Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Ya Gotta Believe Something, Right?"

Last week, I was using public transit to get to work. Occasionally, one gets a chatty bus driver. During our conversation it came up that I am originally from Detroit, which brought the usual question:
"What brought you out here to Salt Lake?"
I try to avoid that question, but often there is no getting around it. People want to know. The problem is, it is a lot to tell in a short duration, but I have worked it out:
"I came out here to help start an evangelical church. However, we parted ways when I started to lose my faith, and I am now an atheist."
I get varied responses to this declaration, but his was the most common:
"Oh...... I'm sorry....."
The bus driver then began to fill me in on his spiritual journey. He was raised in a Mormon household, went on a mission, but he doesn't really practice anymore.
"I'm still a member. I guess I still believe. So... I suppose I am what they call a Jack-Mormon".
As you know, or probably have guessed, a Jack-Mormon is the term for Mormons who are not active in their faith. They are still part of the culture, perhaps attend church for baptisms and other ceremonies occasionally. But for all intent and purposes, they are fairly disconnected.

For the few minutes remaining in our trip, he stayed on religion. He told me about various family members who had turned away from faith but came back. How, at some point, he wants to start attending church more.

He was still talking when we came to my stop and the bus pulled to the curb. I thanked him for the lift and stepped off the bus. He called out one parting comment:
"I mean hey.... ya gotta believe something, right?"
I turned back and smiled:
"No..... you really don't."
And the bus pulled away.

The "ya gotta believe something" line is a refrain I often hear from nominal believers. For all practical purposes my bus driver doesn't believe. If he believed his faith he would be doing what his faith wants him to do: attend church, study his scriptures, tithe, seek converts, etc.  He does none of that, yet he still "believes".  Why is that?

My suspicion is that the cost is too high socially. It is a battle with family, friends, co-workers, (and himself), that he is simply not interested in engaging. "Ya gotta believe something" is simply the path of least resistance.

Ten years or so from now, I believe folks like the bus driver will easily accept a position of atheism. Right now the social stress is simply not worth it... but that is changing. For all of the growth unbelief has seen in the past decade, it's biggest blossoming is still ahead. As social acceptability of unbelief grows, a lot of people like my bus driver are going to recognize their lack of engagement for what it really is - a lack of belief.

Rather than feeling they HAVE to believe something, they will recognize... no, you really don't.
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