Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Eyes of an Atheist

I’m taking a class on Atheism this term at Murray State University. Michelle saw a flier for the class on our first day back at school just a few minutes before the first lecture hour. There wasn’t time to officially add the course or even check and see if there was space available for that matter –so I just showed up. The professor was very glad that I came and said that he would see to it that I could join the class. He’s a very nice man and a really great teacher. The course is hands down my favorite class this term. It’s easy to tell that he cares that we are actually learning, growing and getting something out of the course (by the way, he’s not himself an atheist and he’s not trying to convert anyone into being one). The course is hands down my favorite this term.

You may be wondering why I’m taking the class and why I like it so much. I wanted to take the class so that I could better understand atheistic thought and reasoning. I grew up in place that is very much NOT the Bible belt, and as far as I can remember, the majority of my childhood teachers were themselves either atheist or agnostic. And many of the people who proclaim to be Christians probably still had pretty liberal theological views such as; theist evolution, which is a belief that I used to have. Despite all of my exposure to “liberal” (I guess that’s what we’ll call it) philosophies, I have never myself been able to personally understand an atheist’s perspective on the world and theology.

On the first day of my atheism class we spent most of the time talking about what an atheist is and what an atheist is not. Since people often call agnostics and deist atheist by mistake. The professor opened up discussion about how atheists are often perceived in the world. People gave answers like, “Atheists are often seen as evil or wicked people” and “Christians see atheists as mean people” and more of the like. Keep in mind that this is coming from a group here in Murray, Kentucky, a.k.a. –Bible Belt Land.

Since being in this class I myself have been judged and “shunned” by someone whom I guess must be a Christian. It happened just last Friday before my first quiz in this atheism class. The quiz covered a huge amount of material, so I went to the school book store to buy a new notebook to put all of my handouts in. While I was being checked out, the cashier and I were carrying on a friendly conversation. I was telling her about how much material I had been given so far in this class and how I already had a book report due on Monday. She said that does seem like a large work load to her and asked me what class it was for. When I told her that it was for my atheism class her, then smiling face, dropped into a new face of shock and slight horror maybe mixed in with a little disgust. She then, rather awkwardly, handed me my new notebook while trying to avoid making any eye contact with me –then I left. I left very confused about why this woman out of no where treated me so coldly. I wondered what I did to deserve that look she gave me. That look of fear that said with out words… “You’re evil.” And that’s when it hit me that she probably thought I was an atheist; freaked out and didn’t know what to do. Then, whether she intended to or not gave me the “you’re evil” look while she was wrestling with how to handle the “situation.”

From what was expressed my first day in class it seems like this was a relatively typical Christian-reacting-to-an-atheist experience. Since being in the class and learning more about atheist and agnostic arguments against Christianity, the biggest cause for un-belief, that I can tell, always goes back to those who call themselves Christians but live very differently from the actual teachings of Jesus. So what we find is that the atheist is an atheist not because of some scientific or philosophical reasons, but actually because of Christians. Seeing Christians causes them not to believe in God. The atheist has a hard time believing in a God (who is, supposedly, all loving) or His Son Jesus, when they think that God wants His followers to treat others that don’t know Him with hate and disgust.

Throughout the last millennia Christian apologists have come up with many ways to “prove” the existence of God. Many of these arguments seem pretty dead-on to me. It also seems like an atheist would have a rather challenging time wrestling with these arguments; especially those presented by Thomas Aquinas. Bertrand Russell, a well renowned atheist and one of the most influential people of our time, addresses some of these arguments in his book: “Why I’m Not a Christian”. For the most part he reasons that, “God obviously can’t exist with the world being as bad it is. And Jesus obviously couldn’t have been a good teacher and God’s Son since none of His followers actually live the way that He calls them to live.”

I recently read “Why I’m Not a Christian” and while reading it the thought occurred to me many times that Russell has obviously never met a true disciple of Christ. I think that if Russell were alive, he would agree. Unfortunately, I think that many people throughout this dark world haven’t met a true disciple of Christ. Maybe, the world seems so dark because there isn’t enough disciples letting their lights shine in it. Maybe, a lot of atheists think that Christians are mean people, because they have never actually met a truly loving and genuine disciple of Jesus. Maybe, too many “Christians” aren’t living up to the call to a radical discipleship and life of selfless love that Jesus calls His followers to live.

These past few days it has become all the more clear to me that we (as disciples of Jesus) must fully take hold of the good life that Jesus calls us to live in this world. That we must truly blaze like wild fire in this world, as “shining stars in the universe.” That we must daily, hourly, constantly deny ourselves so that we can love those around us with an extreme love that can only come from God.

It’s my hope and prayer that I may become all the more intentional in my relationships with the people I’m around. It’s easy to forget how great an impression our every action has on those around us. I want to be intentional and loving toward all of my neighbors, whatever religious beliefs or life philosophies they may have; whether homosexual, atheist, racist or whatever! I want to be able to show them the love of Christ through my actions. May I always remember that my Savoir is a man who sat and chatted with the Samaritan woman at the well, dined with tax collectors and conversed with the Pharisees and Sadducees.

--May we blaze all the brighter in this world as we love God and those around us with an extreme love as the Spirit enables us.

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