Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Atheism Just Doesn't Go Far Enough...

It should come as no surprise to those who know me, but I got into it with yet another atheist on Facebook. A mutual "friend" on Facebook had posted a photo of a church sign which stated that the fundamentalist Christian church took on the atheist's challenge to really read the Bible and realized that the atheist was right about religion. I can't remember the exact wording on the sign, but I thought it was funny.

This post by the Facebook friend had a few comments, which then got nasty between two particular people. One guy who goes by "Om" wrote a nice comment about how he used to be one of those who demanded proof of God's existence before he believed and who had trouble with religion, until he had a personal experience that confirmed for him that God / spirituality is real. Nothing in his comment or subsequent ones were "preachy" or condemning of other people with different views.

Thus, I was shocked that a self-described "anti-theist" started attacking Om for "ramming religion down his throat" and being intolerant and other nonsensical accusations. I couldn't believe it. What was he reading into that I wasn't? So, I felt a need to respond on Om's behalf. I don't know either of these two men, but Om's comments were very calm, personal, and positive. It was stunning to see how anyone could be offended by what he said. In contrast, the anti-atheist was belligerent, insulting, and full of anger. He used ALL CAPS in some of his personal insults and rants. He just went off on Om and then me.

Clearly the guy has issues. I tried to dialogue with him, saying that just because someone shares their personal experiences with spirituality does not mean they are "preaching" or condemning others who disagree. People read into other people's comments with all kinds of trigger points and imagine attacks where none exist. I see this trait a lot among people who are ideological, no matter if its religious fundamentalism, political, or even anti-religious. If someone disagrees with their view, then the other person becomes an enemy and a threat. It is very difficult to communicate with a person who has this kind of personality trait because you have to go far out of your way to reassure them and stroke their egos so they won't feel so threatened. I just don't have the patience for it, though, because my view is: "you're an adult. Get over yourself!"

The debate kept getting nastier and nastier and I think I actually caused the person whose wall we were having the debate on to delete the entire discussion. The level of hostility that this atheist showed towards religion just seemed delusional and angry. To my understanding, people generally aren't passionate about something unless something personal happened to them. I know atheists who don't have angry tirades at spiritual or religious people. They just aren't interested in religion or spirituality. To have the kind of anger that this atheist showed, though, I wondered if some priest had done him wrong. Let's be real, here. There are a lot of religious hypocrites out there and their behaviour or abuse of others causes a lot of damage. In fact, I believe that they are held partially accountable if their abuse of others contributed to the abused victim turning away from God and spirituality or religion. I know its kind of a cop-out, but some people's exposure to God and religion might only be through the negative experience so its understandable that they would spend the rest of their lives angry and hateful about what the religious person did to them. Because I was raised in a loving faith community and only experienced intolerance and other people's hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes in other denominations within Christianity, I am able to understand that you cannot clump all Christians or all Christian churches into the hypocritical or bad or even "evil" category. Christian denominations are as diverse as the human species. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes.

This ranting "anti-theist" claims to have spent 3 years in a seminary with the goal of becoming a minister, but at some point in his journey, he lost his faith and believed that everything he was taught was a lie. I can't vouch for his story, but I imagine that learning "the truth" about Christian history might be disconcerting to people who grew up under the spell of the basic mythology. I went through my own "deconstruction process" in my late teens and early 20s. When I achieved "reconciliation with God" as a young 22 year old, it was the end result of several coincidences that I could not deny as being the evidence I needed that we live in a spiritual universe rather than a strictly materialist one. My personal "covenant" with God was that I would not have to believe the lies we're taught in Christian dogma and that my own personal spiritual experiences were enough to live in communion with God.

I imagine that for some people, particularly ideologues who believe in "absolute truth", if the truth they once believed was proven false, then they can't accept other explanations or other ways at looking at the stories they were taught was true. I've heard and read that many Mormons who end up leaving the LDS church actually become atheists, which surprised me. But as one ex-Mormon / current atheist told me, it's because they were taught that their church was "THE ONE TRUE CHURCH" of God and since they have come to view it as all one big lie, they can't find other churches to be credible, either. Atheism is the only place they can go.

That's sad, to me. There's a whole spiritual world out there, full of personal experiences that defy the strict scientific view of the world. These experiences transcend religious dogmas. Find what works for you and experiment with it. I love what the Buddhist monks say about how to achieve enlightenment. They will tell you how to go about achieving it and then say, "But don't take our word for it. Try it for yourself!"

The anti-theist ranted so much about being "preached at" (which was not true) that I was curious to see who this guy was, so I looked at his info page on Facebook. I can't say that I was all that surprised. He fits what I know about most hardcore atheists I've met. They are so enamoured of their own intelligence that they cannot allow themselves to be interested in any spiritual idea because they don't want to be duped. Being duped is the worst thing for any self-respecting intelligent person. I share this trait, because I do value intelligence and I hate being duped, so I scrutinize every idea. However, what makes me different from the hardcore atheist is that I don't reject everything just because I had a negative experience. I look at what the negative experience was teaching me. Plus, I think I just have a mind / personality that naturally gravitates to the spiritual view of things. I've seen too many unexplained events happen to myself and others to deny it. Also, it seems kind of lonely to be so in love with one's own intelligence that they reject others who don't share their beliefs.

Here's what Mr. Anti-Theist wrote on his Facebook info page:

Do not, under any circumstances, send me a friend request that isn't accompanied by, at the very least, a message explaining why you think we should be friends. It's rude and I will ignore you.

I am intelligent and like to surround myself with others who are, as well. I have little to no tolerance for deliberate stupidity or ignorance. I would rather be stung, momentarily, by an ugly truth than to believe a pretty lie only to discover it's deceipt later. Inasmuch, I won't sugar-coat, lie, placate or 'dumb down.' Catch up or be left behind.

Arrogant? Yes, and I won't apologize for it.

When I read that, I understood a lot about him. Wow. He actually thinks an unsolicited "Friend request" is "rude"?!? For me, I'm flattered when people send me a Facebook request. I generally accept most requests without requiring a reason. It reminds me of one former co-worker (in my current job) who had accepted my Facebook friend request and later on, I read a comment he posted on his wall that he would de-friend anyone who makes a stupid comment. He told me not to worry, that I was in no danger of being de-friended, but ultimately, he did de-friend me (I suspect that it happened around the time that I had posted comments doubting that Osama Bin Laden had been killed the way our government claimed). I suspect that the anti-theist is like that. He has little tolerance for diversity and expects people in his social circle to conform to his view of the world.

Well, Mr. Anti-Theist might hate religions and view them as a cult, but he's also in a cult devoted to his own mind. I consider it ironic, though, that the person I admired the most and who was instrumental in helping me break out of the mold of religious dogmas, was an atheist, yet the atheists I've met since him twenty years ago have been rather arrogant, angry, and ideological.

In the Dream, Think, Do, Be series that I've been attending at the Presbyterian Church on my route to and from work, I was stunned last week that these fellow Christians also share the same views as me regarding the dogmas we've been taught. One lady even mentioned that if she learned that Jesus did not even exist but was entirely made up, she would be okay with it because just the idea about him was powerful enough. Whoa. Not sure I'd go that far, though. However, on the drive home from the retreat on Sunday, I was stunned to hear Sheyne say the same thing. Its strange to go nearly 40 years in life not hearing people make that comment, then in a few days time, I hear two people who don't even know one another basically state the same thing. Yikes. For me, I long ago made peace with the fact that I don't believe in the Virgin Birth or that Jesus was born on December 25th. However, not believing in those things has not made Christmas any less special for me. It still remains as the most beautiful of holidays, with the music, the decorations, the feelings evoked, the reminder of what's important.

What I love about this series I'm attending with the Presbyterian Church is that we need to look at our Christian beliefs from a mythological or metaphorical perspective in order to find the deeper meaning that being literally minded cannot find. We have to be active seekers of the miraculous, but faith and belief are the required building blocks. It is sad that so many people want to throw away all religious ideas just because the church they were a part of disappointed them or deceived them or perhaps even abused them. There are thousands of churches out there and hundreds of religions. There are even atheist groups. Despite our diversity of beliefs, we can still find common ground.

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