I’m an Atheist, and I Go to Revolution

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.

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22 Responses to I’m an Atheist, and I Go to Revolution

  1. jyllianm says:

    This is really great to read, it gives me hope.

    I’ve recently begun investigating the Revolution Church and Jay Bakker after seeing “One Punk under God.” I was raised in the bible belt and persecuted mercilessly by “christians” as a kid because I questioned.I moved away to SF for many years, but have moved back and am confronted by my problem with Christianity again. I have had difficulties with Christianity because of the cruelty and hypocrisy that seems to exemplify it (Christian kids who told me about my dad burning in hell two weeks after he died, ministers who preach homophobia yet are themselves gay), at least until I saw Jay talk about supporting gay rights and opening his ministry to everyone, no matter what.
    And this article, wow. Thank you for helping to explode my prejudices.

  2. Jan Janeczek says:

    this story is close to my heart and my point of view. i think, i am at the same place of my life journey like the authoress of this text.
    Revolution is close to me too for many reason. for me it is sad thing that i am from Poland and in this country we don’t have communities like this.

  3. Tony Vargas says:

    Very nice. Thank you. I’ve always believed that contradicting ideas within a unit (person, corporation, family, church) create a bigger, better and stronger, therefore, a bigger, better and stronger unit.

  4. Haven says:

    This is awesome. This post helps to show everying that is right about revolution, and having an honest discussion about faith. Reading this made my day.

  5. Ben says:

    damn, that’s the essay I’ve been waiting for Caryn. thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Chris says:

    Caryn,

    Your thoughts on the impact of culture, speakers and preachers, authors and scientists; it seems you have a peaceful heart, and you’re obviously on a journey of your own.

    I applaud you for sharing your thoughts with this blog, and openly condemning and acknowledging the things that seem to exist within Christianity, and within the rest of humanity (or at least as far as your thesis reaches) that you have beef with. Blessings to you. I do hope you find what you’re looking for.

    I’m a pastor’s kid from Seattle, living with my wife in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have never been to Revolution. I have never been to New York(City). However, I did get the chance to hear Jay speak at a conference I attended a number of years ago, in Georgia. And it’s obvious his head is in the right place.

  7. Khad Young says:

    Some related words from across the Great Lakes: Letter from an Agnostic.

    http://www.khad.com/post/121505304/letter-from-an-agnostic

  8. Joan Ball says:

    Caryn: I grew up without faith. I was an atheist until I was in my late 20s and I came to believe in a power greater than myself that I got to know in recovery. I remained aggressively anti-Christian until I had a conversion experience at the age of 37. All that to say that I also believe there is a better way to communicate between communities and I want in on that discussion. I commute to New York but live a little too far out spend Sundays at Revolution. That said, I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee and connect.

  9. Shelli says:

    This line of thinking, ‘tho it seems foreign, is exactly what this world needs. Who are we as ‘Christians’ to think we’re better than anyone else? Isn’t that self-righteous behavior? I have recently started to describe myself as a “Jesus Follower” as I prefer not to be associated with the description of a Christian and it’s bad wrap. Truly…if we could all just follow Him, strive to live like Him…could it really be that simple?

    • cj says:

      Shelli:
      Jesus said that you must be borna again to see the kingdom of God, not live a good life, not be a good person, etc.

  10. queermergent says:

    GREAT perspective on what being open minded really entails. That alone is much for me to chew on! Thanks for your honesty and open mindedness!

    Existential Punk

  11. Marwood says:

    Hi, I’m English and an athiest (and one that recieved scholarships for writing about the non-existence of God!) and though I formally lived in NY I now listen to the podcasts every week from the comfort of my home in London.

    Next time I’m in NY I hope to stop by and check out a service in person. Keep up the good work. The atheists are lovin’ ya!

  12. Fred says:

    Reading through all these “arguments” really brings a few important points to the top.

    First of all, if saying that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through [Him}” (John 14:6) is coming across as though I’m better than anyone else, it is likely that the person hearing that simply does not like what they are hearing. They forget apparently, that in one swell swoop Jesus Himself declared EVERY other “way” to God as being false.

    Regarding homosexuality, it seems pretty clear from both the Old and New Testaments that it is wrong. Yet, if I say that, I am accused of being a “hater.” I’m wondering how Jay thinks he can now preach that homosexuality is not wrong, even though God’s Word still says it is.

    Being a Christian is a “bad rap.” That’s true. We’re hypocrites and warmongers. The sad truth of the matter is that all true Christians are trying to do is live for Christ. If that means calling it as the Bible calls it, then so be it.

    I can think of NO true Christian who believes what Tiller did was RIGHT. In fact, it was NOT right. It was just as wrong as what that doctor did day in and day out. They are BOTH murderers.

    Regarding hell, I find it fascinating that Jesus spoke more about hell than any other subject, yet in 2009, it’s become passe. There is no hell. There is no Lake of Fire. Hell is what you make of your life. Jesus was speaking metaphorically.

    Folks, my heart goes out to you. It really does. But by the looks of things, you are no more interested in truly following Jesus than my cat. To follow Him means to give up YOUR life, in exchange for HIS. He said that the world HATED Him first and the world WILL hate those who become His followers. Yet, in 2009, He is all of a sudden the GREATEST teacher?!

    He promised His true followers persecution. We do not even have to look for it. IT finds US. Just this issue regarding homosexuality. If I make the statement that it is wrong (based on the biblical imperatives), I am a hater, or hatemonger. If I say that prostitution is wrong, most people would agree with me. If I say that stealing is wrong, again most would agree. I simply cannot say what it considered to not be politically correct today. The truth is that I answer to a much higher Power than the United States government, or the homosexual who is offended by the fact that I merely repeat what the Bible says.

    But according to you folks, no one has the RIGHT to repeat or teach anything that Jesus taught IF it offends anyone. To do so means being “self-righteous” or “arrogant.”

    How is it POSSIBLE to follow Jesus at all WITHOUT counting the cost of following Him? He is not the Maharaja, who sits with His legs crossed and repeats “OOOOMMMMM” to achieve world peace. Jesus Christ GAVE up His life, by the most brutal means possible at the time. Why? Because He loves us. He made it possible to RECEIVE salvation from Him, but it is not automatic. Each individual needs to receive it and it is best that they count the cost before they do so.

    The rich young ruler was faced with this decision and he could not do it. Jesus Christ was extremely close-minded! He NEVER hesitated to tell someone when they had stepped out of bounds, even making a whip and overturning the money changers’ tables in the Temple area.

    The only revolution I want to be part of is the one that saves people from burning forever. While the rest of you are sitting around chatting, asking questions and patting each other on the backs, there are THOUSANDS of souls perishing every day. If hell was NOT real, would there even be a REASON for Jesus to have died?

    His life was so perfect, so priceless, so selfless that when He willingly gave it up for ALL of us, His death made it possible to cancel EVERY sin you and I ever committed. Yet, in spite of that, people refuse that salvation every day. Unfortunately, those who fail to preach that message are going to be held more accountable for it.

    I am completely and incredulously perplexed that all people have to do is confess their sin and unworthiness to Him, thank Him for His forgiveness, and ask Him to take charge of their lives.

    Jesus was not some social guidance counselor. His MAIN concern was for each person’s SOUL. I pray you all find what you’re looking for, but in truth you need look no further than Jesus. He is God. He is Truth and He is the only Way to receive salvation. There is no other way possible. Every other religion is WORKS-based; gotta do something to EARN it. Christianity is the ONLY one in which salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It does not get any better than that.

    What some of you are trying to do is make the world a better place in your own effort. The way to make this world a better place is by receiving salvation, and THEN Christ can work IN and THROUGH you to achieve His purposes. I pray that you will give Him the opportunity to do just that.

    God bless,
    Fred

    • Paolo says:

      Who is this comment written to? This blog post was written by an atheist, and it is about why she attends church despite not believing in a lot of the things that this church preaches. Your comment doesn’t seem like it’s pertinent to the subject matter. Am I missing something?

      • jyllianm says:

        I might have accidentally brought on Fred’s comment. I responded to the original poster with a general comment about how Jay and what he has to say about a variety of subjects (including gay marriage) has made me rethink my issues with Christianity. For that I apologize. This was a wonderful blogpost and I am sorry if I went off topic in my exuberance.

  13. Adam says:

    Hello Jay I don’t know if you remember me when I lived in the Big ATL. This would have been around ’03 – ’04. It was when you were in that coffee house that you had to watch your head walking around in. It was in little 5 points…. We talked about tattoos and if the Bible said they are wrong. I had gotten a tattoo and got alot of static from my family about it. Just to let you know I support everything your doing in reaching the unreached and loving them as Christ would love them.
    Also the whole thing about Gay people and the question of whether it is a sin….
    I think that as we fellowship with Christ and love people as He has shown us to, we are doing the right thing and it is only by the GRACE of God we can do this. focusing on the person and not the sin.
    The truth is, you are doing what I believe Christ would do and this is the hardest part of being a follower of Jesus. Keep your head up man!

    Adam Murphy

  14. Xtine says:

    This is an awesome letter… good to see someone who wants to explore the connections between atheists and christians. As a former fundie who is very happily a yogi atheist, I cringe at all the blogs and arguments between christians and atheists, because I can see both sides, and have no patience for either once it turns preachy and ballistic.

    I have to admit, having been there done that, i instantly got the picture of christians surrounding an atheist like vultures/bees to a corpse/honey in a church setting, but don’t doubt that this is not the case at Revolution. We can make civilized progress… very glad to see evidence!

  15. cj says:

    Adam, Jesus also told people to “go and sin no more”, and That the Church in Revelations needed to repent of her works or He would come and remove her candlestick and throw her in a bed of suffering.

    I think a lot of what we’re seeing here is people who were raised in public schools, with absentee parents, who don’t understand absolute Truth, as they have never known boundaries of any kind in their lives(sorry if that sounds judgmental, just the way I see it). It says in God’s Word that in the last days there would be a famine for the Word of God, and I beleive that this is what is happening, along with cultural changes that have produced a disdain for anything that sounds “mean”.

  16. […] Christian church that holds services in a Williamsburg bar on Sunday afternoons.  I recently wrote an article for their blog about being an atheist and being inspired by their work.  The following Sunday, Rev. Vince Anderson referenced me in his sermon (skip to 45:45 in the […]

  17. […] church that holds services in a Williamsburg bar on Sunday afternoons. In June 2009, I wrote an article for their blog about being an atheist and being inspired by their work. The following Sunday, Rev. Vince Anderson referenced me in his sermon (skip to 45:45 in the mp3). […]

  18. […] post is from the RevolutionNYC blog.  And here’s another one, this time in the words of Caryn […]

  19. Helen says:

    Thank you Caryn! Your post resonated with me in a big way. I joined the church about 2 1/2 years ago and am at a point where although I believe in God I no longer believe in the Church.

    Your post made me realize that its Ok to be where I am. I have been searching for a closer relationship with God and was so disheartened that I didn’t find that at church or with other Christians.

    And thank god for the internet! I live on the other side of the world from New York but I can still download Jay’s talks.

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