Rock and a Hard Place

396280_10100316678480673_951323144_n…now that we’ve got them just where they want us.

– James T. Kirk

Question of the day: Do I want to be an atheist?

Answer: Not necessarily. Call it phantom limb syndrome or whatever you like, but a part of me still very much wishes I was a Christian. More to the point, it wishes all my Christian acquaintances would allow me to still be one.

It seems that it’s not cricket to claim a Christian identity without accepting a prescribed bill of goods. Prescribed, generally, by the same people who insist that any attempt to categorize the Divine is beyond us puny humans. I never cease to be amazed that those who speak of God and faith as beyond definition are all too happy to force that elusive definition upon unsuspecting others.

On the other side of the equation, I wish my new atheist friends would stop trying to revoke my membership anytime I express continuing affection for my Christian upbringing or any amount of regard for people who remain within the Christian fold.

Apparently, unless I’m willing to concede that all those folks, near and dear to my heart regardless of philosophical disagreements, who continue to embrace a religious worldview are near-sighted simpletons who only do good in spite of themselves, I’m betraying the atheist worldview. My wife, my parents, my sibling and siblings-in-law, close friends and long-time mentors–either I condemn them as idiots, or I’m no longer welcome in the sandbox.

So I’m stuck, between a Christian rock and an atheist hard place. I can’t even say I’m an agnostic without the hardliners on both sides accusing me of either intellectual laziness or moral cowardice.

Newsflash: I am who I am. Some days, I’m so strong an atheist that I can’t even spell “God.” On other days, I’m so sick of atheists that I consider baptizing myself again. I am who I am…and here’s what that looks like:

I am a follower of Jesus (the man, not the ex post facto metaphysical invention). But then, I’m also a follower of Shakyamuni Buddha. And a follower of U2, and Jon Stewart. And of truth wherever else I might find it.

I refuse to judge a book–any book–by the worst thing it contains, or a group of people by the most despicable individual among them. The Bible, taken as a whole, contains a lot of stuff that to our postmodern sensitivities is beyond abhorrent, but it also contains a lot of stuff that is beautiful and good. To refuse to learn from the good out of anger at the bad…well, that’s ignorance, as far as I’m concerned. And there are individual Christians out there who make me want to punch a baby, the Fred Phelpses, James Dobsons, and Franklin Grahams and such. But if I allow those infuriating, narrow-minded, self-righteous few to act as straw men for all the good and loving people who raised me and taught to me to be who I am today–heterodoxy and all–then I do Christians everywhere a grave injustice, and I’m the one not worth their time.

(Just so we’re clear, there are also individual atheists out there that I find completely intolerable, Dawkins, Harris, and the like. Anyone who can, with a straight face, tell me that these guys are any more open-minded than the “religious nuts” they go on about–well, XYZ, my friend.)

Religious upbringing is not child abuse. Sometimes abusers happen to be religious, and religion can be transmitted in harmful ways, but one of these things is not (necessarily) like the other. There are things about my childhood that I wish had been different, but that applies, I expect, to all of us. What I know for a fact is that, while my parents raised me in a very Christian home, they also taught me to be the loving, accepting, thoughtful person I try so hard to be. I owe them who I am, even the willingness to tell all y’all to take a flying leap if you suggest otherwise.

Take away the ad hominem, and we’re all just a bunch of plankton convinced that we’re whales. We’re all on the same journey, whether or not we agree on the stops along the way. It’s hard to believe, I know, but there are Christians out there who don’t believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God; who don’t believe in an afterlife, or Noah’s ark, or a six 24-hour day creation. They don’t even believe in stoning homosexuals. And they are Christians whether you like it or not.

There are also atheists who are more than willing to see the beauty in Scripture (anybody’s Scripture, Bible, Koran, Talmud, etc.), and to engage Christians in respectful conversations based on an assumption of mutual intelligence. I know there are, mainly because I am one of them.

Somewhere inside me, Christianity lurks, hand in hand with the atheist’s skepticism. Why? Because it occupied the first three decades, plus, of my life. I cannot turn my back on that part of my identity anymore than I ought to turn from my search for Truth. Because some of that Truth still speaks through the Christian in me…

8 thoughts on “Rock and a Hard Place

  1. I wonder if we are not meant to contemplate every single possibility during our life time…as I fluctuate all over the place with many thoughts outside of the one thing I do believe in ~ what is out there can never be really understood in the matter we “understand understanding” ~ but rather it is all a sense of feel, when we come across something that works we know it even if we cannot explain it. The minute people start assigning a word to this feeling (i.e. faith) the true meaning begin to dissolve.

    So nice to have you back ~

    1. No, YOU did not. Normally I wouldn’t have let myself be baited that way, but it was a long week and my defenses were down. It’s my own fault…

  2. I think I know what this post was born from. I think the chief issue here is that of labels. We see them and think we know everything at a glance. I think there are as many versions of Christianity as there are Christians. Same for non-believers. That’s humanity.

    All people are hypocrites. We profess to believe things and do not act accordingly. Cognitive dissonance tries to assure us nothing is amiss, but we know better. We despise our own disparities and recognizing them in others, seize and label and discard their humanity. They become the other.

    I think there are cases when religion is child abuse. I know too many people that have suffered mental illness after exposure to beliefs as basic as hellfire. But I also know that religiousity does not determine goodness or badness and religion has changed many lives for the better.

    The sandboxes are all in our heads, but they remain. I think all sides need safe spaces in which to vent and air grievances until they are gone. To erase the sandboxes, we must address the disagreements and differences. Live and let live is impossible to achieve when we still have to watch the boundary lines. Until it is possible, know that you have a friend in me Toad.

    1. First of all, Madalyn, you are not one of the atheists I get sick of. Let’s get that straight, right off the bat.

      You’ve got to see the extent to which we (to borrow a recently-bandied term) cherry-pick the worst possible examples of a given lifestyle or worldview, and then wave them around in the air as proof that the whole class/group is a waste of space. Not all Christian parents are abusers; in fact, I’m guessing that the great majority are not. But we take the crazies who show up in the news and use them as a brush to tar the lot. Not all Muslims are suicide bombers or jihadists, but if you watch Fox News long enough…well, you get my point. I’m just sick of the bullshit.

      We have sandboxes because we build them and spend our lives maintaining them. We start out in one (we’ll call it Christianity), then at some point decide that it’s too constrictive, it’s not right. We need out of the sandbox. So we break free, into free thought, let’s say. Except it’s not free thought, see, because we’re in a brand new sandbox. I’m sick of sandboxes; I don’t need them; nobody does; they’re not safe spaces, because the people who live in them are often every bit as prejudiced as the people we ran from in the first place, just in the opposite direction. I’m done with sandboxes. I will be who I am, and not worry about the people who tell me I don’t fit whatever bill they’re pushing. AAAAGGGHHH!

      And I’m all vented out. Please don’t take offense: you are my friend, and I yours. That’s not going to change because you challenge or disagree with me on some point or another. I know, at the heart of the matter, that you approach our conversations as one intelligent human being addressing another, and that’s the safest space a person can ask for…

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