Guest Post: 5 Things I Wish Atheists Understood about Christians
This is a guest post from Jayson D. Bradley, a fun, friendly and joyful blogger I had the pleasure of connecting with on Twitter. He laughs at my jokes, pops in his two cents in my online debates, and he stands up for what he believes in. He’s also a pastor and a believer with a thick skin and a great sense of humour. He came up with this idea for us to exchange guest posts and I thought it was fantastic. So, you can read mine here. You can read more of his writing, on his blog here. Be sure to follow him on Facebook & Twitter as well.
It never fails. If a feminist tweets a news story that reinforces her views about the patriarchy, some guy is going to respond with a #notallmen hashtag. And in that one tweet, her point is dismissed. It’s irritating that, instead of listening to someone’s experience and point of view, so many are in a big rush to exonerate themselves. We see it with the #blacklivesmatter movement, a deluge of white folks who want to broaden the issue to acknowledge that #alllivesmatter instead of recognizing what the real problem is—and how they’re contributing.
When I’m talking to my atheist friends, I’m often confronted with ideas and critiques that I desperately need to recognize as real and honest. That said, I often hear criticism about a Christianity that I don’t recognize. So, as much as I hate it, there is going to be an element of #notallChristians to this post. I apologize ahead of time. So here are five things I wish atheists understood about Christians:
1. Many of us are part-time atheists
I have been a Christian for about 25 years, and have spent many of those years as a pastor. I’m not ashamed to say that, in one day, I can run the entire gamut from believer to agnostic to atheist and back again. Too often we act like faith and certainty are synonyms, and they’re not. There’s a weakness in some churches to force people to believe with 100% certitude or else their faith—and therefore salvation—is in doubt. Because of this, a lot of Christians are deathly afraid of admitting that they don’t know or that they struggle with belief themselves. Whenever I go to sites where religious debates are raging, I get the feeling that a lot of Christians (and honestly a lot of atheists, too) are trying to argue themselves into or out of faith—I don’t expect anyone to cop to this, however. But a lot of discussions have a “LA LA LA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU” element to it. I was arguing on the side of an atheist friend with a pseudo-crazy Christian the other day, and my atheist friend was PMing me behind the scenes. At one point he said to me, “I was trying to explain to this guy that atheists simply don’t believe in god. Pretty much in the same you you don’t believe in Yosemite Sam. I couldn’t find a way of expressing it without looking like I think you’re insane. Which brought me to a conclusion: I think you’re insane.” Yep. Sometimes I sincerely wonder myself.
2. Many of the voices that piss you off bug me too
The Jesus I follow places a pretty high premium on quiet, humble faithfulness. So it’s no surprise that many of the loud, self-referential, pushy Christian voices that rise to national prominence don’t represent him—or me.
Biblically speaking, Jesus often warned of power-hungry people in religious garb. Whether he was discussing wolves in sheep’s clothing or tares among the wheat, he was very cognizant that everyone speaking on his behalf wouldn’t be representing him accurately.
We don’t all demonize people with contrary opinions
We don’t all hate, resent, or disbelieve science
We don’t all want to impose our idea of biblical morality on you
We don’t all think that atheists lack the requisite belief in God necessary to be a good person or wonderful addition to our lives
We don’t all see every religious discussion as a zero-sum game
My whole platform and blog (JaysonDBradley.com) is built around challenging some of these destructive evangelical traits and building a bridge with people who have a contrary perspective. It can be difficult to stand in the middle and take it from right-leaning, Christian-certainty bots as well as from atheists who want to paint all theists the same color.
3. Many of us believe you’ve gotten to your position honestly
I love religious debate and dialogue, until it starts to get heated and personal. I mean, let’s be honest. We can all sit in a room and have the exact same experience and walk away with a different perspective. I was a staunch and antagonistic atheist when I became a Christian. There was something about Christianity that resonated with the some of the irreconcilable problems I had with my own view of the world. The revolutionary persona of Jesus made sense to me. And, after a lot of heartbreak, wrestling, and change, I am still following this controversial figure. This doesn’t mean that I ignore all contrary ideas and information. I am constantly contending with information and opinions that run contrary to my beliefs. Sometimes I take those new ideas and incorporate them into my worldview, sometimes I change my opinion and overhaul certain viewpoints, and sometimes I dismiss them altogether as untrue or unhelpful. While I recognize that I might be wrong about elements I believe (or everything I believe for that matter), I’m not willfully wrong. I want to have beliefs that correspond to reality. I totally understand that you might not think that’s emotionally honest, but it is. That said, I believe the same thing about you. I don’t naturally assume you’re an atheist because you’re an idiot or a heathen. I don’t think you deny the existence of God because you’re mad at him because your dog died, or because your sister got cancer. I think we have both walked away from the same mosaic with entirely different ideas about what’s happening. I think we could have really helpful dialogue if we weren’t so busy assuming the other was simply suppressing evidence to maintain their ignorance.
4. Many of us don’t see you as an enemy
You are not my enemy and we are not at war.
We are both part of an international community that has a lot of work to do. Our food is coming from the same sources, and we are drawing water from the same wells. We are all struggling with many of the same environmental and social concerns—and yes, this includes religious fundamentalism. I think the tone of our religious debate has reached the point where it’s tribal, entrenched, and only serves to dehumanize each other. And I will be the first to say that I blame a lot of that on theists. The posture of many Christians, Muslims, and other religious faiths has reduced life to a simply binary of good believers vs. bad unbelievers. It’s not only unproductive, it steals attention from real issues that affect us all. When you factor in all the things we have in common, maybe our personal philosophy doesn’t have to be our defining characteristic? Maybe we can work arm in arm to make this world a better place for all of us, and in doing so learn to respect each other a little more.
5. Many of us are very sorry
I asked some theist friends what they would say to atheists if they had the platform, and their sentiment echoed mine exactly, “I’d tell them I’m sorry.” Many of you reading my words right now have had horrible experiences in churches and with Christians. I know because I’ve heard your stories, and I’ve suffered many of the same indignities. Sometimes I read your discussions with people that claim to follow the same faith I do, and their lack of respect breaks my heart. Now, I’m not saying that atheists can’t be arrogant bullies. I’ve had plenty of conversations with nontheists who were obnoxious, mean-spirited, and condescending. It’s not rare to watch an unbeliever make light of things that Christians hold dear and then feign surprise when the discussion turns ugly.
That said, I don’t think the onus lies on anyone but me to keep dialogue respectful. I’m the one that claims to follow a religious leader who says, “Love your enemies and bless those who curse you.” It honestly doesn’t matter how good my argument for theism is if I undermine it by being a dick. Quite often atheists’ frustrations have been earned. They’ve suffered through conversations with theists who have superiority complexes, and glibly toss around words like sinner, pagan, and heathen. I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt that you’ve experienced some ugliness at the hands of the church, and that your irritation is well deserved. On top of that, there’s no end to the ways that religion has been used to control, devalue, and marginalize people. Some of history’s worst crimes have been done for one god or another, or by people who claim to serve their deity. I don’t think my faith deserves your deference or preference—and I don’t expect it. My faith and worldview tells me that I will earn your respect by the deference and preference I give you. You’re valuable whether you agree with me or not or whether you respect me or not. And I am sorry for every discussion you’ve had with any Christian that has elevated being right over being kind. You deserve better than that.
This has been a guest post from Jayson D. Bradley, a fun, friendly and joyful blogger I had the pleasure of connecting with on Twitter. He laughs at my jokes, pops in his two cents in my online debates, and he stands up for what he believes in. He’s also a pastor and a believer with a thick skin and a great sense of humour. He came up with this idea for us to exchange guest posts and I thought it was fantastic. So, you can read mine here. You can read more of his writing, on his blog here. Be sure to follow him on Facebook & Twitter as well.