Home > Religion > A cold and broken alleluia

A cold and broken alleluia

June 24, 2006

Is everyone able to have faith?  Are there some people who, try as they might, cannot believe in the supernatural, and finally give up?  The answer is ‘yes’, and for an example, here is my own story.

The Question

Over a delightful dinner some months ago, a friend asked me; “So you used to be a minister?”

Yes, briefly, a long time ago.

She had been reading my blog.  “But now you’re like,” she paused, “almost like an atheist?  How did that happen?”

Not ‘almost’ an atheist; I don’t believe in God.  I can’t remember exactly what I told her, though.


It now seems amazing to me that I really believed in God.  But there is a state of mind in which one is trying to believe.  To that end I studied history and bible at a good college in Tennessee, with a psychology minor.

It now seems to me that many people enter the ministry as part of an effort to bolster their faith.  It may partially explain why such a high percentage of aspiring ministers end up selling insurance.  (Other reasons include the well-known tendency of the Christian army to shoot their own wounded).

In college, I studied hard, and struggled with doubts.  Eventually I filled a pastoral internship, and then filled in temporarily for an empty pulpit.  When I married MrsDoF (adopting her infant son) the church quickly terminated my employment.  Effective on the date of the wedding, my services would no longer be required.

In itself, their action didn’t undermine my faith.  I was well aware that not all Christians put the same weight on grace or compassion; it had no bearing on the truth or falsity of God.

I could have looked for another pulpit, or gone into divinity school, but I didn’t.  Instead I attended another church, volunteered to be on committees, taught Sunday school, preached the occasional sermon, and helped out where I could.  I worked various jobs.

Doubt and denial

It could be that somewhere inside, I knew that I could only be a minister by an unrelenting self-deception.  I kept this realization off the table.  But my lifelong fascination with science began to pull up questions I’d been avoiding.

The Earth, I knew, was billions of years old.  I had dug up dinosaur fossils myself, and studied stratigraphy.  Yet many of my fellow Christians insisted our world was 6,000 years old.  This, I knew to be false, but it could be reconciled as metaphor.  On that and many other things I told myself; the Bible is a book of moral and spiritual, not scientific truth.  About that time, I moved to Illinois and began attending a less fundamentalist church.

It worked for a few years.  The bigger problem occurred when I began to read about cosmology.  I’d understood the scale of the universe in very general terms, but when I really started trying to get a clear idea of the proportion of our world to the universe around it… something broke.  And that something was the notion that our world, and specifically one species within it, our species, was monumentally special in all of creation, that God had ONE son, who came to this planet to redeem…

Wait.  Redeem what?  Most of the people I know are really quite decent.  Nineteen out of twenty of them would chase you down the street to hand you a dollar they’d seen you drop.  This is the ‘utterly depraved’ human nature I’d heard so much about?  Yes, people are somewhat self-centered, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Enlightened self-interest calls for a better world, after all.

But the Bible itself was problematic.  Having spent endless hours studying it, researching it in external sources, learning its history, and even translating some of the New Testament from the original Greek, I knew the pretzel logic that was required to say; “No contradiction.”

The world is full of religions; I was practiced at disbelieving all of them except one.  I fought the sense that Christianity resembled the others.

Dishonesty and realization

Trying harder, I dragged my suffering family through the agony of helping a new church congregation get started.  This was whistling in the dark.  If I could have been honest with myself, I would have saved them a lot of heartache.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”, says Proverbs.  But I just couldn’t see it.  This was not a painless realization.  I’d pray, and nothing came back.  Not ‘occasionally’, but for years at a time.  It’s basic psychology that unreinforced behavior eventually undergoes extinction.  I would sing but it was, in the words of the songwriter Jeff Buckley; “a cold and broken alleluia”.

Back at our regular church, I helped out with cleanup days, and led a sermon-response group.  I was on the Peace And Justice committee, which sought to promote what I still believe.  (You want peace?  Work for justice.)

About this time, I developed a chronic muscle condition that meant I was frequently exhausted.  My energy level became unpredictable.  Occasionally, I missed church.  I mean, I really did miss church, because I was very fond of the people there.  But rest became (and remains) something I can’t pass up when it’s available.  And finally, I realized months had gone by without attending.  Sunday really had become a day of rest.


“Agnosticism”.  For me, it was the semi-acceptable label for my doubts.  I didn’t want to cut off the hand that clung to faith.  My two youngest sons were more honest, both with themselves and with me.  They were atheists.

Like my friend at dinner, I tasted the word, “atheist” carefully, weighing its implications.  At length I realized that unlike the position of faith, I actually felt quite comfortable with the notion that there was no God.  The universe made better sense on its own.


Ironically it was C.S. Lewis who provided the key I needed.  In his book Screwtape Letters the elder demon suggests his nephew direct his ‘patient’ to a status of “Christianity and”.  In other words, Christianity not for its own sake, but because it is a means to something else.

“You see the little rift?,” asks Screwtape; “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.”

The key turns, and the lock falls open.  I should not believe Christianity because of its promise to ‘redeem’ me, or really for any other reason but if it were true.  And it wasn’t true.

Christianity was a large collection of claims which, taken one at a time, just didn’t hold up.  Every single one turned out to be the product of some logical fallacy applied through a lens of wishful thinking, to carefully selected scriptures and anecdotes.  It was true only as long as I made it true.  If I stopped, it went away, unlike things that are true, like physics, or mathematics or biology.

Speaking up

I clammed up entirely on religious issues for a couple years.  I certainly didn’t want to undermine anyone else’s faith; what difference did it make?  Other than increasing the amount of pain in the world.  But slowly I realized that in our society people who do not believe in God are subject to a number of rather ugly stereotypes.  In short, we’re evil.

About this time I also became aware of the campaign to demonize gays; to make them responsible for many of the evils of our society.  None of the gay people I knew fit the stereotypes, though.  Many of them had to hide their true selves in order to live peaceful lives – a cruel outcome resulting from a supposed religion of love.

What if they all ‘came out’ at once?  If every perfectly normal, decent gay person just walked down the street holding hands with their partners and just started living openly?  It would be a revolution.  Straight people would see them in a new light, and bigotry falls dead at the feet of familiarity.  The same would apply if atheists spoke up, “came out of the closet”.

“OK, atheists are evil, but not this guy, or that guy.  I know them and they’re atheists and they’re OK.  So not all atheists are evil.  Wait – what about that other guy?  I always thought he was a pretty good fellow and just found out he doesn’t believe in God. Maybe that whole thing about atheists being evil is just a prejudice, unfounded in fact.”

But for that to happen, atheists have to speak up.  So I am speaking up.

What lies ahead

There is a moral and ethical discussion to be had.  Yes, an atheist might come to a different conclusion about sex or abortion or war: this is not a lack of morals but the result of starting from different assumptions.  No real exchange is possible as long as the atheist stays hidden in the closet.

There is a national discussion to be had.  A desire to make our country live up to the secular nature of its constitution is not lack of patriotism; exactly the opposite.  Nor does it mean that atheists should want to interfere with individual religious freedom, for the constitution guarantees that very thing.  It does mean that tax funding of religion must stop, for that too is a logical consequence of the guarantee.

There is a spiritual discussion to be had.  Atheism is not a theory about the soul; it is only a lack of belief in god.  But one might believe that a human ‘soul’ exists, without believing that it outlives the brain.  This is all the more reason to handle with care and compassion the one life we have.  No afterlife will balance the scales: we are responsible now.  This is not a test.

I know some of my Christian friends are rather vexed by the revelation that I no longer believe in God.  This is easy to understand: they’re naturally compassionate friends and they don’t want to see me suffering for all eternity.  I have no way of relieving their anxiety, because it is based on what I believe to be a phantom.

So that’s what happened, friend.  If faith is a gift, I never received it.  If it is a state of mind, I never reached it.  If it is a question, I believe the answer is technically sense-free.  It would be hard to say I didn’t give Christianity a fair shot.

And so

Long habit prompts me to end a sermon or a parable with an altar call, so here it is.  If you’re a Christian, and you’re comfortable in your faith, that’s fine – please try not to let the stereotype of ‘atheist’ get between you and the atheists around you.  Above all, give the US Constitution another read without trying to read religion into it, because it is a secular document.

If you’re not comfortable in your faith, ask yourself; are you doing anyone any favors by faking it?  There’s nobody you need to confess to, no ‘church of atheism’ asking for your donations, but at least try to be honest with yourself.  As Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Imagine a combination of honesty and tolerance.  It is a sturdy foundation of a better world for everyone.


Categories: Religion
  1. Ed
    June 24, 2006 at 13:53 | #1

    Great read, I think your path toward enlightenment was a more painful and frightening process than mine.

    I remember sitting in “Church School” mentally questioning a lot of the drivel we were being fed as grade school kids.  “That must be a metaphor or an analogy, they CAN’T mean that literally!”  Afraid to ask questions out loud out of fear of being recognized as a doubter.

    So I just slowly and quietly slid off the pew, so to speak, and stood up on my own.  During tough times I wanted to believe, but never really allowed myself the opportunity to sink into the mindset of a absolute “Acceptor”.  In time my questioning nature prevailed.

    That’s probably the trait that characterizes most atheists, that they are inherently more curious than most and are willing to challenge the way other people think, as well as their own thinking.

  2. June 25, 2006 at 14:12 | #2

    I always battled with the idea of “Is there a God.”  And I still do today.  When I was younger though, it was much harder for me.  Most if not all of my friends were part of some belief structure, and you were “weird or different” if you were not.  Even though my parents grew up Catholic and went to Catholic schools, my family decided to go to the Unitarian church here in town.  That was nice because we were free to decide what our beliefs would be, they were not dictated to us.  So if you didn’t believe in God, you could still be a Unitarian, though it would be kind of odd.  The persecution didn’t stop there.  I didn’t witness much of it, but I had Unitarian friends that cried themselves to sleep throughout much of Junior High because they were Unitarian, and got made fun of and were going to hell.

    That has always been a problem of mine with many religious groups.  Is that they have trouble with acceptance of others.  Which my girlfriend keeps reminding me that any Christian that doesn’t accept the beliefs of others in not a good Christian.  All I can really say is that, “I wish they saw it that way as well.”

  3. Mina
    June 25, 2006 at 18:18 | #3

    Good read. I was raised Muslim, though I became Athiest when I was 17. I never was all that religous growing up; my mother tried to raise me as religous as she could, but it never stuck (possibly due to being autistic and rather oblivious of the social reinforcement that works so well to keep it passing from one generation to another).

    Then we moved to the United States, and while I wasn’t very religious I still told people I was Muslim, and subsequently got a lot of flak for it. I encountered a lot of christrians that wanted to “enlighten” me, and religious debate became a constant reality in my life. For the most part, it was utterly pointless; no one had a working knowledge of Islam and I spent most of the time correcting very banal assumptions. But occasionally people did point out some valid contradictions, and I’d have to rework my religious beliefs to something more consistent.

    Eventually this happened enough times that at 17 I looked at what I believed and realized that it was absolutly nothing like what I had believed when I first moved to the US. Looking back in memory, it disturbed me how easily convictions would change simply because they weren’t logical; it felt like the whole thing had no real basis and beliefs were mutable exactly because the specifics didn’t matter, only that they eventually supported some belief in God.

    At the time it seemed justified, but it bothered me enough that I started looking into why I believed in God. I essentially came up empty handed; I couldn’t find a premise or starting point on which my entire religious beliefs came from, only that I believed in God and everything else was constructed to support it.

    So I stopped believing, and never told my family. In retrospect it was a fairly clean conversion; entierly philosophical. Some months later I stumbled on a website that was made by former muslims who had converted to Athiesm, and there I found some scathing critiques on the religion. This website alone would have caused me to move away from Islam had I discovered it while I was still religious, but at that point it only put the final nail into the coffin.

  4. June 26, 2006 at 10:50 | #4

    Good words—and I say that as a Christian who has no problems breaking bread with an Atheist who will break bread with him.  (My personal belief is that we will *all* have some jaw-dropping surprises when all is said and done, myself not least of all.)

  5. June 26, 2006 at 17:58 | #5

    Dave:  VERY well said.  I remember that one of my favourite Christians once gave a sermon entitled “Some Judgment Day Surprises”.  I really don’t remember the exact content, but rather the overall theme:  all will be surprised once we pass to the next life.  At least some (if not all) of our assumptions and beliefs will be shattered.

    DOF:  Very well written.  I’m waiting for the rabid rebuttals, but it’s a great pice of writing no matter what.  As you know, I have come a different belief set, but from exactly the same Christian sect.  It has been a wonderful journey (so far) and having you as a companion has been just the best.  Let’s go camping again.

  6. June 28, 2006 at 10:14 | #6

    Thought provoking and eyeopening.  I have printed it out so I may reread and think it through.  Being the mother of an atheist I have already started to rethink my beliefs.  Thank you for this post.

  7. June 28, 2006 at 14:05 | #7

    *Warning…Christian opinion ahead*
    *Another warning: It took me a bit to figure out just how to say things…*
    Yet another note: exchange ‘community’ with ‘church’ at your descretion

    That was extremely well thought out article.  As much as it pains me to read it and see a friend who has gone through so much pain, I wonder how well a better community would have contributed to this situation.  From the sound of it, you were indeed shot by your own troops and I’ve seen and heard of that happening way to often.  For example, nothing pained my dad more and drove him away from the church than when a well meaning pastor friend of his said that he believed that mentally ill people were all just faking it, while the two of them sat in the psych. Ward at our local hospital, where my dad worked.

    If there is anything Post-Modernism and the Emergent church movement have brought to the table it’s the importance of community.  The truth is that community has more to do and is a stronger arm of God’s purposes on this planet that “it” often believes.  Nothing can scar more or deeper than being involved in a hurtful, selfish community of Christians and nothing can be more healing and wonderful and closer to the idea of heaven while you still have breath in your lungs than being in a community filled with people that love you well. 

    In fact, a really good book on the subject whose name escapes me talks about how a church community can bring someone in and nurture them in their faith a long time before they kneel down and pray any kind of “Prayer”.  Unfortunately, a community can also screw you over to the point of turning away from the faith.  For that, I really am sorry. One often wonders why Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “…love your neighbor as yourself”. If you believe in God, the logical conclusion is that he’s big enough and patient enough to work within the confines of someone’s life in his own time.  Our…my goal is to just simply love well and continue being your friend.

  8. June 29, 2006 at 08:31 | #8

    There was an adage that came out of the 1960’s “GOD IS NOT DEAD. SHE JUST DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT”

    I do believe that there is a power higher than that of man. I don’t know what it is but, neither does anyone else. I accept the big boom theory. But where did the matter come from that went boom? The Alpha and the Omega?

    Yes I accept that also. Life is a circle ( and sometimes a circle jerk) and when one dies one goes back to nature where one came from. After all each of us is a mixture of mostly water and a lot of trace minerals.

    But I do not accept that there is a god who is involved in the course of human events or causes floods and hurricanes and burns buildings or kills people to punish them for their sins. I prefer to believe that the only force on this earth is nature and their is not much that we can do to control it. As the other adage says,“It ain’t nice to F%$# with mother nature.”

    Great post. I am going to print it and reread and maybe link it later today

  9. June 29, 2006 at 09:26 | #9

    Wow.  That was an amazing essay.  I have no problems, either, with people finding solace in their “faiths”; it is problematic to me, however, when it enters into governmental affairs, schools, etc.  It should be a personal thing. 

    I was brought up in a Baptist church, very strictly.  I can remember questioning (in my mind, as commenter “Ed” mentioned above) very early on and struggled for a while with it as a teenager/person in their early 20’s.  I finally came to accept the fact that you cannot refute certain things (no matter how hard one might try) and that I was and am and will always be, an “atheist”.  I guess I’m just a “reality” gal.

  10. June 29, 2006 at 09:50 | #10

    I think that man has evolved a belief in a higher power default.  But I know that if we start asking the right questions, and our heads aren’t in the sand, the answers lead to Atheism.

    You raise a good point about the age of the earth.  45% of Americans today are Young Earth Creationists.
    In other words they dismiss science as jibberish in order to believe in a literal bible.  It is these people that create more Atheists by doing this.  A rational person who can separate faith and science looks at these people and thinks that since they are wrong about evolution and the age of the earth, and of course Noah’s Ark, it is very likely that they are wrong about a lot more.
    In fact, Mel Gibson’s Passion movie created a lot of internet speculation about the life of Jesus to come forth.  I wound up looking at this stuff, and now I’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus never existed even as a historical figure, and since that revelation, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the Exodus didn’t happen either.
    The bible is just a bunch of mythological stories, nothing more.

  11. lee
    July 9, 2006 at 14:29 | #11

    “But for that to happen, atheists have to speak up.  So I am speaking up.”

    I couldn’t agree more: Perceptions would definitely change if we all “came out” and lived openly as non-believers.

    Thanks for a great post.

  12. July 9, 2006 at 18:22 | #12

    This is not a test.

    Nope. This is it. This the one shot. The is the only chance we, you, I get.

    Hhmm.. Great post, DoF.  I’ve just cut about 4 paragraphs from this comment, and will probably post them on my own site, linking back here with thanks for a welcome message of hope and reality. It got pretty personal, even for me, so maybe not.

    Regardless, I’m really glad that yours is the first on Ebonmuses’ CotG #44! 

    Thanks. I needed it.

  13. cm
    July 9, 2006 at 19:38 | #13

    I enjoyed your story and sympthasize with it. 

    One little point of information:  The words from the song “Hallelujah” are not those of the songwriter Jeff Buckley, but songwriter Leonard Cohen (though Buckley sang them beautifully).

  14. July 9, 2006 at 20:38 | #14

    Great post. You reminded me of me when you mentioned the role of the Screwtape Letters in your deconversion. You get highlighted when I link to the CotG in a few minutes.

  15. David Harmon
    July 9, 2006 at 21:28 | #15

    I find your story particularly interesting, because it’s oddly opposite to my own, but we wound up in roughly the same place. 

    I started out with Judaism, and passed through Neo-Paganism.  And the thing is, I *could* sense things, indeed I still can.  Worshiping in the synagogue, I could feel a presence hovering over the congregation; Among the Neo-Pagans, I saw a variety of magical effects, and occasionally evoked and spoke with various pagan deities.  Later, I tried shamanic journeying by the methods popularized by Michael Harner (www.shamanism.org).  Again, I had clear journeys, and was able to see and speak with various shamanic spirits.  The problem was, none of these actually seemed to be solving any problems—not those of my co-worshippers, and especially not my own. 

    Now, Harner in particular started out as an anthropologist, and his “tradition” is not attached to any given religion.  In his book _The Way of the Shaman_, he gives many anecdotes and illustrations of shamanic experiences, tells how to reach those experiences—but at no point does he talk about exactly _what_ the shamanic spirits are, or exactly what their place in the world is.  They are simply what you encounter, when you shift into such-and-such state of altered consciousness.  That’s important, because it gave me a bridge between magic and science….

    Over the course of these explorations, I did learn a lot about the limitations of magic and related phenomena, and began to reach various conclusions about the nature of such things.  And I’ve always had a strong scientific background, including a deep interest in the workings of the human mind. 

    Eventually, I realized that they didn’t really need to imply the independent existence of “supernatural” beings—there was plenty of room for all those experiences in the gaps in our perceptions of the natural world, and in the hidden depths of our human minds.  So, I wound up as basically an atheist, despite all the “flashy” experiences.

    So you see, it’s not just a question of whether you can “experience God”, because experience begs the questions of understanding, and of “consequence”—that is, how do those experiences fit into the larger picture, and how do they matter in the world around us?

  16. July 10, 2006 at 09:03 | #16

    Very well told.

    Re your altar call: I’d add my own testimony that the complex mental gymnastics required to accomodate the rather tangled web of wishful thinking and shoddy logic that is that religion felt, well, dirty, really, to me—like telling a lie, over and over, just because everyone else I knew was telling the same one.

    And dropping those pretences, to me, felt like a merely necessary honesty. And, in its way, over time, doing so was eventually profoundly cleansing, profoundly liberating. One less lie, at least, that I was a part of.

  17. mt
    July 10, 2006 at 22:46 | #17

    Gosh, I’m just bowled over with all the amazingly intelligent commmentary I’ve read here.  I wish I had some really profound insights to add, but my story is very similar to most of yours.  Started out questioning the stories taught to me in Sunday school, but ignored my misgivings for years, assuming that “THEY MUST KNOW” what they’re taking about.  It was only after speaking with atheists in college and taking several science courses (Historical Geology, Physics, etc.) that I came to a place where I decided I had to give up the pretences I’d tried to maintain for so long.  It caused my family and friends great distress.  Some refused to talk to me, others patronized me for years assuming I would eventually realize the “error of my ways” and come back to the fold.  Ironically they would listen to me say that I just wanted to know the truth, then encourage me to stop questioning the validity of the Bible and the church’s teachings, and just “accept” that they were true.  To their chagrin I have only become less and less convinced of their version of the truth, and more convinced of the correctness of my decision as time has passed.  Recently I’ve picked up the Bible again and begun reading some of the books I never delved into in my youth.  If I’d only read them as a child – I would have been totally mortified by the brutality and injustice done in the name of god, and probably become an atheist even earlier!  It amazes me how 99% of the Christians I’ve known are totally unaware of the cruelty and barbarism the so-called “Good Book” has to offer.  If they made a movie of it, it would repulse most Christians who believe that “God is Love”.  I guess you have to be very selective when reading the Bible to come to that conclusion.  Anyway, thanks for your very eloquent comments DoF, and the rest of you, too.  It is more comforting to me to read about others who have experienced the same doubts, fears, and predjudices that I’ve experienced, and come to the same conclusions as myself – than to read hundreds of pages of Biblical mumbo-jumbo.  I’m convinced that the only hope for the human race is for people to stop putting their faith in simplistic, intolerant, and hateful systems of belief, and start using their own brains and human compassion to solve the problems of this world.  And yes, I agree – this is the only life we get.  What a shame that millions of people are wasting theirs.

  18. July 13, 2006 at 07:45 | #18

    Thanks for sharing.  Our Blog is dedicated toward debunking Christianity, as you know.  E-mail me and come share your story.

  19. July 16, 2006 at 21:38 | #19

    A huge “Thank You” to everyone!  I didn’t know how the post would be received. 

    Believe me I really appreciate the kind words, and the time to write such insightful comments and personal stories, which make the post so much better.  Truly “community” is a human property.

    Thank you again.  :-)

  20. Jan
    January 27, 2009 at 03:27 | #20

    “But there is a state of mind in which one is trying to believe.” This reminded of how i felt long ago. It was very disturbing for me, now that i confronted it, it felt good. Good read, by the way!

  21. güvenlik kamerası
    February 10, 2009 at 16:58 | #21

    thank you…

  22. Living the Questions
    February 18, 2009 at 16:40 | #22

    Thanks so much for the original post and all the comments. I suggest another term rather than “atheist” It is another term that people think they understand (like Muslim) For that reason I have refused to call myself a “Christian.” Too many people think they know what that means and it does not fit me. Also much of what passes for Christian thought, word, deed is an abomination.

    I suggest the term “non-theist” which I use to describe myself. It raises questions rather than instant judgement. What I mean by that is that I do not believe in the ego in the sky who is the Director of the Universe. We lack evidence that there is a being that is our judging or caring Parent. Even the Puritan divine Cotton Mather in the 17th century declared, “God is not a being. God is Being itself.” Such a god defies definition, but Cotton Mather, like most of us, was inconsistent enough to encourage the witch hunt in Salem, MA (from which he had the grace to later repent – though it was too late for the condemned). A non-theist refuses to identify the projected superego with the mystery that is the Universe or human soul.
    I recommend to former Christians, the work of a young Thomas J.J. Altizer, “The Gospel of Christian Atheism”  I have just retired as a minister in the United Church of Christ and have had the freedom to share the thoughts expressed on this blog with my congregations. I have invited congregants to celebrate communion as a “taking back” of any and all their projections from their own psyche. To own the goodness, power, love, wishful thinking as their own and within them.
    I now attend a Unity congregation with my wife. As with any tradition their is often too much assertion that takes the place of question. But I do appreciate Unity’s focus on experience rather than dogma.
    The arguments against traditional religion including Christianity are well expressed on this blog. I agree that those of us who will not just go along with arrogant assertions to get along with the many who are self-deluded need to speak up to save our pluralistic experiment in democracy. I also agree that a non-theistic spirituality is possible. I turn the title of my fundamentalist father’s favorite hymn from the assertion, “It Is Well with My Soul” to a guiding question for my life, “Is It Well with My Soul’
    The Spiritual life of a non-theist is founded in questions, not assertions. We can try experiments on attitudes, actions, habits etc and see if they “work.” Or, as they say in the recovery movement, “If your god is not helping you, get a new one.” Which is of course what most people do on some level even if it only to go to another church to hear another preacher. As one of the responders to this blog suggested, few really read the Bible. More read what they are told to read with the prescribed interpretation. The stories of the Bible give us so many possible metaphorical descriptions of God as to defy any attempt at consistent prescription.
    A better course is to seek deeper questions than one has struggled with so far. An excellent source of such questions is the book, “Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings” by Rob Brezsny

  23. February 18, 2009 at 21:38 | #23

    I appreciated you comment, Living. It was very interesting. I only had beef with one part…

    Thanks so much for the original post and all the comments. I suggest another term rather than “atheist”

    I have no personal intentions of changing the word I use to describe myself. If people have developed their own stereotypes of “those people” than that is on their conscious and not mine. Now I do realize the power of using such a word so obviously I am careful about who I mention it to. But I shouldn’t have to change who I am just because someone else doesn’t understand. That doesn’t fix the underlying problem. I would prefer to educate that person than say, “You know what, call me butt-buddy”(an obscure South Park reference ;-) by no means a sly remark).

  24. February 18, 2009 at 21:48 | #24

    “Non-theist” is about as good an alternative as I have seen.  And it doesn’t change who you are.  As the saying goes; “A rose by any other name smells just as sweet”. 

    There are times when using another name is a good way to get around stereotypes, however temporarily.  By the time the other person realizes that “non-theist” means “atheist” they’ve already gotten over pre-judging the ungoddy person.

    Reckon I’ll stick with “atheist” though.  Cost me a lot to finally say the word to a mirror.

  25. Living the Questions
    February 19, 2009 at 15:13 | #25

    Thanks for the comments Webs05 and George. Although I think that another term than “atheist” has a better potential for conversation, my comments would have been better framed if I had declared that I prefer the term “non-theist” and given my reasons rather than pushing the term on others. I apologize for the arrogance. Learning always learning……….  When asked if I am a “Christian” I usually say “no, but I try to follow Jesus.” I also remind my questioner that Jesus was never a Christian but rather a liberal/radical Jew. I have found that most “Christians” have little interest in the historical Jesus and his message. They rather are more likely to obsess over an idealized projection of their own superego and the human sacrifice value of Jesus’ death for saving their own sorry ass.  I find that the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ message and life, like the Buddha’s detachment can fruitfully inform my own spiritual quest for soul wellness.

  26. February 19, 2009 at 15:28 | #26

    Not to worry LtQ.  Your comment was framed just fine.  On a scale of Internet arrogance,  you’ve got lots of headroom.  :coolsmile:

  27. February 19, 2009 at 22:39 | #27

    I think I would certainly agree with your interpretation of modern day Christians. And now that you mention I try to follow Jesus to some extent too. But I suck pretty bad at wood-making ;)

    Ditto George on the arrogance. Compared to the trolls that come by here you have a long way to go.

  28. ceuth
    March 20, 2009 at 21:16 | #28

    Wonderfully thoughtful essay, George.  And helpful context for those of us that are atheists.  Thanks for sharing and being a compassionate soul!

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