Martin Hughes wrote an article entitled, “I’m an atheist, but here’s why I define myself by what I love” (Patheos, Barrier Breaker blog, 4-6-19). There is much in it that I enthusiastically agree with, His words will be in blue.
It’s difficult to be part of a group whose entire existence is based on the disapproval of something. I’m not defined by the fact that I don’t believe in God. What I don’t believe in ultimately is a black hole — a thing that doesn’t have any real impact on my life, in and of itself. . . .
It’s like being surrounded by people who believe in bigfoot, when you don’t believe in bigfoot. Sure, you can join the small group of anti-bigfooters. But ultimately that’s boring, because you don’t believe in bigfoot. And it’s demoralizing, after a while, because you’re defining your group by something you hate. The people who believe in bigfoot are defining themselves by something they love.
And chances are high that when you list the reasons why you hate the concept of bigfoot, those reasons will have more to do with the ways people act on the concept of bigfoot in ways that trample things you love. Which would mean that your anti-bigfootness ultimately has less to do with bigfoot, and more to do with the way bigfoot believers trample on things that you love.
And as an ex-antitheist, I’d rather focus my energy on embracing the things I love than pushing the things I hate. In that embrace of science, of truth, of empathy, and of love, I may engage in actions that may seem anti-theistic. But I am, fundamentally, not someone who sees himself as defined by what I reject; I am defined by what I am for.
I’m 100% wholeheartedly in favor of “science, of truth, of empathy, and of love.” I fail to see how those things are in the least “anti-theistic.”
. . . I’ve also seen that hundreds of these ex-Christian atheists tend to change, over time. Oh, they still have atheist friends, and sometimes they build strong communities – but they eventually begin to get tired of griping about religion for the umpteenth time.
They start focusing, increasingly, on what they love. Many of the times, some things they love are not acceptable according to the branch(es) of Christianity they came out of. And while they are against the Christian beliefs that are opposed to what they love, Christianity eventually is not their main focus. The things they love are. And as the things they love take up a larger and larger part of who they are, they begin to focus less and less on what they are against and more and more on what they’re for. . . .
I love science. I love philosophy. I love social justice. I love the beauty of black skin. I love economic justice. I love equality. I love empathy. I love a beautiful girl. I love lazy Saturday afternoons, laughing with friends, delicious food, and beautiful downtown evenings. I love a good movie, I love family, and I even sometimes love the architecture and solemnity I find in some churches or mosques or temples even though I don’t believe the religion itself. I love working. I love embracing a personally and communally meaningful life on the infinitesimal sliver of time I have on this infinitesimally small blue dot we call “earth.” I love writing about the things I love, and I love you, reader, for taking the time to share these things with me.
I love all of those things, too, without exception. What’s interesting to me is that the things that Martin says he loves are the very same things I love myself. These are areas where Christians and atheists can find considerable common ground. And I am delighted to find those areas and to be able to engage atheists on that common ground, because I’m happy to find things that unite rather than divide people.
Accordingly, I have posted many papers in an effort to find common ground with atheists and to encourage charitable, civil discourse with them. For example:
Secular Humanism & Christianity: Seeking Common Ground (with Sue Strandberg) [5-25-01]
16 Atheists / Agnostics & Me (At a Meeting) [11-24-10]
Should We Ignore Atheists or Charitably Dialogue? [7-21-10 and 1-7-11]
How about this one [i.e., a topic to talk about]: you defend atheism without running down something (or anything) else: positive reasons for why you believe as you do. Is it possible? Will the universe self-destruct if an atheist doesn’t run down Christianity and the Bible to try to shore up his view? :-)Why have a discussion then, if you can’t offer me one positive reason why anyone should be an atheist?
You can’t tell me why you believe what you do (i.e., in a positive and non-negative way, as I have challenged you to do): have not yet given any positive, pro-active rationale. All you can do is tell me what you don’t believe, and to some extent, why.
It’s difficult to be part of a group whose entire existence is based on the disapproval of something. . . . they eventually begin to get tired of griping about religion for the umpteenth time. . . . I am, fundamentally, not someone who sees himself as defined by what I reject; I am defined by what I am for.
What Martin identifies as the things he loves and what he stands for, are all good things, with which I (and I dare say, most Christians) agree. So I would say that he and I (and other atheists and Christians like us) can “meet” and be friends within those common ground areas. It’s completely possible. I’ve done it many times.
Then in due course perhaps things where we disagree might be constructively (even enjoyably) discussed. Or they might not. But if so, it has to be in the context of an established mutual respect. This latter factor is just as necessary among fellow Christians as well (believe me). We have all kinds of stupid, tragic internal divisions, just as Martin says atheists increasingly do. I get along far better with an atheist of his sort than I do with an anti-Catholic type of Protestant (the equivalent in spirit and mentality of the angry anti-theist).