Stuck in the Middle Is Me

My disallusion with atheism continues to grow.

It offers nothing, and in no way do I find it fulfilling. I used to. When I left religion, I took to atheism like a creamy peanut butter takes to bread.

Within just a few weeks of that change, a cousin of mine reached out and said I needed to chill a bit — he appreciated my change of heart, but didn’t like that I was being as zealous as I was, exactly as I had been before as a Christian.

For the first few years, I was mostly an atheist in… whatever the opposite of an echo chamber is. My social media sphere was primarily composed of Christians, a good deal of them having stuck around through all of my zealotry, for which I will always be grateful. I’m sure I’ve lost some by and by, including a formerly great friend of mine — miss you, Glenneth.

Over time, I added a slew of people whom I assumed were atheists, based on mutual friends or obvious markers on their profile. My Facebook feed and influence started to change from ordinary people posting about ordinary things — with occasional “God stuff” mixed in — to ordinary people posting about things which were largely new to me. A lot of these people sure do love their drugs — I hate to say it, but it often showed in how poor their arguments against Christianity are! — and openly posting about sex and such on social media. So edgy. Very cool.

It all felt so childish, but I persevered. I felt like exposure to this new sphere of people was a solid balance for what I had been accustomed to since first joining Facebook and greatly broadening my social sphere back in 2007. (In real life, away from the keyboard, I’m content to keep my circle small!)

I posted a lot about atheism. Or rather, I posted a lot about Christianity. Negatively, of course.

What I wrote largely came from my own thinking: My education is in theology, which I gobbled up during (and even after) my time as a Christian. I understand Christianity, and therefore I could point out its flaws once I dropped the pretense of God’s existence.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been frustrated by someone telling me I’m just parroting popular atheists like Richard Dawkins. Truth be told, I’ve read very little atheist propaganda — I have some in my library, but most of it that I have read was… well, hollow.

The same points get rehashed. The same problems are pointed out. Everyone assumes they know better than the Christians — and ah beans, maybe they do.

My dad on more than one occasion questioned why I was asking for certain books because it was clear I already knew the subject matter and wouldn’t get anything worthwhile from the book. I should’ve listened, Dad!

Well over a decade ago, I attended an Answers in Genesis conference where the man Ken Ham himself gave a presentation on the creation/evolution divide; I was fully fundamentalist Christian at the time, so I was lapping his words up like a dog at a bowl on a hot summer’s day. So impressed was I that I dropped scores of dollars on a collection of Answers in Genesis books, mostly by Ham.

What I found over the years as I found time to read through them was that they were very repetitive, and where they weren’t being repetitive, they were utilizing filler material to pad out the page count (what does the homosexuality have to do with the validity of evolution? well, nothing, but it gets a whole chapter in at least one of those books).

All these years later, I don’t remember most of what Mr. Ham said on that stage, but one thing stuck with me: there’s no convincing either side — at least, not if they take their sides seriously.

An atheist starts from the presupposition that there is no God — this presupposition is rational, of course, due to the lack of apparent evidence of God’s existence.

A Christian starts from the presupposition that God exists — they know God exists because they have faith in him, faith which itself is said to be a gift from God enabling the belief in the first place.

Mr. Ham described this as wearing differently tinted glasses, causing people to see the world in different ways. This is the case anywhere there are great divides between ideologies: a libertarian would oppose government handouts because they are operating on the presupposition that taxation is theft and that their money ought to be theirs to do what they want with; meanwhile, a democrat might be all for the handout program because the overall good outweighs the tax impact.

For an atheist, it’s a problem that the Bible records what Jesus prays when he’s alone in the garden. For a Christian, God inspired — “breathed out,” or said — the words of the Bible, which men then wrote; God knows all, so there is thus no problem with the Bible recording what at the time was private.

For an atheist, the Earth is billions of years old, and its water came from comets. For a Christian,1 the water… also came from the sky, as the fountains of Heaven were opened.

Different lenses. Somehow a similar explanation.

I’m bothered by the vitriol that exists between people. In the United States and across my social sphere online, that vitriol is between Christianity and atheists, conservatives and progressives. Our views on science/religion, evolution/creation, traditional family structure/LGBTQ+ freedom, abortion rights/forced birth, secular education/forced prayer in school, and so on.

And we all have that family member who makes things awkward by bringing up the wrong topic to the wrong people at a family gathering.

I think I used to be that person. Matter of fact, I know I was. When I was a Christian, I was the type who cared more about being right — after all, truth was paramount — and I didn’t put much thought into how my actions impacted other people. On more than one occasion, I clashed with both my parents when they’d call me out for how dumb I was being. Shortly after being gifted a (in retrospect) pretty rad study Bible in the New International Version by my brother, I loaded up a suitcase with books, notes, and pamphlets with the express purpose of visiting him and convincing him that the King James Version was the only one worth the paper it’s printed on. (Yeah, I’m super fun at parties, folks.)

And don’t get me started on how antagonistic I was toward the Pride community on various platforms online — including this one (the archives here are… not highlights of my proudest moments).

When I left Christianity due to the sudden and seemingly irrevocable loss of my faith, I discovered an anger against who I had been, against the harm I may have done “in the name of Jesus,” and against the system (Christianity) which made all of it possible and which, I believed, justified it.

So I swung like a pendulum to the complete opposite side and became “that atheist,” taking every opportunity to point out how religion just doesn’t line up with reality and so God must not be real and how everybody should be atheists and so on.

I guess the one positive there is that most of this took place online; I actually became a little more soft-spoken about my beliefs in person — and I’m not entirely sure if that’s due to the fact that atheists and progressives are very much a minority in my fairly Right wing community or what.

Aside from me being a jerk to people I claim to care about, there has been a few constants: I’ve always meant well, even if I’ve been unfortunately overly antagonistic with that, uh, wellness.

And I’ve always been encouraged by people I care about in a specific way: I’d have made a good preacher (as a Christian) or a good teacher (as an atheist).

If someone wanted to pay me $20+ an hour with benefits, I’d love to find out just how true that could have been… After all, I do want to teach, and you’d be positively surprised just how much I preach. Of course, it’s all stream-of-consciousness preaching over whatever I feel passionate about at the moment… to myself while I drive alone to and from work. It helps me organize my thoughts a bit, and well, it’s fun.

I feel sympathetic toward the idea of Christianity. I don’t know why, and any attempt I could give to explain it would be feeble. I know how to argue against it, to recognize what surely must be the follies of faith, and yet I find myself these days doing my absolute best to encourage Christians not to give up the faith because science–logic–whatever but to embrace the object of their faith, Jesus, and to heed his words carefully.

Theologically speaking, I guess I could say that I do not possess the gift of faith, but what I do believe is that this world would be better with more Christians taking their faith seriously, bearing in mind that a serious Christian faith is one which takes Jesus’ words seriously such that believers would live a life filled with love, forgiveness, and charity.

Imagine it, if the world’s two billion Christians one day woke up and decided they no longer needed church buildings and so converted them all into shelters — for the homeless, for women, for refugees, for whomever needs a safe space. Imagine if every Christian woke up and decided that “church” meant meeting in each other’s homes and feeding each other fellowship meals and then ensuring every need is met before walking away for the day, thereby wiping out debt, hunger, and other problems among believers fairly rapidly. Imagine if they all woke up and decided hunger and homelessness were afflictions that they not only are told to face head-on by Jesus but which they can and will fix.

I realize I say that as an outsider; just two paragraphs ago I admitted to not having faith. Christians, then, have a get-out-of-listening free card in that they can claim everything I’m saying is wrong because spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned and someone who is dead in their sins obviously cannot operate on a spiritual level.

I realize all that, and yet I persist, with the hope that maybe someone somewhere listens. Maybe someone somewhere does decide listening to what Jesus demanded is more important than worrying about who marries who, who uses what bathrooms, or any of a number of other things which Christians somehow get caught in worrying about.

Maybe Jesus was right about another thing: the conflict isn’t between believer and unbeliever, but believer and “believer.” After all, look at how Jesus treated regular people: he fed them and asked for them to be fed. He forgave sinners. He reached out and lifted up. But faced with the “believers” of the day? He called them out on their hypocrisies, overturned their tables, and antagonized them to the point that they conspired to have him killed.

Where are the believers taking up that mantel today? Where are the believers teaching believers effective ways to cross the bridge with unbelievers? Speaking as someone who has spent the past decade and a half as an unbeliever, no one is mocking the Christian who lives the life Jesus demanded: feeding the hungry, helping strangers, fixing homelessness, visiting the sick, and so on? Those are noble pursuits! No, what gets under the skin of unbelievers is everything that too many Christians fill their time with: trying to disrupt education, leaving gospel tracts (in other word, litter) here and there, trying to enforce their mores on the rest of society, trying to control what women can and cannot do, getting together for Sunday meetings that look less like fellowship and more like top-down cult indoctrination, and more…

Where are the believers teaching believers to be not just hearers of the word, but doers also?

I’d love to meet some believers who think similarly to me. I’ve often said that the world needs two things: better humanists and better Christians.

I know I’m not the right person to try to teach this stuff. If you are, let’s talk.

  1. At least some types of Christians, anyway. ↩︎

3 thoughts on “Stuck in the Middle Is Me”

  1. I don’t remember saying that to you, but I’m glad you figured it out.

    When you were deep in the Christian Fundamentalism (to my dismay) a Salvation Army Captain I knew told me “If he continues to seek God with an open mind, he will find his way.” (Or words to that effect.) So, when you found your way to atheism, I thought “Wow. She knew what she was talking about!” But your atheism was just as fundamentalist as your Christianity. You’ve been mellowing since, so the Captain’s words still ring true.

    There is a reason I am agnostic. Yes, partly because I would like to think that maybe I will continue to exist after death (I don’t expect to, but I say to myself, as I often say to others “the universe is not constrained by the limits of your imagination.” But also because we all must find the path that works for us. I am sure there is no shortage of Christians who believe in love, compassion and forgiveness and that we are all family. I know a few. (I would probably know many more, but I don’t get out much.) I’m sure those Christians believe what they believe because it works for them. Who am I to tell them they are wrong? Maybe they are right.

    In the past several months, I tried to get your uncle to go to church, to attend the service (instead of the bible study), to go to his knees and pray to Jesus for help. I think I was begging him the last time we talked. But he didn’t and so he couldn’t solve his problems.

    People need an anchor. Some find that anchor inside themselves. Others find it in a God. Personally, I think we all find it in ourselves and religion is just a doorway to that. People who believe in Jesus would no doubt say I’m wrong. Maybe I am. But it is world view that works for me, that allows me to find the anchor within.

    You mention that maybe you would have made a good preacher. I’ve had two ministers (the Captain being one) tell me (knowing my agnosticism) that I would make a good preacher.

    Life is a journey. Sail on!

    p.s. the second footnote is missing.

    1. You know, it’s always been a little amusing to me that our middle name means “clergyman.” Coupled with our first name meaning “great leader,” and even our names say we’re “great preachers”! (Then again, this can vary greatly depending on which names dictionary you use, I’m sure… Sometimes I get the feeling that those “name meanings” books and sites are making stuff up as they go!

      1. I was unaware (or at least had forgotten) that Clark meant “clergyman.” This does make a bit of sense. As I’m sure you are aware, Clark is the last name of my maternal great grandparents. I’ve always been under the impression there were (are?) a lot of ministers on that side of the family.

        It was Great Grandmother Clark who told Grandmother Edna that it was no reason Anna couldn’t marry a Catholic. So Edna reluctantly went along with it. Presumably, that is why Mom and Dad gave me the Clark name. Interesting that they had not done so prior since they were kind of hoping there would be no more children. I suppose they considered it to be a male name and the oldest son was reserved for JFB III.

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