I’ve just picked up two plates from the table, the remnants of a mostly eaten meal still on them, and I’m balancing them in my left hand as I ask if there will be any dessert for my guests (there will not), 60-something-year-old visitors from Louisiana who have been very pleasant all meal, a friendly and talkative couple.
The husband, a gray-haired gentleman with kind eyes looks at me and, knowingly, asks,
“Are you a Christian?”
No, no I am not.
Having read this blog (or knowing me personally), you know that I am an atheist. What this means is that I do not believe in God. Or god. Or gods. Or the Easter Bunny.
This is my blog, this is where I share my personal beliefs, my views and opinions, my random thoughts and my intricately thought-out diatribes. If you come to my blog and are offended by the words I write, I can empathize with you, but I do not apologize. The internet is a big place, no one has forced this page upon you and a blog, at least in its most elemental sense, is a place for a person to openly share who they are.
In contrast, if you have ever served me at a restaurant, helped me in a store or bagged my groceries, you have never been asked by me, kindly or not, “Are you an atheist?”
There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of people who have had dealings with me in some form or another, and have never known my personal state of non-faith.
This, to me, seems like a perfectly agreeable circumstance.
I’m sitting at the job I took when I first moved to Nashville, a job that requires I call up former customers of a certain initial-based phone service (that shall remain nameless) and run them through a survey of their experience with the company. This is, almost exclusively, unpleasant.
The woman who sits in the cubicle next to me for 4 hours out of my 7-hour shift is a sweet thing, probably in her 40s, homely but goodhearted with a voice and manner that, presumably, puts people at ease on the phone (though she has a halting way of reading the script on her screen that drives me a bit nuts).
One day, as we’re both waiting for the auto-dialer to connect us with strangers across the country, she leans over and without words hands me some sheets of paper. They are poems.
Specifically, they are ABAB rhyming poems about the grace of God and Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice.
They are, objectively, not good poems.
As a person who considers himself a rather mediocre (one might even say, derivative) poet, I am not claiming to be a master of the form. I am not even claiming to be able to define what makes a poem ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In fact, what appeals to me about poetry is its elusive qualities.
That said, like pornography, we know bad poetry when we see it.
This woman wrote the kind of poetry that most every ‘poet’ writes when they first start out: Simple-minded, filled with cliched phrases and obvious rhyme and completely devoid of risk. The other women-of-a-certain-age in her Bible Study or home group may very well have enjoyed them for their faith-affirming message, but otherwise it was unremarkable to a clinical degree.
But, here I was, in my cubicle, knowing that I had to sit next to this woman 5 days a week, her Christ-glistening poems in my hand. I smiled, whispered, “they’re good” to her after the requisite 3 minutes of reading time and handed them back to her with a benign smile. She beamed back to me and that, thankfully, was that. One of the few times I was glad that the job required we not talk with our neighbors.
Go Ye Into All The World…
I get it, I do. One of the fundamental tenets of Christianity is that, once accepted, you should (nay, must) spread the Word. After all, if Jesus Christ offers hope out of despair, eternal life instead of death, peace over pain, shouldn’t you want the world to know about it? And if having the Good Lord in your heart is like being in love, it’s only reasonable that you will feel the desire to gush about Him the way you would about the pretty, sweet thing you share a malted milkshake with at the local diner (I may be predating myself).
But, the thing is, if you’re gonna be spreading the word and asking if other people share your faith, you should recognize that you are going to run across some non-Christians: Muslims or Buddhists, Scientologists or Pastafarians.
Or me, your token Atheist. Secular Humanist, if you’re nasty.
And I’m okay with it if you’re okay with it.
I don’t worship any other gods (this was a question the elder gentleman asked me at the restaurant).
I don’t lack morals.
I don’t sacrifice babies (I mean, really, what would I do with the diapers?).
I do drink too much, but that doesn’t make me evil (it might make me Catholic, though; *rimshot*).
I am, for all intents and purposes, a decent human being.
In fact, the intensity in which Christianity was bred into me as a child has left an indelible mark on me. I am a man who believes in respecting others, in doing no harm to innocents and turning the other cheek (as much as I can, although I admit there are a few people who I do not forgive). As an Atheist, I live this way not because of a belief in God, but because I feel that it is decent.
If you wish to get into a semantic battle over what is decent and not decent in a world without an objective standard of good (i.e. God), I suggest you go back and read my Good Without God post. Personally, I have no interest in rehashing the topic.
Frankly, I don’t want to know about your faith. You know why? Because I am a white male from Midwestern America. I’ve heard of Jesus.
I’m not saying I begrudge your faith or that you can never talk to me about it. If we are friends then I fully expect that your faith (and my lack of it) will come up in conversation. I don’t see this as a point of contention, merely a point of divergence. I would never, say, not date someone because of their faith (in fact, all of my girlfriends have been Christian); though, I suspect, my being an atheist would eliminate me from some dating pools. So be it.
If you use your faith to justify reprehensible actions (abusing homosexuals, subjugating women, diluting science education, etc.), I will protest, pointedly.
Otherwise, there is no issue.
I Am An Atheist
You probably are not. I’m okay with that.