Monday, July 9, 2012

On (Rude, Unpleasant) Atheists

So after freaking out about the broken nature of western Christianity on Friday, I decided to write some thoughts on the relationship between religion and the non-religious.

It's been my observation that, humanity being wonderfully diverse and complex, there are multiple kinds of atheists*.  Many of them (the ones I usually end up being friends with and who are on my team in political debates) are humble and say that while they personally see no evidence for the existence of a Divine Whatsit**, they respect the religious' beliefs and meet the difference in opinion with a shrug and a "Whatever brings you comfort."

Some atheists may have a more antagonistic position toward religion- they don't understand why anyone would be silly enough to believe in a Divine Whatsit- but they generally keep their opinions to themselves and consider it a mystery of the universe.

But there are some atheists (not sure how many, but they seem to frequent any article on the internet pertaining to religion) who aren't content to disagree with religious people.  Instead, it's apparently their mission to inform everyone that, regardless of whatever experiences they've had to the contrary, there is no God.  None.  Nada.  You're either delusional or stupid if you think otherwise.  Some folks even go so far as to say that belief in God makes a person a worse human being, and we should execute all Christians because of the Crusades and fundamentalists.  Thankfully, that last group is a minority (I can pretty safely assume).

Needless to say, I get really ticked off by that last group.  I was raised by intellectual, highly intelligent parents who taught me to value science; my dad has a Ph. D in psychology, for God's sake.  But I was taught also to value belief and faith, and to be open to God.  My questions were answered and even encouraged.  When I was in high school, I started developing a spiritual life independent of my parents and have had some awesome experiences through my church, and have often felt like God was speaking to me.

But apparently, to this particular group of (very vocal) atheists, none of that means anything.  I'm stuck in a childlike dependence upon a magical invisible sky daddy*** and because I'm part of a massive group of people (around 1/3 of the world) among whom exist a fair number of corrupt jerks I'm as good as a corrupt jerk myself.  And maybe I should go hang.

It's around this time in my masochistic reading of comment threads on Huffington Post's religion section that I withdraw and mentally take solace in the fact that pretty much every atheist with whom I choose to associate has no problem at all with my beliefs, because I have no problem with theirs.  I can understand the position of "I haven't seen compelling evidence to believe in a God." I have evidence compelling enough for me, but they're very personal experiences and I can't expect someone to take my personal experience and say "Gee, I'm gonna become a Baptist now!" or something.  We're each on our own spiritual journeys.  But it's one thing to say "I need to experience it for myself," and quite another to say "I don't care about your experience- I consider it invalid."

These same hardcore unpleasant people who speak so poorly of religious folks sometimes also tout themselves as being superior in open-mindedness.  These same people who tell everyone to believe as they do get angry when any religious group does the same.

I'm trying to make it obvious that I don't think of all atheists as awful anti-theist anti-faith bigots.  In a fight between conservative Christians and atheists on a certain issue, I'm more likely to agree with what the atheists are saying than what the conservative Christians are saying.

But when conservative Christians condemn me for being gay and a feminist, and then atheists condemn me for being Christian (even a progressive Christian), I feel stuck in a no-man's land where I'm accepted by no one.  To both groups, progressive Christians don't exist.

At SF Pride, I saw multiple denominations of Christianity represented, with priests and laypeople alike smiling, cheering and waving signs declaring their love and acceptance of queer people.  Several hours later, there was an atheist group.  They could've gone multiple ways to celebrate Pride, but the way they chose was to bash religion, with signs talking about how poisonous it is for the community and basically trying to turn us against religion.  This was after the Episcopalians and Lutherans had marched through saying "We think you're awesome and that there's nothing wrong with you.  God loves you just as you are."

Yesterday, I attended St. John Presbyterian Church.  It's a small congregation- on any given Sunday you'll see about 200 people.  But at that church everyone was warm, welcoming and caring.  We prayed in unison for world peace and for justice, and when a pastor passed a microphone to take individual congregant's prayer requests, I asked for people to pray that my family finds a permanent home, and the pastor told us he hoped we'd find a home soon, and we were always welcome at the church.  There we were, a group of Presbyterians, some people mourning loved ones and some with their bodies decaying, all of us together supporting each other and looking out for each other.  People who look for evil in religion will find it, but they'll miss communities like this, people helping people helping people.  Religion, for many of us, brings healing and comfort when none can be found anywhere else.  But to some Huffington Post commentors or Facebook page makers, it's all childish and we're better off without it.

So, to you highly vocal, unpleasant atheists, I have a challenge for you: be as open-minded as you say you are or Christians aren't.  Check out Soul Force or Believe Out Loud or Mormons for Marriage or Dianna E Anderson's blog or John Shore's blog or Rachel Held Evans' blog.  Read books by progressive Christians, like Brian D. McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity.  (And this is all just for us Jesus-following types.  Go beyond us.)

Then tell me religion is poisonous, stupid and pointless, and no good can come from it.

*Just as there are multiple kinds of any other category or group of people anywhere ever
**My girlfriend used this term once and I loved it
***You know what I think of a masculine God

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