To make it abundantly clear: why this atheist is invested in Christianity.


To make it abundantly clear: why this atheist is invested in Christianity.



I don’t think it’s exact­ly a secret that I’m not a Chris­t­ian.

I mean, I made my decon­ver­sion quite pub­lic last year, and have writ­ten about it at least twice since. While I didn’t clar­i­fy my beliefs at the time, they are now as they were then and had been for some time: I am an agnos­tic athe­ist. Basi­cal­ly, while I don’t think it’s pos­si­ble to know whether there is a divine being of some kind, I don’t believe that there is.

And yet I’m still pret­ty involved in Chris­t­ian spheres. The major­i­ty of my friends and fam­i­ly are Chris­tians, and the lan­guage of Chris­tian­i­ty is still very much a lan­guage I under­stand and am able to speak. So when I get texts like the one pic­tured here…on some lev­el, I get it. I under­stand why they sent it. (And yes, I’m total­ly aware of the con­text but am not address­ing it specif­i­cal­ly fur­ther here, most­ly because Dan Fincke has done a pret­ty mar­velous job already.)

Real­ly, though…all I can do is shake my head and won­der.

Who even sent this? How did they get my num­ber? (If it was you, please don’t tell me — I don’t actu­al­ly want to know.) What were they hop­ing my response would be? What were they hop­ing to accom­plish?

This text mes­sage dis­plays two things that real­ly frus­trate me about Chris­tian­i­ty: trite­ness and inva­sive­ness.

lis­ten to people’s sto­ries. Just apply the Bible to what­ev­er ails you, and you’ll be fine!

This nec­es­sar­i­ly express­es itself trite­ly. If you’re not a Chris­t­ian, of course that’s the root of any prob­lem you have. You just need to get saved. Depressed? “Why so down­cast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God!” Wrestling with the nature of God? “His ways are high­er than our ways.” Frus­trat­ed or angry or hurt by cir­cum­stances in your life? “Rejoice in the Lord always! In every­thing give thanks!” Your lived expe­ri­ences don’t actu­al­ly mat­ter, because all you have to do is read the Bible and do what it says and you’ll be just fine. After all, God said it, I believe it, that set­tles it. No excep­tions.

The things I sub­ject myself to for research. The least you can do is suf­fer with me.

The trite­ness of apply­ing Bib­li­cal lit­er­al­ism to your every­day life invari­ably leads to inva­siv­ness in the lives of oth­ers. After all, God’s word won’t return void — so preach at all times, even if the peo­ple you’re preach­ing to believe dif­fer­ent­ly or express a desire to be left alone. Unbe­liev­ers are going to hell, which is awful, so you have to preach the good news! I mean, Jesus said to go into the world and make dis­ci­ples out of every liv­ing crea­ture. No men­tion of respect­ing the auton­o­my of the crea­tures you’re try­ing to dis­ci­pline!

I get it. I real­ly do. I lived it. I believed it.

But what I didn’t get or under­stand was basic respect — and that’s because the “ungod­ly” showed me.

Send­ing a text like this to some­one you’re not close to who has talked about her neg­a­tive expe­ri­ences with Chris­tian­i­ty and made it clear that she’s not a Chris­t­ian anymore…that’s inva­sive. It was dis­re­spect­ful of my time (Come on — mid­night? Seri­ous­ly? I work an 8–5 job!), and dis­re­spect­ful of my beliefs.

But it’s not about just that text I got Tues­day morn­ing. It’s real­ly not. That text is a small part of an entire way of life with­in Chris­tian­i­ty where­in a Chris­t­ian feels bound by God to ignore social bound­aries in order to deposit nuggets of trite “wis­dom” in the laps of peo­ple who need so much more (or per­haps so much less) than that.

Being right is more impor­tant than lov­ing your neigh­bor as your­self. And no self-respect­ing per­son is going to respond well to that.

When things like this hap­pen, to me or to my friends, I real­ly strug­gle with how to respond. Part of me says, “You’re not a Chris­t­ian any­more, so just ignore it. It’s not like it affects you any­more any­way.” But that’s not real­ly true. There are lots of things about Chris­tian­i­ty that deeply affect­ed me for over 20 years, and when Chris­tian­i­ty also tends to play a role in U.S. pol­i­tics, it sure as hell affects me.

And the thing is, when I stopped believ­ing in God, I didn’t stop car­ing about peo­ple. I care about the world around me, about mak­ing it suck less, about help­ing make sure that peo­ple with­in my old faith don’t have to have the feel­ings and fears and expe­ri­ences I did. I think there’s a lot of val­ue to Chris­tian­i­ty, if the tox­ic parts could be done away with.

The Chris­tians in my life that I deeply appre­ci­ate are the Chris­tians who care more about liv­ing well and lov­ing oth­ers than they do about fol­low­ing a rule­book. They study the Bible, to be sure. But they have open minds while they do so. They rec­og­nize the com­plex­i­ty of inter­pret­ing the Bible for 21st cen­tu­ry appli­ca­tion. They rec­og­nize the auton­o­my of the indi­vid­u­als around them and they respect that auton­o­my. They affirm the dig­ni­ty of human­i­ty and work to make the world a bet­ter place with­out try­ing to force their beliefs on any­one. Their faith moves them to act humane­ly and kind­ly and lov­ing­ly, to fight for jus­tice and com­fort the afflict­ed and rejoice with the joy­ful, no mat­ter who they are or what they believe. That’s a faith I can sup­port. That’s a faith that does good work. Not the shal­low pseu­do-intel­lec­tu­al inva­sive faith of my past.

And that’s why I’m still invest­ed in Chris­tian­i­ty, despite hav­ing reject­ed it for myself. It was my entire life for over 20 years, and if I can help my awe­some Chris­t­ian friends make their faith a pos­i­tive force in the world, I’m going to do it.

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