Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ask the Atheist

Sometimes I play this game I like to call “Ask the Atheist.” It always starts the same.

A former church member, or friend of a friend, or acquaintance writes me about how they had heard I was an atheist, and they always wanted to question an atheist. I don’t mind. About three years ago, I would have been doing the same. Surprised, questioning, curious, and a bit fascinated to actually talk to a real, live, honest-to-goodness atheist.

Like finding that proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We always heard of such things, just never have seen any. Invariably, one of the first questions is, “Do you mind talking about God?” It’s not very nice, but I admit I always chuckle when I read this. I blog in two places about God. I read resources every day on the issue of theism. I have debated on four or five specific forums about God. I read the Bible every single day. Mind? Not at all.

And then a few questions. The usual suspects:

“How can you believe the earth came about by pure chance?”
“What keeps you from doing whatever you want?”
“How do you get around prophecy fulfillment?”
“Since there are no proofs against God, aren’t you an agnostic?”
“Science has been wrong before, how can you rely upon the scientific method?”
“What would it take for you to believe in God again?”

Again, I don’t mind. While I have addressed these issues before, (and really should keep a file with stock answers, but don’t) I enjoy replying to each particular individual’s question or need. Being me, I tend to write long responses. They write a few paragraphs, it seems I write 6 pages! There is just so much to talk about in this realm; it is hard for me to feel I have adequately covered the ground with just a few sentences.

I have started to change my tactic, and write a bit shorter, but it always feels insufficient and a bit lackluster.

I get maybe one follow-up letter, my personal record is a total of three letters, and then it stops. Another round of “Ask the Atheist” is over.

I wonder what I did wrong. Did I provide the wrong answers? One specific participant seemed quite insistent that I had unresolved sin that was simply dying to burst out of me, and the only remnant of a restraint was this pesky belief in a God, so I discarded it to act out my wildest excursions.

The problem being, I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what this particular sin was, nor why a belief in God would restrain me.

Perhaps the person thinks I just never heard of their brand of theism, or haven’t studied the Bible, or was uniformed. And, upon receiving my answers, becomes satisfied that I have made an informed decision. (They never say that, though.)

Or maybe they hope to re-convert me. That no one else has ever introduced me to the brilliant argument of “Lord, Liar or Lunatic” and upon reading it, will abandon my atheistic ways.

Or do they think that I am angry at God? That my long responses are simply excuses for pent-up rage against something that God must have done that nobody (including myself) knows about?

Whatever the reason, the game always ends the same—an abrupt stop to my letters. No reason why. No follow-up. Nothing.

And I always wonder why. The closest I came to figuring out why, is one person told my wife they think I “protest too much” and the fact that I was still going to church meant I was still looking for God. But even he never got back to me. If I was still looking for a God, it apparently wasn’t his job to show me.

Is it that I write too much? Should I write less? But then it wouldn’t be me responding. Should I be more careful about the errors of Christianity? I do try and temper it with a bit of humor, or a light story, or an example. It may be that Christianity is seen so deadly serious, that my approach is taken as disrespect or mocking.

It is hard. There is no god. The Bible is not divine. And while I am ever mindful that my correspondent believes in these things, there are times it is difficult to converse with that same level of belief in the forefront of my mind.

Do I present issues and responses that are scary to them? That they would prefer to not even read it, even to the point of leaving their curiosity about atheism unsatisfied?

What ever the reason, I find myself once again, at the end of another round of “Ask the Atheist.” And I find myself, once again, wondering why.

5 comments:

  1. Q: "Is it that I write too much?"

    A: Depends on one's perspective & what they are really asking of you. These letters, chances are they are not looking for what you think they are looking for...it's something else.

    For example. It's like the person who asks, "How are you?" Now, do they really want to know how you are, or is it just a glancing salutation on the way? Let's say you decide they really want to know, because after all they asked, right. So, you begin to tell them. For the first 30 seconds they smile & even look you in the eye, sincerely interested, right...after 60 seconds they shift their stance a bit, minute & a half, they are looking around, 5 minutes into your discourse on how you are, they are rolling their eyes, 10 minutes, beads of sweat start rolling down their face...see, do they really want to know how you are or is it just a habit of salutation? I've learned to discern this & those who ask who really don't know what they are asking, I just nod my head & say, "I'm fine." & I just keep on walking.

    If someone is really interested or at least I'm getting that vibe I ask, how long do you have to listen? This gives them a chance for an out. If they say 5 minutes then I quickly scan what it is I want to share...narrow it down to 3 specifics. Then I say, thanks for asking, I'll let you go now. Take care now. Bye Bye. :)

    Q: "Should I write less? But then it wouldn’t be me responding."

    A: Keep writing in your blogs. After 5 years or more, you will narrow it down. :)

    Q: "Should I be more careful about the errors of Christianity? I do try and temper it with a bit of humor, or a light story, or an example."

    A: Remember, most people who are of a fundamentalist/conservative mindset when it comes to their beliefs don't know there are "errors." Humour can & does work at times. Chances are though they are laughing at you. :(

    Q: "It may be that Christianity is seen so deadly serious, that my approach is taken as disrespect or mocking."

    A: Oh for sure this is a possibility & most likely. Thing is, you could roll-over in kindness & tact & still be accused of being disrespectful & mocking. Often though, as you debate Christianity, the Christian takes it personally. I think this is likely in most of our discussions with people regarding almost any topic. Things get taken personally.

    Q: "It is hard. There is no god. The Bible is not divine. And while I am ever mindful that my correspondent believes in these things, there are times it is difficult to converse with that same level of belief in the forefront of my mind."

    A: Imagine how difficult it is for them. :)

    Q: "Do I present issues and responses that are scary to them?"

    A: For sure.

    Q: "That they would prefer to not even read it, even to the point of leaving their curiosity about atheism unsatisfied?"

    A: Yes.

    Q: "What ever the reason, I find myself once again, at the end of another round of “Ask the Atheist.” And I find myself, once again, wondering why. " "

    A: Why not?

    Just keep on keeping on & don't take it personally.

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  2. Thank you, Zoe, for your words of encouragement. You are right, of course. They may just be asking, “How are you?” without really wanting to know how much is there.

    I genuinely think they really care about all the nuances and possibilities opened up by questions, and maybe they want a short answer.

    What evidence do you suggest I tell them would convince me there is a god? How about a day where no child dies of hunger? Sigh. There I go again….

    I think your comment is spot on. And I will, of course, keep keeping on. Many, many others did with me; it is the least I can do.

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  3. no dude, your writing is great. keep it up. if people can't take the heat, they should get out of the kitchen (religion).

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  4. Definitely, keep writing. This new era where blogging is possible (instant communication), the back and forth of information is revolutionary. At no other time in history have we been able to discuss and debate upon so many vital concerns and viewpoints to so many different people in so many different places instantaneously. The greatest minds in history did not get this kind of opportunity to learn and have their views challenged.
    How can we hope to attain any true wisdom if we huddle in seclusion?

    Zoe,
    If it takes anyone more than 5 minutes to answer "how are you?" that person is in trouble. LOL.
    Point taken, though, the "how are ya?" phrase being bandied about is just a salutation and nothing more. It is just a way to avoid that uncomfortable silence as people who know each other happen to pass by each other. It's more than likely that they really don't want to know how the other person really is.
    Your description is priceless.

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  5. Hey Dagoods,

    Sometimes the hardest thing is to keep on keeping on. :)

    Steve,

    I read at your blog & I wonder how does he keep on keeping on? Then I remember the vigour of my youth & I think, ah, that's how he does it. Me, I'm getting tired of it all. :)

    Roman,

    Priceless? Now I love that. :) BTW, it takes me more then 5 minutes...so whatever you do, don't ask! ;)

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