This is an edit of my original “coming out” as an Atheist several years ago. Since I have not posted for a while, it seemed appropriate as a sort of “reboot.”
It has become an all too familiar question—How can you call yourself a Christian and x? X is usually something that has positively nothing to do with the Christian religion or with overt behavior could classically be defined as “sin.” No, the “x” is usually something like “and vote for Barack Obama,” or accept that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution has held up to immense scrutiny for a 150 years ,” or “propose that maybe removing well-trained, experienced soldiers from duty because they happen to be attracted to members of their own sex.” Of course, all of the above objections are inevitably tied to some conception of an absolute and perfect moral authority, presumably from God. However, this perfect and unchanging authority has proven to be remarkably pliable, not to mention contradictory. It has been used to justify slavery and inspire the abolitionist movement. It has been used to justify misogyny and to tear down racism, held tantamount to patriotism and as justification for civil (and not so civil) disobedience.
And that’s just in the last few centuries. Going back through history, the picture does not get any better. The Catholic Church has only been able to hold itself together by adopting new doctrine and practice every so often, calling into question the notion of a structure that is simultaneously infallible and in need of revision. The Protestants seem to have dispensed with even attempting to reconcile their doctrines, choosing instead to splinter at the slightest hint of disagreement, creating in excess of 30,000, yes, thirty thousand denominations, not counting all of the independent churches with no authority beyond their internal hierarchy. Christians with similar enough beliefs get along well enough at conferences, but it is clear that their respect for doctrines of other Christians, even Christians themselves is directly proportional to the level of agreement on certain points of doctrine, all the while disagreeing as to which doctrines are worth squabbling over–squabbling over squabbling, as it were.
The Hebrew Scriptures are revered as authoritative to the extent that a given passage reinforces a particular notion and ignored as “Old Covenant” when they do not serve the purpose, which, again, calls into question what absolute authority one is appealing to exactly when he claims that no Christian could possible think or say “x.” It only gets harder when one begins to search the doctrines of similar monotheistic religions to find wider disagreement still, despite all claiming to have access to the same universal truth.
All this got me thinking, why does God’s opinion always to match up with the person claiming to speak for him? It seems like something that could be settled objectively, scientifically. If there really is a will of God, why doesn’t anybody seem to be able to demonstrate that they know what it is? Even if it were subjective, like, say the statement that pizza is yummy, shouldn’t most people agree on most issues? Were that politics were so easy! What should we do? What God wants. All in favor? Aye! It’s Unanimous. Let’s go out for pizza and celebrate! But alas, it is not easy.
Likewise, if God inspires superior morality, would not his followers demonstrate superior morality, as defined by their own standards or that of society? It is a hypothesis that has been subjected to rigorous study and polling by believers and secularists alike, and there is no demonstrable, statistical difference between those who attend church regularly and those who do not. Christians are every bit as likely to have been divorced at least once, been drunk or used drugs, to have purchased or viewed pornography, committed adultery—you name it—as anyone else.
No matter what the scripture or doctrine is, people have a nasty tendency to either write scripture that they themselves agree with or, if scripture already exists, to point out the parts that resonate with what they are already thinking. You see, the scriptures do not change people, people change scriptures, either overtly, by writing new ones, or quietly and gradually, but shifting emphasis and attention to whatever point is salient at the time. The reason Ultimate Morality appears to be so elusive is because it is a phantom, held up as some kind of heavenly trump card, “if you disagree with x, you disagree with God, who is right by definition, meaning you are wrong.” This effectively ends all questioning, all exploration and all discussion. But truth cannot be established by fiat. It can only be discovered, which is why universities place so much emphasis on research.
Several years ago, they day came when I could say with absolute confidence and perfect peace of mind that no one needs to ask how I can call myself a Christian and. . .? Nor did anyone have to substitute any trendy new phrase, like “Christ-Follower,” as if changing the words changes the reality. I could finally say what I’d thought for quite some time,it just so happens that I’m not a Christian. I’m not “spiritual.” I’m not a “Christ-Follower,” a “seeker” a “believer” a “theist” or even agnostic. I am also not a “Bright,” or a “None,” or a “Darwinist” (which don’t exist, but the way). I could really do without the labels, and I’m not particularly fond of negative labeling—defining people by what they are not instead of by what they are. Nonetheless, I shall dispense with the rhetorical games going forward.
You may notice that the title of my blog changed and is now under the “tokenatheist” url. I am not anti-religious, merely irreligious. I think church is sometimes interesting and sometimes fun, and that spiritual organizations have a big role to play in our society. I am not about to tear them down. My kids like church and they will continue to be a part of a faith community so long as that is their desire. Their mother and I are doing just fine as an inter-“faith” couple. I’m inclined to think Romans 14:16 is pretty good advice for people of all cultures, religions and philosophies. Nonetheless, I grew tired of living in the closet, playing pretend, going through the motions when no part of me accepted the literal existence of any god, devil, angel, ghost, soul, afterlife or disembodied consciousness. I think the Universe is sufficiently wondrous all by itself and life is what we make of it. I also think religion has a place, at its symbols clearly resonate with people, the stories contained therein telling us as much about ourselves as we could hope to gain from psychology textbooks.
Skepticism, the notion that sometimes asking questions is the answer, has affected me in profoundly and positively, something akin, I’m sure, to the religious conversions others have gone through, when they have their own epiphany as to what ultimate truth is for them. I feel liberated. I no longer have to wonder why I don’t fit it any church, why I feel the need to attend a new one every couple of years or why I have always been more comfortable with skeptics than believers. I no longer have to worry about a bad day being a punishment from God or an attack from the Devil. I have found joy and peace and hope and happiness. I found the confidence to go back to college, something I had been unable to do for 14 years because of stress-related breakdowns, and not only pass and graduate, but excel, making Dean’s list or higher every single semester. Perhaps my atheism is a phase, but if so, it’s a pretty long-lived one. I prefer to think of it as the destination after a very long and arduous journey. In my case, it is science that has brought about a more abundant life, and seeing as how it is the only one that I will ever have, I intend to live it to the full. If that means taking an unpopular path, so be it. At least I’ll sleep better, knowing I have the courage of my convictions. My private and public personas will be in agreement. I will continue to seek out ultimate truth, wherever it leads. I encourage everyone do to the same.