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.

(Photo credit: greg westfall. via Foter.com / CC BY)

 

17 thoughts on “Does My Lack of Belief Sound Crazy to You?

  1. That there is a debate at all about the existence of the xian god kind of answers the question for me. Caveat bible verses notwithstanding.

    1. Especially when you consider that even if intelligent design could be proven beyond all doubt– we would still be just as far away from proving the Christian god exists.

  2. While your post asks the question “does my lack of belief sound crazy to you?” I will refrain from answering that specific question because belief is a choice and what a person chooses to believe (especially after searching and being presented with the truth themselves) is ultimately their business.

    That said, what does sound crazy to me is this: Even if I could still believe in the [G]od of the Bible, I don’t feel that [G]od 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 [G]od? 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 [G]od? It sounds not only pointless, but horrible.

    That is a very crazy belief for anyone to have, Christian or non-Christian.

    1. It’s okay that you don’t agree with me on that. But the point of this post, of course, is that until it at least makes sense to you how I would feel that way– you really would be wasting your time trying to discuss it with me.

      1. You’ve shared this sentiment before, and I disagree with it.
        A discussion is not always geared towards changing another’s opinion. It can be as simple as determining the views of another… discerning their depth of knowledge …etc.

        Let’s use an extreme example. If you were discussing the most extreme cases of abuse/exploitation with someone who saw no problem with such abuses and condones all the perversions and atrocities committed towards another; are you seriously expecting me to believe that until it at least makes sense to you how such a person would feel that way– that you really would be wasting your time trying to discuss the matter with them.

        – let’s say you can make sense of how they would feel that way; what then. Does this guarantee a discussion that will or will not waste your time?
        – let’s say you cannot make sense of how they would feel that way; again, what then. Does this lack of making sense of their behavior guarantee a discussion that will or will not waste your time?

        The reality is, even if you can “at least make sense of how someone would feel” about a particular topic, you can still end up wasting your time discussing the matter with them.
        Again, motivations for the conversation are relevant (if one considers a conversation a waste of time)

        1. Why do we need an “extreme” example, and why would anyone be interested in siting examples of when it isn’t useful to understand someone else’s point of view? We are, as always, talking about God here. The things we disagree on are controversial topics (religion/politics being the ultimate in controversy). Which means there are going to be a significant number of people who hold an opposing view.

          These kinds of arguments, specifically, shape cultural thinking and laws; so I think productive discussion is important. If enough people believe what I consider to be nonsense, then there must be a piece I am missing that would make sense of such massive delusion, right? Yes. There is. If I can’t make an argument that considers their needs effectively, why bother? And in those cases you may choose to believe there is no value in understanding how it could make sense to someone—but I assure you, attempting to change their minds or make relevant points to them will fall flat without that piece. And that is a waste of time—every time.

          Will some discussions still waste my time? Of course. Maybe most of them. Your argument makes it sound as if since there can never be a guarantee of a productive discussion we should all just plug our ears and talk at each other. I am not interested in convincing someone to not believe in God. I am more interested in changing Christian minds within their own faith about how they react to social issues or my atheism. I want to find common ground within the rules of their faith—because I already know there is no other way to do it. Some Christians understand how I got here better than others, but it took a willingness on both our parts to understand. And I have succeeded enough in that to feel I have not wasted my time at all.

          1. Obviously, “extreme” is a very relevant term as what’s extreme to me may not be to you. In any event, I heavily edited the example to tone it down. And yes, any benign example would have still conveyed my point.

            My politics or lack thereof is totally unknowable to you and anyone else.

            You mention we’re always talking about God here. I agree, and I also extrapolate from there because I view relationships with people as an extension of my relationship with God hence I view the conversation as applicable to all situations.

            LAD: Your argument makes it sound as if since there can never be a guarantee of a productive discussion we should all just plug our ears and talk at each other.
            Interestingly, this is exactly the opposite of my point.
            What I’ve said, and you’ve seemed to confirmed is this: I am more interested in changing Christian minds…
            which will always leave you with 2 ways of evaluating a conversation with a Christian or anyone else (1. was it productive or 2. did I waste my time).

            I said above that discussions are never to be solely or mostly limited to changing another’s perspective. Yes, words are greatly effective when planted as seeds of change… however, of greater importance are our corroborating actions.

            People cannot be argued into conforming to a certain belief. Belief is a choice!
            So if you’ve ‘argued’ someone into a set of beliefs, someone else can and will ‘argue’ them right back out of it. A strong and sure foundation is the most important part of any structure.

          2. LAD: why would anyone be interested in siting examples of when it isn’t useful to understand someone else’s point of view?

            My example was meant to showcase that it does not matter whether I can relate to; or cannot relate at all to someone else’s view of things in order to carry on a conversation with them. Which is why I keep stressing that the motivations for a dialogue are important.

            2 persons with opposing views may have a “productive discussion” (that’s a relevant term); but at the end of the day who is the arbiter on what is “productive”.

            1. Who said anything about relating? I do not relate to believing in the Christian god, but I do understand how someone else might. And I think I could still understand it even if I had never been a Christian myself. But you quoted me as saying, “I am more interested in changing Christian minds.” Why did you choose to do that? What I actually wrote was: “I am not interested in convincing someone to not believe in god. I am more interested in changing Christian minds within their own faith about how they react to social issues and my atheism.”

              For example, I call it a success if I can convince someone to no longer believe I am actively attempting to win their soul for Satan. But it requires me to respectfully understand how some Christians view atheism according to the Bible; and it requires them to understand how I believe I lost faith. Sure, they probably still think I’ve been tricked by Satan—but at least they aren’t so mad at me anymore. It’s a start.

              I think discussions are productive when they result in a better understanding of each other. And that certainly doesn’t require anyone to change their mind. What it can do is offer new perspective and create less anger between two people. I have seen it happen frequently, even between atheists and Christians. Who is the arbiter on what is productive? We all are. If I come away with a better understanding, then I am more than capable of claiming it a productive conversation for myself.

              1. You’re right, I should have rechecked to make sure I was using your words; so allow me to rephrase.
                My example was meant to show that it really does not matter whether or not I can (or I cannot) at least make sense of another person’s point of view in order to have a discussion with them. [I do not need to at least make sense of an abuser’s point of view in order to have a conversation with them].

                I used the essential part of your quote (to me) along with … to indicate you had more to say. This was significant to me because based on previous writings and discussions, one of my primary take-a-away is that you view a conversation as futile or a waste of your time, if both parties leave with their own views/beliefs in tact.
                No one sows seed in a garden and leave declaring their efforts futile or a waste of time because they did not immediately see germination and growth. Growth is a process, relationships are continuous.

                Sometimes it goes beyond understanding or reasoning.
                Ex: you relay you’ve “lost faith” & even “had great faith”. I read your words, I understand your words, but based upon my knowledge & experience those words make little to no sense to me… they do not compute… they do not add up.

                My conclusion doesn’t mean I cannot have a discussion with you; however I do view the things you say within the spotlight of my own knowledge & experience. I do the same in my conversations with believers.
                Ex: I’ve found that most believers have a form of belief that is of man and not from God. They’ll boldly declare God is the same, He cannot change…the gifts and calling of God are without repentance… then in the very next breath they tell you healing is not for today… they speak boldly of cessation etc.
                Huh? This doesn’t make sense… it doesn’t compute… it doesn’t add up. I thought God couldn’t change…what’s caused Him to change now… Is He less powerful now. What about all the people being healed daily around the world.
                I hope this point illustrates more what I mean in reference to you above – in terms of things not adding up. I have nothing against you, I don’t disbelieve the zeal you once had… but the God who endows us with reason and invites us to reason with Him expects me to use my reasoning abilities.

                I’m sure you’d agree when things make no sense we reject them (either until we know/learn/experience more).

                I agree with your last paragraph.

                1. You see me as a person who views conversations as a waste of time if both parties leave with their views intact? What a joke. I’m as live and let live as one gets, and live and let live works best when people can wrap their minds around how other people think—especially when they could never see it as reasonable themselves. If this is something you cannot do, you are not alone.

                  In your example of my having both “lost faith” and having “had great faith,” you say you understand the words but based on your knowledge and experience it doesn’t add up. You say that your conclusion that it doesn’t add up doesn’t mean you can’t have a discussion with me. We all agree: anyone can have a discussion.

                  Now, if we are going to decide that a productive discussion about my “lost faith” and “great faith” will be one that ends in one or both of us having a better understanding of each other…. how would we do that? You telling me that I don’t make sense isn’t very useful unless you are interested in making sense of it. If you aren’t interested in making sense of it, we can still talk. But what will we talk about—and why? Hearing how wrong I am from someone who admittedly doesn’t know how I came to my conclusion gets old real fast.

                  I reject your ideas on faith. It does not make sense to me. And yet, not only do I find it easy to imagine how it makes sense to you—I would even be interested in helping you understand my lost faith using nothing but your rules about what makes sense. Some people cannot grasp that kind of conversation, and the moment I attempt to explain it on their terms they stop trying to make sense of my point of view and simply go into debate mode. As if explaining my story is about them agreeing rather than understanding. I’m looking for more people in my life who know the difference.

  3. I’m very interested in knowing more about how you lost your faith. Was it an event? A moment?
    I will tell you two things about my walk with God:
    1. I’m too weak and pitiful to navigate this world on my own. God has tangibly offered me peace and assurance time and time again. Without Him, I would have crumbled into a worthless pile. He shows me ways to love others, to overcome anger and resentment, and to heal from my mistakes. Without Him, I would be left to my own devices, and that would be scary.
    2. I don’t argue with people who don’t believe. Like you say, each person has his own experiences that lead him one way or another. It doesn’t make me right and you wrong. It’s part of our walk. What I tell non-believers is that I want them to feel the joy that God brings me. He has opened my eyes to value in everyone and everything. I want others to feel that joy. It would be selfish to keep it to myself. But I’m not going to browbeat someone into believing. I figure if I live a joyful life, others will want to know the source of that happiness. And I tell them. But I’m not going to argue if they tell me I’m misguided.
    I’m eager to hear more about your loss of faith. I’ll read more of your blog.

    1. How I lost my faith is simple, but complicated enough that I have a whole blog about it 🙂 It wasn’t an event or a moment. I was happy being a Christian. I just couldn’t believe it. “I couldn’t believe it” is the short version.

      When I realized that it didn’t feel true, I used the same method I use for everything else to get to the bottom of it: I started from the beginning and created a God timeline. I thought, if this many people believe, there must be evidence that will give me reason to feel sure, too. I wanted to know about all the gods we have ever believed in; when, why, and what the culture was like. Who were the early Christians and how did they come to their conclusions– and what did other faiths believe at the time?

      But opening up the pages of mankind’s history with God only made me more sure that we know nothing about God. I found that I didn’t agree with those early Christians’ conclusions at all. Every time I felt my faith challenged I would seek out the Christian arguments and found they were no longer enough. So I went in search of a god I did not know. So far I have not found it, but the world sure does make a lot more sense to me now.

      1. I don’t fully understand your reasoning, but I haven’t walked in your shoes. I know that I have comfort walking with God. I’m not sure as a Christian if I’m supposed to encourage or even “browbeat” you into believing again. It certainly doesn’t feel right to me to try that. I do my best to live a joyful, faithful life, and share that joy with others. If you have peace and joy, I’m happy for you.

    2. “Without Him, I would have crumbled into a worthless pile. He shows me ways to love others, to overcome anger and resentment, and to heal from my mistakes. Without Him, I would be left to my own devices, and that would be scary.”

      If the “him” here were another human being, it would be clear that you are the victim of an abusive relationship. You are not worthless without God. I had these same thoughts and fears. Now I’m an atheist and I found that those fears were misplaced. Sure, there was long transition period where I had to shed my old thought patterns, but once I did I found that I am not worthless, that left to my own I can function, that I was the one doing it all along anyway. The hard part is not having the comforting illusion anymore.

      1. No, I’m not worthless. Sorry I made it sound that way. Hyperbole can backfire sometimes. I’m faulty. I’ve found that my own attempts to navigate life’s challenges have been terribly misplaced. Believe me, if there is any abuse taking place in my relationship with Christ, I’m the abuser. God offers me abundant blessings and healing grace, and I turn my back on Him constantly. I don’t live in fear. It’s only through Christ that I realize I have nothing to fear. Otherwise, I would be overcome with the stress I place upon myself. God grants me peace. If you can function on your own…I applaud you. I can’t.

        1. Can I function on my own? I definitely appreciate help from friends. As a Christian I was able to admit that I could not do everything on my own. I am still able to do that. What I no longer do is think that there is anyone other than myself and other humans to help me. Which was traumatic for a while. I had to find new ways to cope. Still working on it.

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