Note: Discerning readers will recognize that the title of this post is an homage to the prologue of The Fellowship of the Rings. I do not mean to imply that Atheists are all secretly Hobbits or that all Hobbits are secretly Atheists, but if any Atheists want to take me to see the Hobbit in a few months, I will not object. Likewise, if any Hobbits want to hang out, that’s cool too. I have much to learn about your ways.
Getting along, then!
I waste a lot of time these days on Reddit.com looking at stupid pictures, reading clever essays, and being generally unproductive. If you have spent more than a few minutes on Reddit’s front page, then you are familiar with the r/Atheism subreddit, and the ::ahem:: enthusiastic folks who congregate there. I have posted a few of my own blog posts to Reddit only to have them torn apart by people who have no use for religion and would prefer to live in a world in which no one else did either. I suppose that the internet is not always the best place for real dialogue with the veil of anonymity and the lack of relational consequence turning normal people into sociopaths. That being said,
Hello internet! Let’s talk about things!
Those who follow this blog and/or know me in non-internet-world should know that I grew up in the Christian Church. My Dad’s side of the family has enough pastors to start the holiest baseball team in New Jersey. On a side note, we would probably be a boring team too. They aren’t a very rowdy bunch. All of my friends were either part of my church or my Christian school. When you are so thoroughly steeped in religion of a certain fundamentalist flavor, a few things tend to happen to a person once they are on their own. Many of my friends stayed with it and generally have the same set of beliefs that they did when they were 15. They seem happy, and I’m happy for them.
Still others graduated high school, went away to college, and were blown away by a seemingly endless amount of new ideas and options. They had always doubted the message they were taught as kids, and now they had a new framework from which to construct a worldview that was no longer in conflict with their innermost convictions. Many of them have now become “evangelical atheists”, constantly trying to convince their friends of the new truth that they had found.
Then there are the friends who found the freedom to let go of the faith of their parents and to just stop thinking about it. If you bring up the topic of religion, they have opinions, but it does not keep them up at night. For them, non-belief seems like a strange thing to rally around when there are so many pressing issues in this world.
The largest group of my peers would probably self-identify as Agnostic or “Soft Atheists” (I love that term, Abra). In my opinion, this is the group of people who are going to eventually purify the Church of its idolatry, and they deserve a place at the table.
More on that in a few paragraphs!
These people have usually been through the religious system with all of its virtue and vice and have decided that they cannot plant their tent in the camp. They are generally a group of people who refuse to accept easy answers purely on the basis of tradition or assumed authority. Phrases like “because that’s what the Bible says” and “just have faith” mean little to nothing to them without any real proof. I am constantly blessed by the thoughtful reflection on important matters that I have gotten from my non-religious friends. Some of the most faithful readers of this blog don’t believe in God!
That still blows my mind.
Jesus’ original followers were pretty un-religious too. The religious leaders of Judea were disgusted by their wanton disregard for their laws and unorthodox interpretation of the scriptures. Jesus’ company was a safe place for people who had questions (Nicodemus, Peter, Mary, etc) but an extremely dangerous place for those who were certain of the truth (Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, the rich young ruler, etc). This is where I think our non-believing brothers and sisters can help the Church out tremendously.
The world around us is amazing. If you are reading this, then you are unbelievably lucky for being born when you were. We are living in an age in which scientists are driving an SUV around Mars, we have identified planets that could contain life, every crumb of knowledge that humans have accumulated over the past 6,000 years is available within seconds, and doctors are using lasers, robots, and particle accelerators to fix our bodies. A byproduct of our newly found interconnectedness is a widespread dispersion of truths and information that makes the Renaissance look like summer camp. Students no longer have to take their teachers’ word for it when they can pull out their phones and fact-check on the spot.
The world is becoming more skeptical, informed, and independent. No longer are clergy respected because of their position. Anyone who would claim authority must first earn it. Meanwhile, the majority of the American Church has not gotten the memo. Society is in 2012, but Sunday mornings still take place in 1945. Hearing Christians deny evolution is getting embarrassing, and something needs to change.
So, here is my challenge to all of my religious readers. Love like an Atheist.
Christians are good at loving people because Jesus told us to or because we want to spread the love of Christ, but when an Atheist loves someone, they are not doing so out of obligation or to gain a reward. We should also be known for loving people for no good reason. Our entire faith is based on a God who loved us for no reason!
Secondly, ask questions like an agnostic. For many years, I had a faith that was based on a faulty foundation. It was like a house on stilts at the shore. The wooden supports had become rotten and weak, but I continually nailed supports to them for fear of losing them. My belief system had become my God. It was only after I let myself give it all away that I found what I was looking for. If you do not have the freedom to say, “I don’t believe in God at all”, then you will never find God. My beliefs are not my foundation anymore. My God is my only foundation, and no shifting doctrines or archaeological discoveries can shake that. Agnostics are not afraid to ask questions of previously held beliefs. Nothing is too sacred and untouchable to be questioned and reevaluated. Newton thought that he understood gravity pretty well, but the more we dig into the universe, the more we realize that we don’t know!
Dear Atheist/Agnostic friends and family, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your relentless pursuit of truth, beauty, and goodness. You have no idea how important you have been in my life and my soul. If the Church had this kind of freedom of belief and inquiry, we would be a better planet for it. Honestly, I think that the Church is coming out of a long period of idolatry in which we worshiped our doctrines, theologies, liturgies, scriptures, and traditions while ignoring the movement of the Spirit. We need to remember what it was like in the Early Church when we had no idea what we were doing or where the Spirit was leading. The future seems exciting, and I plan on enjoying it.