It is not written to a specific person, but rather to a compilation of many people whom I love and who have deeply held beliefs that are different from mine. I use the term atheist, but it could just as easily have been a person who passionately holds any belief system that is different from mine, be it religious, educational, political, or nutritional. We have become such a culture of critics and--to use a technical term--side-takers. This is my attempt to offer a better way.
To My Beloved Atheist:
I read the following phrase yesterday:
"There's plenty of space here for differences and disagreements, but I will not save room at the table for aggression or harassment, I won't respond to condescension."--Jamie Wright
I almost shouted, "YES!"
Yet here I go, about to respond to condescension, albeit unintended. I respond not to win an argument, because I don't believe I can. I am not intellectual enough nor self-assured enough to match wits with you, and we both are too deeply passionate about our beliefs.
My kids' logic book would classify it as a stupid argument: one that cannot be won because neither party can be swayed. First of all, the key point of difference in our beliefs is one that cannot be empirically proven. I can show you scientific reasons for why I believe there is a Creator, and you can give me scientific reasons why you believe there isn't. However, I cannot PROVE to you there's a God, and you can't PROVE to me there isn't. So why fight about it?
I don't want to.
I would, however, like to invite you to take a peek at my perspective. Whether it is right or wrong is not the point of this conversation. It is just my perspective, and I'm not sure you've ever considered it.
When you proclaim your beliefs, it is often from a stance that feels very confrontational, with the implied suggestion--if not declaration--that anyone who disagrees is an idiot. Or delusional.
I know you love me and would never tell me to my face that I am a simpleton. Yet you ridicule my beliefs to rooms full of people with me standing there; you shout your disdain across the Internet, knowing I'm out there somewhere, living a life based on what you mock.
You don't mean to say that I am stupid. Just people who think like me.
It doesn't offend (okay, maybe it does); mainly it hurts.
I know, Christians can be just as gifted at condescension as atheists, as can passionate Republicans, Democrats, vegans, gun owners, or gun-control advocates... you get the picture. Maybe we all have surrounded ourselves so completely with like-minded people that we forget that not everyone is like-minded, and so we scorn some imaginary "others" whom we never consider wounding because they are a caricature, not a person.
I don't know.
I do know we all need to be nicer, and put a real face to that other, that fool, we are ridiculing. So next time you feel the urge to speak or write something belittling Christians, I would like you to picture my face, and write as if you are saying it about me.
Because you are.
While I don't want to argue whose beliefs are RIGHT, I do think it's helpful to listen more than we speak. Even more, we need to listen to understand, not to simply to respond. I would be happy to share with you why I believe what I do, if you are ever curious and think you could listen and be open to the possibility that a person can be rational, sane, and even intelligent, and yet arrive at a different conclusion than you did. I would also love to hear what reasons you have for why you believe as you do, and with such passion. You're very clear about what you believe, but I don't feel like I know what led you to your set of convictions.
If we could let go of the need to convince one another long enough to hear each other, it might be a beautiful conversation.
The other point I'd like to offer some perspective on is one of motives.
You are often rather evangelistic in your proclamation of your beliefs. Whether you intend it or not, when you forcefully pronounce the superiority of your faith in no god, I feel very much as if you are trying to convert me, to get me to renounce my faith and turn to yours. Any why not? Christians are pretty enthusiastic about converting others to their faith. It's only fair.
Except here's the question I have always had: Why is it so important that I don't believe? If you convince me, how is that better for me?
If I understand correctly, you believe we are products of chance, life is what it is and nothing guides or influences it other than the actors in the play. We are on our own. Let's even assume you are right about this. How does it benefit my life, how is it better for me to believe it? I can cling to my very satisfying delusion and when my life is over be none the wiser. Delusion or not, if there is no God, and this is all there is, then I'll be too dead to be disappointed if I'm wrong.
On the other hand, if I concede that you are right and reject my faith to believe as you do--I will have turned away from my hope, my purpose, my meaning, and my joy. Sure, I have might been wrong about it all, but what difference will it make in the grand scheme of things? If what you believe is true, why do you feel the need to convert me--particularly if my "delusion" encourages me to love others, live humbly, give generously and fight injustice? It doesn't feel like your motives are loving if you would take that away and offer nothingness in return.
Now humor me and try to imagine I am right. Remember we're not debating if I'm right or not, we're going for understanding of my motives. Suspend your disbelief for a moment and pretend that what I believe is actually the truth...
What I believe is that we were created to be in relationship with a holy and loving God. Consequently, it follows that by not believing, you are rejecting him and missing out good things. Ultimate things, actually, and I want good for you. Furthermore, I believe that this life is not all there is, and that if you reject God during this lifetime, there are pretty serious and eternal consequences--the very least of which is spending forever with no way to feel love, joy, or satisfaction--and acutely, eternally aware of the loss.
So think about this: even if that is impossible to believe, can you at least appreciate why it would be important to me to let you know about what I believe? Can you see that even if it makes you uncomfortable, or embarrassed or annoyed, the motive behind the sharing of my faith is a loving one? If I love you, and if I really believe what I say I do, then I'd have to be some kind of a jerk not to at least try to make you aware.
In fact, I should probably apologize for not trying harder.