Were you to ask me whether or not I believed in God, you would probably get an answer along the lines of Noah S. Sweat Jr.’s famous “if by whiskey” speech, to wit:
If by “believe in God” you mean the adoption of an attitude which holds me above my fellow human beings and other life on this planet, the destruction of all humility through the embracing of my position among the elect, the sense of superiority that comes from knowing that most of my fellow men and women are damned to eternal hellfire, the end of an attitude of curiosity about life and the universe due to the rigid acceptance of some ancestor’s cloud of doctrine, and the imposition of narrow rules that can but fail to accommodate the complexity of life, then no, I do not believe in God.
However, if by “believe in God” you mean the acceptance of my humble position in this universe, an attitude of gazing upon this world and everything beyond it with awe and respect, the compulsion to understand and empathize with my fellow creatures knowing that I find the creator when I seek the creation, a mystic sense of oneness with the universe that eliminates all manmade categories before it, the drive to help where I can and when I can, and a stance of solidarity with all who are poor in spirit, then yes, I do believe in God.
This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.
In other words, decency does not correlate directly with belief of the lack thereof–there are assholes in every group. One may believe in God and, as a consequence, be driven to help the poor due to the commands of his/her higher power. Or one may believe in God and wear that belief like a policeman’s badge, assuming that it allows him to regulate the behavior of others and punish any perceived misdeeds. Conversely, one may not believe in God and hold that this life is the only one we have and, consequently, seek to bring about justice and joy in the world so that nobody’s short existence is plagued with preventable pain. Or one may embrace the nonexistence of God as a justification of greed, believing that he shall not be punished in any life to come.
“I believe in one God….” So begins the Nicene Creed, recited in churches the world over. But that creed does not reveal anything interesting or relevant about the person saying it. The same words could be recited just as sincerely by saint and scoundrel alike.