Thursday, January 10, 2013
Smile Into the Abyss
Melanie Mock, a blogger whose work is freakin’ awesome (http://deconstructingchristianimages.blogspot.com/) asked me a really good question that has kind of a long answer. After posting links to atheist articles or videos, she asked why these resources resonate with me. To answer this, I probably need to juxtapose the mindset of faith vs. the mindset of no faith.
As a believer, the world is full of wonder, and it is full of answers. As a teenager, my life had purpose - I was a son of God, worshipping Christ by witnessing of his sacrifice to those around me, and doing my best to follow His guidance in my daily life. There was a sense of urgency to my actions, as Christ could return at any time, and I certainly hoped He would. I believed in angels and demons, and especially after a few Frank Peretti books, believed there was spiritual warfare at play all around me. I attended street-preaching seminars (for one of them, memorizing the book of Phillipians), went with the church youth group on mission trips to Mexico and Indian reservations in Montana, hoping to spread Christ’s salvation to those who didn’t know about it.
The world was black and white in those times. The Bible had the answers to any question that was important. Why are we here? What happens when we die? What do I need to do to reach heaven? These truths were so convincing to me, that it gave me the courage to tell it to others with absolute confidence, and many people accepted Christ after talking to me about them. On even the worst day, I could find purpose and comfort in my status as a follower of Christ, who was with me always.
The loss of that faith doesn’t happen quickly. Once the intellectual realization is there, the emotional connection takes awhile to sever. The urge to pray persists long after you’re pretty sure nobody is listening. There are divisions created by faith that don’t disappear right away. There is the fear of what will happen when people find out…
Atheists are lonely. I don’t mean in a cosmic sense, but in a very real physical sense. Faith comes with community, family, celebration and love. Once a person has no more faith, many of these other things disappear as well. There’s no welcoming committee into atheism. When I lost my faith, the internet wasn’t what it is today. There weren’t support groups or thousands of YouTube videos that allowed me to know I wasn’t alone. I only knew one other atheist personally, and we weren’t close friends. It’s a conclusion that one reaches mostly alone, and once reached, can often leave one alone for quite a long time. My loss of faith significantly damaged my relationship with my mom, and is the reason I have almost nothing to talk about with my sister, who is now a Pentacostal pastor. I have a number of long-time friends that continue to hold the worldview that I have rejected. This leaves those friendships limited to topics that don’t invite conflict (In Christian circles, it is common to praise God for things that happen, or for missionary work to be an acceptable life goal. How is an atheist friend supposed to react to these things, which are believed to be nonsense? Most of the time, I think the best response is no response).
To answer Melanie’s question, these videos and articles resonate with me because it provides a sense of validation that there are other people who have reached the same conclusion. Dan Barker’s video especially resonates with me because he lived the life I lived (although he was far more committed to evangelism), and reached the same conclusion, and had the same emotional difficulties with it that I did. Certainly there are atheists who go beyond simply discussing why there’s no reason to believe in God, and go into mockery of religion and religious people. I’m not a big fan of that stuff, but I understand why people do it. Atheists face a huge amount of discrimination based on a lack of belief. We only have one person in congress of like mind, while we account for anywhere from 10-20% of the population. Belief is pushed on us everywhere we go, usually without the inflicters being aware of it. Finding others who have escaped religion provides a sense of community that can only be partially imitated with friends and family who still believe in talking snakes and eternal punishment. And without an afterlife to relieve of us stress, often times community is best we can hold onto.
I’m not hoping to unconvert anyone by sharing these ideas or resources. By nature, faith is difficult to crack with logic and reason. This is why most people have to lose faith by themselves. They’ve been taught their whole life that faith is outside the realm of the human mind. It’s a convenient trick that prevents otherwise smart people from realizing they’re wrong. Ultimately, the only reason that I talk about this stuff is because I want to be understood, I want to be available for anyone I know who finds themselves on a similar path, and I hold out some hope that those who are using their faith to harm others might have a moment of self-awareness.