Join almost 1 million
monthly
readers!

Contact Me

Coaching and Consultation

Language Hacking League!

Join over 50,000 people to get FREE weekly language hacking tips, cool links, site updates & two free chapters of the Language Hacking Guide!

No Spam. Not ever.

Current Mission:


Coach a monoglot in her first ever successful language learning mission! Learn more!

Previous post:

Next post:

Why I’m a Humanist after a decade of serendipitous and wonderful travel experiences

| 90 comments | Category: off topic

church

I’ve hinted to it in various blog posts, and said it directly in my most recent travel one; I’m an atheist, but since the word gets a little bad rep (it sounds to some like anti-theist or that your life philosophy revolves around opposing religion), the title I prefer is Humanist.

This very simply means that you have a Naturalist understanding of the world, or a “what you see is what you get” appreciation of how things work, with no supernatural forces (god, karma, “the force”, positive vibrations, law of attraction, psychic powers, astrology etc.) at play. Now I definitely can’t know this world view is absolutely right, the same way I can’t “know” that Russell’s teapot is really orbiting our solar system somewhere, but I’m pretty damn confident about it and my varied incredible travel experiences have strengthened this confidence.

There are plenty of arguments for this world view, but in today’s post I want to give it to you just in the context of someone who has seen as many amazing things on the road as I have, and how having seen and witnessed a lot of incredible events (many of which I have yet to blog about), hasn’t shaken my confidence in an entirely scientific and logical viewpoint of how the world works.

Many of you may have seen some incredible things in your own travels, or back home that I can never understand or appreciate that strengthen your religious views, and that’s fine as I’m not here to prove anyone right or wrong, but only to offer my thoughts as I have had many people suggest that extensive travel experiences (and the definite increase in serendipitous experiences, that I want to get to shortly) should perhaps make you more religious or superstitious and I strongly disagree.

Those of you reading the blog long enough know that I travel for the people (not for the scenery, not for historical reasons, and not even for the language which is my means to an end to converse with those I meet), and this is why I have faith in people, and why human beings endlessly fascinate me, without any mysterious force, apart from aeons of evolution, behind them.

My religious background

Firstly, just for some context, I am from Ireland, a Catholic country, and was raised Catholic. I was a choirboy for almost ten years (why do you think I like singing so much?) and many of my teachers in secondary school were priests. I’m very happy that I grew up where I did and had the experiences I did, and I definitely don’t have some negative agenda against any particular religion; the priests that taught me Mathematics, Geography and various subjects in school were incredibly intelligent and kind people, and I learned a lot from them; not just from the facts they presented in class, but also from their high moral standards in life.

I was religious, and didn’t have any experience that put me off the church.

All that happened was that I went to university and for the first time I had a little more freedom in deciding if I was to go to church or not. I seriously thought about the question about how religion works and wanted to be confident in my beliefs because if it were all true, then to make sure I got into heaven I should definitely follow the rules precisely; there was no question about being a half-assed religious person for me. It was all or nothing.

Even though I was studying electronic engineering, which was an incredibly demanding course, I took my own time to read up (thanks to my wonderful university library) on various philosophical trains of thought, and attended a couple of debates on religion at my university. Very slowly after many months of really thinking about it, the idea of my particular religion, based on a book written by men thousands of years ago, actually being true seemed less and less likely, and then any concept of a supernatural force behind the universe started seeming less plausible.

There is a lot of science in engineering, and scientific rigour demands that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I couldn’t find even the most minimal evidence (beyond anecdotal) to support any supernatural phenomena. Science (not just physics, chemistry and biology, but even the science of human behaviour; psychology) tends to explain many things about how the world works. There are still some questions left unanswered, but religion never satisfactorily provides those answers to me, over a much more honest “We don’t know”.

As such I stopped going to church and decided to appreciate the world for what I knew definitely was there, and try to live my life around this different world view.

Moral implications for a traveller with “no consequences”

Now, a question many religious may ask is What is to stop me from doing horrible things now that I didn’t have an invisible moral consciousness outside of me checking up on me any more?

This is in general a good question, but answered for most people because they live somewhere where people know what you do, or may find out eventually. Human evolution has made us a tribal people, and if we did horrible things, someone would find out about it and we could be ostracised from the tribe, which from an evolutionary viewpoint is a death sentence for your genes. As such I think morals being incorporated into human life to help maintain order in tribes is a perfectly reasonable cause for one reason why people are good.

But this explanation doesn’t work for me now, because I move around very regularly. Essentially, if I was a terrible person to everyone in one place, I could “get away with it” because nobody in the next place would know about it. Forget stealing and killing and anything very illegal, because I could get arrested for that even if I moved somewhere else; what about just being a mean person in general?

Should I not leave tips in American cities I may never come back to? Should I sleep with gullible girls and break their hearts because those in the next place won’t know? Should I take advantage of kindness in one place to take what I don’t deserve from very trusting people?

If you think about it, breaking these social rules for a traveller is much easier because there are essentially no consequences. But I refuse to do this because I do believe in doing the right thing, and in following a moral compass in my life.

The thing is that I have had very bad things happen to me in my travels; things that I didn’t deserve because I came across someone with a weak moral standing. Girls who have broken my heart, people who have treated me unfairly, said horrible things to me that hurt my feelings very deeply, and many other rough things from mean people. It makes me feel terrible every time, and I would absolutely hate to do this to other people.

For me this explanation is all I need. I don’t need a force to punish me for doing evil; empathy is all I need to make sure I don’t leave a place worse than when I got there.

As well as this, I do think that there is a logical explanation for a traveller to be moral; there are subconscious body language queues that many of us give when we are lying or being deceitful. We may not be aware of them, and the person we are talking to may not be consciously aware of them either.

But to a certain extent, the bad things someone does on the other side of the planet do follow them around. I don’t believe “karma” keeps track of what you do, but you keep track of it yourself, and the lack in social skills and empathy comes across as you interact with people. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s possible that this will lead to others not trusting you or seeing through your lies, and something bad happening as a result.

You betray your own lack of good moral standing, no matter how good an actor you may be. So, bad actions can indeed come back to bite you; there is nothing to say they definitely will, but they can.

On the other hand if you are a good person, people can tell that too and they will open up their home to you and be kind to you. This has always helped me maintain my faith in people despite any unfortunate unfair things that happen to me as a lone traveller; I can see they are kind to me when they would not necessarily be like that to everyone. They say that they can “see it in my eyes”, and I say that they can see it in my body language, wording, hesitations and many other communicative clues that I drop without knowing.

To me the idea that we need some god to make us do the right thing is insulting. Can’t you be good because that is in itself inherently good because of basic rules of human interaction, and how you’d like to be treated in the same situation? No need for a reward in heaven or punishment in hell. Leaving a place better than when you got there, or making a person happier or better off is a reward in itself. This is the legacy we can all create as we interact with the world.

What about serendipity and the unlikely things that keep happening?

When you travel, then a lot of very strange things start to happen to you. Unlikely events that you can’t seem to explain away by chance. To many this feels like a force at play. There has to be some supernatural thing happening, because no explanation seems satisfactory.

But to me, this is just a huge misunderstanding of how chance truly works, and almost always involves ignoring essential information.

When you study Mathematical statistics, you really start to appreciate that our intuition on chance is actually quite flawed! A typical example is that you only require 23 people in a room to have a 50/50 chance that two of them share the same birthday (and just 57 for a 99% probability!). When you first hear this it sounds unbelievable, as our intuition tells us it must be a 23 in 365 (6.3%) chance, but that’s simply not the case when you work it out taking everything into consideration (such as the fact that you check each person against everyone, and then the next person against everyone and add up these separate probabilities)

Our inefficient understanding of chance is ideally suited to the small amount of circumstances a tribal people are likely to meet, but by travelling you are opening yourself up to so many possible experiences, that eventually unlikely things happening are actually very likely.

That last sentence may seem like a complete contradiction, but let me put it this way; I have run into people that I already know completely at random at the most unexpected places across the planet. This may feel like there is some destiny or collective human consciousness or telepathy or god at play to many. Why, the chance of me running into someone I already know in some random point on a huge planet like ours may be some microscopically tiny number for sure. That’s in general. But that ignores a lot of crucial data.

For instance, I’m not actually going to ever find myself in 99% of the surface of the earth as it’s too hard or dangerous to get to, or too cold/hot/dry/wet or even just uninteresting. There are certain places where people are more likely to end up, like populated cities. There are certain places within those cities (or tourist trails outside of cities) where travellers are more likely to end up, like tourist spots, expat hangouts, local hangouts known to expats if you want to meet locals, events that are attractive to your age-group and so on.

This makes the number of places where you may find yourself a lot lower than you think. Still very high for sure, but low enough such that if you travel long enough, in places that other travellers also go to, then statistically you simply have to run into someone you know eventually. It feels like magic when it happens, but it’s just the laws of probability at play.

I like Couchsurfing’s motto of “The world is smaller than you think”. Couchsurfing is one example of a network that I’m a part of – I also know other travel bloggers, language learners, and people who are a part of other specific social groups. When you combine that more restricted group of people with the other restrictions in where you may likely end up when travelling, then how can you not bump into someone you know, or at least part of that tight group or having a friend or experience in common, when you travel long enough?

Whenever it happens, those I meet feel like there is some magic that brought us together. I think on the other hand that the very fact that I travel, opens up my world of opportunities. I find that my “reality distortion field” expands my range of experiences by very simply being open minded to trying new things and exposing myself to as many new people as I can.

For the four years that I studied in university and almost never went out, I didn’t open myself up to new and interesting experiences, and as such can’t recall any interesting serendipity or crazy stories. By travelling I have to open myself to many new possibilities, so I am simply expanding the window on the things that can happen to me; many of which will be wonderful and unlikely at the time, but that something interesting happening being likely overall.

A huge misunderstanding of applying chance is to think of just a particular occurrence. The chances of me meeting a specific person in a specific place at a specific time are indeed puny, but the chances of me meeting someone I know, somewhere in the world with enough time passing are very much run-of-the-mill.

Travel and see the world, and you will indeed have wonderful and serendipitous experiences. I love it when these quirky moments happen, but they don’t make me wonder about my psychic powers to gravitate people towards me, or anything of the sort. They just confirm my belief that us humans have a lot more in common than we think. We are likely to think of the same great songs, on rare occasions at the same time, we are likely to visit the same places, and we are likely to think similar thoughts. How similar we truly are is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned on the road.

I think this is fantastic in itself, without requiring any supernatural cause. I wrote about my understanding of how luck works in more detail here.

Isn’t it depressing?

The thing about travelling alone is that you can indeed be truly alone; I have found myself in many situations where I literally don’t have a friend in the world within thousands of kilometres. It can be a very sobering thought. Some could get some consolation in these situations that they are being “watched over” by a higher power, and I obviously don’t do that. I don’t get lonely however, because of my matter-of-fact way of looking at things.

I don’t believe that any destiny is leading me in any particular direction, but that I have to take care of myself and make sure I expose myself to as many friendly people as possible so that the range of kindness I do receive increases.

When times are rough, I don’t look up to the sky and ask why I’m being forsaken, and I don’t pray. I try to do something tangible that can improve my situation, and then I may indeed get out of it and live to tell the tale.

Religious people have suggested that this world view is depressing; why imagine there’s no heaven! I do think it’s easy to think yourself into a negative spiral of depression when times are rough, but rather than offer some cheery thought about how a universe without good people being rewarded for all eternity is “better” (it wouldn’t be; that is a nicer thought, although wishful thinking doesn’t make it any more real), I very simply try to not think about such negative things. I don’t see the point; every moment I think about the afterlife or lack thereof is time wasted in this life.

Whether there is one or not, my thinking about it for countless hours is not going to change the fact. Worrying is about as effective as “trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing gum”.

I only have one life, and I intend to use it wisely; living it, experiencing many things, meeting many wonderful people, increasing my chances of interesting things happening to me, trying to make a place a little better when I leave it, maybe inspiring a few people with this blog, and doing whatever else I can to leave a real mark in the world. That will be my “legacy”.

The physical world in front of us and the many incredible and infinite numbers of opportunities open to us is why I refuse to get depressed that bad things happen to good people, by making sure that I’m not a part of those bad things.

Many interesting points of view

But once again, I don’t like to call myself an atheist, and think even the sound of the word humanist feels more appropriate to my world view. The fact that I have mentioned it so little on the blog should show you that not being religious is hardly a philosophy in life, the same way that not being a stamp collector is hardly a hobby.

My philosophy is that the tangible world we can all agree is in front of us is a fantastic thing, without needing any extra wonder to spice it up. As Douglas Adams once said: “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

My matter-of-fact understanding of the world has helped me to live my life better. The world follows particular rules, such as social, psychological, biological ones, and by trying to be aware of these rules that I know definitely are applied, or trying my best to understand those rules, I can work with them to make sure that I can live a full life, meet fascinating people, make a real difference, or even just have a fun and interesting life.

Having said all this, I never feel the need to “convert” people, and the very idea would make my cultural integration almost impossible, especially when I travel in countries where people are very religious and likely to have a narrow mind about those who aren’t, and would be better judging me for the kind of person I am, and how I interact with them.

I’ve spent time with a Buddhist monk, attended weddings in several countries, and had many kind people offer their prayers for me. The validity behind such acts or ways of life (note that Buddhism is not considered strictly a religion by many, but it is a set of rituals and a certain belief system) may not be so strong for me, but it gives meaning to many people and I don’t take away from that or try to force my philosophies on them.

While there are definitely many aspects of how those in power with religious agendas influence the real world I can’t ever agree with (restricting gay rights, delaying abortion legislation, preventing contraceptives from getting to poorer countries etc.), this is never a good reason to get angry with individual religious people, who are genuinely trying to make sense of the world as best as they can. Respect and an open mind coming from both sides is by far the best way forward.

Having said that, I do hope that more people will appreciate how wonderful the world we live in is, and how we are better striving for creating a “heaven” on earth by opening barriers between cultures, and generally trying to get along with one another. While you may disagree with me, I think a humanist appreciation of the world leads to this being much easier, and a little travel could open your eyes to how wonderful humans truly are.

The fact that amazing things have logical explanations does not take away from the fact that they can inspire awe and make us appreciate the world all the more.

Let me know what your thoughts on this are in the comments below!

***********************

Enter your email in the top right of the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!

If you enjoyed this post, you will love my TEDx talk! You can get much better details of how I recommend learning a language if you watch it here.

This article was written by

Comments: If you liked this post or have anything to say, please leave a comment! I love reading them :)
Just keep in mind that I’ll delete any rude, trolling, spammy, irrelevant or way off-topic comments. Also, use your REAL name, not a brand or business one, and don’t link to your site in the comments unless it’s relevant to this post.
If you have a general language learning question, please ask it in the forums. Otherwise please use the search tool on the right for any other question not related to this post.

———————————–

  • Iain Farrell

    I think you’ve wonderfully put into words many feelings I have about my own ‘beliefs’ – what you see is what you get. But damn, there’s so much out there, why waste it?

    And very soon, you’ll have a bunch of comments here telling you you’re completely wrong, that you obviously weren’t a good enough Catholic, that God loves you, but you’re going to hell for not believing in him…

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Glad you enjoyed it! And don’t be SO worried about such angry replies; as I said, I prefer to err on the side of optimism as much as I can! O:-)

      That is certainly a particular type of religious person, but keep in mind that it’s not a good rule of thumb for everyone. I was genuinely religious until university and I never would have told someone they were going to hell for not sharing my thoughts, but would have preferred to wishfully think they’d “see the light” some day.

      While I may disagree with the premise, and would find it a little patronizing, I prefer the kind spirit of that kind of reaction to “you’re going to hell”.

      So to any religious people reading this who may feel like writing an angry reply, consider wishing my soul well rather than curse me to hell :) Hateful arguments on both sides will never lead to a happy resolution.

  • http://www.learnlangs.com/ Judith Meyer

    Very well written! I hope you won’t get too much hate for this post.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Believe it or not, I have “faith in the religious” ;) The tone of this post was definitely not strictly anti-religion, so I hope they will show that they can be respectful to those of other belief systems, and can agree to disagree with me.

      • David J. James

        Absolutely. I’m a fundy and I still love ya.

      • PaulLambeth

        A problem I have with humanism is that a lot of people end up militantly promoting secularism and negating religious people as idiotic – offensive really, to me, as someone who likes a lot about humanism and goes to Quaker meeting. I don’t get that impression from you, so I’m glad.

  • http://abbyfahmi.com/ Abby Fahmi

    Thanks for sharing this. I can definitely appreciate your mentality, as it’s basically ‘treat people well’ and ‘live and let live,’ which, even as a Christian myself, I’ve learned. I know you’ll probably get a lot of Christians who condemn you for your beliefs, but we’re all on a journey, and everyone’s attitudes and beliefs change and evolve. We’re young, who knows what our beliefs about God, people, the world, will be in 20 or 30 years.
    I think what you said about travel strengthening your views was interesting because I think it does that for a lot of people, of a lot of different beliefs, which makes me wonder about what we think is “proof” but on the other hand, you have a lot of faith in people, and there’s plenty of evidence in the world to support that, so how could anyone disagree with you on that?

    Again, I just want to say thanks for opening my mind a little more and opening up this discussion. Hopefully most people will be open-minded and nice about it!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks! Glad to read your thoughts and really appreciate your open mind!

      This post was indeed intended to open people’s minds about the other point of view and the merits of it, as I think too many people focus on the problems of religion or the lack of morals for those who have no religion.

      • Tomos Burton

        Well it’s worked. I’m not about to change my beliefs, I am likely to stay a Christian, but this is the first good argument I’ve seen for non-religious groups. I’ve had some bad times with Atheists, particularly at college. College was the worst time in my life. On the other hand I must admit that bald-headed Fundamentalist that always complains about gay marriage on the news makes me turn over. Actually my godmother is Irish and she used to be Catholic but now she’s Agnostic. My mum calls her my ”un”godmother!

  • Madoka

    insightful article!
    When asked about my beliefs, I, too, do not like using the word “atheist.” I’ve tossed around the word “agnostic,” but I like your idea of being a “humanist.”
    I also loved the Douglas Adams quote – thanks for sharing it!
    Thank you for also sharing that bit about Russell’s teapot. The banner image of r/atheism on reddit makes so much sense to me now. I thought the alien flying around in the teapot was just something completely random in a Flying Spaghetti Monster-esque sort of way!
    I’m sure this article will set the tone for an enlightening conversation – hope the trolls stay away.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yep, that’s the teapot reference on reddit ;) Personally I prefer r/trueatheism/, as the atheistm subreddit tends to be quite negative towards religion, rather than be more philosophical. As you can see in this post, I am hoping to present humanism positively, rather than argue against religion.

    • Dani Riekwel

      I am a pastafarian and take offense to you calling The Holy FSM random

      • Madoka

        Sorry, didn’t mean to offend anyone. :p May the Fliegendes Spaghettimonster extend its noodly appendage in forgiveness!

        • Dani Riekwel

          I have tasted of his sauce of forgiveness, and it is good.

  • BillyWilson

    I’m interested how you answer the question “what is your religion?” when you meet people. I found that in some areas it was far “safer” to say Christian than to say atheist (I am thinking especially of nations where Islam is very dominant), because even Humanist implies “no god”. Religious people seem to be able to handle another religion better than no religion. The suspicion though is more widespread, even in developed nations, and I guess is similar to the fact that in the US declared atheists would have a very hard time getting elected.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I discussed that a little here: http://fi3m.com/cairo-walk/

      In Muslim countries it would be quite taboo (and perhaps dangerous) to say you aren’t religious, so I decided to say I was Christian, and use the word in the same way that I have heard many American atheists call themselves “Jewish”, as they are culturally Jewish. Usually I would opt to change the subject as soon as possible, as I disliked misleading people, but unfortunately it can be necessary to keep the conversation pleasant in some places.

      • http://leakygrammar.wordpress.com/ Gavin

        This strategy seems similar to the one I used in high school. As a high school student in France and Brazil, there were times that I would avoid telling people I was from the US, as it often would lead to awkward conversations, mostly about America’s political and economic hegemony in the world, and usually with a more than a few pejorative references to our not-so-bright-president at the time. The funny thing is I usually agreed with what people were trying to argue with me about, but people had trouble believing me since they had already categorized me as an “American” along with all of their stereotypes that go along with it. In Brazil, I noticed my Canadian friend never got into these kinds of arguments, and realized I could avoid the whole thing by simply saying, “oh, I’m Canadian.” Although I’ve felt guilty about using this strategy at times, since I’ve always considered being a traveler like being an ambassador of sorts with the responsibility of micro-diplomacy, it definitely comes in handy when I’m just not feeling up to it. The same goes with categorizing yourself as an atheist I suppose, which I generally avoid telling people for some reason, opting for your choice of terms. Thanks for sharing your thoughts openly on a topic like this.

      • Matthew Newton

        Had exactly the same thing in Egypt.. had to stop saying atheist because it just kept on leading into annoying conversations

  • Maximilian Anchidin

    Lovely post, Benny! I agree with your view, but I’d like to make a short comment: atheism just refers to the lack of belief, while humanism is more of a philosophy, which atheism is a component of. Also, atheism and anti-theism are different. Just because people associate negative meanings to words doesn’t mean you should too.
    Keep up the good work!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I know atheism and anti-theism are different. I said that they may get confused to be the same by those who don’t know. I have no negative associations with the word atheism, I just prefer a description for what I am rather than what I am not.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Ivy

      Even anti-theism has more of a bad rap than is entirely deserved.

      To be an anti-theist can be as simple as being opposed to the spread of ideas without evidence.
      I’ve read through the blogs of quite a number of anti-theists who are against religion being interjected into politics and schools systems, but generally aren’t interested in individuals preferences for religion unless they are directly responsible for many people being mislead on a matter. (For instance if a politician says that ‘X’ thing they disagree with is ‘against god’ then they feel that individual should be challenged.)
      Opposition to religious harms specifically can also considered a form of anti-theism. (Though personally think it’s more just ‘good’.) *Shrugs*
      The topic is kind of complicated by the fact that it really isn’t a single specific thing.

  • Daniel John

    Cool article, I’m a christian myself and I can’t say I agree with some of the stuff you’ve said but that’s cool i spose… just a question have you ever been to Armenia?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Not yet, why? I have been to apparently the oldest Christian monastery in the world and climbed up the mountain that many religious believe was the one Moses went up, as well as seeing the “burning bush” descendent held in that monastery. Rather than an epiphany, all I felt was hungry and tired from the hike.

      No worries on disagreeing with me!

  • Saki Galaxidis

    Amazing blog post Benny, I agree with whole-heartedly. Our travel experiences have given us pretty much the same view – these experiences are real mind openers and the way you explained it was perfect. I grew up religious too. But I’ve learnt to appreciate the world right here in front of us by not worrying about whether or not there is an afterlife. I think religion is primarily used as a tool to keep the masses conforming to the traditional way of life – that is; the American Dream – so that people don’t question what’s going on and just accept everything they’re told. It’s there to give the illusion of security of having a heaven to go to when you die so that missing out on wonderful experiences in this life won’t matter as much.

    You’re a true inspiration Benny and its because of you I’ve been hooked on making the nomad lifestyle my life, and I know you’ll be happy to hear that.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      “religion is primarily used as a tool to keep the masses conforming” – while I kind of agree, I think such statements just lead to arguing, and ones I prefer to avoid and focus on presenting humanism as good rather than religion as bad.

      Religion isn’t the only way to keep devoted people conforming, while it is the most historically effective.

      Best of luck with your nomadic lifestyle!

  • Matilda

    This is a great post. I’ve been a humanist (roughly) myself for most of my life and unlike you I was never really exposed to a religious upbringing. When I started travelling recently I realized how lucky I am to be able to view the world as beautiful for what it is, and humans as wonderful for what they are. I can’t explain this or try to convert people I meet – when local people ask me if I’m religious, I say it’s different where I come from, when they say they will pray for me I say I will think of them too.
    But among the other travellers I’ve met, I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the proportion who aren’t really religious, but will say things like ‘I believe everything happens for a reason’. I suppose it is because you expose yourself a lot more, as you were saying, to the random chances that can seem like fate. But you never notice when the chances don’t happen, or if a chain of events leads you to one amazing event, you never see the other amazing event that could have happened if one link in the chain had been different. I prefer to think that I make my own luck by seizing the opportunities offered to me and staying cheerful when things go wrong, thinking that there can be something remarkable at the end of every path, rather than saying I’m being passively led by a ‘destiny’. The world as it is is enough.

  • Jenna

    Hi Benny, you have written here a lot about doing right or wrong.. about one’s morals. But there cannot be a moral law without a moral law giver. It cannot exist of itself alone. I enjoy your blog! saludos desde Newry :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I disagree. The best retort to morality without religion I’ve come across was given by Sam Harris: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

      • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

        Love Sam Harris; I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read a word of his that I disagreed with.

    • rob.my.language

      If that’s the case, then the “moral law giver” decided to distribute different sets of moral law to different people in different cultures, as evidenced by the many different religions (and sects within each) that exist today. Which means he’s either a master troll, a bad communicator, or he’s not.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stuart.e.hughes Stuart Edward Hughes

      WE are the moral law-givers. Just as we have a complex, sophisticated system of national and international laws developed by consensus over time, we have developed a complex, sophisticated morality in the same way. In the 21st century we grapple with questions of morality and ethics far more nuanced and challenging than any ancient people had to face.

  • http://strategyfocussuccess.com/ William Peregoy

    I see this as a common theme amongst the blogs I read, the stuff I read on reddit, etc. Everybody is becoming atheist these days it seems…

    Your story echoes mine – except that I didn’t really reach a conclusion about whether I believed god existed or not in college. I just became pretty agnostic about it – “he may or may not exist.” I didn’t really call myself atheist or even agnostic really for years after that. I guess I just considered myself “Catholic” but “non-practicing” whatever that means….

    I’ve considered myself more of an atheist lately, but haven’t really read up on humanism. (nor do I honestly care so much to have to put the correct title on my beliefs). But, I definitely don’t have it out for religion the same way a lot of atheists do. I mean if I’m in town during Christmas or Easter – I would still go to church with my family. I would probably still even “pray”. Some atheists would hang me for saying such things… lol – but I don’t really care. I would do it more of tradition than anything.

    Just like while traveling, I wouldn’t mind visiting temples of other religions or even attending their worship services… It all fascinates me really.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      “Everybody is becoming atheist these days it seems”

      I became one back in 1999 ;) People are just more open about it these days.

      • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

        Actually, everyone is born an atheist. To ‘become’ one is just to revert back to our natural state ;)

        • Matthew Newton

          interestingly, Muslims often call new Muslims ‘reverts’ using exactly this logic.

  • Robert Landers

    Agree! My thoughts exactly!

  • Rebekka Rún Mitra

    You put my thoughts into words exactly as I think them. The world can still be “magical” and beautiful even though a lot to things might be a bit more mundane than we’d like to think. You just have to learn to love the “mundane” and above all, I think, the unexplainable. I was wondering if you would ever consider doing an AMA/ have ever done one on reddit? I think a lot of people would love to hear what you have to say and ask you some questions.

  • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

    Have you ever read the book The Moral Animal by Robert Wright by the way? One of my favourite books of all time; it’s about our seemingly inbuilt sense of morality and where it comes from.

    Religious people often argue that the fact that we have a sense of “right” and “wrong” is evidence for God’s existence. Actually, according The Moral Animal (well, actually according to the decades of rigorous scientific research and experimentation that preceded the book), there are very compelling and convincing evolutionary reasons for where that moral compass comes from. Reading that book completely changed the way I view people and the world (and I’d given up on God already by that point.)

    Richard Dawkins touches on the same subjects in The God Delusion although I don’t think he mentions TMA directly.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yes, I read these arguments by Dawkins, and they made sense to me from an evolutionary point of view.

  • http://patricia.torre.me/all Patricia BT

    Hi Benny,

    Funny I just posted about my “beliefs” yesterday, and they are very close to yours (except for the education background). For sure you say it much better than I do, and you already have an audience and thus, answers ;)

    Looking forward to meet you, maybe in 3 weeks!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Maybe the term shouldn’t exist, but religion has such a huge influence on the modern world (that astrology and alchemist don’t) that someone who isn’t religious does require some kind of label.

    But this is why I like “humanism”; it focuses on what the philosophy IS, rather than what it isn’t.

    I think time spent arguing semantics or definitions is not so well spent though, which I why I think a blog post like this discussing humanism positively is more useful.

    • http://georgemillo.com/ George Millo

      Oh don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I feel SUPER strongly about, if people want to call themselves “atheists” it’s still a step in the right direction. Like you say, semantics are just a minor issue compared to the bigger picture of religion’s influence on the world.

      I still prefer not to call myself an “atheist”, for the same reason I don’t call myself “straight edge” or “teetotal” even though I don’t drink; I don’t see why I need to define myself by the things I DON’T do. If I’m asked I usually just say “I’m not religious” or “I don’t believe in God”… but I’m not asked very often. Religion just isn’t part of my life, it barely ever even comes up in conversation.

      Anyway I absolutely agree with you in the big picture and this is just a minor quibble. Call yourself whatever you want, words are only tools after all.

      Also, it’s impressive that you’ve managed to keep this post so diplomatic whilst still sticking to your guns. Most discussion of religion by the non-religious is either needlessly aggressive hostility that just shuts down all conversation (see Dawkins, Hitchens), or it’s weakly-worded pussyfooting that’s too terrified of offending anybody to express any opinion worth hearing. Good job avoiding both!

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        Glad you appreciated that. It was precisely the balance I was aiming for!

  • Helene

    I was about to write “Wow, I can’t believe it, I had a conversation on the exact same topic only yesterday!!” and then I remembered that it would be indeed very probable for someone who is reading your blog and travelling to have a similar opinion to yours…!

    I mainly agree with two points you raised: 1.We don’t need a religion to be nice! It should be part of every single person, independently from their religion, to be nice! And I think it is! I don’t think I met anyone who was nice just because he/she was christian/muslim/buddhist or of any other religion! At the end of the day you are the kind of person you decide to be. No one is genuinely nice because they were said that they have to be nice. In other words, being nice does not depend on your religion. I don’t even want to get into the discussion of how many very religious people get to do very horrible things, like any other human can do, regardless of their religion (therefore, it all depends on what kind of person you are, what experiences marked your life and how you lived through those experiences etc. It does not depend on your religion and whether you have one.). 2.The garden and fairy quote! How nice! Thanks for sharing! That is exactly it! We are only 100% certain we have the one life we are leaving now. We may believe there is another one, but we don’t know it. So if we live this one in a way that makes us happy, content, satisfied etc, we don’t need to worry about the ‘other life’. That is because one is genuinely happy, content and satisfied, usually when one is nice to other people and to him/herself. So whether there is a second life or not it doesn’t matter: if there is one, you’ll have a good one because you were nice, and if there is no second life, you would still have enjoyed the one you know you have! So just be happy and nice and that’s it…! I know this can sound very unrealistic because ‘life is hard’, but our happiness largely depends on our own perception of the world and how we want to see things.

    Anyway, as much as I agree with you, I want to stress how much I cannot accept religious institutions. Living now in Guatemala I came across some quite fundamentalist religions and I always get a suffocating feeling. I try to swallow my thoughts and stay calm, but it really upsets me seeing such a mass manipulation and taking people’s money and happiness and control over their conscience. I totally agree with your point on individual religious people and I believe that they cannot be blamed for what the institutions do. Everyone believe what they believe for their own reasons and to the extend they do and that’s fine. But what I find quite hard is to have a more ‘active opinion’ on the religious institutions, without offending the individuals…

    Thanks a lot for the article- very inspiring indeed!

  • Torin Borboa

    Brother! you walk without faith because the Great Spaghetti Monster has not yet touched you with his noodley hands!

    Great post. Morality does NOT equal doing the right thing. Holy Inquisition anyone?

  • PhilOnline

    Benny, unfortunately too many so-called Christians grow up with the wrong idea that just following rules is the way to heaven. Actually, being a follower of Jesus is about his love for the people he created and having a personal relationship with God. It’s not about being good or bad. So I’d encourage you to still be open to the real meaning of Christianity and you might find it’s actually closer to your worldview than you actually thought.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I did indeed simplify it in this article, but keep in mind that I know plenty about Christianity – more than many Christians I’ve met, having gone to a Catholic secondary school, and going to church every Sunday for many years.

      I feel like you’ve missed the point of the article entirely (that humanists can be good and happy people) if you think your understanding that Christianity being about loving Jesus and having a relationship with God somehow makes it “closer” to my world view.

      While there are definitely overlaps, what you’ve described is precisely what sets my world view apart from Christianity; the lack of higher powers to love and worship and have a personal relationship with. I use that focus entirely on human beings that I know definitely do exist and would benefit more from my attention.

    • rob.my.language

      The problem is that there are 2 billion Christians on the planet, and each one of them thinks that *they* know “the real meaning of Christianity” while the other guys have it wrong.

      And they can all cite scripture that provides evidence for their interpretation. I love the Bible as a piece of literature and foundational cultural text, but it can really be a Rorschach test as far as moral guidance is concerned.

  • Quentin Lae

    Great entry. You’ve, indeed, brilliantly worded what I’m sure is a world view shared by many atheists -including myself-. It’s funny to me that many atheists are “better christians” than a good amount of pew-sitters : ) The values we live by are quite similar if you think about it. Love, kindness and empathy (Not sure if kindness is actually a christian value, it certainly is a buddhist one tho !). Congrats on a great article !
    Saudações do Rio : )

  • Smaisle

    Interesting article – though I see your humanist empathy for others only goes so far; based on your abortion legislation comment, I suppose the empathy doesn’t extend to babies.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Very impressed with how many utterly wrong concepts you’ve managed to squeeze into so few words.

      • gankoo

        Accusations aside, I would actually be interested in reading your reasoning on that one. It’s one of the modern rights sort of issues that I actually don’t understand – in an honest, ignorant sense of the phrase.

    • http://www.facebook.com/stuart.e.hughes Stuart Edward Hughes

      I hope you don’t eat meat, because the routine pain and suffering of BILLIONS of animals every year as they are slaughtered is far greater than the abortion of a foetus without a developed nervous system.

  • Ryan

    I disagree with a few points, but do actually agree on some things as well. That kindness and empathy are important, and that non-religious people can also lead happy lives. Being Mormon, though, I happen to prefer religion over humanism. As someone who went to church just a few hours ago today, I’d like to say thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for your empathy toward others. Best wishes – love your blog!

    Civility in religious discussions makes the world a better place :)

  • Francisco Ramirez

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Benny. The most important thing is to respect the different beliefs. We are a 7 billion people family.

  • montmorency

    I have a similar background (albeit in England, rather than Ireland), and have ended up with quite a similar viewpoint on these matters (after many decades). I don’t regret my background or upbringing, but I just don’t feel limited by it.

    Regards,
    Mike
    aka Montmorency.

  • Megan Hernandez

    I enjoyed this post but I’m taken aback by how many comments you got poo-pooing your POV on religion. As an American, I’m used to this, because in the US you’re really not “allowed” to speak out against Christianity…land of the free…separation of church and state…blah, blah, blah. It’s all BS. It’s very, very frowned upon. Christians get their boxers all in a knot constantly over this stuff. And seemingly ONLY Christians. I, myself, was raised Roman Catholic, spent many years in Catholic school, and I still consider myself to be a Roman Catholic (yeah, yeah, I know…that’s not good enough for many so-called “Christians”). Yet, I can’t for the life of me figure out why people care so much what other people believe. Mind boggling. It’s maddening, really. But what’s blowing my mind right now is that there are so many religious (Christian) conservatives visiting a site about traveling, worldliness, and openness to other ways of life. Here’s the bottom line everyone—because I’m sick of having this argument over and over with friends, family, and strangers alike—we’re all going to the same place in the end. We don’t know what that is, of course—though many will tell you they do, in fact, know exactly where we’re going. But they don’t. So, listen up everyone—whatever you believe, whether you identify yourself as being affiliated with one of the “great” (and I use that term loosely) three monotheisms or if you’re at the complete opposite end of the spectrum with no affiliation or belief in any kind of “God”/”creator” at all, here’s all that will matter in the end: if you lived a good life, if you were good to the people whose lives you touched, and if you lived as authentically and as honestly and as true to yourself as you possibly could. The End.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      “taken aback by how many comments you got poo-pooing your POV on religion”
      I didn’t receive any such comments yet.

      • Megan Hernandez

        I think I confused this post with another where I saw a few comments from people on some soap box, but there’s one comment just below that’s more than obnoxious enough for me: “based on your abortion legislation comment, I suppose the empathy doesn’t extend to babies.”

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          That’s not strictly poo-pooing my stance on religion, but is a ridiculous statement referring to a quick mention I made regarding abortion, which is an entirely different argument, and as good as an irrelevant tangent worth ignoring, as nothing more than generic trolling.

          Yes, other posts have had people on soap boxes, but I was very careful with the tone of this post to encourage the most discussion or serious pondering, and the least venom, and so far I have been successful.

  • Nicolas D.

    I never thought about religion since I’ve traveled to Morrocco, a muslim country.
    Even though I will never have the same believe about god as them, it made me realize a critical thing.

    What they call “God” is a message, an idea, a way of living, an artificial boundary that protect them from anxiety. To me, wether God exists is irrelevant.

    What is relevant is that believing appease their soul.

    I see religion as a tool. And as with each tool human makes, some can use it to harm people, but you can use it to improve your life.

    You can use it for both unifying people, and dividing them.

    You can use it to spread love or hatred.

    Whatever the religion is, it is a tool that can do good and bad, and it is not inherent to the religion, but to the people using it.

    Since my travel, I have a religion, even though I did not find the name of it, and there is no god inside it.

    As of the law of attraction you say you don’t believe, but you does, you just don’t understand that it is a different way of saying something you already believe.

    What law of attraction says is that when you know what you want, you’ll notice that things move your way.

    For example, you love traveling and meet people, so you are more likely to detect friendly people wanting to talk with you than if you feared people. And I’m sure you agree with that.

    You can say it is an hidden force, or just another use of your attention or habit, serendipity or probability… and it does not matter, all ideas are the same, whatever it is, one thing is sure : If your goal is to meet cool people, then you will find more cool people than someone that don’t have your goal.

    In a programming 3D course I read this quote :

    “The engines don’t move the ship at all. The ship stays where it is and the engines move the universe around it.”

    When you say you don’t believe in law of attraction it is as if you reject this sentence, but agree that engines can move a ship.

    Engines moving the universe or engines moving the ship are two point of view of the very same idea. You can’t take one without the other.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      This piece about my friend J.D.Roth discusses the Law of Attraction in a way I agree with wholeheartedly: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2007/05/06/there-is-no-secret-the-myth-of-the-law-of-attraction/

      Engines moving the universe is just nonsensical. Yes, I reject that silly sentence of yours.

      If my goal is to meet cool people, then I will *because I am doing something tangible to make sure this happens*. Things DO NOT “just move your way”. Doing something physical ensures that they are likely to, if you do it right. I’ve had many experiences where I have NOT been in the right frame of mind, but I do something that has physical results, and I can still get positive benefits.

      I find this entire concept of the Law of Attraction incredibly misleading as it’s based on nothing more than anecdotes and self-selected proofs. No study following scientific rigour has ever backed up anything behind it. And of course, no explanation other than new age quantum magic, is offered to explain HOW your positive thoughts are making happy things come your way.

      This is damaging because I’d rather people realize that doing something tangible will improve your life. Wishful thinking does not, even if it can get you in a better state of mind to THEN do something tangible.

  • Jacob Shino Hjerpe

    I just want to thank you for actually providing a genuine explanation of your own beliefs (or lack thereof) and why you believe it to be true in a logical fashion, instead of the mindless hate that goes on from both sides of the spectrum. Personally, I am religious, albeit slightly confused at this very moment, but i still defend religion, just as i support people that don’t believe in anything, but it pains me to see that it seems like every atheist these days really want/need to tell religious people how “fucking retarded sheep-fuckingly stone age you are! KILLERS”, and the religious people responding with the age-old “Hell” argument, which ironically wont do anything towards a genuine atheist. *sigh*. I dont really know where i’m going with this post, but i just wanted to let you know that i appreciate your wide-array of posts that have helped me in my study of Turkish, and also to thank you for being an open-minded and non-condemning atheist (humanist) that respects other peoples choices instead of hating on them. Theres too much hate in this world, and sadly, blaming it on religion, as many do, wont do nothing but (ironically) create more hate. Conflicts never solved anything. We must learn to live with our differences, as uncorrupted religion cant harm anyone (corrupted can, but then i personally dont even call it religion). The core of all major religions is essentialy to strive towards creating a world that is pleasant for all of us to live in, in peace. Sadly, there are also ways to twist and focus on individual aspects of holy books/scriptures that can be taken out of hand by religious people to create hate. Personally though, I find this kind of religious-created hatred to be just as bad as the hate that atheists spew on those religious people, which then leaks over to hate towards the innocent and “pure” religious people.

    Anyway, that’s just my 5 cents! But good luck with your future travels Benny!
    Greetings from a sunny (for once!) Sweden!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yep, as I said, while I share pretty much everything in terms of what I *don’t* believe in with atheists, I think a humanist needs to focus on the positive rather than dwell on the negative, and I also find over zealous anti-theism as wasteful as it’s rarely productive.

      • MW

        You’re right about that. Humanism teaches compassion. I actually get very upset when I see humanists bashing other people simply because they adhere to a religion. That is not proper humanism. In fact, although humanism often proclaims, “Good without God,” it underscores deed not creed! In fact, humanism should not even shun other humanists who believe in God. “To argue that humanists cannot believe in God is to posit a creed, one as narrow as those found in a thousand sacred books. We should only look upon actions to see whether someone is committed to humanity. As the saying goes, “Deed, Not Creed.”
        Humanists are everywhere there is charity and empathy. We humanists should not question the purity of fellow humanists by whether or not they believe in a transcendental world.

        When their fellow human beings call for assistance, we can see humanists throughout the religious spectrum: they are the ones who get off their knees and roll up their sleeves.” C. Martin Centner

  • Lidia

    only 55 comments? You represent our feelings. I am a militant atheist, being raised in a Catholic country like yours (Spain, in my case), and being raised as a Christian, did my first communion etc. Then started studying and taking interest in the world I live in. I studied translation because is one thing my slow brain could study for and would give me wings to work in different parts of the world. As one of my managers told me once: “This is not a rehearsal, Lidia, this is the final act”. So this is the final act, let us make the most of it, let us make it unforgettable. Never we will have another chance like this. Let us make many mistakes, everything can be healed and restored, except death of course. I am saving money to see how far a single woman can drive alone, and I hope I can get as far as you. I hate travelling (getting on the plane, taking pictures, back home), so I usually go to live to the country before I even know what it looks like.
    Recently I explained to a friend that after 7 years in Japan I would like to live somewhere else I have never been to. She said: “¿don’t you think it is enough? It is time you start thinking where you want to settle down, you are 32 already.” ¿How can I go back to a bubble and make my world out of 3 square km? How if I haven’t woken up with a family in San Francisco watching the news in the morning and going with them to work? How if I haven’t picked up any Vietnmanese friend after work and walking where he walks, saying hi to the people he says hi, eating what he eats and sleeping how he sleeps? How am I ever understand how a Japanese salaryman feels watching Sex in the City if I have never been a Japanese salaryman myself?

    To become, to experience, to enjoy the life in this planet as much as we can is the only purpose of life, hardly as we try to make up a purpose, if there is one is definitely this one. And the lucky ones who have bee borne in developed countries like we have and have been given an Education and the power of choice, have to do this, for all the people in the world who just cannot because they will die if they try.

  • Rodolfo Goulart Müller

    Great text! I’m a brazilian atheist and I feel the same way about the odds of strange things that happen to me sometimes.

    • Coral Reef

      Great post as always Benny, always appreciate your unique view of the world. Was raised here in the UK by a Catholic mother so had some similar experiences in my upbringing, and also found myself questioning the plausibility of some of the stories I was raised with. :) Did a lot of similar reading and came to much the same conclusions.
      To paraphrase John Lennon – imagine a world with no countries, no borders, no religions to divide us – where we finally recognise that actually we are all part of one human family. That’s the best chance we have of reaching something like a heaven.
      Great to see your personal philosophy is serving you well on your travels! May random chance continue to go with you! :)

  • stevewturnbull

    Hey Benny, really enjoyed your post :) Typically thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’m an agnostic but with strong spiritual (as opposed to religious) leanings. I’ve always had a hard time understanding the amount of suffering in this crazy world and how that could be part of a ‘loving’ God’s plan. Nevertheless I find the argument from design pretty compelling, especially when you consider the mind-blowing complexity of DNA and the brain for example, as revealed by the wonders of modern science. I recommend the late Prof Anthony Flew’s ‘There is (No) a God’ as he puts the argument much better than me. He was a lifelong, and very trenchant, atheist, but towards the end of his life he ‘converted’ to theism. He doesn’t (like me) deny that life is an evolutionary process but he argues that the evidence that some form of creative intelligence is behind this is simply too strong. Whether human beings are ‘designed’ to be self-reflexive so they can consider the moral impact of their choices is perhaps more open to debate. But I’m pretty sure that if there is a ‘God’, he/she/it cares much less whether we’re believers than we have the courage and honesty to take increasing responsibility for our behaviour. For a deeper analysis of that question I recommend Neale Donald Walsch’s ‘Conversations With God’ series. Keep up the great work :) Steve

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “Everything in the Bible agrees with factual science. Its never been disproved.”

    I’m afraid this immediately invalidates much of what you said that followed, and I am unable to take you seriously if you truly believe this.

    Jehovah’s Witnesses get a bad rep because they are intrusive about forcing the Bible on people when they didn’t ask about it. You’ve gone way over the quota of Bible references in this comment that a level headed retort would involve.

    There are good ways religious people can attempt to answer a post like this one, and yours was not one.

    I appreciate your good will to help save people’s souls, but reconsider your approach.

    • Harry

      Hey Benny! Thanks for the reply, hey I’m sorry if I offended ya in any way. I can assure you that my post was sincere, and I thought you may be genuinely interested.

      “I’m afraid this immediately invalidates much of what you said that
      followed, and I am unable to take you seriously if you truly believe
      this”

      I’m not sure what you really mean by this. If its regarding what the Bible teaches about morals, then thats a completly different subject. As I’m sure you know, science has nothing to say on morality. Benny I love what you said in your post about displaying empathy, being honest, showing genuine love to people in the world, and appreciating the planet we live on. Those things agree with what the Bible says! The reason I brought up morals is because you simply brought up what you thought about morals, and so I thought you may be interested in what the Bible says about it. Thats all.
      http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/whatisscience_12

      In any case, again, I’m sorry if I offended you in any way by using Bible references. My point was simply not to judge the Bible based on what others have done who have claimed to follow it. As we know, human thinking often gets changed and updated. So if I simply said what I thought in my post, then I very well could be wrong, however the Bible claims to be the inspired word of God, and so I referenced, and quoted from that.

      The point of my post was simply not to write off the Bible just yet. Afterall since the Bible says that it is a message from God himself and that he offers us eternal life if we believe and live by what it says, don’t you agree that it would be worthwhile at least to examine it to find out whether its claims are true or not?

      Regarding Jehovahs witnesses Benny, no offense but what you stated is simply not right! I know first hand! Jehovahs witnesses never “force” the Bible on people, they simply present the information from the Bible, and its up to you to make a choice. If you don’t want to hear it, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to follow what it says, you don’t have to, and Jehovah’s witnesses never teach that you HAVE to either.
      http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/door-to-door/
      http://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/own-religion/

      Benny, in all honesty it was wonderful having this little conversation with you! The last thing I want this thing to turn into is some huge argument! So lets end it here. I thought you may be interested, and thats simply all. I love your blog, the posts you make are so motivating, and I think your travels across the world are fantastic! The suggestions you make on language learning is priceless (I myself am going into Mandarin soon, any tips? :o), I even bought your speaking from day one bundle! :)

      I hope you have fun in America! I’m interested in seeing if you can perfect an American accent. Safe travels my friend.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        Yes, I know you were sincere, but you don’t seem to know how bothersome JWs are to people. Your comment for instance is preachy rather than trying to seriously look at what I’ve actually said in this post about the Naturalistic reasoning for how the world works.

        You are effectively ignoring what I wrote and thinking that if only I knew the “true” message of the Bible, all would be good, ignoring the fact that I know quite a lot about the bible, having spent considerable time in church.

        What I am referring to in many unscientific aspects of the bible can be found in many places online. Here is one example of a tiny selection: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Scientific_errors_in_the_Bible

        And since you insist on bringing it up, the Bible is a very poor moral guidebook. It promotes rape, murder, slavery, deception, sexism, genocide, and many other terrible things, often promoted by god in the old testament. This is unacceptable, even if the new testament is much softer. I’m not sure if you’ve glossed over these parts, or are simply ignoring them as metaphorical.

        I would appreciate it if you agreed to disagree with me on this. You seem to think I’ve given this very little thought, but I assure you I have considered the message of the bible at great length before becoming a humanist. I’m glad you enjoy my blog, but if you don’t want any retorts that you would certainly not enjoy reading, please don’t provide any more discussions referencing the bible, and let’s close this discussion, because we will not change one another’s mind.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Hilarious video :) Australians really know how to present an idea!

  • Tim Horgan

    Good arguments but you have to say that there are forces and senses at play that extend beyond the power of a human brain to reason. What I’m trying to say is easier when illustrated with an example:

    Think back to the days before human existence. Did the concept of humour exist? Of course it did. But no life forms were complex enough to sense it.

    In the same way, there are concepts, ideas and forces at play that our brains aren’t sophisticated enough to pick up. So what do we do in lieu of this? We turn to ‘spirituality’, ‘religion’, ‘animism’ or whatever else to try and make sense of the mystery inherit in our world.

  • Dave Topal

    It shows that you have given your faith a lot of thought. I enjoy reading more from a person who has given religion a lot of thought and choose not to follow any than one who follows a religion blindly. I am a christian and I certainly believe in a supernatural God. One thing that I always wonder about is this? When are we going to be sure of what is really true? I mean when would we all know for sure? I am so convinced that God loves you and I and you are so convinced that I am just being religious! thanks

  • Natalia

    James Clerk Maxwell, Isaac Newton, Galileo, and Pascal.. just a few people to mention here concluded differently upon their study of the subject. You have your own logic and that’s fine. But when you look at the data make sure you always search for the truth.

    There’s so much scientific evidence that if the temperature, gravity, or so many physical laws and biological designs were ever so slightly different humans would not exist….

    I won’t press on. Remain firm in the belief of what is true. Just make sure you can truly know the truth.. I think that’s your argument.. you don’t know the complete truth, and no one can know… that’s what you think.

    and to some extent YOU’RE RIGHT.

    Because the funny riddle of all this is that love and belief are not 100% based on what is seen it requires faith. and faith is something that is extracted on what is not seen, therefore you can’t “KNOW” and be confident in the Christian religion without having “faith” which is an evidence of things not seen… circular here.

    There’s still one question science can not even attempt to answer: how did breath start? the “bacterial/fungus/plant/animal” cell begin to exchange air to breathe and grow.. we have no good explanation for the “beginning” of everything coming from nothing.. all our explanations are derived from the existing knowledge..

    But, You are RIGHT, you are completely right, in that you can not know the way you know how many fingers you have, there is a different type of knowledge required for faith. So its up to the person to either accept that they can not know and thus disregard the idea of an “absolute” (justice, morality, truth) and thus accept that everything is relative.. or from the data “use faith to connect the dots” that are spaced but just with a careful look suggest evidence of the absolute.. That, that is the choice. That, that is the veil of which each of us can choose to uncover to see clearly or remain with only the vision of humans.

    Maybe your entire 10 year journey has really been about finding a home everywhere you go? je ne sais pas

  • Benson Wallace

    Very well enunciated. Carl Sagan would be proud of you!

  • Natalia

    James Clerk Maxwell, Isaac Newton, Galileo, and Pascal.. just a few
    people to mention here concluded differently upon their study of the
    subject. You have your own logic and that’s fine. But when you look at
    the data make sure you always search for the truth.

    There’s so
    much scientific evidence that if the temperature, gravity, or so many
    physical laws and biological designs were ever so slightly different
    humans would not exist….

    I won’t press on. Remain firm in the
    belief of what is true. Just make sure you can truly know the truth.. I
    think that’s your argument.. you don’t know the complete truth, and no
    one can know… that’s what you think.

    and to some extent YOU’RE RIGHT.

    Because
    the funny riddle of all this is that love and belief are not 100% based
    on what is seen it requires faith. and faith is something that is
    extracted on what is not seen, therefore you can’t “KNOW” and be
    confident in the Christian religion without having “faith” which is an
    evidence of things not seen… circular here.

    There’s still one
    question science can not even attempt to answer: how did breath start?
    the “bacterial/fungus/plant/animal” cell begin to exchange air to
    breathe and grow.. we have no good explanation for the “beginning” of
    everything coming from nothing.. all our explanations are derived from
    the existing knowledge..

    But, You are RIGHT, you are completely
    right, in that you can not know the way you know how many fingers you
    have, there is a different type of knowledge required for faith. So its
    up to the person to either accept that they can not know and thus
    disregard the idea of an “absolute” (justice, morality, truth) and thus
    accept that everything is relative.. or from the data “use faith to
    connect the dots” that are spaced but just with a careful look suggest
    evidence of the absolute.. That, that is the choice. That, that is the
    veil of which each of us can choose to uncover to see clearly or remain
    with only the vision of humans.

    Maybe your entire 10 year journey has really been about finding a home everywhere you go? je ne sais pas

  • http://www.lingholic.com/ lingholic

    Awesome post, Benny. I always enjoy your carefully crafted, balanced views and your open-mindedness. You sure seem to have excellent diplomatic skills! It’s a sad fact that in some parts of the world renouncing your religion carries a jail sentence or even the death penalty.

  • S Ray Wright

    Rather than stop at humanism, why not create an an ontotheology (a meta-ethic made in the wake of God)? Seems rough to stop at thomas henry huxley and not look further into the universe to see something more grander even conjecture some higher order of arranging things that even surpasses previous philosopher/travelers attempts to understands it.

    Loved the article though! :)

  • Peter Lindil

    “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?….but wouldn’t it be ridiculous to look at a beautiful garden and dismiss the idea of a gardener?

    Sure, it’s possible that all the trees and flowers grew up from seeds that just randomly fell into perfectly arranged rows and patterns.

    Maybe blind chance directed all the azaleas into one flower bed and all the petunias into another.

    Perhaps it was purely mechanistic geological forces which directed the stones into a pattern which just happens to resemble a path. We know that cows eat grass- maybe there was a herd of very light-footed cows that came and mowed the lawns – and just happened to nibble every blade to the same height.

    Maybe all the apparent design is just an illusion.

  • Phoebe

    Great read, one of my favorite of your posts so far. Oh, and, you constantly inspire me! Keep it up, I’m always rootin for ya :)

  • Samantha

    Good for you! It would be great if religion was gone from the world. I find it the most negative and poisonous influence in the world. With religion and the god delusion gone, people can actually be themselves, be able to connect with each other more deeply, help each other better, and appreciate life, learning, integrity and truth. I find religion and god belief arrogant and that it destroys one’s desire to learn and experience life by trading in one’s life for an imaginary “afterlife”. It makes me sad. I really hope more people go in the direction you did. Thank you! ^__^ You are a really great person. Keep it up. :D

  • Joseph Robertson

    Great post. I became a fully “convinced” (or rather acknowledged how *un*-convinced I was by religion) of atheism in probably about the 9th grade. In defense of the word “atheist”, it really just means you’re “without theism” and doesn’t say anything about what you think of religion or your philosophy about life, but I guess in this current climate it gets a bad rap for some reason.

    It’s also interesting that people apparently suggest you might become more religious/superstitious if you travel a lot. To me, that’s the opposite effect I would expect it to have. Exposure to more and more of a variety of people/cultures would make you *less* likely to make some arbitrary decision about which religious idea you think is “right”, I would think.

  • sarahscimmi@hotmail.com

    Great post. I decided on humanism years ago, thinking I had thought of the concept myself when Facebook asked me to share my religion. At that point I was spiritual but couldn’t define it within the structures of traditional religion and pondered what I believed in. The conclusion – I have faith in humankind, and this faith grows with every person I meet, every new culture I experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Christelle

    Hey Benny. I really admire you, to the point of almost havin’ a crush on you :p anyway, I have a question that I’d be glad if you answered: well, I’m kinda going through some rough times, and I sorta want change, and I think I would be better off NOT believing in anything, but I’m not sure if I can, because I’m so used to thinking in the ways you describe in this & some other post…

    My question: was it hard, or a “natural” choice for you to stop believing?

  • Michael

    Hey Benny. You know, you make a lot of sense. I do agree with the idea that we all need to be able to get along better and love one another and make this world like “heaven”. I appreciate that, even though you follow no religion or its standards, you still “do to others as you would have them do unto you”. I was raised Catholic, also, but never really looked into it until I was also about college age, maybe 18 or so. I also have that mentality of “all or nothing”. So, I had to really reflect on life and the good and the bad, and decided I would give God a chance, mostly because I had a strong sense of good and bad because of how I was raised and to me, my parents had shown me a lot of love and had raised me Catholic so it seemed just. I think what I desired more than anything was peace — and I found it in conversation with God in the chapel, in front of the Eucharist.

    Let me pause here; I do not seek to change your view or tell you that you are going to hell or something. I just want you to hear my own experience.

    Slowly, as I began going to mass daily and receiving the Eucharist, my heart became supple and fuller, and I was formed into someone who cared little for myself but desired to serve others. To me, since this really contradicts the human condition, since we want to do what is good for us or pleasing for us first and foremost, this made no sense. And as I read about many of the saints and the way they lived, I realized that nothing made less human sense but was more real than heaven. So now, it is all for my faith. Yeah, I live a normal life (for the most part) and might not look any different and obviously still make selfish choices as every person does (i.e. I still sin), but my heart’s deepest desire is not for this world. And all I seek with my life here is to instill that desire in others through my life, through my words and by example. So I wish you the best in your journeys and I hope there are more people like you who desire to make this world a better, more loving place. But I realize that our own human condition leads to too much selfishness in our world for it to ever be perfect. But, we must work for this still; and if I were to bank my happiness on that of those around me wherever I am, or of the world, I would never be happy. So I look for happiness and peace in the one place I know it to exist — heaven.

    An atheist, I think it may have been Peter Singer, was having a debate with a priest once. After much debate that just kept going in circles (because neither can be proved in the way which science would like to prove it), the priest said something along these lines: “You know, if you are right and there is no God, no heaven or hell, in the view of the world I wasted my life and you didn’t. But, we both lived in a way that made us happy, right? But if there is a God, I am going to heaven for eternity and you are going to hell for eternity.” So for me it is a win-win. Although some may say I waste time (as you did) praying and going to mass, confession, maybe becoming a priest and devoting my life to God one day, etc., I would rather that than live here thinking there is no God and then dying and possibly going to hell. I am not saying you are going to hell if there is one (because I believe that only God can judge your heart, so if there is, that is up to Him on judgment day), I am just sharing my reasonings for why I believe.

    The one real thing that did irk me about your post, though, was when you said this:
    “While there are definitely many aspects of how those in power with
    religious agendas influence the real world I can’t ever agree with
    (restricting gay rights, delaying abortion legislation, preventing
    contraceptives from getting to poorer countries etc.)”

    And it irks me because these are not things that have anything to do with religious agendas — they are human rights issues.

    The only “gay right” that may be restricted is the right to marriage. Why? Because of others who will be affected, not because of religion. Children will be affected. A man and a man can love one another, I don’t doubt that, but they cannot give a child what he or she needs to be a functional person. Marriage is an institution, not just a way of saying “I love you”. If it was, then I would say that love is very weak in today’s society based on the divorce rate. What a family is and should be, though, is a man and a woman (because I can say right now, I know some wonderful people who are gay or lesbian, but I can also say that they cannot raise a child with another person of the same gender in the way that a man with a woman can; man and man or woman and woman do not complement one another physically, emotionally, or mentally as a man and woman do. It is not an argument of equality, it is an argument of what is complete and what is not). It is a foundation.

    You also mentioned abortion. You seem to be a man focused on the good of all, a humanist. But, then, unless you think that a baby in the womb is not a human, you compromise your own views when you say that we should not “delay” abortion legislation. You would be right, we should delay it; we should abolish it. It is our current day slavery. Intrinsic good can never be compromised. A life is a life, no matter who and what situation. And I do not believe it is ever our right to take a life; be it a baby in the womb, or be it a mass murderer. All life is sacred, and if you truly believed that we only live this life, you would appreciate every person’s life so much more, including those who are in the womb.

    Contraception is another beast. I think it is wrong, maybe you do not. My reasoning is that if a couple is not willing to have children, either refrain from sex or use natural methods. Sex has a pleasurable aspect to it because it keeps humans procreating, to continue the race. I am sure if there was no pleasure involved, that the people remaining on earth would tend to be people of faith because very often they see procreation as the number one end of intercourse and pleasure as a secondary end. My point being, if people let their passions control them and they have no consequences, you watch where the world is in 10, maybe 15 years. We will have less functioning societies, meaning the family will continue to dissolve, less children, meaning less people for you to meet, and less generosity, meaning less people who want to accept you visiting them. I don’t think that even humanists will appreciate mankind.
    — as for poorer countries, I am currently in the newest country in the world, South Sudan. They do not even know what contraception is, and I can tell you that, yeah, there is a lot of poverty and a lot of death and a lot of suffering. But I can also tell you that their families are so much stronger than any you will see in a first world country. They take care of one another, as selflessly as possible. They are not worried about becoming a lawyer and doing absolutely anything to become one; they are not going and having sex with their girlfriend and then running away when she becomes pregnant because it wasn’t what they “planned”; they “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” by staying with the ones they love. Introducing contraception to third world countries is just an agenda from first world countries being placed on the poor. It is modern eugenics.

    Man is made good, but if not ordered rightly, tends to choose selfishly. In the animal kingdom, those are the ones who survive. In a human society, those are the ones who ruin it for everyone else. So I am saying that supporting things that demean us to say we have no control over our actions, you are actually taking away from the freedoms and the abilities to travel and experience the good in people in the world, as you do. Not every religious person is good, but I can say that the intention is there to be good (in most). I do not believe because I am weak and mindless, and have not thought about why I believe; I believe because in my heart I know that He is the only thing that makes me feel whole and gives me the ability to love those around me.

    I would love to hear back from you, and I apologize if I seemed attacking. That was not my attempt. I wanted you to know why I believed, and also just comment on some things you say bother you, yet if they do then you contradict your own view on humanism. If you think otherwise, please explain to me. I am always up from learning from others, just as you are.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I’m afraid there is simply far too much for me to disagree with, and far too many holes in your arguments, and having such debates was not the reason I wrote this post.

      My retorts would not be special, because there are very obvious answers to the points you raise. If you go to atheist forums then they will very likely provide you with the same arguments that I would, if I cared to get into such discussions.

      If you are happy with the life you lead that’s good for you, but if you actually want to genuinely debate the points you raised with people, I have to warn you that you will be painted as a little backwards in some of the points of view you shared here. Some things you raised very simply don’t belong in the 21st century, in ANY country, although I realize that many are still catching up (and yes there are of course issues in 1st world countries too, but I don’t get the impression that you understand them very clearly).

      Sorry to be so frank, but that’s as far as I’m going, since others debate much more enthusiastically than I do.

  • Ararxos

    You are very confused, the only thing that saves you is that you were raised in a cool Christian environment and not a fundamental one. The biggest problem i have with atheists is that they preserve ad logical, abstract things such as Nothingness Randomness Chance and Luck when there are nowhere in Science. Science works with Determinism and causally and the Universe is obviously predeterministic thats why many atheists that don’t accept God as the Creator believe in Mutliverse because this Universe disappointed their belief in chance and now searching for a way to validate it. The biggest proof of God is that we can understand the whole Universe and finally Science proves why the teachings of Christ are real. Etc bad actions have consequences and God doesn’t have to wave a magic wand and punish the evil people, everything is cause and effect and that proves God and not disprove it. If we lived in a Chaotic Universe then yes Atheism would have an argument but here it doesn’t. As for Humanism that you carry as a label to avoid atheism and nihilism, it was created by a Christian OrthodoxMonk, Saint Photius, the Atheists Epicurean Philosophers were against Humanism, they supported slavery, woman abuse, rape (still modern atheists support it like Sam Harris, Amazing Atheist, Dawkins..), worship of the God Cesar even if you don’t believe in the supernatural claims and they mocked Christians for helping the weak because they thought as nature merciless. Cosmology also supports Theism, the Universe had a beginning, BVG Theorem states that even quantum fluctuations can’t be past eternal. There is nothing that can support Atheistic Worldview because we meant to be here. Beauty also adds another argument for God.