Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Atheists who are Better at Christianity than Christians

So I found this video a while back. It's from a series called Have a Little Faith and it's syndicated by a YouTube channel I really like called SoulPancake. The host, Zach Anner, is a really enthusiastic guy and I think he has zero qualms about asking wild questions of individuals who represent various belief systems. The video itself is from his visit to the Sunday Assembly, which is an Atheist community in Los Angeles.

From what I saw in the video, I concluded that this particular group of Atheists are interested in fostering the well-being of its members, fostering a sense of community (by eating together and hosting other activities) and they are also particularly interested in civic engagement. These areas of interest reminded me of something I wrote previously about living as Easter people. It seems like this group of Atheists are quite adept at living as Easter people, even though they don't believe in what Easter is. But regardless, it seems that the Atheists in this Sunday Assembly are more loving and compassionate than most Christians, who are supposed to be identified by their love and compassion.

Another individual who I have been following with particular interest has been Alain de Botton. De Botton has established an organization in London called the School of Life. This is another place where people who are not inclined to believe in a divine presence can go for something that certainly looks like worship... but isn't. I first encountered de Botton in the TED talk that he gave and I must admit that I was less than enchanted by the ideas that he presented. But then he turned up again in an interview conducted by Krista Tippet on her show On Being and I began to realize that when de Botton says that he's interested in showing and teaching morality in an era where religious education is not a given, he's telling the truth. And I think he's farther along the curve than most Christians in that regard, since many Christians would like to see Sunday School as a required course in life, but it really is less and less of a given.

These two organizations, the School of Life and the Sunday Assembly, I think are evidence to prove that not all Atheists are horrible, amoral people. In fact, I would take these examples and say that the vast majority of Atheists are actually quite upstanding, responsible citizens, no matter where they live. And I know that that is a statement which will anger many Christians. To which I respond: get over it. Christianity is no longer the dominant voice in morality. Going to church on a Sunday morning is not longer a given. And yet there are still people with good hearts who see to the needs of the poor, the marginalized and the disenfranchised. And not all of those people learned how to attend to those needs in a Christian church.

At the same time, I have lately been watching a lot of individual Atheists online who do criticize religious people for small-mindedness and a tendency to ignore scientific evidence. When I encounter individuals like this, I try to understand why they do what they do. And I have found that there are hosts of reasons that they provide and I suspect that there are more reasons that they do not provide.  And the hate and vitriol that they post online makes me sad and it makes me angry. Then I remember the Christians that spew their own hate and vitriol using the name of Christ and I truly begin to despair. Why is it that we can't be more interested in making alliances and helping each other, rather than tearing each other down for our own sense of betterment?

Truth be told, I get angry when I hear Atheists online who lump all Christians together and criticize us. I get angry because not all Christians are like that. But then if I'm honest and give the same dignity to Atheists, I must remember that lumping them together and complaining about them as a group has no more justice in it.

So what am I trying to do? I am trying to find the people who are willing to be honest. I am trying to find the people who will whole heartedly show who they are, knowing full well that they may be beaten for it, but galvanized not to strike back.

I know the objection to that may be "why would anyone be willing to do that?" And my honest answer is that I'm not really sure. I have some ideas, but I would rather share experiences and show off scars than put motives in someone else's head and words in their mouth.

I'm tired of fighting against the hostile and contemptuous people in the world. But I need to keep doing it because I'm looking for the people who are looking for a safe harbor; the ones who just want to talk to somebody who will listen and say "that sounds really tough. Are you hungry? I have some food to share. Are you thirsty? I have something for that too, somewhere around here..." I'm not interested in beating down people. I'm interested in finding the hurt ones and making alliances with those who understand and want to help me in what I'm doing.

I know that these kind of people exist. The Sunday Assembly in the video are one such group of people, it seems. And I so are the people in the School of Life. These are people, real people, who value personal well-being and compassion toward others above proving the non-existence of God.

So I don't think I have a conclusion that I want to give you in this blog. It has been a hard one to write because there are so many emotions wrapped up in it. However, I want to be a bridge builder between groups of people, so that is what I will try to do. I want to encourage people to work together, rather than work to tear people apart.

Will you help me to build bridges?

From Randy Lyhus Illustration