For Christian Teens: Getting Beyond the Unthinkable

I’m thinking of some tri-fold fliers to be handed out to Christian teens. Here’s a first approximation of one of them. Tell me what you think of it, what you’d add, take away, change.

_______________________________

What If … ?

When you think about it, it’s the nuances that have helped we humans advance. The search for all that stuff obscured by the standard wisdom, the common knowledge, the things every sane person knows.

Of course Man cannot fly! But what if a man could fly … just a teeny bit? The Wright brothers asked the question, and kicked off a race of invention and discovery that resulted in today’s passenger jets.

Lightning is overpowering and deadly. But what if there was a way you could catch a very little bit of lightning, and do something with it? Ben Franklin, among countless others, asked the question and helped us create today’s lights, computers, recorders, the Internet, and a million more things.

People are either black or white. Women should stay home and keep house, raise children, please men. Marriage means one man, one woman.

But what if there were other ways of looking at such things, ways that not only gave individuals greater freedom to be themselves but produced side effects that benefited the entire society?

Attuning yourself to nuance is one of the most important skills of thinking, the doorway between juvenile and adult attitudes about life. If you want to grow up at all, and gain at least a small amount of freedom of thought – the most basic of personal freedoms – you pretty much have to recognize that things are often more complex than you’re told.

Speaking of nuances: Between every dichotomy is hidden nuance. Yes and No obscure Maybe. Black and White overshadow Gray. Love and Hate draw attention from Indifference — and 50 other in-between feelings.

Yet even knowing that, every time we humans line up at the shouting wall between theism and atheism, we seem to end up yelling the same two arguments across it.

There is a God!

No there’s not!

And you’ve bought into it, haven’t you? You’ve aligned yourself on that one side of the thing, you think you’re perfectly justified in doing it, and you feel strongly that nothing else need be said on the subject. And maybe you’re even right.

How about this nuance though:

What if SOME of the ideas we have about God are wrong? What if God is a teeny bit different from what we think He is? What if some very small amount of what we think of as God is not God at all?

And beyond that: What might things be like – in the extremely unlikely, distant possibility – IF there was no God?

How could we live? How would we relate to each other? How could we be moral?

Notice: In asking such questions you’re not saying “There is no God.” You’re only asking “What would things be like if there wasn’t?”

If you look at the world around you, it turns out this “What if there was no God?” question has been asked in countless different ways throughout human history.

If there was no God …

… early medical researchers asked, “How could we fix an illness or injury?”

… geologists asked, “How might this particular rock have come about?”

… biologists asked, “How might eyes have formed in the various animal species?”

And in each case, without getting into the argument about whether or not a God existed, the very asking of the question turned up some useful answers.

Yes, you could still pray fervently for the intercession of God. But you could also do surgery to fix a diseased gall bladder or leaky heart.

Yes, you could still walk around in reverent wonder at the beauty of God’s mountains. But you could also figure out something about the forces of vulcanism and uplift, sedimentation and continental drift.

Yes, you could marvel at the splendid complexity of God’s wondrous creation. But you could also see how eyes worked, and how similar – or different – they were in eagles and elephants, insects and iguanas, monkeys and men.

The point is, the very asking of certain questions, even when you can’t find the one true answer, can often lead to new understandings, new possibilities.

The very asking of the question – WHAT IF there was no God? – leads to a whole range of new possibilities.

WHAT IF … there was no God?

Would you HAVE to rape and kill people? Or is there some set of common rules people could work out that might allow them to live peaceably together?

WHAT IF … there was no God?

Would you HAVE to lose all hope and decide that life is meaningless? Or might there still be things you’d want to do?

WHAT IF … there was no God?

Would you suddenly lose all love for your family? Would they suddenly lose all love for you? Or might you still feel strong positive feelings for them, and they for you?

WHAT IF … there was no God?

Might you still have hopes for the future, all the things you want to do, all the dreams you want to make real?

WHAT IF … there was no God?

Could you still live your life, work on the things that interest you, love the people you care about?

Yes. You probably could.

In fact, you should.

And maybe, in fact … You do.

  • http://ogremk5.wordpress.com ogremk5

    I like it. I’m not much of a copy editor, but I wouldn’t change anything.

  • http://justdfacsmaam.wordpress.com MarkNS

    Awesome!

  • Don F

    c/we humans advance/us humans advance/

  • william

    The paragraph

    People are either black or white. Women should stay home and keep house, raise children, please men. Marriage means one man, one woman.

    is great. Simple language, and it’s very clear what you are getting at. But most of it is a little overwrought, to be honest. Some specific thoughts(*):

    1. “overpowering” sounds off.
    2. “Attuning yourself to nuance” is overwrought. Also in this paragraph, you probably don’t want to lecture teenagers about what it takes to become an adult.
    3. “And you’ve bought into it, haven’t you?” is patronizing.
    4. “Would you HAVE to rape and kill people?” will just piss off your audience. Don’t go there (especially since you just pop that in out of nowhere).

    (*) Sorry to be so critical… you did ask :D

  • Pteryxx

    Can I ask what the purpose of the flier is? I know “handed out to Christian teens” but in what situation – as part of a critical thinking class, or tolerance workshop, or to be given to those who ask about atheism? Or are they just supposed to be left lying around in waiting rooms?

    Honestly, while this piece makes good arguments, I can’t tell whether its focus is on exploration versus dogmatism, celebrating discovery, questioning Christianity’s tenets, or understanding an atheist view of the world. Depending on its purpose, I think it should be clarified; and if you DO intend to hit all these points, then they should be grouped into more distinct sections.

    On a quick reading, it seems like a lot of text for the purpose, a bit simplistic in the language for a *teen* audience (though with the state of Christian schooling I may be too optimistic…) and rather dry and hook-less with no imagery at all. Are there going to be images eventually?

    …also, nitpick: “MAN cannot fly” ? rly? *cough*

  • jaranath

    I agree with Pteryxx, the opening parts seem too unfocused, and probably too long. I think I’d cut the ifrst two-thirds way down. And I don’t like the way you seem to be asking them to just consider that they might be slightly wrong about God. That, I think, will trigger some fear of corruption, like a drug dealer asking a kid to take just a harmless little taste. Yeah, doubt DOES often work that way, and that’s why many parents and preachers warn against harboring any doubts or asking any questions at all. It will feel deceptive to some, and I think the shields will go up quick if you try that approach. Whereas being clearer up-front about your ultimate goal will be seen as more honest. If you still want to qualify it, you could say something like “I’d like you to ask ‘what of there’s no god’, but even if you still believe there is, you might learn something in the process.”

    I like the latter portion (the string of questions about how they’d behave with no god) very much, I’d keep that unchanged.

  • Hank Fox

    Thanks, everybody! Good inputs all.

    I posted this hastily, rushing to get off to work, and after reading your comments and doing a second reading of the piece last night, I can definitely see room for improvement. The first half now seems choppy and unfocused — I want to substantially rewrite it.

    Often when I’m writing down a new idea, the whole thing is complete and clear in my head. I can see how it WORKS. The problem is, always, I can’t be sure I’ve gotten the stuff in my head down in words so the reader gets it all. Gah, there have been times I’ve written stuff that just seemed — to me! — to glow … and then come back later and realized it resembled the ramblings of a drunk.

    Always better to write and rest, and come back that second time for a fresh look.

    Or to have good people look it over and tell you what they think.

  • niftyatheist

    Gah, there have been times I’ve written stuff that just seemed — to me! — to glow … and then come back later and realized it resembled the ramblings of a drunk.

    I laughed out loud. I know that feeling, and thanks again for being so frankly unafraid to be self-aware.

    I really like this idea and I second both william’s and pteryxx’s posts.

    I would like to know how you envision getting these pamphlets into teenager’s hands. I have often thought it would be handy to have something like this to hand god-botherers who press their literature upon me in public or at my own front door.

    • fastthumbs

      niftyatheist: I suspect the God-botherers handing out pamphlets would either outright refuse “Hank’s Tracks” or take them and then just dump them into the nearest trash bin a few minutes later after you have moved on.

      It’s pretty much what I do when handed (or find on my front door porch) a Chick Track or Watchtower pamphlet or flyer to join the local megachurch…


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