Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This atheist's New Year's resolutions (part 1)

A little late for resolutions, I know. But I was thinking the other day about my journey away from Christianity, my interactions with other Christians, and the pitfalls of the New Atheists, which I've written about here. I've observed major issues in the way atheists – me included – interact with theists, and the following seven points are as a result of a little introspection. I hope, at least in my own interactions, to improve in the following:

1. Polarisation
My major frustration of the current culture wars – especially in terms of atheism and theism – is that debates are highly polarised. The 'Us vs Them' mentality is a common element. I hope that I can, instead of engaging in verbal combat, aim to understand and to be understood. As an atheist, should I not enter in dialogue with open-minded Christians who will be willing to at least listen to my story? But maybe this implies a cost on my part: in order to initiate meaningful cross-faith dialogue, I must be willing to cast aside misunderstandings I might have regarding the Christian faith.

2. Bitterness and anger
Not all atheists are bitter or angry. But I know I was. I think ex-Christians have the right to feel hurt and disappointed; after all, it's not easy finding out that some of the stuff you were taught is simply not true. But to be bitter and angry for too long is a way of surrendering yourself to that which you are bitter about. As Carl McColman, in his blog, The Website of Unknowing, wrote in this post:

The atheist who is consumed with anger and hatred toward faith is, in a very real sense, in hell. Not a hell of divine punishment so much as a hell of his own making.

I glad to say I have made great strides in dealing with this anger over the last few years. I think that bitterness hinders one's ability to listen to others, and dealing with bitterness is an important step to really letting go.

3. Painting all Christians with one brush
This is one pitfall that I've fallen into all too many times: assuming that all Christians believe the same thing. I am grateful for the many Christian friends, especially those from the emerging conversation, who have challenged this false assumption of mine. Just because I grew up in a conservative Baptist church that taught Young Earth Creationism and emphasised the horror of hell doesn't mean that all other Christians did.

Click here for part 2


Carl said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog, and I hope my musings have been helpful. I agree that there is a legitimate place for anger at the abuses of the church, and I'm glad to see that you are embracing the idea that a life without faith can also be a life without unnecessary anger at religion. Count me in as one of the emerging-type Christians who respects atheism and agnosticism, who thinks that "heaven" and "hell" are dangerous when seen as metaphors for divine reward and/or punishment, and who thinks that creative possibilities are awaiting all of us, once we learn how to dialogue in an open and non-attacking way (and yes, we Christians have much of the blame for not knowing how to do that!).



Ben said...

What I find difficult in conversations with most Christians is that the very basis of their faith leaves no room for my beliefs (or lack thereof) as an atheist. They believe that there is a god, that it is omnipresent and has been for all of creation. There's no room in that for my belief of true independence of living creatures, not having been created by or having to answer to any kind of "higher" power.

Granted, those are definitely generalities. I could spend the next few hours relating the variations. But I must work.

Anonymous said...

I like to speak of Anger.

The problem with limiting the time we are angry is that if we FORCE ourselves to stop the anger, we delude ourselves into believing it is gone, when it is still there.

I suppose I agree with you in that, eventually, anger must end. Where I have a strong opinion is on the how. I think anger must die a NATURAL DEATH.

We do that by experiencing the anger and letting be, by writing about it or talking about it in safe places. If we are hoping that it will go away just by wishing it away, it will never happen. Something must be done in that regard, and therapy should be seriously considered.

It has taken me almost three years of angry blog posts to dissolve the anger, but it is gone, it truly is. I can now socialize with Christians and let them be. I realize that they can only break out of it on their own. I keep my preaching to the occasional witty remark.

smithadri said...

Kevin, thanks for your post and the challenge to treat each other as whole persons and not as an 'it'. This is challenging for me too.

Ben said: There's no room in that for my belief of true independence of living creatures, not having been created by or having to answer to any kind of "higher" power.

I understand the attractiveness of freedom, but what does freedom entail and how far do you go? I think that absolute and total freedom is not something to be desired. If I was totally Free I would have the capability to disconnect myself from every relationship to every other person. I believe that this really leads to non-existence just as a dot that loses its relationship with the page it is written on ceases to be when the page is removed.

To be totally free would mean freedom from relationship, from gravity, my body, my family, my humanity, God. And some of these relations I am not able to choose, and sometimes they are a bit inconvenient. I cannot wake up in the morning and say "I don't feel like being a father today", or "I don't feel like gravity today."

Two totally Free persons would be able to do to each other as they please. This is fine as long as they agree (and are whooly good/perfect). When they don't/aren't, they would have no moral restriction on destroying each other to get what they want.

The reality is that we are accountable to each other as family, friends, human beings. And our freedom is therefore limited.

I am not free to: not be created, to not be human, to be evil, to not be loved.


Paul Maurice Martin said...

Good points. On the painting with a broad brush, I notice that basically atheists who rant call Christians stupid and ranting Christians call atheists immoral.

Cori said...

Ben wrote:
"What I find difficult in conversations with most Christians is that the very basis of their faith leaves no room for my beliefs (or lack thereof) as an atheist."

I am really sorry that this has been your experienece, Ben. One could reverse that and say that the basis of atheism leaves little room for a faith-based belief system. I guess the challenge is to MAKE room. Kevin and I have had to make room for each others beliefs and to take them absolutely seriously.

If Kevin secretly believed I was deluded (or stupid!) as a Christian it would make for a difficult marriage! As would be the case if I thought he were immoral, arrogant and stubborn. It takes a lot of effort from both sides to try to really walk in the shoes of the other and deeply respect, understand and even experience some of what it means to believe what the other does.But it is one of the most rewarding endeavours I have ever undertaken!

Anonymous said...

Not taking ourselves too seriously helps with the anger and polarization, I find.

Nikeyo said...

Good resolutions I must say. I don't myself make resolutions on New Years, but I can definitely agree that those are points in which we all need to work on, and ones that I have been very guilty of breaking.

The issue of polarization especially. Although for me, it seems, the more I try to avoid that, the more the other side makes that polar distinction! "No, you're not a Christian and can't be with your X, Y, and Z beliefs." Or you can't be an Agnostic, or can't be this or that. People like their black and whites sometimes. It can be hard to be the one to chose to not make life so rash, but we can all hope it somehow spreads a trend of understanding and intellectual discussion.

Lui said...

Good points, Kevin. Personally, I've become a lot less "militant" (or perhaps those quotation marks should be removed) about my atheism and have come to see religion as more of a peripheral issue. There are so many problems facing our world, and while I see religion as contributing to those problems, the ultimate source for them lies elsewhere (I should also stress that religious faith can often facilitate extraordinary acts of kindness and altruism).

Sarge said...

I've been an atheist from the age of five, have been in combat, been wounded, come close to death several times in my life. Now I have cancer, it is where it is operable, but I will lose ground no matter what.

People will always have religion as long as there is darkness and death, and uncertainty.

Plus, from what I see and hear when I go for treatment and support, there is a hunger for an afterlife where there will be judgement (revenge against those who wronged someone) and redress.

So many people simply didn't really live, so they figure they will in the afterlife.

I know that anger is normal when you find you've heavily invested in a pound of smoke, but just remember, that's a chain they can still jerk you around with. Don't let it hang out where it can be pulled.

Wenchy said...

I also need to work on not painting all with one brush.

Riley Stone said...

Great post, Kevin. And great blog. I came across it today when I searched for "atheist-Christian" marriage links.

My husband is a Christian, and I (like you) am an ex-Christian (and also an atheist.) I liked your New Year's resolutions, and I think I might benefit from making some similar ones!

Since my husband and children are Christians, I definitely do not hate Christians (or Christianity), and I am disturbed, at times, to see fellow atheists being so antagonistic toward Christians. On the other hand, I do understand some of the anger, and I have been guilty of expressing some of it myself.

I will definitely come back to your blog again, and I am also interested in looking at your wife's blog. I'm very glad to know that you and your wife have found a way to have a strong, healthy marriage in spite of your different perspectives.

My husband and I have been married to one another for 25 years, and I am hoping we will make it another 25 years as well.

If you're interested, I've started a discussion forum for my husband and I to use as we discuss some of our philosophical differences and as I seek to understand his current perspective on Christianity, a perspective that has evolved from a narrow, fundamentalist perspective to a much broader one. (At this point, he says that he does not believe that the entire Bible is inspired by God.)

The address for the forum is as follows:

We'd love it if you (or you and your wife) would join us in discussion. The password for participating in the forum is: discuss.

Thank you again for your very thoughtful reflections. I will look forward to reading more!