Monday, April 25, 2011

Not a Christian

I was raised to be a Christian. I was taught that, to be a Christian, one has to believe that Jesus was God on Earth, manifested in human form, and that because the human Jesus was killed and then rose from the dead, humanity would be allowed to go to Heaven when the Day of Judgment comes. And that meant that the kindest, most loving, most compassionate person would be denied Heaven if he or she didn't believe in Jesus' divinity, while a person who had committed horrible acts against humanity and the environment would be welcomed into Heaven. What Jesus's activities may or may not have meant wasn't the point - that he was miraculous, and that I believe that he was supernatural - that's all that was needed to be called a Christian.

You know that poster in Mulder's office of the flying saucer and the words "I Want to Believe"? That's how I felt growing up, about Jesus. I wanted to believe. I wanted to feel The Presence. So I did everything I was supposed to do in order to believe: read the Bible, went to Sunday school, went to church, went to Vacation Bible School, and on and on. I even got baptized, thinking that that action would, at last, give me The Feeling, the one I kept hearing about. Because, you know, I wanted to believe. I wanted to be like everyone else.

But everything about the definition of a Christian felt wrong to me, wrong to my core. Since what was supposed to give me comfort made my profoundly disturbed, I would literally ask, out loud, "Jesus, come into my heart. Save me." And absolutely nothing would happen. I would stand in churches and have all these people around me saying they were feeling something that I wasn't feeling, and had never felt. I felt profoundly left out.

That's why I say I was born an Atheist. It wasn't like one day I believed in an invisible, all-knowing friend and one day I didn't. I never believed. I wanted to believe, and for the first 14 years of my life, I did everything I could so that I would believe. But I finally decided to embrace my lack of belief. And with that embrace came a feeling like a hood being taken off my head.

So.... here's what I've wondered since then: what do you call a person who believes a man called Jesus may have existed, that he was not God, not supernatural, but merely a human, a radical Jew, that he had a lot of suggestions for how people should live, and that his teachings about loving other people as yourself, not being judgmental, not being materialistic , etc., were not only radical ideas for the time but also are ideas modern people should consider in thinking about current ethics and values? What do you call a person who doesn't believe the Bible is a literal history, who doesn't believe it is a collection of factual statements, but rather, believes it is a collection of narratives that document the human authors' beliefs and feelings at the time of the writing (and rewriting... and rewriting), and that reading it can give insights into how people long ago thought and lived? What do you call a person who thinks that, amid all of the racism, sexism, violence and promotion of these vices in the Bible there are also some advice for living and some universal truths that people should consider in thinking about their current ethics and values? What do you call a person that dismisses all of the supernatural elements of the Bible but not the wisdom it offers?

A thinker. But not a Christian.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A quote for Friday

I’ve begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It’s there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There’s no mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same rate.

Attributed on a variety of Web sites to George Carlin - US comedian, satirist and free speech activist, but I cannot find the citation to where he actually made it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How Do Atheists Absolve Themselves of Guilt?

Great blog recently: Ask The Friendly Atheist: How Do Atheists Absolve Themselves of Guilt?

"A person (who is) conscientious... will not become dissolute, depraved and degenerate, casually and blithely forgiving yourself for awful things without a proper effort to self-correct." Not all Atheists are conscientious, just as all Christians, all Muslims, all Hindus, all Jews, etc. are not. But most Atheists I know try to be - I know I do. And I'm out-of-control on the whole self-correcting thing...

What drives my desire to be conscientious? The knowledge that, when I am, I'm happier. Simple as that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Students: start your own atheist group at school!

Would you like to start or help start an secular student group on your campus? The Secular Student Alliance has a free Group Starting Packet. They also offer legal assistance for individuals and groups who face opposition in trying to start a secular student group.

The Friendly Atheist has a nice highlight of a recent New York Times article that profiles a secular group at a Florida high school.

I would have loved such a group in high school! My high school was anything but welcoming for nontheistic students. Teachers were okay, but my fellow students wouldn't hesitate to condemn me for my questions. Participating in common school functions often required me to participate activities contrary to my values, like the Pledge of Allegiance or event invocations. I had no idea how to say no. Such a club would have helped me know I wasn't alone, and how to handle those let-us-pray moments in a simple, non-confrontational, polite but firm way.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Atheist at the Funeral

Most humans need rituals. I do. Weddings, funerals, baby showers, graduations - these are highly symbolic events that give us a very public outlet for emotions, something most humans very much need. I appreciate that outlet, as do most Atheists.

I recently attended my beloved grandfather's funeral, and while I didn't at all mind that it was officiated by three Christian ministers - he was a religious man, from a religious family, it was entirely appropriate - I did mind his minister opening his remarks with, "We are gathered here today, as people of faith, to..." I sighed and stared at the flowers.

If someone says something to me one-on-one, or in a small group, that implies I'm a Christian, I will correct them. It makes people uncomfortable, no matter how hard I try to be nice about it, but I have to do it - I have to be honest. To not say anything is dishonest.

But in that moment at my grandfather's funeral, there was nothing to do but sit quietly and have my own private, internal tribute to my grandfather for a while, until words were said that made me feel welcomed to be there.

It's not the first time this has happened: I attended a Catholic wedding where the Priest said repeatedly, "We are gathered here as Christians to..." and "Now, let us bow our heads, as Christians, and pray for..." He not only made the Atheists know, in no uncertain terms, that they weren't supposed to be there, he also made sure the two Jewish couples in our row would also feel profoundly unwelcomed.

I have no problem with religiously-lead ceremonies, but I do have a problem when religious leaders assume everyone at a ceremony is a person of faith - and even the same religion. The idea that Atheists have compassion or want to show public support for people they love is beyond their understanding. I don't know how to change that - but it most certainly needs to change.