This is a guest post by Alise Wright. Alise is a wife and mom. She loves knitting, playing keyboards in a cover band, eating soup, and writing at her blog.
I love to read and I particularly like to read things that are of interest to important people in my life. So when my husband came out to me as an atheist in late 2009, I went looking for something to read so I could better understand his views. And the first book that I read wasn’t Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris, but rather Hemant’s.
As a Christian, most of what I knew about atheists came from Christian sources, which, unfortunately, are not always as accurate as they should be. Having an opportunity to hear about an atheist’s perception of Christians — straight from the source — was beneficial to me in comparing to my husband’s impressions. And what I’ve found in the past year and a half is that getting to know some atheists has made me more like the Christian that I want to be.
What has changed?
- I speak out against injustice. I admit I had no idea that atheists were discriminated against until I had one in my family. Injustice that affects me directly makes me angry and I hope that I turn that anger into action. This doesn’t simply apply to atheists, but to all of those marginalized by society and especially by the church. Hemant frequently calls out people of faith to be a voice for those who are being hurt by the church and I believe his message has caused me to practice the kind of faith that I believe Jesus asked his followers to have.
- I actually practice unconditional love. I’m going to disagree with Penn Jillette and say that I don’t find proselytizing to be a display of love. While being a Christian is certainly not something that I feel like I need to hide, I also believe that the greatest commandment is to love others. Whether they choose to believe like me or not, my first goal is to love. Despite having different beliefs, I feel like I’ve developed a friendship with Hemant over the past year and that acceptance has caused me to be more accepting of others who are not just like me.
- I’m not afraid to question things. One of the things that I admired about Hemant’s book was his willingness to put his own non-belief on the line and participate in an honest look at the way different Christians practice their faith. While Christian history has always had people who have questioned long-held beliefs, it is not something that one sees modeled often in evangelical circles. While my questions have not led me completely away from faith, there have been changes in my faith over the past year that are a direct result of a willingness to reexamine long-held beliefs.
- I realized it’s okay to laugh at myself. Every time Hemant posts a picture of a baby he’s prepared to eat, it reminds me not to take myself too seriously. If someone says something negative about me or my beliefs, I can either get worked up and angry about it, or I can laugh. I always want to work toward better understanding others and presenting myself in a way that can be understood, but I also don’t want to get hung up on worrying about people who have no intention of looking for common ground.
There are no doubt places where Hemant and I will continue to disagree. But there are a lot more places where we agree. Things like respecting the dignity of others, caring for the world we live in, wanting the best for the people we love –- these are values that we share. And I fully intend to continue drawing on the inspiration of a friendly atheist to be a better Christian.
Have you had any unlikely relationships positively shape your life?
Do you think it’s possible to benefit from a relationship with people of different faith backgrounds or beliefs than your own?