Ever since I became an atheist, I’ve struggled with the dichotomy between wanting to put Christianity completely behind me and wanting to honor its role in shaping me. At first I thought the demarcation would be easy; I even thought that I could somehow retain partial membership in the cultural accoutrements of evangelicalism. So for a time, my habits didn’t alter much. I continued to listen to Christian music and read Christian websites, keeping tabs on cultural trends.
Leaving a community is a sad thing. Even while I knew that, I didn’t appreciate what it meant to actually relinquish my claim on the culture and community that was the most significant one I had ever known. But it was necessary, because while I was trying to preserve the cultural identity that Christianity had given me, I was really only preserving my bitterness.
So I swung to the other extreme. I wanted to forget everything about Christianity. I wanted to forget the many memorized bible verses that were written in my mind, the mental gymnastics of theology and biblical scholarship that I used to find fascinating. I didn’t keep any of my bibles or Christian books, I deleted the worship music from my ipod, I haven’t stepped foot inside a church—all in an effort to leave behind the bitterness these things evoked in me. That’s also why I haven’t been back to this blog much since I graduated. Now, going back and reading my entries, I am surprised by how desperate, dark, and sarcastic I was.
I’m not that desperate, dark, sarcastic person anymore. And I woke up one morning and had a desire to read to bible. I simply missed the literature of the bible. It contains some of the most creative and evocative constructions of language I have ever read. I no longer feel any bitterness in acknowledging that, and being able to learn from it as I do from many works of fiction.
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Posted in atheism, Christianity on October 20, 2008|
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My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else… I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed. –Richard Dawkins
The quotation is from a debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins in Time magazine (titled “God vs. Science”) a few years ago. I first heard the quotation from Francis Collins himself, who mentioned it in a lecture I attended around that time. He used it as part of an argument for God, but I saw it as the opposite. Dawkins’ words expressed my feelings about religion perfectly. I wanted something more than Jesus, something more than salvation, more than a God with a plan for the universe. I could imagine something more. I knew then, with those closing words of Dr. Collins’ lecture, that I wasn’t the only one. Richard Dawkins could imagine it too. That was the first time atheism entered my mind, and the universe suddenly seemed a hundred times bigger and scarier.
I’ve met both Collins and Dawkins in person, and I have to say that Dr. Collins is the pleasanter of the two. He’s warm and genial, with a twinkle in his eye and a welcoming handshake for everybody. When he talks about Jesus, when he says the name of Christ, it’s clear that he’s in love. He’s one of the handful of Christians I know who radiates their love for God, whose voice bespeaks an intimacy that makes me jealous.
I used to be in love with God in that way. But it was no longer enough for me; the very fact that I could imagine something bigger and better than Christianity had been a clue to me for some time. When I realized that I wasn’t alone, that others had imagined it before me, I decided to leap into the unknown. I dared to dream.
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