Archive for November, 2007

figuratively speaking

Things that I thought would be fun but actually end up killing my soul a little bit:

  • reading the Christian news magazine WORLD
  • pretending to talk and write like a Christian

Now is the time when all of my final papers and projects are due, all of which must be from a Christian perspective. Before I started I thought, no big deal, I know what the Christian perspective is, and anyway it’ll be kind of fun using words that I haven’t used in a long time, like sanctification, eschatology, spiritual discipline– not to mention the whole language of Wheaton evangelicalism that I worked so hard to become fluent in.

But man, it sucks. It actually makes me feel a little bit ill to have to do this.


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a brilliant analogy

I read things on Christianity Today quite frequently (old habits). This is the best thing I’ve read in awhile. The author is writing about his daughter, who had leukemia and lived because of blood transfusions:

I asked, Why, God? Why is this happening to her? She loves You so much. Where are You?

Then I sensed in my spirit a still, small voice saying: “Here I am, Dean. Here I am.” My eyes focused to the right of her bed. The moon coming in the window illuminated the iv pole, casting the shadow of a huge cross on the wall. “Here I am, Dean.” On the pole was a bag of blood.

In that instant, I thought of the life-giving blood that poured out of Jesus as He hung on the cross. Later I wondered about His blood type. Surely He was O-negative, the universal donor. That blood can save anyone.

Through that long night, as God comforted me, I thought about the three main components of blood—red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets—and considered how they each represent Him.

Red blood cells are like God the Father, the author of life. They bring oxygen, the breath of life, to every cell in our body. White blood cells are like God the Son, our advocate and defender. They fight against that which infects us. Platelets are like God the Holy Spirit, our healer. They are sticky cells that rush to the site when we are cut and form a clot that closes the wound and helps us heal.

I gasped, astonished to see the Trinity so clearly revealed in the blood.

The rest of the article isn’t that bad. But seriously, What?

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I had a normal conversation yesterday.

This is a big deal. I can say with 95% certainty that I have never before had a normal conversation at Wheaton. Normal is something I usually only experience when I leave Wheaton during breaks or visit friends who don’t go to Wheaton. I can’t really define it, and most of the time it’s not until I experience something normal that I notice how much abnormality I’ve been marinating in.

It’s not that atheists are normal and Christians are not, but it makes sense for conversations at a Christian college to not be normal. There is so much pressure for everyone to be a certain way, and to talk in a certain way. I could practically have a Wheaton conversation in my sleep, it’s so formulated. Still, most of the time I don’t feel like people are trying to be someone they’re not.

Un-normal conversations are more than just formulaic.  They somehow feel like they’re going against human instinct.  It’s not just about being yourself; there are plenty of people who don’t act like themselves and but still act normal.  Conversations here just doesn’t flow in a natural way for me, though it may be natural for the other person. It seems like they are somehow trying not to be human, or maybe we are human in not quite the same way. I really don’t know how to describe it.

I had a normal conversation. There was nothing spectacular about it. It was just so… normal.

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reading Sagan

I just finished reading Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience. A great book, it really wonderfully and subtly explains the religious impulse and gives some insight into origins of organized religion, while firming up atheism for me. I haven’t been able to find any Christian responses to the book, but I’m really curious about what they might be. I would love to discuss it with a Christian who has read it.

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I’m writing our of anger and frustration lately, so I won’t be as nice or eloquent as usual. Throw me a frickin bone.

I have a fair number of unflattering opinions regarding Christians in general and some Christians in particular. However, I don’t say it to their faces. I won’t even say it here, both because I think it serves no purpose to offend someone and it’s nothing Christians haven’t heard before anyway. So why, whenever I am in conversation with a Christian about our respective beliefs, can they not hold their damn tongue?
“You might not believe this, but God does love you and you will bow to him one day.” What purpose could it possibly serve to say this to me, that is worth my offense and disgust? Do you honestly think I haven’t heard this a million times before?

Christians often excuse this kind of verbal vomit in themselves and others by saying, “they can’t help it, that’s just what they believe.” Honestly? When has this ever been accepted as an excuse for anyone else with an inconsiderate mouth? First of all, atheists usually don’t shoot off their mouths by telling Christians they’re delusional, etc. in everyday conversation, unless they happen to be someone who makes their living doing so, like Richard Dawkins. Second of all, when atheists do tell Christians what they really think of them, it’s because they are (according to the Christians) arrogant, immature, and sinister. It’s not because they can’t help but express what they really believe about the world.

I have never said anything to demean anyone’s personal faith. I would never consider saying anything along the lines of “I bet you won’t be a Christian in 5 years.” I would never even consider telling anyone that I wish they would become an atheist. I think individuals are entitled to their own beliefs and they’re entitled to base their beliefs based on whatever criteria they choose. Yet these things are said to me in 98% of all conversations that I have with Christians who know that I’m an atheist. (more…)

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I was hoping that this blog could be a place where I could be honest, but that no longer seems possible. Maybe the internet is just not the right place for honesty. For an atheist at Wheaton, there is apparently no place for honesty. I guess I should have known that from the beginning, shame on me for being optimistic. Everything I say is used by Christians as ammunition against me. I listen to the stories and testimonies of Christians day in and day out without a word or a “yay, he’s doubting” thought, but that’s something Christians can’t reciprocate. I can’t talk to people without being prayed for, I can’t say anything good about Christianity or anything bad about atheism without it being used against me as evidence that I’m not a real atheist.

When I listen to Christians talk about their faith, I never doubt that what they’re saying is true for them. I never question whether they actually believe in God or whether Christianity actually makes them happy. I would never even consider contradicting someone’s story about himself. So why can’t people trust the words of an atheist? Why do atheists apparently not know themselves as well as Christians do? Because we’re depraved and don’t know our own minds and don’t know the truth about ourselves, obviously. Maybe I should just shut up and let Christians tell my story for me, since they know me so well.

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I came out as an atheist to one of my professors today. This professor has been a spiritual mentor and role model for me during my entire time at Wheaton, so it was important for me to come out to her. It ended up being a good conversation, but boy was it awkward at first. Actually, it turned out a lot better than I expected, given the less than stellar conversation we had when I was first starting to let go of Christianity.

I think when you spring an unexpected piece of information on a person, you have to excuse the first things that come out of their mouth. I’ve found this to be true with most of the people I’ve come out to. Usually the entire first conversation I have with someone upon revealing my atheism just needs to be scratched out completely, until they’ve had time to think about their reaction and we’ve re-learned how to relate to each other. When you have such a fundamental difference between you, you have to put more thought into your words instead of just saying the first thing that comes to mind. Honesty is still best, but not rash honesty.

As expected, she pulled off several faux pas: the “you’re a Christian, you just don’t know it, etc.,” and everyone’s favorite, “God loves you”. Everybody does that, and most of them should probably be forgiven for it. Overall, I’m glad I told her I’m an atheist. It’s important to me for the significant people in my life to know, especially if they’ve been involved in my spiritual life as a Christian, so it’s not like I’m deceiving them.

I’ve had several spiritual mentors as a Christian, and I’ve been feeling that lack of a mentor since I became an atheist. Mostly because I’m still steeped in Christian culture, I’m still trying to figure out what atheism actually looks like. Maybe I’m just trying to take Christian forms and fill them with atheist approximations, and it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

Atheism is exactly the opposite of a religion, and I keep forgetting that. Maybe because Christianity is the only thing I’ve known, and I don’t know what life without religion looks like. There are atheistic things that can fill the place of religion; things like the UU church, which I have ventured into a little, but I’m not really interested in that. I want to be religion-less. So why can’t I actually imagine a life without religion?

Along the same vein, I’ve been feeling like I want to come out en masse at Wheaton. Maybe I’ve been fattened by success, so to speak, but I’m starting to really enjoy being able to relate to my Christian friends as an atheist and navigating relationships across that boundary. I have momentary flings with the idea of dropping my anonymity, at least at Wheaton (internet anonymity is quite a different thing altogether). Here’s what’s stopping me: I feel like coming out to people other than my closest friends is tantamount to making a commitment to atheism.

I’ve been thinking about why the thought of committing to atheism bothers me. It’s not that I think I’ll back out anytime soon, but on principle there’s something wrong with committing to a thing which, by definition, is the absence of religious commitment. At the same time, I don’t want to qualify my atheism with a lack of commitment and leave myself open to bets on how long it will take to convert me back to Christianity. I just want people to know me as I am: not settled into religion or non-religion, but happy with just basic atheism. I’m happy with my life as an atheist, and I don’t want to keep that a secret. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem capable of just listening and receiving someone else’s story.

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