability through religious faith, is why I remain an Agnostic in my own belief, allowing and respecting other people their freedoms to worship as they choose. The danger comes when religion gains control of government and imposes their beliefs on others. Therefore, we must, here in the United States, push very hard for the “Separation of Church and State”. We should never allow “the Christian Right” to control our Government, or our individual freedoms. Evelyn

  7. Chuck,

    Very well written summation of most everything I believe. Although I was not raised in an especially religious family and my doubts emerged at a very early age, I too became convinced that God does not exist as I grew and learned about the history of man, the world and the universe. We are such a small part of the larger whole and I fear that the worlds population in general is not ready for the enlightenment that comes with non-belief.

    We live in one of the most free countries in the world which allows us to believe as we do, but our government is guilty of fostering your worst fears due to the mainstream belief in Christianity. It is a tide that is unlikely to recede until the nightmares that they prophesy are not followed by the nirvana.

    My hope is that logic prevails but I sense that the only thing that can stop the madness is proof of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe… much like Sagan hinted at in his novel ‘Cosmos’, but even he was aware of the strong forces aligned against reason.

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