Can Christians and Atheists Find Common Ground?

Today I’m taking a break from politics and budgets to return to my other favorite subject: lack of godliness; hopefully my Christian readers will chose to stick around as this article is primarily for them.
Before I get started, I just want to mention that I’m writing this article on my iPad2 — an early birthday gift from my incredible wife Ellen whom I absolutely adore — so I’m breaking some new ground today.
Since beginning this blog, I’ve joined a couple different atheist social networks: The Thinking Atheist and AtheistNexus are the two I’ve settled comfortably into. My reasons for doing so rested primarily in seeking out like-minded people and see if their thoughts and opinions had a certain congruence with my own as well as seeing if this blog had value beyond the 300 or so friends I could share it with on Facebook.
Over the months I’ve come to realize there exists an enormous gulf between Christians and nonbelievers* and it’s not just related to the separation of beliefs.
* as a term of reference, since Christians and nonbelievers encompass a spectrum of labels, from here on in we’ll refer to them as theists and nontheists.
There is a feeling by some in the nontheist community that we are perceived as aggressive by theists. It is my opinion on this issue that the mere fact we, nontheists, exist and dare to voice our opinion on the absence of a deity is enough to make us be perceived as aggressive.
Apostates** such as myself, meaning I once was a theist and have chosen to reject a belief in a deity, often are met with a certain mixture of sadness, incredulousness, and anger for rejecting God and Christ. Despite the questions that invariably come as to why one would choose to give up faith and belief in God, the rationale behind the decision is almost never taken with an open mind. Nearly always, when confronted with “heresy,” theists fall back on “faith” as quick as possible rather than entertain the idea that the God they’ve installed their faith in all their lives might not be real.
I never had a choice in being Christian. I was literally born and raised in the Catholic faith – baptized, Eucharist, alter boy, Catholic school, nuns, priests, the whole nine yards. When my parents divorced, I found out that church rules meant I was (or more aptly, my parents) were no longer welcome in the Catholic church. My mother did what just about every ex-Catholic does, she took her kids to the neighborhood Episcopalian church, or Catholic-lite as it’s better known. From there it was a journey into adulthood throughout various Protestant faiths prior to apostasy.
I bring this up to highlight the point that I never had a choice in the matter – akin to circumcision – I wasn’t asked if I’d like to believe, I was taught from day one that this is how it is – there is a God, He loves you, and if you don’t love Him back you go to Hell. Pretty heady stuff for a child! With those options presented to your young, impressionable mind, of course you are going to “choose” belief – especially when you consider the alter-narrative.
Based on the number of years I was raised in this construct, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my deconversion from Christianity took several years, but once acceptance of the truth arrives, it doesn’t come as a joyous moment. It arrives with the realization that everything you once held to be a certainty is simply not true. That “God” you’d been praying to all those years, your invisible friend, was never really there. You have to deal with the betrayal; and you have to deal with the loss – as unbearable losing a family member. Unlike a funeral however; you do this all by yourself, without any support, because if you dare share your newfound understanding with your closest friends or family you risk their rejection and animosity – just at a point when you need someone to lean on.
While this might give rise to a little bitterness, it hardly translates into anger or aggressiveness. Aggressiveness comes from point reached where nontheists establish a sense of self and their place in the world. Understanding that if theists proselytize everyday, and religions are free to interject as well as inject beliefs into the public domain, then nontheists should be equally able to espouse our alternatively held views.
This voice is viewed as “aggressive.” Pushy atheists who are trying to destroy America.
If my theist friends have made it this far, tell me I’m off base. You are the folks that like to say this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principals, Jesus gave us our constitution, put “In God We Trust” on our money and “Under God” in our nations’ pledge – and if you don’t like it you can get the hell out of the country – right?
As a nontheist, living in a country that still claims Freedom of Religion (as well as from religion) I’d obviously beg to differ and to point out that it is generally the theist perspective that is often “aggressive,” since the nontheist view is simply a statement of opinion that we don’t believe in the God that you believe in (or any god for that matter). If pressed for a reason why, our explanation is deemed mean or obtuse.
So this is where we stand – this chasm that separates us from one another. Recently a thread was posted on The Thinking Atheist entitled “Theists vs. Atheists: are conflicts necessary?” A couple days later an old high school classmate, who is now Chief of Staff at a famous megachurch in Southern California, tweeted the following:
“The ground we share with unbelievers is our common needs, hurts, and interests as human beings.”
The two separate events made me think – is there common ground to be found that can bridge the gap between theists and nontheists? I responded to my devoutly religious friend who uses twitter hourly to spread the good word:
“David – I’d love to see more posts like these – bridging the ever widening gap between believers and those of us godless folk 🙂 Nontheists are very motivated to care for our fellow human beings. Secularism is almost as bad a word as liberalism or communism in the theist community – working together on common ground, common interests and mutual respect for belief and lack thereof would be a big step forward. Remember, we’re one out of six and growing stronger everyday ;)”
While I’ve yet to hear back from him, I’ve no doubt that he’s praying hard before coming up with a strong response – after all, this is potential fertile ground – especially for an official in a giant megachurch like his.
I’ve a feeling, if the day ever comes, that nontheists will have the easier time working with theists if mutual respect is applied – for the simple reason that we nonbelievers don’t receive brownie points in the afterlife for winning converts. While we may think you theists are misguided for believing in the invisible Man in the Sky, as long as you aren’t pushing your religion down our throats or into our publicly funded schools (influencing those most impressionable with your belief system) we really don’t care what you want to believe – the question is, can you say the same?
Maybe we could start be simple acknowledgment of each other and what our understandings of the other are. For instance, a theist could say, “You’re OK for a Godless person – even if you are going to Hell when you die.” The nontheist could smilingly retort “There is no Hell, nor is there a God, or a Heaven. When you die you’re worm food.” Then both can laugh and have a beer, or a Pepsi if the theist is a Mormon…
** The Christian understanding of apostasy is “a willful falling away from, or rebellion against, Christian truth. Apostasy is the rejection of Christ by one who has been a Christian….”[23] “Apostasy is the antonym of conversion; it is deconversion.”[24] The Greek noun apostasia (rebellion, abandonment, state of apostasy, defection)[25] is found only twice in the New Testament (Acts 21:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3).[26] However, “the concept of apostasy is found throughout Scripture.”[27] The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery states that “There are at least four distinct images in Scripture of the concept of apostasy. All connote an intentional defection from the faith.” From Wikipedia
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24 Responses to Can Christians and Atheists Find Common Ground?

  1. Sean – great blog article! While we obviously have a disagreement about our individual beliefs, we can both agree to have respect for our differing beliefs. You asked the question about why theists perceive nontheists as aggressive, and I think the main reason is the actions of a small group of nontheists – ala Madalyn Murray O'Hair – who were very much in theists' faces, somewhat similar to your friend and mine Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Many Christians I know (myself included) would be more than happy to not have to be associated with someone like Phelps, yet his actions at time taint all Christians. You yourself have pointed out the narrow-minded and puritanical beliefs of some Christians, as well you should, as they, in my opinion, act contrary to the very tenets they espouse to believe. For myself, I can say that I don't care what you believe, as long as you don't push your beliefs down my throat, either.

  2. Sean Asbury says:

    Mark – thanks for the comment! I don't think I'd draw a comparison between Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Fred Phelps. O'Hair, from what I understand, was not a great person in general, but her lasting noteriety will always be for being on the right side of the Supreme Court decision to end compulsory bible reading and prayer in public schools – which I fully agree with. I don't know that that legacy is comparable to the hate filled message Phelps and his family and friends purport. O'Hair rubbed Christians the wrong way, Phelps seems to offend Christians and non-Christians alike. Their main commonality is having both won a supreme court decision.I don't necessarily endorse some recent nontheist propaganda – not sure I like the Billboards that try to influence people away from their beliefs. Like the "You know there is no God" slogans – but I think it is motivated by the constant messaging by religious groups advertising for Jesus (and their church of course). One thing that I've come to believe is that there is a helluvallota money involved in preaching the good word. Eventually, I'm thinking about a second career as a megachurch leader – it's like a rock concert every week in front of thousands – and they're all throwing money – real money! I do hope Dave comes back with some ideas eventually – despite his positions, I have much respect for him and I truly believe he's motivated by doing good – something that I think gives us commonality 🙂

  3. Temy says:

    Excellent blog, Sean. I will be following. I challenge YOU to seriously question the literal truth of the following statement from this blog:"…I once was a theist and have chosen to reject a belief in a deity,…"I submit to you that you had no more "choice" in being an atheist than you did in being a Christian.

  4. Rob says:

    I think even Pepsi is too strong for a Mormon. Isn't caffeine on their no-no list? LOL. Great post, Sean. I started watching your blog when you posted it in an atheist forum a few months ago and have really enjoyed the political stuff as well as the atheist stuff.

  5. Sean Asbury says:

    Temy – Thanks for reading! It's interesting that you honed in on that statement. I saw the statement raised recently on Heaving Dead Cats (great blog!) in response to an article dealing with deconversion. My wife and I had a discussion on the issue – I asked her if she had chosen to stop believing in God – at first the question gave her pause, then she responded that it was indeed a choice.Here's the rationale behind this: In our case, once upon a time we were both Christians. Along the way, we came to have doubts on the veracity of the Bible. We read many books and did our homework and came to the understanding that the Bible was man-made and not the word of God. As a historian and an analyst by profession, my analysis of the historical record and understanding of the cultural geography led me to believe that the fundamental underpinnings of the Christian narrative was beyond flawed – and in fact all made up after the fact.Having said that, we made a choice to explore our initial doubts and go down the path of discovery. As my wife pointed out – at any point along the way, we could have turned away and "plugged right back into the Matrix." The choice was in pursuing knowledge to the end, and, being open-minded enough to accept the reality (a choice) and not reject the truth in favor of belief.I think people that have that "crisis in faith," followed by the realization that everything they once knew was wrong, makes a choice in that moment: either to embrace the fact and reject their religion or they can choose to pour themselves back into their faith and chalk the crisis up to a "challenge of faith." Anyway, that's just my take on it, but I think every "apostate" has a different story and situation and I don't pretend to speak for a majority – I can only speak to my experiences… 🙂

  6. Sean Asbury says:

    Rob – Thanks for following! I'm glad you enjoy the spectrum of my "madness…"I didn't do my homework on the Pepsico issue – but I seem to recall, once upon a time, that the Mormon church bought a stake in Pepsi and gave the greenlight for their members to partake in Pepsi (maybe decaf Pepsi) – but they were still forbidden to enjoy a Coke, which we all know (or knew) is the real thing!

  7. Darin says:

    Great blog and despite my skepticism toward the usefulness of iPads, it did post your entry in a decent font that my rss reader understands.

  8. Sean Asbury says:

    Darin – thanks for reading! I have no idea how to craft a font compatible for RSS feeds – I barely understand how RSS works, but I'm glad it worked :). I'll keep trying to do I'm doing otherwise…

  9. Steve says:

    Sean,it is almost funny, that you are an evangelical athiest. You preach, to try to convince others, to believe what you say is true. Just like we do. That just hit me bro. Seriously. You are a preacher. Of the word, that God isnt real. Funny stuff my friend. I am sorry to inform you. You are just like us. With a different message.

  10. Sean Asbury says:

    Steve – You are certainly entitled to your opinions.I would argue otherwise. I am not trying to make people convert to atheism nor have I once suggested a person should give up their faith or their god. As I've said on several occasions, atheists do not score brownie points in the afterlife for saving souls.What I have done in my writing is express my personal experiences, right or wrong. I avoid blanket statements, for atheists as well as Christians as these are not one-size-fits-all labels. I've not attempted to "debunk" Christianity, nor have I belittled a persons faith for believing. What I do rail against is people like yourself that would prefer people like myself not to have a voice and share it. If my expression of my personal views and opinions makes me evangelical, I find that extremely mislabeled and your understanding of the term flawed.Sean

  11. The Mrs. says:

    As I failed in getting my previous comment posted, it's time to place another one. My thoughts:Theist consider non theist aggressive. I can understand why they would feel this way. It has been a way of life for people to believe in creation, marriage between a man and a woman and sins landing you in hell (or purgatory). When you intrude on that way of life with such ideas as not allowing creationism being taught in schools but instead teaching evolution. When you see a "perverted" act in marriage of same sex couples. When you hear that people don't fear the retribution of hell then your way of life is at risk. This may feel aggressive. What I really wish is they could go back into a time capsule and see what was the Christian way of life just 100 years ago. There has been change and acceptance and the country has not fallen apart. People divorce (in droves), marry outside of race and color and women (don't say it) work outside the home and vote. All radical ideas that pushed against those old Christian "morals", yet anarchy does not reign. And yes, Steve, some of these previous morals were upheld as American law…and done away with. And still the Earth spins.So to comment on whether we are alike or dissimilar, I truly wish for those deist to be more like my Christian friend Rhonda. She may quote from scripture on FB but she accepts me because my heart is good (as are most humanists!).

  12. Anonymous says:

    Christians and Atheists are both wrong. God and I both say your wrong. God says the Christians are wrong right in the "Book of Genesis" Chapters 2 and 3. Posted by Melvin the Great.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Genesis 2:16 And God also laid this command upon the man: "From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. 17 But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die."Trees don't hold knowledge, do they, but Books do. Books are made from trees. The Tree is a metaphor for a Book. The Book is the Bible, it holds knowledge of good and bad. So what is the fruit on this tree? Or what is the fruit of the New Testament?The Tree Bears JesusPosted by: Melvin the Great

  14. Anonymous says:

    What does that mean? Christians are not going to like this, no they are not. God has commanded all of us not to take in Jesus or we will positively die.That also means that according to Christians Jesus died on the cross because all of us took Jesus in. Adams sin was for taking Jesus in.Posted by: Melvin the Great

  15. Anonymous says:

    OK now that you know what kind of tree grows in the middle of the garden of Eden. God tells us exactly who Satan is. Christians are not going to like this. They are not going to like this at all.First a few words that sound similar. Adam sounds like Atom. Cain and Abel sound like Cane and Able. Adam and Eve are Bare naked in the garden. Bare sounds like Bear. And a stick looks like a snake. A stick comes from a tree.Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that God had made, So it began to say to the woman: "Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?"One problem here is that God says the serpent is a wild beast. Snakes are reptiles. A beast is a mammal. No, God did not make a mistake, it's a clue. The serpent talks. The only mammal that can talk is Man. So the serpent is really a man with characterists of a snake. Note there are at least 3 people in the garden. So Adam and Eve are not the very first two humans on Earth. Besides Cain leaves and finds a wife.Does this sound familar to you? The serpent speaks from the Stick. It sounds very similar to: "The Church speaks from the Cross". Both a stick and a cross come from Trees.Posted by: Melvin the Great

  16. Anonymous says:

    If your getting any of this so far it turns out that Christians really worship Satan. According to Christians, by their own words, What happens to those that worship Satan?Here is more proof:Genesis 3:4 At this the serpent said to the woman: "You positively will not die". 5 For God knows that in the very day of YOUR eating from it YOUR eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad."The Serpent says, "Take in the fruit (Jesus) and you positively will not die". The Roman Catholic Church says: "Believe in Jesus and you positively will not die".That sounds the same to me just like Atom sounds like Adam. If it sound the same it is the same. The Roman Catholic Church is Satan.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Eve later shares the Bible with Adam.Genesis 3:7 Then the eyes of both of them became opened and they began to realize that they were naked. Hence they sewed fig leaves together and made loin covering for themselves.Now I don't know where it is in the New Testament where it says being naked is a sin. Maybe they heard it in Church. Anyway they learned that being naked is something to be ashamed of in the NT.Now anyone that thinks you get knowledge by eating fruit has been deceived. And we have eaten every kind of fruit on Earth and there isn't any known fruit that makes you realize that your naked.Posted by: Melvin the Great, but not as Great as the Big Guy in Heaven

  18. Anonymous says:

    But What about the Muslims, they can't be right? The Whore of Babyon is, "Madamm Ho"

  19. Anonymous says:

    The name of the Messiah is Yeshua not Jesus. Jesus does not translate into Yeshua in any language. However Yeshua is a jumbled name. If I rearrange the letters I get: "HEY USA".Posted by: Humble Mel

  20. Anonymous says:

    To answer your question at the top of this blog; "Can Christians and Atheists Find Common Ground?"The answer to that question is another question; "Can Americans and the Arabs find a common ground in the mid east conflict." This is what I think the answer is; "Not until all of us realize that we are all wrong." Two wrongs don't make a right. Then we have to listen to what God said; "Who did God promise to give Israel too?"The Jews are not going to back down. They have been faithful to the Torah.Postef by: Just Melvin

  21. Anonymous says:

    The Cost of War. The US government expects to be spending $59 billion a year to compensate injured warriors in the next 25 years.So, "What is the Mark of Cain?"With little explanation: "Cane is the Mark of the Disabled." The explanation can be rather long so I will just give you one of the clues here: Genesis 4:8 After that Cain said to Abel his brother: ["Let us go over into the field."] So it came about that while they were in the field Cain proceeded to assault Abel his brother and kill him.What Cain is really saying to his brother is "Let us go over into the battle field." Cain could have killed his brother right then and there but they had to go to the field of honor. Adam and Eve are Archetypes. In the same way that Adam and Eve are representatives for all of us, so are their children. War is a similar story that has played out over and over again throughout history. Siblings killing another sibling is very rare, however War is not.Posted by: Mel Steffor

  22. Sean Asbury says:

    Melvin – you are definitely providing an interesting perspective to this thread. I most certainly can't say I agree with what you've written, but, it is entertaining….thanks for playing! 🙂

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hey Sean,Not only are Christains and Atheists wrong. Those that follow the theory of Evolution and Creation are both wrong. God did not create as you might think and plants and animals did not evolve. Darwin is dead wrong. And Creationists are dead wrong too. It's not either or, it's all together different. God made everything up in the same way you make up stories in your dreams. God is far better at creating dreams than you are. Everything you see is a dream. (See Quantum Mechanics infamous two slit experiment.) Not sure on the name but I believe Hugh Everett is the scientist who came up with the accepted mulitple world theory. Matter is not quite what we think it is. Atom sounds like Adam. We are all made of Adams. We all come from Atom. You are in two places at the same time. You are asleep in the other world and that is why you can only see one world at a time. You can be in two places at the same time and believe that you are in only one. Cause you are in a deep sleep in Heaven right now. [Genesis 2 : 21 Hence God had a deep sleep fall upon the man and while he was sleeping he took one of his ribs and then closed up the flesh over the place.]The story continues but no where does it say the man awoke from the deep sleep.The universe is far more complex than you could ever imagine. This is how resurrection works: When you die in this world you wake up in the next. The other world is a reflection of this world. Both worlds are similar. One World is real and the other is the relection. The world that you live in now is the dream world. (Yea, it seems very real to me too.) You wake up in the real world and so on and so on and so on. Yes, that means there is even another World after the next. Three, Four, Five . . . When you wake up in the real world only one day has past. There is a big time difference between the two worlds. The clock in the next world is ticking at a slower speed. When you wake up in the next world you will be in the exact same place that you were the day before you came to this world. Only one day has past. Everything will be familiar. If God is there he will not be there for very long. God also dies then ressurects into the next world. What that means is there is a whole system of science at work beyond God himself. And the point of all of this (the meaning of life) is still an enigma beyond heaven itself. In other words: Life is like a Black Box, the box works for the user but the user has no idea how the box works. How in the world does Mel know all of this? Lets just say I have contacts and leave it at that.Now, the story about Adam and Eve is about deception. All of you have been deceived on a much bigger scale. Everyone is wrong about eveything. What that means is that both of us are wrong.Posted by: Mel Steffor

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