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….” “Apostasy is the antonym of conversion; it is deconversion.” The Greek noun apostasia (rebellion, abandonment, state of apostasy, defection) is found only twice in the New Testament (Acts 21:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). However, “the concept of apostasy is found throughout Scripture.” 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