Category Archives: Sympathy for the theists
As a Christian, I was generally willing to offend people to try to save them from hell. (Whether I was willing to be offended toward the same end is another matter!)
Now, having seen the light of reason, I’m in the position of wanting to save theists from unnecessary anxiety, toil, pain, and expense in this life.
My motives are as altruistic now as they were before. I continue to love people and want what is best for them.
The conclusion you arrive at is less important than how you got there.
When a believer who never gave it much thought becomes an atheist without giving it much thought, or vice versa, so what?
But that’s not what happened to me. I went from contemplative believer to contemplative atheist.
When I was a believer, I was really into it. I did mental gymnastics over the logic of Christianity because I needed confidence that I was believing the right thing, and I agonized over the moral implications of Christianity because my walk had to match my talk (it didn’t, and I really felt a lot of grief about it).
I did not reach an atheist conclusion arbitrarily or hastily. I coped with a strong cognitive dissonance (between faith and facts, and between ‘Bible morality’ and my real conscience) for about ten years, until it became too stressful. At that point, I started allowing myself to objectively consider all the information I could find, instead of looking for information to support a conclusion I had already chosen. I began following the evidence where it led.
My conclusions say something about me, but how I reached my conclusions says a lot more. I actually have more in common with a contemplative believer than I do with a non-contemplative atheist.
I’ve heard a lot of parents (invariably nonreligious ones) boast about their ‘tolerant’ parental approach to religion. Usually, it goes a little something like this:
“I tell my children, ‘You can believe whatever you want. If you decide to be an atheist or a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Pastafarian or a Wiccan, I will love you regardless.'”
I realize that these parents are generally just trying to take their acceptance out of the equation. I think they are trying to tell their kids, “Choose a belief system on its own merits. Don’t believe X just because I do.”
Unfortunately, a simple “I will love you regardless” statement doesn’t convey “Choose a belief system on its own merits,” and neither is a very useful answer if the question is “What religion should I choose?”
If your child — let’s say your daughter — is seeking your advice on belief systems, it’s probably because she wants to know which one will be best for her, not which one you will approve of. She may even be concerned with how to get to heaven or how to avoid hell. So the most respectful answer is one that addresses the actual question!
Another issue: The ‘tolerant’ approach is generally touted as superior to ‘pushing religion,’ regardless of what the parents believe . But if you believe that your child’s choice of religion has grave eternal consequences, how can you possibly see ‘tolerance’ as loving or respectful? Won’t you do whatever is in your power to ensure that your child makes the ‘right’ choice?
My post early this morning may have been a little cryptic. Lemme explain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.
The link in that post is to an essay that explains (or, rather, demonstrates) that the popular concept of hell — as a place of eternal torment for those who reject Jesus — is not supported by the Bible. I won’t try to boil down the essay. You should read it.
You may be asking, “Dave, if you don’t believe the Bible, why do you care what the Bible says about hell?”
Well, because some of my dearest friends and relatives do care what the Bible says. I want to spare them the grief that comes from believing that someone they love is on a path to eternal torture. If you are one of those dear Christians, you’ve seriously got to read this essay. You will sleep better for the rest of your life.
I’ve let go of the Christian beliefs I grew up with, but I still have a passion for protecting religious speech.
I’m really bothered by those who say believers should ‘keep their religion to themselves’ or that religious speech belongs only in homes and churches.
I am not saying that there is no wrong time or place to talk about religion. But there are many situational factors that determine whether a given topic is appropriate.
A non-religious example: I’m walking into a grocery store, and between me and the door is a guy with a clipboard. He looks at me and says “You registered to vote?” I find this inappropriate because of the position it puts me in. I don’t want to discuss my voter registration status with a total stranger, and in any case I came to shop, not to have that conversation. So my choices are to answer the guy’s question, ignore him while walking around him, or get really confrontational and tell him what I think of his tactics. But should I tell him to keep the topic of voter registration to himself, to never discuss it within earshot of strangers, to only discuss it within the office of the registrar of voters and in private homes? No. I just don’t want to be forced into a conversation about it while I’m trying to buy food. I wouldn’t even mind if the same guy and a friend of his were discussing their voter registration statuses next to me in the checkout line.
In addition, ‘religious speech’ is a pretty ambiguous concept. Which of these would you consider religious speech?
- Saying “God bless you” after a sneeze?
- Saying “A guy who goes to my church …”?
- Identifying yourself as a Buddhist?
- Stating that drinking alcohol is prohibited in Islam?
- Quoting a Bible verse that happens to have been co-opted as a secular proverb?
- Saying “Amen” in response to a statement unrelated to religion?
Finally, “Keep your religion to yourself” is a disturbing sentiment in that it is directed only at believers. You seldom hear “Keep your skepticism to yourself.”
Over the past couple of years, I have really grown to enjoy and appreciate internetmonk.com.
The bloggers at that site are skeptics within their belief system: challenging various attitudes and assumptions that they feel are inconsistent with (and detrimental to) essential Christianity.
This post has had a profound influence on me, though not in the way the author intended. It demonstrates, beautifully, that a Christian need not — and should not — regard every word of every book in the Bible as straight historical narrative.
One of its points is that the authors of the Bible employ a wide variety of literary styles, some of which present ‘truth’ in a way that is not meant to be taken literally. Another is that the ‘truth’ of something (an event, a principle) is not negated by the existence of nuanced writings about it.
In making these points, the post’s author challenges what he sees as a false dilemma: take it all literally or reject it all. He seems to be saying that it’s enough to believe that the authors of the original manuscripts witnessed (or heard) certain things and wrote about them — that this is enough proof of the essential truths of Christianity.*
I agree with the author that the inexactness of the Bible does not automatically invalidate it.
I also share the author’s view that sometimes it is unclear how literal or how precise a biblical passage is meant to be, and that faith is a factor in interpreting such a passage.
However, we disagree in our conclusions. The author writes that a combination of faith and the Holy Spirit can enable the reader to determine the truth. I have far less confidence in that approach. “Faith” is simply committing to a guess, and one man’s Holy Spirit is another man’s (biased) gut feeling.
But I love the way the author makes his points, especially when he zeroes in on those who demand ‘perfection’ or a ‘magic book.’ He and the other “imonks” strive to promote rational thought in the context of Christianity, and I admire that.
* I have such doubts about the historicity of the gospels and the book of Acts — the ‘eyewitness accounts’ that form the foundation of Christian belief — that for me this point is moot.
To a person who believes he or she has encountered extraterrestrials, the question of the existence of extraterrestrials is central.
To a person who believes he or she has encountered a deity, the question of the existence of that deity (or of any deity) is central.
To a person who has never encountered anything he or she would consider supernatural or paranormal, the question of the existence of supernatural or paranormal things may be trivial.