There is a theme I see running through Christian posts about atheists, and it always seems to come back to a lack of understanding about how differently two people can see the world. It’s all subjective…. What inspires us. What makes sense. What gives us purpose. We don’t all agree on these things, and many people are incapable of comprehending that these differences even exist. It can be a source of great frustration.
This is the crucial difference between Christians who become too focused on atheists and those who do not. Some Christians can actually grasp the complexity of humanity in this way, and they are not troubled over why something isn’t obvious to someone else. It allows them to feel more empathy than anger, which in any context is a positive thing.
Atheists run into the same problem, of course. Many atheists become overwhelmed wondering how Christians can believe in god. And they, too, put all sorts of words together that don’t make sense when referring to Christianity. This is one of the reasons I am grateful for the years I spent as a Christian. It doesn’t make my head hurt to wonder about their worldview. Sometimes I am able to make more sense of it than they are. But the good news for everyone else is that experience is not a prerequisite for insight.
When you possess the ability to see how differently we are all wired, you realize that in the debate over whether or not god exists– these differences have no place in the argument. Because truth is completely indifferent to what we want or how our individual brains make the pieces fit.
And yet people on both sides of the fence continue to make the argument that god must or must not exist based on emotion. We are often biased in our logic. Preference gets in the way, and suddenly we find ourselves saying things like, “Why would anyone want to believe that?” We think we’ve made a convincing point about whether or not a creator exists, when the truth is that we haven’t moved the conversation forward at all.
Atheists Offer No Purpose
Today’s post is specifically inspired by the many blogs claiming that atheists offer no purpose in life. No meaning. No hope. One blogger even accused us of having no acceptable “solution,” as if we owed him one. His expectation that we must believe in something which effectively addresses all of his fears is not only absurd, but demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be an atheist.
This human life is short whether we believe in eternity or not. We each experience joy and sadness. We make connections. We have the ability to improve lives. If it lasts a moment or a century…. if a creator notices or doesn’t– these things are still valuable.
Christians also find purpose without god every day. The only difference between them and us is that a Christian places higher value on whether or not they matter to something bigger. Because what’s the point of existing if a supreme being isn’t as interested in me as I am?
I know that is not how a Christian would describe it, but that it is how the option looks to me.
Even if I could still believe in the god of the Bible, I don’t feel that god is offering purpose or meaning according to how I define those words. And I don’t need him to. Am I only here for the amusement of god? Is all of this just a big game where the prize is to lose everything in exchange for a blissfully ignorant eternity as new creatures who only wish to worship that god? It sounds not only pointless, but horrible.
Again, that’s just how I see it. I used to see it very differently. And it has always meant nothing about the existence of god. It only shows how purpose and meaning are subjective.
You Never Really Knew God
Inevitably there will be a Christian who moves on from this argument without considering that there may be more than one way to see the world; but instead will decide that this is proof that we chose to not believe in god. The only problem is, for years I wanted to believe more than anything– and I couldn’t.
We aren’t simplistic mirror images of each other, and we definitely cannot fit the many aspects of who we are into perfectly defined boxes that never change. I was drawn to Christianity and held firm to the idea that if I believe in the Bible I must live as if I believe it. No bending god’s word to fit my will. Maybe I still feel that way. I just don’t believe it anymore.
That same passion led me toward Christian apologetics. I have always been someone who needs to understand the other side of things, and it was of great importance to me that my arguments always address a doubter’s true source of doubt. It made me better at it than most, but it also led me out of Christianity for reasons I could not deny. Did I want to doubt? Of course not. At that time in my life I wanted everything about Christianity to be true. I didn’t know about the other possibilities yet. That came later.
I know when a Christian is sincere in their attempt to have a real conversation about faith. The first clue is that they do not begin with the assumption that they know something I don’t know. Instead, they look at me as someone who knows something they don’t know.
I know what it’s like to have complete faith in god and then lose it just as completely.
Sometimes when I point this out, a Christian will actually respond by telling me they were once an atheist, too. But that has nothing to do with losing faith. Too many Christians want to tell me I wasn’t doing it right. Of course they know they are doing it right; but I would have said the same thing a decade ago. It turns out I was wrong. Why should I believe them? I mean, if god is actually that easy to be mistaken about, how can anyone be sure?
(There I go, sounding like a broken record again.)
I used to pray and read my Bible. I invited god into every part of my life and asked him to lead the way. I was faithful. I wanted to believe. I felt his presence. And I was every bit as certain about god as any Christian I have met. If these Christians are right, and I never really knew god– then what game is he playing with us?
Come Back When You Are Ready
Without firsthand experience, a Christian can only understand lost faith by listening to someone who has lost faith—and assuming something can be learned from them.
Maybe your knowledge of the Bible makes it so you cannot trust me. Maybe you have no interest in understanding how a Christian loses faith. But if that describes you, why would you seek out a conversation with me about god’s existence? Why would you write a blog post as if you are an expert on atheism? It makes no sense, and it is a poor strategy for making a positive difference. You cannot possibly be sincere to even your own cause.
If the way someone else thinks doesn’t make sense to you, don’t challenge their position until it does. Ask questions. You don’t have to agree; but you should understand what a person believes before telling them they are wrong about it. Until then you are not ready for the conversation.