To my atheist friends

I’m a Christian and unapologetically so.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it does.  I am showing all of my cards here, but I think it’s appropriate now.

I was listening to NPR as an author was explaining how she had left the Catholic church decades ago and considered herself an atheist, but still wished that she had faith.  I have had many conversations with atheists and have considered myself one at different points in my life.  After leaving the church for about five years when I was living in Japan and going to a Buddhist temple, I eventually came to realize that I didn’t have to throw away my faith and have nothing to do with the church.

Today, I would say that atheists have more faith than I do.  I often hear them rallying against God and saying what a jackass God is.  I find this ironic.  Doesn’t the very meaning of atheism point to the complete disbelief in a deity?  If this is the case, then how can an atheist think that God is a jerk?  I’m just sayin’ . . .  So, what do I mean by saying that atheists have more faith than I do?  I certainly do not mean to say that atheists are bad or wrong or to degrade them in any way.  In fact, I find that I have more in common with them when it comes to belief than I do many Christians.  Many atheists that I encounter though, are either very upset with God or are sure that there is no God.  If one is sure of anything then there is no need for faith.  I would rather call myself an agnostic because I do not know any answers or what is true or not, but I have faith.  This faith does not give me a sense of false confidence that I am correct in my beliefs, but rather lets me accept the fact that God is a mystery and that I can find peace amidst that tension.

To me, the matter of God or God’s existence or non-existence is an issue of semantics.  Many atheists have rallied more against the Church than they have against God.  Ironically, though, they have accepted the Church’s antiquated definition of God.  The God that many atheists rally against is the God the church created in its own image, not necessarily the real God.  Unfortunately, many people do not realize that not every Christian believes that there is a sadistic father-like deity that sits on a throne above the clouds and just waits for the chance to send someone to the fires of hell if they do not accept accept the son that he sent to save us from our terrible misdeeds.  Those who hold fast to this view of God are the loudest and therefore, the rest of us let them define who God is.

Take the Bible for example.  Some believe that it is a literal document that is the 100% inerrant word of God.  I don’t think so.  I do, however, still believe that the Bible is one of the most important documents ever written.  I see the Bible as a compilation of perceptions of God at different times in history for specific people and cultures for specific issues.  I think it is dangerous to apply the Bible literally to every situation.  Some churches have attempted to do this and warned that if we do not accept their interpretations then we are going to face God’s wrath.  I think we can still keep the Bible as a great book that contains great insight and great wisdom and even still call it a “divine” book without accepting it as literal.

One goal of the United Church of Christ in a recent vision statement is to become “theologically conversant”.  I like this idea.  I think if we start bringing theology to the lay level and not being afraid to discuss things without assuming that we have all the answers, we can learn a lot from one another.  Those who have left the church or thrown God away may come to realize that some of us believe that God is inside us, in nature, mysterious, mystical, inexplicable, and evolutionary and that the loudest voice is not necessarily the most representative of the belief of the masses.

So, what about the matter of semantics?  What the Buddhist calls nothingness and the great reality within that is the essence of the universe, I call God.  What the atheist calls forces of nature that create through evolution, I call God.  What the humanist calls the innate ability that is at the very core of our existence to know the difference between right and wrong, I call God.  Do we have to accept the picture of God that was painted by the Constantinian church millennia ago for a specific agenda?  I don’t think so.  I think we are free to discuss who and what we think God is and in doing so, the church just might become relevant again.  Maybe the church could be a place where we do what is right for one another and help each other when in need.  Maybe we can get to a point where we are not so vehement about defending what we believe, but can be more focused on doing what is right.  Ok, I’ll shut up now.  You can find more of my rants on “traditional” religion and the like at other places in this blog.

Want to get involved in that kind of discussion where nobody assumes they have all the “truth” and answers and isn’t out to convert anyone to a specific belief system?  Then join us at the Schaumburg Theology Pub or at The Crossing.

One Response to “To my atheist friends”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    This is a thoughtfully composed summary of the thoughts and reflections that I have long felt. How refreshing to see it in print, so considerately crafted. I too have self-described as agnostic, and it has never sat well with me that there could be only one way, only one path, as I wondered rhetorically what fate would await those unfortunate souls who had chosen the “wrong” way / path. I too have intuited that perhaps it was just a matter of semantics, and cultural differences without meaningful distinctions. This also strikes me as a gracious, invitational reaching out to all, with an openness and understanding that is inclusive, and reassuring. Most of us sojourn along a shared quest, though we have been born at different times and raised in different cultures, so are descriptions and terminologies (semantics) may differ. But I too find that essentially we embrace the same essence: God.

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