If I become an atheist…

by Steve Douglas

August 22nd, 2011 | 21 Comments

Becoming an atheist is not in the cards for me at this point. But if ever I find myself an atheist, here’s my pledge to you.

I will not set up websites or troll others’ websites trying to get people to see why I lost my faith or why they should as well. I probably won’t even waste my time frequenting other skeptic/atheist blogs, either to shore up my non-belief, or to help me cope with my loss of faith, or to poke fun at those who still believe. If I step into the void of a godless universe, I’ll know exactly what I’m getting into (which, not coincidentally, is one reason it’s unlikely to happen any time soon).

If anything, I will spend my time trying to bridge the great divide and getting people to stop demonizing one another long enough to understand the positive aspects of the other side — and to exhort the true believer and the disillusioned alike to recognize that there are indeed positive aspects on both sides that we would all do well to cultivate. From what I’ve seen, you can remedy most of the bad aspects of the other guy’s belief system by helping to inform his beliefs more easily than embittering him by forcing your system onto his or trying to make him your clone.

I’m just so blasted tired of the bitterness and the negativity. Whether the God of love exists or theism is pure hogwash, I simply won’t live my life like that. Whatever ad hoc meaning I can contrive out of a purposeless universe will not include debunking the purpose currently bringing about good in other people’s lives. Yes, I can see myself delicately augmenting their current purpose with concepts of open-mindedness and goodwill, perhaps, but not popping their balloons just because mine got popped and I’ve convinced myself I’m happier without it.

I guess you could say that I’ll continue to serve, worship, and even proselytize for what Christianity has identified as good, right, and lovely, even if I abandon my faith in the Ultimate Basis for those concepts. So in a very real way, I can pretty much promise you that even if I lose my faith in God, I’ll never really lose my religion.

And hence, I pledge to you that my religion won’t ever grant me permission to be a jerk, a troll, or an evangelist for self-made and self-defined purpose.

Google+ Comments

August 22nd, 2011

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  • Sandra ChristianHeretic

    good to know.  I appreciate it.  Believers and non-believers have so much in common and it shouldn’t have to be belligerence, bellicosity and vituperative dogma.

  • http://anthonydavidjacques.wordpress.com/ Anthony David Jacques

    This has got to be one of the shallowest things I’ve ever read. 

    So, atheists who engage in debate are jerks, and nice atheists who keep their opinions to themselves are good? 

    I’d love it if I could walk along the pier some evening or work in my yard on the weekend without yet another pair of gentlemen coming up to me with a paper that explains their particular version of why I’m going to Hell. I find that offensive, but it is protected under the same amendment that protects atheists, even the jerks.

    But consider: Atheists don’t knock on doors, don’t give people meals if only they accept their non-savior for non-sin, don’t tell little children that their parent who believes differently will have a different, and much less fun, afterlife. And what am awful thing to tell a child!

    I’m not even an atheist and this just strikes me as “I’m okay, you’re okay” nonsense. There are real consequences for some of these discussions you seem to be preemptively bowing out of. Abortion, stem cell research, evolutionary biology, the study of the cosmos; yet all of these touch on or are affected by religious ideas in very meaningful ways. 

    Truth is, most atheists who engage in debate are post-religious and are typically going through a feeling of disenfranchisement, rejection by their former friends and social group, ennui concerning the purpose and direction of their life, and a long and painful process of healing and learning how to restructure their basic daily and weekly routine. 

    Have some compassion on them, maybe. It’s not like they’ve chosen an easy view to hold in a society like this. They are the minority. You are the majority. I distinctly remember the bible having some strong views on how to treat the marginalized, rejected and downtrodden.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      • http://anthonydavidjacques.wordpress.com/ Anthony David Jacques

        I should have expected nothing more, I guess. :P 

        • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

          No, you should have expected more: my other response was too flippant, sent from my smartphone when my first glance gave me the impression that I was being goaded into fisticuffs. But as I’ve mulled it over, I want to clarify what I was and wasn’t saying, especially since you’re obviously not particularly acquainted with my perspective.

          I was not characterizing all atheists or deconverts as nasty; heaven knows I’ve spent plenty of time defending them and their views among Evangelicals. I wasn’t saying that they all need to keep their mouths closed about what they learned. I see how that might have come across, though.

          Wanting each side to see the positive aspects of the other side, to test it all and hold fast to the good, is what I want to see happen. I have several good friends who are going through a deconversion process (including the commenter below, in fact) and have an immense respect for their travail and what occasions it. Despite the immense struggle of the process, a few of them have managed to not come out on the other end as jerks; when they engage people it’s to try to foster a better understanding or indeed to critique a particular practice that’s actually doing harm — respectfully. This does happen. But it only happens among those who don’t misdirect their bitterness and angst indiscriminately toward huge swaths of those who remain Christians; I would indeed rather they “keep their opinions to themselves” and go find a safe haven in which to heal than go on the offensive and start slinging darts at all the balloons still flying high. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, do you? Seemed like a good thing to advise people to be aware of, particularly if they’re considering apostasy.

          “Have some compassion on them, maybe. It’s not like they’ve chosen an easy view to hold in a society like this.”

          I have more sympathy than you know, Anthony. I really do. That minority you’re talking about is a very real position that I am rather close to: my liberal theological views are very much a minority here in the South among my conservative family and friends, and I face and have already felt all kinds of painful ostracization from them (as far as they’re concerned, I’m an atheist already).

          I had a feeling when writing the post that I’d end up in the comments explaining that I do believe there are injustices that need to be combatted. But the question is how to do it. If you expect people to sympathize with your lack of belief, you really can’t just act on any reactionary impulse you’ve got. And deconverting Christians, if they ever had an informed understanding of the tenets of Christian ethics, should know this.

          • Anthony David Jacques

            Good points all around. I’m out at the moment now myself, and though I want to soften the blow of my possibly flippant comment and smiley, this screen is too small.

            Let me mull this over and return. :)

            ADJ

          • http://likeachildscience.blogspot.com lac

            My BIL is an atheist. At times I cringe at the facebook posts b/c they are so insulting to Christians. I suspect this is the mindset that Steve is referring to in this post…but context is key here, so if you haven’t read previous posts you might get the wrong impression. Yet, I agree with you Anthony that alot of the vitriol is provoked by the anger phase of the deconversion, and perhaps signals some underlying spiritual abuse by christian fundamentalism and hence, overcorrection.

            I actually think you could substitute Christian fundamentalist for the word atheist in steve’s post, and get the same message. Additionally, I see alot of anger underlying some posts by progressive/emergent folks.

          • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

            Certainly. Good points, and I think you’re right about the anger in many of my fellow “progressive/emergent” compatriots’ writing. It’s hard not to be exasperated by what seems an obvious truth, especially when the lie is hurtful to people.

          • http://anthonydavidjacques.wordpress.com/ Anthony David Jacques

            I think I did the same thing in my response that I thought you might have been doing in yours; characterizing and generalizing. And I should know better.

            I’m an ex-music pastor and deconvert, now secular humanist. I come from the midwest and I’ve been dismantling and rebuilding for a couple years now and it’s been rough.

            I guess the distinction we both are likely to make is that good “dialogue” (oh, how that word makes me shudder sometimes) is always welcome, but vitriol for its own sake is not helpful and just polarizes. 

            I really missed that in the initial post, but it’s there. 

            So let’s start where we agree: I can thousand deities that neither you or me believe in. With all that in common, the differences seem much easier to broach. 

            Apologies for taking my crappy day out on you. It was unwarranted.

            Cheers!

          • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

            Thanks for the thoughtful and conciliatory response. I’m really thinking I botched the post since it has given so many wrong impressions already (some kind soul thought enough of the post to put it on reddit, where I’m getting positively roasted).

          • http://anthonydavidjacques.wordpress.com/ Anthony David Jacques

            Ouch. Yeah, I’ve been there. 

            I was once doing a morality and ethics blog a couple years ago that got hijacked, trolled and eventually hacked by an AG pastor from New Mexico. (AG is the denomination I was raised in, so he had a special hate for me.)

            Turns out that is his hobby; Trolling the interweb for atheists or believers with doubts and tearing them a new one. 

            Hang in there.

  • http://likeachildscience.blogspot.com lac

    “If anything, I will spend my time trying to bridge the great divide and getting people to stop demonizing one another long enough to understand the positive aspects of the other side — and to exhort the true believer and the disillusioned alike to recognize that there are indeed positive aspects on both sides that we would all do well to cultivate.”

    You’ve summed up beautifully my position for so many issues, ranging from a/theism, politics, education, parenting, medicine/homeopathy, the list goes on.

  • http://criticalBelief.com/ Marc

    I feel like this post was an open letter to myself. Steve, if you don’t want me around, just say so man. ;-) I suspect what you call your “religion” is basically what I call the ethics of Jesus which is something an “atheist for Jesus” like myself are all for. If believing in a deity helps you promote Jesus’ agenda then keep on believing and I’m sorry if I attacked that belief in my post-theism withdrawal phase…

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      Hey Marc, I certainly didn’t want to give you the impression that this was directed at you. For one thing, I really didn’t realize you were wholly on board with atheism when I wrote this. In actuality I wrote it after encountering a different set of people yesterday who set me off, but it was also somewhat autobiographical: I wanted to say that my sympathies with both theism and atheism do not cause me bitterness or overwhelming anger at either position.

  • Anonymous

    Like Jesus said on his website “Go and create websites but atheist should not have websites” (Mark 21:1)

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      :-D

      Well, the thing I’m getting at is that although many atheists I’ve heard talk as though theirs is the natural position, the burden of proof lies with theistic claims, and they are especially equipped to further humanistic endeavors without the ball-and-chain/carrot-and-stick presuppositions of theists, they so often get together and congregate to scoff about something they have no reason to believe exists. It makes sense (to me, anyway) that people who believe in something would want to get together and talk with one another from that perspective; what doesn’t make as much sense (to me, anyway) is that those who think they have the default understanding of the world would waste so much time talking about not believing something else. I guess the question is, is atheism indeed non-belief in God, or is it a positive belief in no-god? I have heard atheists make that distinction and come down strongly in favor of the former, yet their obsession with affirming one another’s atheism and decrying the theists’ often (not always, I grant you) innocuous fantasies seems to suggest the latter.

    • http://undeception.com/ Steve Douglas

      (Continuing and completing my last comment…)

      In any event, were I to give up my belief in theism, I would not waste my time talking about non-theism, any more than I expect in-the-know kids to set up a-santa-ist clubs once they find out the truth. I’d just move on, nothing to see here, let me get on with the freer and more reasonable life sans the Cosmic Daddy fairy tales.

      • Anonymous


        Steve,

        I don’t think you know much about atheists based on your comments.

        So here is a challenge: Find your nearest atheist meetup.com
        group and go to one of the meetings. Find out why they set up websites and what they talk about when they meet. Find out why they think Christianity is not good, right, and lovely. Find out why atheists are openly against Christianity and not against Santa Claus. And find out if atheists are people just like you.

        Once you have done it please write a blog post about it.

  • AMW

    Steve,

    I think this post at You Are Not So Smart is highly relevant to your point.  It’s long, but it’s well worth reading.

  • Steve Smith

    I am an atheist in context. Since none can prove a god exists or not, I make sure to stop that argument in its tracks. However, I’m convinced that all religious ideas are based on a mythological ideation.

    I was a Christian for 33 years, well-known to many through the Preterist Archive, and an author of several theological papers. After studying the Bible thoroughly over those 3 decades, I realized that any religious concepts in it were completely Jewish: written by Jews, for the Jews, about the Jews.

    I discovered that Christianity is like the religions of the 1st century Jews — it has nothing to do with what’s in the Bible. The religion of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees was different from the Mosaic writings. Their ideas about Abraham’s Bosom, Torments, the Gulf, etc. were not compatible with OT theology. They invented their own religions. Same with the Christians.

    The fact that there are over 20,000 (some say 30,000) denominations and sects in so-called “Protestant” (really only warmed-over Catholicism) groups shows me that they’re all making it up as they go.

    I always hated denominations, never belonged to one (even the “non-denominational” denominations) because they’ve got their own subjective viewpoints divorced entirely from biblical theology. A lot of them rely on the “visions” of a person, whether it be Mary Baker Eddy, Evelyn White, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, or David Koresh — how droll.

    For anyone who’s read this far, I do think that religions can serve to socialize people and give those who need it a feeling of belonging to something larger than themselves. All 12 step programs include that “higher power” idea. It helps calm the fear of death and the unthinkable notion of eternal oblivion. Personally, I prefer to stand on my own live with the joy of existence. When I’m gone, I won’t be there to care.

    And hey — there’s always “eternal security” if I’m wrong! he-he.

    • http://twitter.com/n00bie51 Maim Kim

      Hello sir!

      That makes me think of Nietzche (the Christian application, at least), if I have him right; we all have our interpretive games of the reality before us, in this case, Scripture, and we take it seriously.  We forget that we are limited by time and space with our own presuppositions that we can acknowledge but never remove.  The problem is that we’ve taken our interpretive games seriously.  What we need to do, if there’s any hope, is to tap the brakes, look at ourselves in the mirror, laugh at ourselves, and then go from there.What I find curious is that nothing you have said I disagree with.  You’ve provided another piece to the dialogue, not for me to cringe as I would have when I used to be a Defender of a Perfect Faith.

      This is what I believe: Everything you said probably bears truth in a significant way. We’ve constructed our own realities of God.  We’ve been foolish, arrogant, pitiable, pathetic in our dealings with other people in our division and our deviance in our denominations and our schisms.  For all we know, if God does exist, we would have a hard time knowing if most things are true or not anyway. We have no reliable source of authority to work all this out for us easily.

      It’s exactly as you say–many people are subject, myself included, to this “mythological ideation.” That is our conundrum, that is our delusion, that is our failure, our veil, and if I dwell on it further, I think I’m willing to affirm everything you say about this pathetic situation of human society we live in!

      But God (in the revelation of Jesus Christ) is not dependent on human experience (everything mentioned above). As for me, someone who has faith in Him, I see something glorious, wonderful, and beautiful about this… that even though the majority of humans who have ever lived have had tremendously erroneous perceptions of God, He still loves them any way, in divine compassion and condescension.

      To sum it all up, I agree most of what we believe probably results from “mythological ideation,” yet I still believe God exists and is glorified immensely. Somehow, I end up affirming much of both atheist and theist perspectives, because I believe the genius of humans, even atheists, glorify God, in that He uses them for revelation to mankind!

      Even now, I can see the cracks in my argument as I type this–if you could call it that. Yet, if God exists, He loves me any way. I’m happy to live like this! I think this is a life worth living. I think this is something worth dying for, and the glory of God revealed through the brilliance of atheistic opposition only makes me praise Him more.

      Man, am I deluded or what?