Thursday, January 19, 2012

The "A" Word

A friend of mine wrote this to me after reading my blog post about the Out Campaign, where I came out as an Atheist.  It was all very cathartic with photos and interesting examples, I hope you get a chance to check it out.  This blog post is not that, it is a (rather long-winded) exploration of the previous post and the questions it raised.  My good friend sent me a comment about it, I want to thank him for his thoughtful response and say that he made some valid points, perhaps points many people can relate to, so I wanted to publicly respond to him. This is what he wrote:

I recognize and accommodate the right for those who do not believe to not believe, surely, but this...

"On this note, I ask you, reader, to consider honestly your theological beliefs this season. Do you believe in all the tenets of the religion you subscribe to (including the bit about the World being just a little over 2 thousand years old)" a bit why this post is so one-sided. I'm very religious but don't subscribe to Biblical literalism (or, in the case of the 2,000 year thing, non-Biblical inventiveness). The complaints that I hear from non-believers tend to flock to that generalization of Christians, yet I'm a staunch member of the Episcopal faith that even invites atheists to speak at their churches -- not for ridicule but for acceptance.

And that is what I think should be pursued, a harmony in spite of divergent beliefs. If I believe in God, that does not negate that I believe homosexuals perish in hell, that those who don't believe in literal Creationism perish in hell, or even that there is a hell. So a belief in God is not an immediate forfeiture of reasonable philosophy -- lest we categorize atheism as a belief in nothing, as opposed to a lack of belief. That belief in something (whether in God or in Nothing) causes a finite x, y, & z set of variables of thinking would surely put belief in no God on the same par as Christian, Taoist, Maoist, Thisist, Thatist. Some people choose to believe certain things and God and are exclusive. Others believe in God and other things and are inclusive. Still others believe in no God at all and are exclusive or, on the flip, are inclusive. I've encountered all of the above.

I don't think that I am the exception, either.

To my friend: Firstly, thank you, I am lucky to have such an insightful and open-minded friend.  Secondly, you made some very good points and I will try to address them all.
1. My intention was not to disparage organized religions or those who have a belief in an organized religion... it may not apply to you, but some religious institutions DO teach that the world is only a few thousand years old.  Yes, you are correct in your assessment - this blog post is biased, it was not my intention to write a perfectly objective piece (nor would I be able to if I tried, no piece of writing can be truly objective); however, this does not mean that what I have written is untrue.
2. I agree that Atheists and Theists should pursue  harmony in spite of divergent beliefs and it is my sincerest hope to help create a bridge of communication between these two groups.  (ps. I noticed that you did not capitalize Atheist, a great way to develop mutual respect would be to do this, it is a proper noun after all.)
3. I also agree with you that the mere belief in a God does not automatically sign one up to be a bible-thumping homophobe.  However, you are a part of a very open-minded sect of Christianity that leaves room for different interpretations of Biblical truths.  Sadly, this is rather rare.  Many organized religions are not so liberal about how their followers interpret their religious doctrine.  My goal in asking people to consider whether or not they believe the tenets on which their religion stands on is because sometimes it stands for the persecution others.  For example, the Mormon Church uses doctrine to justify their support of conversion camps where gay individuals are taught to hate themselves. I am sure many Mormons are like you, and they don't believe gay individuals should be discriminated against, but they identify with an organized religion that sponsers this!  (By the way, the term ‘homosexual’ is offensive, it was originally developed by psychiatrists and it was a label given to someone who was diagnosed with a sexuality disorder, in the future, perhaps replace it with ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT community.’)
4.  I am curious to know where you stand on a belief in Hell.  From my understanding, Christian views on Hell vary, but in general traditionally agree that hell is a place or a state in which the souls of the unsaved suffer the consequences of sin.  I would assume the ‘unsaved’ means anyone who is not Christian.  I would equate stating that you are Christian, but throwing out the idea of Hell to stating that you are Vegetarian, except you think it’s OK to eat lamb.  Honestly, what irks me about people who claim to be strongly affiliated with an organized religion is how they pick which doctrine to believe and uphold and which doctrine to ignore.  In my opinion, if you don’t believe in the tenets of your religion, then you fall on the Free-Thinker spectrum that I outlined in the previous blog post.  One of the reasons I left Christianity (when I was 15) was because  I had begun taking high school science classes and could no longer accept the intelligent design hooey after learning about evolution.  However, instead of saying, ‘well I’m still a Christian, I’ll just ignore that bit about intelligent design,’ I said to myself, ‘if I don’t believe in the tenets of the religion, then I am not a Christian.’  I thought, ‘who am I to choose which of Gods teachings are correct and which are incorrect?’  Well, if I truly believed in the Christian God, then I couldn’t simply ignore his teachings; I could only ignore his teachings if I didn’t believe in the Christian God.  It wasn’t a hard choice for me because I realized, that, well, I don’t believe in a God and lived happily ever after :)
5. Where I diverge from agreement with you is in your following statement: “That belief in something (whether in God or in Nothing) causes a finite x, y, & z set of variables of thinking would surely put belief in no God on the same par as Christian etc...” I disagree because there is something called the burden of proof, and this burden of proof falls on the believer.  It means that the one making the claims is burdened with the job to prove the claims he is making.  For example, if someone said to me that unicorns exist, I would ask him to prove to me that they do.  If he could not prove it to me using empirical evidence based on scientific research, then no one would think me arrogant to continue believing that unicorns do not exist. Let me put it to you another way…. you don’t believe in Shiva, the Hindu Destroyer God, do you?  Why do you think it is alright to have no belief in the Hindu God Shiva, but it isn’t OK for Atheists to have no belief in the Christian God?  We are ALL Atheists, I just believe in one less God than you.
6. This does NOT mean that I believe in nothing.  In fact, I believe in a whole lot of things.   I believe that people have innate value and that women deserve an education as much as men do and that people have their own moral compasses, and that the universe is an awe-inspiring place full of galaxies and black holes and super novas!  I am just full of belief, and faith.  Yes, I have faith, faith in science, in reason and in democracy.   

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