Posts tagged ‘atheism’
My holiday reading was Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker. I had travelled a similar journey (albeit in a less publicised way). Having made the change from being an evangelical leader, preacher, counsellor, and author (for over 30 years) to an unashamed, blogging atheist, I thought it would be interesting to read the human story. I wondered how far Barker’s experience would parallel my own, and if his analysis of his change would help me see my own in a new perspective. I am really glad that I read through to the end of the book.
The book is divided into four sections: his life as a believer; his loss of faith; more detailed reasons for rejecting Christianity; his present work for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
His faith didn’t disappear overnight, and I could certainly identify with the agony of the period where he felt so hypocritical. On the outside everything was OK and everybody was looking to him for Christian leadership and teaching, but on the inside the certainty of his faith was shifting dramatically. And once the faith had really disappeared, his experience certainly shed light on my own clinging to a pretence for so long. Not only was I clinging to a culture and people that I had known for most of my adult life, but I was also clinging to a public reputation that I had established. In our cases, faith wasn’t just a private matter, but it also came with a history, a community, and an important identity. The faith was private, but the ‘ baggage’ was public and, in some ways, was more ‘psychologically sticky’…
But what about this site? Is it a help, or a hindrance to mature growth? Are we ex-Christians sulking about, fooling themselves that we are providing positive reinforcements for other non-believers and soon-to-be non-believers. Or is it what we say it is – a resource for former and skeptical religionists? Perhaps health and instruction is not part of what we do. Perhaps we are merely deconstructers, allowing the faithless to flounder in their own philosophies of non-belief. Is it possible for this sort of community to act as just another crutch, another religious-like entity that cannot think beyond itself?
In reply to the questions, I insisted that sites like this do have a positive affect because they provide a sense of community for a very marginalized group. As an American, I am constantly surrounded by the religious. Religious dialogs are impossible to avoid. They permeate our elections, they happen on the bus, they are handed out as fliers and pamphlets. Even if I wanted to “move beyond” Christianity, it would be an impossible task, because religion is simply unavoidable. Aside from the large Christian culture present in the US, my own family are all deeply religious, so religion will always be a part of my life, and I have to find ways to deal with that. One very helpful way is to communicate with fellow ex-Christians…
Until we can survive and thrive without the illusion that an all powerful and caring overseer is guiding us;
until we can accept the ups and downs of unsettling fortune without extracting meaning and message from above;
until we can address the dissonance of thanking our chosen deity for graciously granting every positive moment yet fail to apportion blame for any negative;
until we can debate and define our moral codes without reference and deference to the compromised and dated writings of the ancients;
until we can accept our mortality and that of our loved ones without the pacifying promise of eternal paradise;
until we can get by without burdening our offspring with the shackling myths we were in turn taught;
until we can stop eulogizing faith in that which we wish to be true, as a higher form of knowledge;
until we can freely re-asses our convictions without the debilitating circle of post rationalisation;…
To many in the fundamentalist world, Thanksgiving is an especially difficult day to be a nonbeliever. It lays bare, they believe, the clear hypocrisy of a belief system they regard as one giant exercise in willful denial. It brings out with rather embarrassing clarity, they cluck, the God-shaped hole they presume sits at the core of our worldview. After all, we don’t believe in their god, so by our own rebellious logic, we have no one to thank. So why don’t we just sit around and mope on Thanksgiving Day?
So: either celebrate the holiday and admit you’re a hypocrite, or have the courage of your convictions to do nothing this Thursday, admitting that thankfulness without the fundamentalist God is irrational. Gotcha!
As always, these sorts of facile, black-and-white polarities obscure a whole lot of thoughtfulness and real human nuance. But today, let’s thank them for spurring us to think it through, and answer their challenge: why does it make sense to be thankful, if you don’t believe in a providential god?
I will even grant – because I think it’s entirely true – that gratitude is a salutary emotion. And I think this is true (mostly) for the reasons fundamentalists themselves lay out: it impels us to “count our blessings.” Gratitude makes us attend to, and hence appreciate, what we have. That’s a good thing…
Some readers at my personal blog have asked me why it took me so long to come to my senses about religion. I’ve given the question a lot of thought, and I think the title of this piece summarizes it best.
When I was a teen, most of my friends and I were apathetic believers in the Judeo-Christian version of god. We believed in a deity, but we weren’t the least bit interested in surrendering to him or finding his perfect will for our lives. In fact, as a preacher’s kid, I may have been more overtly anti-religious and rebellious than my peers. This was my basic attitude until I was sixteen years old, when I underwent two major life changes.
The first change took place over the summer, when I had an opportunity to travel with an evangelistic team for ten weeks. Even though my faith was apathetic, at best, I was enticed by the glamor of traveling with a group of teens and young adults and actually getting paid for the privilege! What a blast! And it was. The team consisted of eleven members, ten of whom were actually committed Christians. I was the odd person out. I didn’t let on that I wasn’t saved and, since I could easily talk the talk, I breezed through the summer and, to all outward appearances, fit right in with the rest of the group. I really liked these people: even though they were on fire for Jesus, they were friendly, fun and funny.
Notwithstanding the close relationships that developed in that ten weeks, had I simply returned home to my usual peer group of apatheists, I likely would have fit right back in with them too…
When I first came to the de-Conversion blog I was afraid to read comments left by Christians. I was afraid that my atheistic position was actually weak, and that they would present some argument for God that I hadn’t considered, or that was so rationally sound that I couldn’t ignore it. And to be perfectly honest, I wanted them to succeed in convincing me. I read the responses searching for a glimmer of truth, looking for some defense that would lead me back into the comfortable faith of my childhood. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that would never happen.
Here is why:
1. They never bring anything new to the table.
I’ve been an avid reader of the blog for over a year now, and I’ve read virtually every comment. I’ve read hundreds of Christian arguments and apologetics, but of those hundreds, no one has ever introduced a new or novel argument. They all use the same hackneyed apologetic tactics and arguments, and to make things even more frustrating, they present these arguments as if no one has ever heard of them before, as if they are completely original and earth-shattering. Since most of us here are former Christians who were deeply immersed and educated in the faith, this attitude is nothing less than insulting.
2. They present no convincing arguments...
I change my mind a lot. For most of my life I have been on an involuntary spiritual journey that has led me into and out of Christianity, through explorations of Buddhism, through agnosticism and into atheism. And now I am not sure where I am heading.
This year I’ve decided that I’m not sure I want to be called an atheist anymore, even though I don’t believe in god(s). I know according to the dictionary that I am an atheist, but I’ve become disillusioned with the atheist movement, which largely seems to thrive on making fun of believers and ignoring the desire for spiritual fulfillment that most people feel.
Although I have some Christian friends in America, over the past years, I have found myself viewing all religious people as some sort of monolithic negative stereotype, hell bent on controlling everything and everyone, and teetering on the edge of insanity. I spent the summer in Lithuania where I met people from all over the world, I found that I’d made new friends who were Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Buddhist, agnostic, and “just spiritual.” Although we didn’t talk very much about religion, we engaged in meaningful and interesting conversations about many different topics. I found myself rethinking the stereotypes I’d come to accept, and wanting to engage more fully with people of differing backgrounds and philosophies. I want to be open to see where my own spiritual journey will take me next, and I am not willing to be pegged down by labels or stereotypes, even those of my own invention…