This post is from our friend Caryn Solly. We recently had a lovely lunch together, and had a wonderful discussion about her journey, my journey, faith and the absence of faith. I asked if she would share some of her thoughts. Here they are….
I AM AN ATHEIST AND I GO TO REVOLUTION
I’ve been told that I shouldn’t call myself an atheist because, How can I know with certainty that there isn’t a god? I must be agnostic, or at least call myself agnostic, they say. By that reasoning, though, we’re all agnostic, because believers can’t know for certain any more than I do. But the label we choose represents our faith, the choices we each make about where to place meaning and value. If they can call themselves believers, then I call myself an atheist.
And I attend services at Revolution.
In this week’s sermon, Jay mentioned that it “blows [him] away” that nonbelievers would come to Revolution. I spoke to him afterwards and explained a little why I come. I recently spent some time with Vince, and he asked me to write about those reasons.
Certainly I am making friends at Revolution, which is a wonderful reason to go. But there is obviously more to it than that. I can think of at least three reasons I go to Revolution. First, I like to have my own beliefs challenged. Second, I do believe Jesus is one of our greatest teachers. Third, I want to be part of a change in conversation between atheists and Christians.
On June 7, 2009, Jay preached about doubt. He told the crowd at Pete’s not to be afraid to read things they disagree with, that there is nothing to be afraid of when picking up, say, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
I couldn’t agree more. A believer reading The God Delusion is analogous to me attending Revolution. I am open to other points of view. I like to have my beliefs challenged. (I may be an atheist, but that doesn’t mean I have no beliefs at all. I have a lot of strong ideas about how I believe the universe works.)
Maybe it’s just part of my personality. During the 2008 Presidential Election season, the only political blog I read was a Republican one, even though I am a Democrat and an Obama supporter. If I read something on that blog – or heard something at Revolution – that made me think twice about the beliefs I currently hold, I am open to it.
As a left-leaning Democrat, I have often found that people misuse the words “open-minded.” It’s a term often used to describe a liberal point of view. Political liberals have strong opinions and often aren’t willing to budge on them. That’s OK, and good even. We all feel that way about many things in our lives, like the value of family or how human beings came to be on this Earth.
However, this is not what open-minded means. To be open-minded is to free yourself from yourself. Are you open to changing your mind? Are you willing to let in new ideas and weigh them against what you currently think? Are you willing to walk a new path if you find that a new idea has merit? I find a lot of inspiration in science, and the scientific method is a process of open-mindedness. Scientists draw conclusions from data, not the other way around. This is what open-minded means, and to me, it is an essential part of a true spiritual journey, no matter where you started walking.
My spiritual journey began in Roman Catholicism. I was raised in the Church, baptized and confirmed. In my mid-twenties, I spent several years wrestling with what my heart was telling me, trying to interpret it in some way that aligned with Catholicism. Or Christianity. Or belief in god at all. But it didn’t. It was a painful process because I knew how much it would hurt my family for me to no longer be part of the Church. But I had to be true to myself, a value I hold higher than family obligation, as it turns out.
And my journey continues. Last summer, I had a life-threatening accident, one that made me re-examine my beliefs. I gave myself permission to not be an “atheist,” to take myself down the path wherever it was headed.
Through all of these steps, I have never forgotten Jesus. The apostles called him Teacher. That is who he is to me. I do not believe I need to accept Christ as my savior in order to learn from his stories. When I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, I saw a movie of a man who was willing to die for what he believed, a truly admirable and inspiring story.
I try to live a Christ-like life, though that is a lot for us all to live up to. I don’t see that as a contradiction of my nonbelief in Jesus as my savior. I read the Bible, but I also read other religious and philosophical texts, both ancient and modern. I explore other communities and services, like Quaker Meeting. As I wrote above, I try to be open-minded and challenge my beliefs by exposing myself to other points of view. I feel there is much to learn from these books, including the Bible, even if I don’t believe all of it.
I also read books from popular atheist and skeptic authors, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. I agree with much of what these men have written, and I appreciate that they are reaching out to large audiences with ideas that speak to my heart.
However, I’d want to caption their faces with “Teaching: Ur doing it wrong.” Even though I think they have some super perspectives and insights to share, they often write with angry, patronizing and smug voices. I can only imagine how defensive this must make believers, how quickly it would close the mind that opened the book.
There must be a better way to communicate between communities. Vince and I agreed that, surely, atheists have something to learn from Christians, and Christians have something to learn from atheists. I haven’t yet figured out how to facilitate and continue that dialog, but I want to be part of figuring it out. Revolution feels like a good place to do that. To me, Revolution feels like a spirituality workshop, rather than a church where the preacher tells the congregation How Things Are. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. Jay and Vince take you through their own personal journeys with faith and doubt, and I thank them for sharing those vulnerable parts of themselves. It makes us all feel a little more human.
On May 31, 2009, Jay expressed his emotional response to the killing of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions in Kansas and was shot down in his own church that very morning. Jay was angry at the misguided Christians who felt this murder was justified.
Jay said, “I think so much of our Bible and our theology and our ideas have gotten in such a way that sometimes the world is doing more of the work of the Holy Spirit than the Church. Because they’re out there saving Darfur, going to Africa, helping stop AIDS, using common sense to help people survive. And we’re here fighting and killing and destroying each other over stupid little ideas of theology. We’d rather be right, than someone be safe. We’d rather be right, than someone else have peace. It makes me sad.”
I know that many Christians are not the sort that condone Dr. Tiller’s killer. But it is refreshing and uplifting to me to hear someone inside Christianity who sees hypocrisy in their own community. Ben, the man who first told me about Revolution, once said he goes to Revolution because he thinks he can affect change better from the inside than the outside. I can see this outlook in Jay and others I have met at Revolution, and I like it. Those are the kind of Christians I want to be around. We live in a nation of people who largely identify as Christian, and I believe a lot of them are more aligned with Revolution’s brand of Christianity than the kind carried out in Kansas that day. I don’t want to convert Christians to atheism, but I do wish more of them knew that Revolution existed. For my part, I have offered my Internet marketing consulting to Revolution, because that’s where my gifts are and where I can contribute to growing Revolution’s reach.
I suppose that’s it, really. I want to be part of the revolution this church is claiming to be. I’m open to revolution within myself, and I want to be part of a revolution of open-mindedness in this country. But the revolution won’t happen just because of what Jay says or does. It will take a lot more people than that, and I want in.