Sunday, February 22, 2009

This atheist's New Year's resolutions (part 2)

In an earlier post, I outlined three areas in which I in particular, and maybe atheists in general, can improve as we interact with theists. I continue with the following:

4. Finding a common cause
Is it possible that atheists and theists can find a common cause to fight for? The only reason why Christians can enjoy church services in countries like South Africa or the United States without being beaten or killed for their beliefs, and the only reason why atheists can live their lives without being stoned or executed for their perceived godlessness, is due to the fact that all of us living in these countries are protected by an important clause written within in our respective constitutions: the freedom of conscience. This clause guarantees that each individual can choose – for themselves – their own religious (or non-religious) beliefs, without fear of persecution.

It might seem odd that I, as an atheist, would go all out to encourage religious freedom in my country. But there are two sides to this coin: what protects the Christian in this case also protects the atheist; freedom of religion also implies freedom from religion. Of course, it is not often easy trying to balance these two sides in society, but freedom of conscience is general principle that should be nurturedand protected, if need beby theists and atheists alike.

5. Spirituality
One of the surprising things that I've learnt since I left Christianity is that religion and spirituality are not the same thing. Religion is a specific worldview concerning itself with the supernatural, and more specifically with a god. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more basic, as it involves struggling with questions related to finding meaning in life, and determining one's place in the greater scheme of things
irrespective of one's worldview.

I've changed my views regarding spirituality, and as I've explained here, although I'm no longer religious, I still acknowledge that I'm a 'spiritual' being, in a sense that I am able to search for my own individual place in this vast and ancient universe. And acknowledging my spirituality enables me to find some common ground with theists.

In the next post, I will cover the last three areas of possible improvement.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What does it mean to be a Christian?

William Cody Bateman left the following comment on my last blog post:

You cannot be an "ex-Christian" because, in order to [be] a "Christian" in the first place, you must have been "born of the Spirit."

I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a boy; recommitted my life to him when I was 14. I was involved in the church, evangelizing to others through drama and music. I believed Christianity was true, and that I was in a relationship with the creator of the universe. I earnestly sought God's will through prayer and the Bible, and I even had spiritual experiences. I tried my best to live a Christian life.

The argument that ex-Christians were not really Christians to begin with is problematic because it unwittingly removes any meaning from those attributes that we normally use to identify a person as being 'Christian'. All the characteristics in the above paragraph describe me before I left the faith. If these characteristics cannot be used to determine if someone is a Christian, then what can?

William argues that being 'born of the Spirit' makes one a Christian. But if I, as a Christian, was certain that I was 'born of the Spirit', but in fact was not (because I would later left the faith), then how can current Christians be so sure that they are in fact saved?

As I've written before on this blog, I think there are two reasons why some continuously advocate the "you were never a Christian to begin with" argument:
  • When a person regards Christianity as absolute truth, they cannot accept the possibility that they could be wrong. When they observe others leaving the faith, they naturally place the fault on the person who is leaving, instead of considering the possibility that Christianity itself could be at fault.
  • This argument acts as a type of psychological shield against a real fear: that if someone else can loose her faith, then it's possible that it can also happen to you too! To safeguard against this fear, all you need to do is believe that you are a true believer, who can never possibly backslide into unbelief, and that the ex-Christian was not really a Christian to begin with.
If you are someone who believes that I was never a Christian, I would like to ask two questions:
  • What makes a Christian a Christian; what are the criteria?
  • If I met all these criteria but you still believe I wasn't a Christian, then how can you be so sure that you are really a Christian yourself?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

1 Corinthians 7:13-14

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I'm a atheist who is happily married to a Christian. The fact that Cori and I are in a healthy cross-faith relationship has perplexed some, but interested most.

When we talk to others about our cross-faith relationship,
the 'do not be yoked with unbelievers' verse (2 Corinthians 6:14) is often raised in conversation. Cori and I are friends with another cross-faith couple in Pretoria, and while we were talking to them about this verse, they raised an interesting point:

What did the early Christians do about marriage?

Think about it. When the church first sparked into life, there would have been very few converts to begin with. If you were a recently converted woman in the early church, it would have been quite difficult for you to find a Christian husband, simply because there were few Christians to begin with. Did this mean you could not marry at all?

But what if you were already married, and you converted to this new religion but your partner did not? In the first few years of the church, most converts would have been adults, most of whom would have already been married to non-Christians.

I wonder if this is the reason for 1 Corinthians 7:13-14, a verse that Juno posted up on one of my earlier blog posts regarding this topic. It reads:

And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Could it be that inter-faith relationships were the norm in the early church, and only later did it become the exception?