Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Much Appreciated Gesture

Over at his Better Living blog, Mark Daniels has written a post entitled 'Note from a Former Atheist and Current Sinner/Saint to My Atheist Friends'

it reads as follows:

"It’s not too late to make a fresh start with God."

Take it from one who has wandered from God time and again, God does give fresh starts.

Don't believe there is a God? I was once there myself. I was an atheist. But something (or Someone) incited me to dare to believe. I found myself willing to believe, though I couldn't explain that willingness rationally, in spite of the fact that such belief ran counter to my penchant for utter empirical rationalism and complete self-sufficiency. God, loving and powerful, has been turning my surprising willingness to believe into a deepening trust (faith) in the God made known in Jesus Christ ever since.

If I go to a great movie or a cool restaurant with tasty fare or if I read a book that changes my perspective on things, I don't keep that stuff in. I tell people about them. The same thing is true for my faith. I fell in love with Jesus Christ, God-enfleshed, thirty-plus years ago and I've found God to be incredibly faithful, my relationship with him exhilarating, challenging, and comforting.

Please, consider being willing to believe in God. Just tell the God you're not even certain is there that you're willing to believe and then see what happens.

Then, be prepared to be as surprised as I was and have remained for over thirty years, by all the fresh starts that come your way. Really."

as one of Mark's atheist friends, this is how I replied:

"I can't tell you what a heartbreaking, near-insanity inducing process my attempt to maintain and regain faith was. The farther I get away from it, the better and healthier I feel.

The shift in worldview has been painful and overwhelming at times, but now--as a secular humanist--I feel much more justified (and less defensive) in my beliefs. I also feel a lot more compassion for my fellow man, and have found myself just being good--for goodness' sake--much more often.

I don't know whether or not there's a god, but if there is, I can't imagine that god objecting to where I'm at right now."

Even though the prospect of returning to the Christian religion seems akin in my mind to returning to an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, I deeply appreciate the concern for my well-being and eternal welfare. As Penn Jillette remarks in his oft-used youtube video on the subject of proselytizing, 'how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?'

I agree with Penn, and interpret the witness of Mark Daniels, and all of those other wonderful religious people in my life as an act of love. A willingness to engage in good faith talk about important existential issues--that could certainly cause some social and internal comfort--is a wonderful show of respect. The best way I can think of to reciprocate that expression of respect and love is to return the favor.

I've documented my ascent (or descent, depending on your perspective) from religion here, here, here, and here. It's been a long process that began with an attempt to give God credit for the good things that happen to some while giving him an out for allowing so many inexcusable things to happen to others. This issue--among a handful of others--led inevitably to a view of God that was very close to that of Harold Kushner's: A God that is good, but is not omnipotent. Some other considerations brought me farther away from that point to a deism of sorts, and from there, I landed at atheism as kind of a default state. Realizing that I would now have to create my own value system without the aid of the revelations of a good god, I have adopted the life stance of secular humanism. Things seem to be working out so far. Not being forced to defend claims about things that I couldn't possibly know has been helpful, and it's been a great relief to no longer have to serve as the christian God's spin doctor for some of his less than attractive traits.

All of that as it is, I'm glad that there are people out there who love me and are concerned for my well being. I return their love. I also offer up for their consideration the thought that a life lived for it's own sake, without the need to make and defend unsubstantiated claims, with an awe for the vastness and complexity of 'life, the universe, and everything', a focus on loving your neighbors, your family, yourself, and your community, and with a desire to leave the world just a little better off than it was when you found it, is a worthy enterprise.

As someone much more famous than myself once said, 'there is grandeur in this view of life'.


Willie Y said...

I am not as articulate or as educated as you are Spencer, and lots of the times find it hard to express what I feel about things, like the existence of a God. But I find with your words and how you look at this subject as a voice for me and what I am feeling. Thanks....

Spencer Troxell said...

Thanks, Willie. It's a tough subject, because there is a lot psychologically and emotionally (and socially) riding on where you land in regard to it.

I think it's important to talk about, though. Partially because it has a huge effect on everything, but also because I don't like talking about sports.

Andrew David King said...


As someone who wavers between atheism and agnosticism, I sincerely appreciate these intelligent and emotionally honest posts.

Too many people in the New Atheism movement disclaim any connection to anything remotely resembling a type of humanism, or human elements such as emotions, which may not always be founded in fact but are no less relevant than fact to the human experience. It seems to me that there must be a necessary antidote to both fundamentalist theism, which when simplified purports a sort of submission to the unknown that results in a sluggish and resigned intellectual attitude, and fundamentalist atheism, which seems to reject everything not substantiated or quantifiable by science to the extent that humans are reduced to breathing robots.

I do believe there is a middle ground, and your open exploration of your struggles with faith and very real struggle with the concept of love and morality in a world where morals do not come dictated from a higher power is appreciated. I also believe it is a necessary step for this species--one that many have not taken and are strictly opposed to taking, so you should take pride in having an intelligence that places you among the small percentage of people who are actually ahead of the curve, evolutionarily speaking.

A recent and much-publicized Pew Forum survey indicated that atheists and agnostics know the most about religion, more so than many Christian denominations. Interesting, but not surprising to me, unfortunately.

Anyway, have a good one.


Spencer Troxell said...

I appreciate your comment, Andrew. Thanks for reading!