Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How I responded to an atheist I love

Photo by Jezlyn26.

I'm a person of faith. A person with faith. Imperfect faith, variable faith, doubtful faith, but still faith in a Higher Power. What, then, do I say to someone very near and dear to me who tells me he is atheist?

Well, I'll tell you. Because this happened to me just a couple weeks ago, so it's fresh in my mind.

Someone (whom we'll call Guy) told me his belief at the start of a car ride. He opened up the conversation as if he were coming clean. "I want to have faith, Julia," he said. "I really do. But I have to be honest and say I don't."

At first I was taken aback. I knew Guy wasn't following any religious doctrine, but I never stopped to think that might mean total lack of belief in any deity.

Then I felt naive, bordering on narrow-minded. Why did I assume Guy believed in God? Because he was a good person? Because he expressed morals and values similar to mine? Did his not believing in God make him any less a kind or worthy person? Did it prevent me from seeing him as a child of God?

And then I felt upset. Really upset. Heart-on-the-floor-mat kind of upset. But I couldn't cry because we were in the car together having this talk, and I didn't want to dissuade him from sharing his thoughts. I wanted to hear what he had to say, which turned out to be many thoughtful, well-researched, well-reasoned things. Guy had not come at this decision quickly or lightly. He had examined all sides and drawn a conclusion. I couldn't ask more from anyone of any belief system.

We went back and forth on various tenets. To be clear, I wasn't trying to convince him of anything. I believe God works within people individually, and their spiritual journeys are theirs alone. (Plus I'm a terrible debater and fold like a pile of laundry.)

Instead, we talked about the constructs of the atheist vs. theist debate. He said he doesn't understand why the burden of proof is on the atheists. I said believers and non-believers alike have a faulty premise -- that trying to wrap scientific and academic structures around something as intangible, amorphous, and stubbornly unscientific as faith can't help but lead to circular arguments and insufficient evidence.

Then we talked about the meaning of life without ever really using that term. He said he's in awe of the earth and the wondrous complexity of human existence without needing a Creator behind them. I said that mortality is a huge challenge for me -- downright terrifying at times -- and the idea of an afterlife brings me a measure of peace.

Then came my turn to come clean.

"Guy," I said, "I have to be honest too. I believe because I want to."

"I appreciate that," he said. "I wish more people would admit it."

So why was I ready to burst into tears then, and for the next 24 hours, and even now writing this post?
  • Because I've struggled with suffering and meaning and death in tearful spades this past year, and those are the waves that rock my little boat hardest.
  • Because Guy made me realize (admit?) how much I want people I love to share my beliefs. Why, I'm not sure. I think because for all the struggle that believing entails, it ultimately brings me joy, and I want others to have that too.
  • Because I've never been able to conceive of nothingness without fear creeping in.
  • Because thinking about if people can still end up in a heaven they never believed in makes my head hurt.
  • And because of lots of other big, daunting, mysterious, sentimental, melancholy, confused reasons I can't articulate right now. 
My response to the atheist I love may not seem enough to those of you with greater faith than I. Sorry about that. I could answer only from my heart, and it did the best it could.

Prayer #180: Suspension of Disbelief

Perhaps there's nothing in the dark to fear.

Perhaps there's nothing in the dark at all.

Still, I prefer a glimmer, if only along the path.

So for that, give me a faith that flickers but never quite goes out.

Amen.

47 comments:

  1. This is one of the most honest and non-condescending takes on this issue that I've read in a very long time. Thank you for that.

    I think the crux of the argument comes down to your comment that you believe because you want to believe. It isn't a belief you hold because you were taught (though you were), or because you picked it up in a book (though you've undoubtedly read the Bible, and other books on faith and religion), nor is it because you sat down and reasoned yourself into a faith that you didn't already have... you believe because you want to believe... and that is simply that.

    About twelve years ago I had what I now think of as a personal crisis of faith which lead me to explore the worlds religions. I read scripture and academic commentary and the study guides written for practitioners of a religion who want to study more. Within religions I studied the various sects and their differences. I spoke with lay practitioners and leaders and the priests who go by various names (Swami, Reverend, Rabi, etc.). I read and I listend and I asked and I studied this like nothing I've ever studied before in my life... and I came to a conclusion that works for me. A conclusion that I believe because I want to believe it.

    One thing that I did conclude along the way is that faith in a deity and morality aren't really related. In some ways they can run in parallel, so we tend to connect them, but I think that connection is an illusion. I know very moral people who are atheist, and I know people who've dedicated their lives to their faith and deity who are very immoral.

    Anyways, thank you again for this post... and for your writing in general. I've been reading for a long time. This is a beautiful expression of your faith, and I appreciate your willingness to share it with us.

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  2. Anonymous2:50 PM

    As an atheist, I really do wish we could understand those who believe in various things a bit better, instead of invariably going for the throat in the endless debates that never seem to produce anything but anger and ill feelings. I think there's room for a middle ground, here, and an opportunity for everyone to grow a little in their understanding of human needs, and the reasoning behind various faiths. Fear of the unknown and the possibility that some things are, for humans, ungraspable (at least at this point in our development) seem to drive a lot of the intense feelings on both sides, and are, I think, pretty universal.

    Kudos for being open minded. The best solution for anyone on either side of the debate is to read, read, and then read some more. As humans we do actually possess the capacity to understand one another. It's an aspect of our humanity we could stand to act on a little more often.

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  3. * And because of lots of other big, daunting, mysterious, sentimental, melancholy, confused reasons I can't articulate right now.

    Questioning our foundations for the first time can be a tremendously powerful experience, overwhelming emotionally and intellectually and every other way, but I think that catharsis is healthy.

    It's like rising up out of a maze you've lived in your whole life: sure there are no more walls surrounding you, but you can see the countryside for miles around for the very first time.

    * Because thinking about if people can still end up in a heaven they never believed in makes my head hurt.

    A bit of napkin counting shows that people who were nominally Christian over the years number about 15% of all the people who have ever lived. I don't know how this reconciles with a loving God or the bible, even taken as a metaphorical text, but it just seems enriching to know a bit about the history of our species.

    * Because I've never been able to conceive of nothingness without fear creeping in.

    Ah, the horror of the void, the wrongness of the depths. Lovecraft said it most eloquently I think, "To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth."

    Reality is that which does not disappear when we wish it would. All we can do is learn to appreciate it for what it is, to try to see the glass half full. There is a stark beauty to me in nothing, an elegant story of life and Nature, and a strange wonder in the thin veneer of civilization we humans have perched between a world of fire below and void above.

    * Because Guy made me realize (admit?) how much I want people I love to share my beliefs. Why, I'm not sure. I think because for all the struggle that believing entails, it ultimately brings me joy, and I want others to have that too.

    I think most all humans are arrogant enough to think their life, their philosophy is the best, most satisfying, most true way to be. That is something we nonbelievers share with you believers.

    I find great joy in atheism, in freedom to question, to think for myself, in duty to care for all without narrowing my focus through blind adherence to one way or another, in the elegant beauty of Nature, in science and math, strong grounding in that which I have good reason and evidence to believe.

    * Because I've struggled with suffering and meaning and death in tearful spades this past year, and those are the waves that rock my little boat hardest.

    I don't claim to know what meaning is for others; I can only speak for that which I have found: I love, I live, I laugh, I care for others. It is simple, some might even say too simple, but it fits me well.

    I see suffering and death in the world, random and pointless, and all I know is that I must fight it, even as it consumes me. Life is a war, and like all wars it will come to an end, but oh the Joy of Battle! To live fully, to live with the knowledge that this day might be your last and to laugh at the abyss, to howl defiance and scream, "Not today!" Surely there is much joy to be found in such a view.

    The bite of honesty is sharp, but cleansing; it scrapes away the illusions leaving one raw and purified.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/kffe6/the_gift_of_atheism/

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  4. Thank you for this. Most people who come to be atheists only do so after spending years, sometimes decades, exploring their religion and its history.

    Most of us are not out to deconvert anyone. We simply wish to have a personal decision accepted and not be attacked for it.

    Your brother is fortunate to have a sister like you.

    Be well.

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  5. Thanks for sharing. From an atheist point of view, your outlook on this matter is very refreshing and comforting. It's heartbreaking when a person you love disowns you (or even mentions the thought) simply because of this belief (or lack of). I don't judge people based on beliefs. I may not agree with them on that subject, but I certainly doesn't sell them any shorter as a person if so. This person is lucky to have you in their life; as you are probably lucky to have them.

    I hope that you two will continue to have your meaningful discussions about these subjects. You can only further enlighten each other. Not only that, it's damn good conversation.

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  6. What a good post, you're a great sister and I wish you felt more at ease with the things you're struggling with.

    Regards, another atheist.

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  7. Petra5:03 PM

    I'm a former catholic, now atheist.

    Fear kept me back for a while, but eventually I couldn't deny the truth, as I see it, anymore.

    Your atheist friend might be able to teach you something about fear and how to experience less fear. I don't think it is easy or will be 100% successful, but maybe you can learn something from him.

    You don't have to share all the joys in your life with other people. Imagine I find joy in painting. Does that mean I have to be sad when other people don't paint? Of course not! I don't even have to be sad when other people tell me they've tried painting and they HATE it. It's OK. Your friend may very well enjoy his life. He may find joy in other things than you, but he does. (Ask him about it, by the way; you may find some shared joys, or some new ones).

    Good luck to the both of you.

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  8. Anonymous5:05 PM

    People believe in the Easter Bunny because they want to too.

    Claims of belief without evidence is utterly meaningless.

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  9. Anonymous5:12 PM

    Hey Julia,
    Long time no talk, former roomie :-)

    I'm really glad you're able to talk with your bro. I know how close your family is, which makes open communication both incredibly important and incredibly difficult (funny how often those two coincide).

    My parents are in the midst of a splitup right now. Faith has become a larger wedge than it had before. My dad is becoming more of a staunch atheist, and my mom, well, she's been a minister for ten years. That's not the whole picture (they were married happily for years), but it did become a problem.

    Take care,
    Reggie

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  10. The concept of nothingness with no fear can be imagined this way....what was it like for you or your soul before your were born?

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  11. Hi there,

    Thanks for being willing to accept your brother's unbelief. I'm an atheist who's afraid to tell my father, mother and sister that I've lost my faith, so stories like these mean a lot to me. If I could be sure that my family would react the way you did, my life would be a whole lot easier.

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  12. Why hello, (mostly) new folks! I think this officially qualifies as reaching a new audience ... :)

    I appreciate everyone's comments, just wanted to reply to a few specifically right now:

    VVK: Thank you as always for reading my ramblings and adding your thoughts. Good to hear from you again. (All is well, I hope?)

    Petra (and others): Thanks for your comment. Let me clarify what I wrote in the post about fear. That was one item of many Guy and I discussed in the car; it's certainly not the only or even the primary reason I believe in God. It just happens to be one that's more on my mind lately because of all the swirling life events I link to in the post.

    Reggie: Roomie! Wow, it has indeed been awhile. I'm so happy to hear from you, but sad that it carries along the news about your parents. Big hug to you, friend. Perhaps we can catch up offline? (I visit your neck of the woods pretty frequently ...)

    KW: Ha, Guy said the same thing to me in the car! And it provided some great food for thought. I'm going to keep noodling on that one.

    Tim: Aw man, that's a tough one. What's holding you back? How do you think they would react? Whatever the case, I wish you luck with it -- my sympathies.

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  13. Anonymous6:02 PM

    Hello! Sent here through the ether. I was very religious growing up, indeed quite abrasive and insensitive to non-believers around me. Over the years of my non-belief I've come to regard spirituality with more respect, and handle believers much more gently. After reading your post I am reminded how I, in my faith, didn't have your tenderness or candor about how I truly felt. Of course we like to think we've matured in retrospect, but the nature of time makes that a futile desire.

    I really enjoyed your post, and applaud you for your candor, and love.

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  14. Anonymous6:19 PM

    If bullshit is covered it powdered sugar, it doesn't become a doughnut.

    Think about it: the existence of atheism is a derivative of religion. Though I doubt religion will die in the near future, it is threatened by education.

    It is well known but seldom said that the Seminary is a cemetery theologically speaking. I can only think of one reason this could be. Knowledge kills God.

    You are bending over backwards to be nice about this but you are missing the point.

    Waiting for things never to be is a drain on creativity and progress.

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  15. Anonymous6:24 PM

    ^5

    So nice to read a loving christian.

    Thanks for your wisdom.

    Best to you from a non-theist.

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  16. Hello. I just want to comment here. I have one question for you. Choose only one possible answer. If there is God who do you think he would have in heaven? Good human or believer? You can choose only one.

    If you went for believer, than I can answer you that there are many bad people who believe in God, and that religion make them bad.

    If you went for "good human", than I can answer you that you don't need book(Bible or Qoran) or something to believe in to be good human.

    Do you know what is my goal in life as an atheist? I will be very honest here. My goal is to help people with my knowledge, to invent something to make people live easier, like many people before me did(cars, dishwashers, medicines,...).

    When I get more funds I would like to travel to Africa and help at least 1 city there and pay for food, water and medicine.

    You see. You are probably learned(through church or Bible) that people that don't believe(atheists etc..) in your "God" are bad people, etc.. I remember that verse from bible that says, "that kid that doesn't want to accept fathers words should be put to death with stones". This is really not human.

    I just want to say, that if you think a little logical, that you can answer to yourself that there was a guy that was afraid that people who will THINK will try to give their knowledge to other people(about truth, that there is actually no being like "God"), so he written that kind of stuff to protect his "members" and their "money".

    You see I really love all GOOD people of this world, I just don't respect religion. Why? Because religion killed, raped, burned, stoned people to death, supported slavery.. and today they still don't like homosexuals for example(like who cares man what someone wants to be really), they are still agressive between each other(different religions like christianity and islam). That doesn't make any sense. (1/2)

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  17. If you think at least a little about your religion you can see that it is not all great like you think it is.

    But the biggest problem in believer that believes in thing their parents "learned" them is the fear of realizing of truth. They don't want that to be truth, because they don't want to throw away their believes that there is someone watching after them all the time, that they will live after life.

    But honestly that is wrong thinking. You have to think about today, about now. You have to be good without "imaginary friend". You have to help people with goods or money(for example Africa), prayers just don't work(my opinion).

    I always hug my mother when I come home from the city I study, because I really love good people, but I don't hate bad people. My father is very religious, but he is really agressive type of human.

    When I said to him that I'm an atheist he told me that I am freaking crazy? Why he threated me like that? Because his mind is not rational. And that is the same with many believers.

    You cried when your brother said that he is an atheist. You shouldn't cry. He is probably good human, that wants to help other people.. But he doesn't need some book or some "imaginary friend" to achieve that.

    I am sorry I really wanted to explain you some things.

    You see an atheist is a human that believes that science and progress can help with people happiness. That equality and human rights are the most important in the world. EQUALITY. Homosexuals, blacks, whites, everyone IS EQUAL in this world.

    All I see in religion nowadays is killing, because you religious people fight to prove whose "God" is better.

    I am sorry if it will hurt you with what I am going to say, but I really hope that in future there will not be religion anymore, because I really care about new born people that will take care about us. And I think that they deserve to know the truth, so they can prepare for many things in future(global warming, food defitic) in scientific way, SO THEY CAN SURVIVE.

    But I believe that will happen, because people education is rising each year.

    Julia I believe you are good human from reading your post, therefore I would hug you in real life if I would met you somewhere, and I wish you really good luck any happiness in your life. Just love your brother as much he loves you.

    Love you, bye bye <3 (2/2)

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  18. Anonymous8:55 PM

    A very enlightening post. Thank you for sharing.

    Sincerely,
    Non-theist.

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  19. Anonymous9:20 PM

    I love this. I wish more religious people were like you. You admit your delusions and offer to not have it interfere with others' lives. I thank you for that. I wish you the best of luck in the future, but please remember all things must have logical explanations.

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  20. Anonymous10:04 PM

    What a beautiful expression of faith. I am touched by your words and thoughtfulness. Thank you for sharing.

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  21. Anonymous10:14 PM

    "Because Guy made me realize (admit?) how much I want people I love to share my beliefs. Why, I'm not sure. I think because for all the struggle that believing entails, it ultimately brings me joy, and I want others to have that too."

    This is a very natural feeling. Having others believe as we do helps to reaffirm our belief. When you are talking about your most deeply held values, its reassuring to hear that others have come to the same conclusions. When you talk to someone(especially someone happy and successful) who holds a different set of values than you, its scary because it throws a little doubt into the mix.

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  22. Anonymous10:30 PM

    You've brought happy tears to my eyes. I'm an atheist from a very religious family. I'm sharing your wisdom with them so that hopefully I can finally have a conversation with them that doesn't end in shouting and tears. (Aside from my mom. She's awesome like you.)

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  23. Anonymous10:35 PM

    I'm curious why she believes in the specific deity. She references the deity by using "god" as a proper name, with capitalization, which is something I've only ever seen Christians do, presumptuous as always, so I'm assuming she believes the god of Abraham to be the real one, out of all the thousands of others people have worshiped throughout history. Why? Why doesn't she pray to Vishnu? Has she ever thought that all the reasons she would use to discount Greek Mythology, old religions from Egypt, Native American spiritualism, and Hinduism... would work against her own religion?

    About the presumptuous thing, what I meant was, if a Hindu read this blog entry, and he sees the word "God", which god should he be thinking about? Why do Christians act like they own this general word, instead of referring to their deity by name? Yahweh, Elohim, I AM, Jealous, YHWH, etc.

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  24. Anonymous10:38 PM

    FYI, your brother posted a link to your blog to a popular atheist message board, so you're going to be inundated with atheist spam. Fair warning ...

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  25. Julia: All is well. I can't really complain about being too busy with a job I enjoy... but sometimes the "too busy" part gets annoying. It's loads better than not having a job after all.

    You on the other hand seem to have the patience/tolerance of a saint. Some of the comments on this post... blah.

    I intentionally didn't say where I fell on the matter in my original comment, but having read the other comments I want to throw it out there now.

    I'm an agnostic who isn't really sure if the question about the existence of God(s) even matters. Would the answer change my actions? I don't think they would because my actions are bound by my morals, which exist independent of my knowledge of God(s). If God(s) do(es) exit, I don't think they would judge two people to took the same actions - one who believed in them, and one who didn't know or care - differently.

    So I'm an agnostic... and I don't really care one way or another if God(s) exist. I don't worry about it. That not worrying extends to other questions like "What happens after someone dies?" "Do we have a soul?" and others whose answers are inextricably linked to the root question of the existence of God(s).

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  26. Anonymous11:49 PM

    I really envy you.
    At a time when I was really sick and life was hell, I really wanted to believe. I visited multiple churches and tried my best convince myself to believe but in the end I couldn't.
    I wish I could experience the comfort that comes with belief in an afterlife. It's terrifying for me to believe that there is nothing after this life.
    If I had a choice, I wish I could believe. It wouldn't even matter if I were right or wrong because I would at least be released from some anxiety when thinking about death.

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  27. Anonymous12:33 AM

    I don't believe in atheists (though I thought I was one at one point). I think they know God, but just don't call it God. They see the universe in all it's vast wonder, but just have different names for it.

    God communicates to all of us in our own way. As long as a person tries to listen, they will hear what they need to hear. Truth is such an ambiguous concept, all of us have our own individual truth.

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  28. Wow, what a beautiful post.
    As a former Christian who grew up in a Christian household, I really applaud you.

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  29. Anonymous2:05 AM

    you likely have no idea how difficult it can be for an atheist to "come out of the closet" in a christian family.

    thank you. thank you for being so understanding. your brother is lucky to have you. i wish i had had someone like you in my corner when i did the same.

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  30. Anonymous2:10 AM

    From an atheist: thank you. It is much easier to offer respect where respect is given in kind. I do not believe as you do, but I'm happy to live alongside you, knowing you're prepared to let me live in peace.

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  31. believing because you want to? well that goes for most people even dough not a single religion is true in my eyes.
    I find optimism to be something that some people need. then i m talking about people greatly affected by emotion and need to feel like a good soul is watching over them.
    but i still would recommend realism for some stuff because having the bible as a life-manual to be followed by every step is never a good thing and don't forget it's written thousands of years ago.

    and btw if you think that the meaning of life is important...
    i believe that one thing that Atheism and Christianity has in common is free will. only you can truly control your life dough others can shape it.
    whats most important is that you enjoy your life. You are truly a person that deserves a lot of respect.

    sincerely by an Atheist

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  32. Very honest of you to say you believe because you want to. Many people will say they believe because god should be self evident and he has revealed himself through scripture etc. More often than not, people say you should believe because they SHOULD believe in the same thing they do.

    I think you could be more agnostic than you think and that you have a tipping point brewing up. Watch Lawrence Krauss for a poetic version of our existence (he says stars had to 'die' to create the elements that make up our bodies) and perhaps you will find a way to make peace with yourself and remove the fear that you hold.

    This is not to say Atheists are any less fearful but you might find some peace in the truth.

    Thanks for your post. It was a nice read.

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  33. This was a nice read.

    As a materialist (and unlike many, even most materialists) I share your fear/horror at the prospect of nothing. Trying to imagine my own consciousness end or fade away or whatever hurts my brain and scares the shit out of me. Seriously, I wish I could have faith in an afterlife, even the hell that would await me by most interpretations of the Christian bible.

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  34. I agree with others here, your brother is lucky to have such a caring, kind, honest sister. No condescending attitude or belittling or misrepresenting the atheist position (as far as I can tell).

    Consider: There is no fear without a god. (at least no fear of hell or loss of holiness.) We all want to think others can see the value in the way we see things. It validates ourselves like nothing else. Don't you think accepting the world based on provable facts would bring much more joy than what you have now? I encourage you to question and examine thoroughly your fears. If you seek truth and knowledge, ignorance and fear fall away. Good luck! You deserve to be free of fear and be truly happy.

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  35. I think I'm different from most atheists in that I never was a believer; indeed, I didn't even really start to understand that people really did believe in various forms of theism until my early teens. Up 'til then I always figured people who went to church were just engaged in some sort of traditional ritual, like celebrating an anniversary (though at the time I couldn't have articulated that).

    On the burden of proof thing, remember that atheism makes no claims - it's not a positive claim that no gods exist, it's just the absence of a positive claim that one or more gods do exist. A person who's never heard of the concept of deity is as much a atheist as someone who shouts from the rooftops that he knows for certain there are no deities. They're just different kinds of atheists (just as monotheists, polytheists, etc. are different kinds of theists). There's a good piece here that does a good job of explaining the idea (better than I just did):
    http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/09/25/8419/

    Ultimately, though, whatever you believe or don't believe, no matter how the idea of belief is utterly alien and baffling to me, one thing that makes perfect sense is kindness, and it's clear that you have and demonstrate that in abundance.

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  36. Anonymous11:18 AM

    Beautiful post, thank you for those words and for being so honest about your emotions. If there were more people like you then labels such as 'atheist' and 'theist' wouldn't be needed. All that matters is that it is good to be good.

    Also, thank you for your patience. This is a controversial subject and it's guaranteed to draw out a few people. When they speak harsh words it's often just their own insecurities that are speaking so please forgive those less tolerant than yourself.

    SW of London

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  37. Anonymous12:05 PM

    How much more beautiful and meaningful is it that it took BILLIONS of years to create YOU from a very specific and circumstantial set of events, then as a selfish deities after thought? The Universe does not demand that you love and worship it in order to be worth anything.

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  38. I love this post so much.

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  39. Julia,

    It's hard to predict exactly how they'll react. I don't think they'll disown me or anything, but it definitely won't be good. I have a very good relationship with them right now, and even in the best case it will probably cause a lot of tension. I think they'll feel that by rejecting their religion, I've rejected an integral part of them.

    Thanks for your concern, and again for your acceptance of opposing views.

    —Tim

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  40. Anonymous2:54 PM

    This is a wonderful post. I grew up with a lot of faith. I really wanted to be the best person I could be. Eventually it dawned on me that I could be good with my faith just as much as I could without it. I'm just as happy today as I was back then if not more. She helped...

    http://www.ted.com/talks/julia_sweeney_on_letting_go_of_god.html

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  41. Anonymous6:10 PM

    Much love from an anonymous atheist.

    I hope you two continue to get along.

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  42. Anonymous8:02 PM

    At least a compassionate unbeliever is better than a hypocritical believer, aka "The good Samaritan story". The sad news is that the temple could continue discourage genuine worshippers from coming in. The good news is that Jesus called his disciples and made fellowship with them OUTSIDE!

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  43. Cool post, I wish more people were at least honest with themselves like that.

    I'm very glad I got out of religion but I'm sure it works for some people :)

    Take care.

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  44. Anonymous5:51 AM

    I really appreciate this post. There really should be more thoughtful people in the world. You at least took time to understand and talk it through with your brother. Kudos. What it comes down to is really the arguing should stop, there should be a mutual understanding and respect for other beliefs/ideas. Thank you for posting this....be well. Keep rockin'.

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  45. Former Lutheran, now athiest here.

    Thank you so much for showing that not all Christians handle situations like this poorly. I'm glad to hear that there are other people out there who can be on opposing sides of the entire religion debate and yet be the best of friends. I do believe in many of the morals taught by religion, and I think that we all need to be able to look past that difference of thought and be able to enjoy each other's company if we so desire.

    I have no idea how any of my Christian friends are going to react when I someday inevitably tell them that I have left my religion behind, but I certainly hope they handle it as well as you have.

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  46. To adjust part of Darksmiles post for me:
    I find great joy in [being Catholic], in freedom to question, to think for myself, in duty to care for all without narrowing my focus through blind adherence to one way or another, in the elegant beauty of Nature, in science and math, strong grounding in that which I have good reason and evidence to believe.

    Spiritual journeys are individual. My religious beliefs are shared, but not as a drone believing what I'm told, but rather as a free thinker trying to make sense of it all and bringing that with me to the table when I worship.

    One thing I've learned, though, is that just because I don't understand something doesn't mean it isn't true. I've also learned that Truth happens at many levels, the most profound and meaningful of which are entirely subjective and don't hold up well to empirical analysis. This has actually sparked my appreciation for art and art history. There are messages being conveyed that are terrificly complex in the simplest of designs. Many aspects of art can be categorized and even measured, but the heart of the matters comes to a feeling in the gut about what calls to you and what doesn't.

    That I am, myself, a powerful and purposeful being is true, but there are powers way more formidable than anything I can muster in the cosmos. Undeniably, there are forces in the physical world that I cannot withstand. Many I can adapt for biologically and intellectually, but never fully overcome. There are social and political forces for which I can exert influence, but which also may overwhelm me. There are interpersonal forces for which, at best, I can account for half the power at work. By extension (or maybe in sum, as a collective?) is it really strange to suggest there are spiritual forces upon which I have a limited influence?

    As I gain more and more experience living, I find more and more practical answers to difficult questions from distinctly religious sources. While in a literal sense there seems to be a lot of rigidity in various constructs, when taken as metaphors, there's a lot of wisdom in it that goes a long way to explain things that tend to defy explanation.

    Furthermore, as I learn more and more about how the brain works and what happens in human development, the more I see that there's nothing new there, just a better understanding of mechanics.

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