Something has happened to me this year. I had to step away from religion and politics so it would not consume me. I think about writing here every day. Topics I am most passionate about, like healthcare reform and the separation of church and state, have me surrounded. I don’t know where to begin. I could write two posts a day and it would never make a dent.

But the real source of struggle has been unexpected.

I no longer know how to communicate with those who share my belief system. My desire to question things isn’t welcome. When I witness debates over religion or politics, I am most frustrated with the terrible arguments made in agreement with my point of view. There is almost no understanding of who we are arguing against or why, and the sides have become so extreme, I see little difference between them anymore.

I regularly find myself defending conservative Christians and Trump supporters. I can completely disagree with them while sharing their frustration of being misunderstood by atheists and Liberals. This is something I value, but others are completely blind to my meaning. I cannot explain myself to satisfaction, and I am left with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness to make anything better. Who cares about your “brilliant” point if it doesn’t speak to the feelings of those it is meant to enlighten?

Meanwhile, the vast majority of people remain uninterested. For all the anger Christians and atheists feel toward each other, or Liberals and Conservatives…they represent a minority with more in common than they know. Both sides continue to make sweeping generalizations about an entire group of people based on their limited contact with “the enemy” online. Most Christians do not care about my atheism. Most atheists have never engaged a Christian, and know nothing about the bible. They just don’t care about this kind of stuff. The same is true of politics. But among those who care deeply, it is a comedy of errors; each arguing imagined points of view rather than actual points of view, with their only desire being to have their “wisdom” applauded by their peers (who always agree 100%).

There are conversations I can have in person that I cannot have on social media. In person, I can still ask a friend if their argument is the best argument for our shared belief without causing drama. I can better explain an opposing point of view without being shunned by the herd. I keep telling myself it is good to challenge the tactics of my like-minded friends, but in the world of social media, I can find no one who appears to agree with me.

No matter how careful I am, all questioning is seen as an attack on our unity. Am I really the one hammering cracks into that wall, or have I fallen through a crack that already existed? I am a liberal atheist who suddenly finds herself needing distance from other Liberals and atheists. But I haven’t changed.

It feels problematic. The more mainstream extreme positions become, the more uncertain a sea of followers become. And I know more than a few Christians and Conservatives who are experiencing the same thing.

If someone I respect shares an idea, I am too quick to accept it. But what if another like-minded person I respect challenges the first person’s idea? I am forced to form a more educated opinion. I am forced to think harder about whose side I am on and why. I want more of that. I need more of that. Can I create more of that, or is it a waste of time?

 

15 thoughts on “Where the Hell Have You Been?

  1. This “conservative Christian” totally identifies with what you just said. Feeling very much the same. Thanks for sharing and, again, thanks for the respectfulness you offer toward differing points of view.

    Ironically, I just “came back from the dead” to write a post expressing similar struggles.

  2. Let me add that it is precisely because of the respect you offer that I listen to your point of view more often. I would say more than any other “liberal atheist” blogs.

    Still not ready to cross over that line. 😉

    But your words are effective, even when you don’t think they are

    1. Thank you for that. I just read your most recent and offered my thought. I loved your post 🙂

  3. Great post. I’m also disturbed at how “mainstream extreme positions” have become. It’s okay for us to have different perspectives. Sometimes I try so hard to gain validation, I don’t pause enough to listen and learn from those who see life in a different way. Perhaps this is a good reminder for me to shut up and listen.

    1. Making sense of an opinion which appears to make no sense at all is not easy, and few would even bother to attempt it. But if what I think is so correct, then why do so many people disagree with me? There must be something compelling that I am missing, and finding it may require me to actually set aside my own knowledge and experience to grasp it. Because even if I am right, what does it mean to be right if a majority do not believe that I am right?

      If I can’t figure out the sense in another person’s belief, why bother arguing against it? It can only be so that my peers will congratulate me for being part of a group which can always fully agree on the best answer to everything. At least, that’s how it feels sometimes. And there are days when it is simply easier to be congratulated, even if it is for nothing at all. And so I need inspiration to do better every day.

      Thanks for visiting, and for the kind words.

  4. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling and the largest part of why I haven’t written in a while, myself. I’m so tired of all the ugliness. Why can’t we have civil debate and discourse? Why does challenging ideas have to become character assassination?

    There is the far-right and the far-left. They are the loudest so they suck all the air out of the room. I think there are many, many more of us in the middle, just looking at both sides in a kind of shock and utter disbelief.

    I’ve been thinking of writing a post about Linda Sarsour and my thoughts on her being a spokesperson for liberalism and feminism. I don’t think my opinions will go over very well with the “alt-left”. Not that I’m averse to criticism, I just don’t even know how to talk to people anymore. Like you, I feel I’ve had more success in person as of late.

    1. The other night we watched the documentary “The Red Pill.” Following this movie, we had a really great discussion about the men’s rights movement, and what things we secretly feel the feminist movement gets wrong. We felt safe to examine our “sacred” ideas and ask ourselves if our strategies were always effective. We were not moved away from feminism at all, but rather found ourselves examining the best arguments against it more honestly and fairly, to better understand how to resolve the conflict. We all know people who are hostile toward the feminist movement, even while embracing the very ideas feminism represents. How can we address this anger without first having empathy for it?

      But if I suggested any of this on say, Facebook…I know people who would unfriend me, become angry, or stop validating any of my political ideas going forward. A conversation like we had in our living room would be shut down before it started on social media. We are on the same side, but it doesn’t feel like it. So I don’t share, we never have these discussions, and I’m not really sure where I belong as long as their voices are the loudest.

      1. What seems to be sorely lacking is that the loud voices don’t seem to understand, nor want to understand, another perspective. It’s that “my way or the highway” mentality that is garnering the left a fascist label. All alternative ideas are immediately shut down.

        Understanding and empathy go a long way toward better conversations. Conversations where you’re really listening and giving, at least some, credence to another’s point of view even if you don’t agree with it.

        1. The lack of interest in understanding has become intentional. It is now a fight between good and evil in their minds, and they will not compromise with the “enemy.” I am familiar with this way of thinking from religion, but the existence of it in politics has increased at an alarming rate on both sides. This is the first time so many of my liberal friends have decided they are done listening or compromising. I get it, but they also continually miss the mark on exactly what the other side believes. They have marked it all as dangerous, and so the details are irrelevant. I think it is a mistake.

          1. I agree. I’ve come to the conclusion that religion presented itself as authoritarian because [some] people are authoritarian. Some people need to rule over others and, for some reason, other people feel the need to be ruled.

            I don’t remember in my lifetime the level of division and vitriol that our current climate is experiencing. Of course politics is ugly, I just don’t remember neighbor against neighbor, friends cutting each other off, and parents and their adult children at each other’s throats. I don’t remember the general public being this invested.

  5. I totally agree. I know my gut reaction when I read something that I think is stupid or ridiculous is to simply laugh at it, shake my head, and walk away, which I sadly do all the time. I’ve completely stopped interacting on Facebook at all because I don’t think anything that happens on there is constructive for anyone involved.

    There has to be a revolution in discourse, but I am unable to see how that could even be possible these days. I have a hunch that the extreme ends of either spectrum, which generally have the loudest voices despite actually representing a small faction, are the crux of the problem. Any time someone voices a contrary opinion, the assumption automatically is that they fall on that extreme side, thus they are treated as such before the subtleties of their views can even be explored, spoiling the whole discourse.

    The only solution I can see is moderate voices becoming dominant again, but who knows how that could happen.

    1. It is difficult to imagine moderate voices becoming dominant when the two sides are so quick to shame anyone with a moderate thought. And the left may be even more guilty of this. I don’t know. I guess I hope maybe I can get away with simply pointing out that I feel this way, and see where it gets me 🙂

      1. I think you may be right about the left being worse about quashing moderate voices. I think it is important for moderate voices to keep speaking out of they have the will and ability.

        Anyway, I appreciate what you have to say!

  6. While this current thread is also of interest to me, I hope it’s ok to hijack it a bit to touch on a topic in previous threads, that of losing your faith. The others on this subject are a bit dated.

    I was raised in a Christian home, involved in youth ministry, spent a year doing church work in Central America, and was happily faithful as I got married and began to raise a family. I’m 46 and I’d say my doubts started at about 40 and have grown until I’m at a point where I’ve lost track of all the things that don’t add up anymore. I was always aware of the contradictions and non-sequiturs and far-fetched stories and explanations that came with the Bible and Christianity, but I was also at peace and actually comforted by the umbrella of God’s supposed sovereignty that is an automatic trump card to any of these questions or concerns. But now it’s as if the lightning in the cartoon struck my umbrella and all that’s left is the metal form.

    All that said, just as I now struggle to believe that the world we live in today could be a part of any intelligent designer’s master plan, my head can’t wrap around the world spontaneously coming into existence. In the same way Christians wave the wand of God’s sovereignty, athiests wave a wand of “it’s happened over billions and trillions of years” to explain mysteries they can’t answer. And likewise, the thought that we all quickly come and go in life, briefly connected to those in our lives while on earth, only to vanish out of existence and be forever disconnected is about as depressing a thought as there is. And how can all my friends and family who still believe be wrong?

    While there’s a lot (mostly in the Old Testament) that I’d rather ignore, there is a lot in Proverbs and in Jesus’ teachings that is a recipe for a successful life and a peaceful world. And of course one can find incredible peace and contentment in the idea that there is one truth in life and that once you find it, you’ll share eternity with all those you love who also believe. Even here on earth, “letting go and letting God” can get you through a lot of life’s trials.

    So where does that leave me today? Mostly keeping my mouth shut around my friends and family, missing the security of being always in God’s will, gaining confidence in the fact that there are really no earthly rewards nor punishment that comes from believing, and seeking answers, or at least camaraderie from those moseying down this trail with me. I’d say my top conundrum right now is trying to decide how to raise my three boys – it’s here that I’m truly at a loss.

    1. Thank you for sharing all of that. It sounds very familiar to me. I know it’s difficult, but don’t overwhelm yourself. You are only discovering that Christianity cannot know all the facts on God; and my first piece of advice to you is to learn to embrace the words “I don’t know.” It’s okay to doubt anything you want, including secular ideas. Just because you stopped believing in Christianity’s explanations doesn’t mean you have to immediately replace them with something new.

      Keep searching.

      I personally have found nothing to make me believe in a creator, but if there is one thing I have learned from researching different beliefs—it’s that if there is a god, it could be anything. I know nothing about it, and I have zero reason to think it cares about me. And yes, it is sad to think I will not forever be with the ones I love, but that gets easier. Losing faith gave this life on earth more value, and I gradually began to think very differently about life and death and what connects us. There is some great material out there on this topic, which you may find useful.

      As far as raising your sons, just tell them the truth. Teach them about all beliefs, and do your best to give them the big picture on what we know and how much we don’t know. Be honest about your own doubt. There is nothing wrong with teaching our kids that there is still so much we do not understand. Give them as much information as possible; show them the good, the bad, and the complicated. And let them find their own way. That’s what I would do.

      There are plenty of former believers in the atheist community who have been where you are now. It always helps to read someone’s story and think “that’s exactly how I feel.” That’s why I do this 🙂

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