Thursday, February 6, 2014

Evangelizing Atheism: Good or Bad?

I had a friend confess to me yesterday that he has been trying to believe in God lately.

I am an atheist who is a former evangelical Christian, and that evangelical impulse has never really left me. If I have the truth, goddammit, I want to share it with you.

I didn't find myself sharing my truth with my friend yesterday, however. I found myself empathizing with him. "Believe me, I understand the attraction of believing in God." I said, and left it at that.

Why didn't I follow my old evangelical impulse? Maybe it's because I have softened in my view of the harm a deity-belief can do a person. Religion certainly wasn't good for me, and I certainly don't believe the supernatural claims it makes are true, but that doesn't mean there aren't good things to be found in religion. Religion brings comfort to many. It unites communities. It can carry with it an underlying humanism that is good for all...not that you need religion to obtain these things. Religion is just a convenient package wherein to harvest them.

I am also aware of how difficult it can be to live without religion when one is inclined towards it. It takes a lot of hard work to find your hope outside of a god-belief when you are first leaving religion. It can be done--and it is rewarding--but it is hard.

But I do believe on a fundamental level that mankind will be better off once it finally abandons supernatural beliefs. Belief in God usually leads to belief in the authority of written dogma, and to belief in the hierarchy of a given church. Blindly following authority is dangerous. Handing the well being of yourself and your family over to the authority of a church structure or unquestioned religious belief weakens the spirit. It makes us sheep. I don't want to be  a sheep, personally. Personally I am more sympathetic to wolves.

Maybe some folks are more comfortable as sheep. I don't know.

What I believe a person does when they believe in God is to fashion that God after their own image. Ultimately, a belief in God is either a self deification, or the deification of another's self. If it is a self deification, we invest supernatural authority in our own inclinations, and find scriptural language to back our inclinations up. In the deification of another's self, we accept the god-image created by another person--usually a preacher of some kind--and surrender our own inclination to the fulfillment of that person's ideal. So I guess there are sheep and wolves in the religious realm as well.

What harm does it do me if someone wants to deify themselves or deify the self of another? Well, it makes me sad, although I am more sympathetic to self-deification, although it can be quite insidious too.

On the other hand, I think it is possible to be humble in the pursuit of spiritual truth. The word spiritual, to me, does not require an investment in the supernatural or a church structure. To be spiritual is to be in touch with the emotions of calmness and humility, and acceptance of the passage of time and the occurrence of trials: spirituality is a vehicle in which to  weather the storms of life. It provides a narrative with which to talk to ourselves about the things that cross our path.

Maybe that's all my friend is doing with his god pursuit. I don't know. Is it my business? Probably not.

I am at a turning point in my life. I have just left a job I was very invested in, just began reconnecting with my writing, just began exercising, and am about to start a new job at the end of the month. A lot is up in the air for me. Maybe that makes me more sympathetic to the turning points in other people's lives, and thus less willing to meddle or judge. I hope that when I settle down into my new routine, I am just as introspective about meddling and judging as I feel right now. Right now, I am very much of the 'live and let live' school.

Actually, after writing all of this, I realize that my evangelical urge is leaving me.

I'm glad to see it go.

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