Encouragement from Strangers

Encouragement from Strangers July 25, 2013

girl-typingAs anyone who has tried her hand at this can tell you, blogging can get pretty discouraging sometimes.  If you’re lucky, once in a while you write something that for one reason or another gets seen by a bunch of people.  One day last month I got 4,400 visitors reading one single blog post.  That was pretty cool.  Some bloggers are so well-connected that they would call that a slow day, but for me it was fantastic.  My usual numbers are way lower than that.  Some days it seems hardly anyone is reading what I write, and even on those days it may seem like several respondents either don’t understand what I was getting at or else they just plain disagree.  That can be pretty discouraging.  But that just comes with the territory.  If you really wanna wade into blogging, you better be ready for a whole lotta crickets chirping.

But then I get emails and FB messages which make me feel better about sticking my neck out a little bit the way that I sometimes do.  Those notes can be a real shot in the arm, and they remind me why I decided to add my voice to the chaotic chorus already crowding cyberspace.  I could paper the walls of a room with some of the encouraging things I’ve heard from complete strangers over the last three months (in fact I just might do that one of these days just to keep me going), but here’s an example from a note I got just this morning.

From Rachel Y.:

I found you through a video that was posted of you on Youtube called “Interview an Atheist in Church Day“. I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated your video. For many reasons. I am 24 years old and have been deconverted from Christianity for 2 years. It has been incredibly isolating at times, since I too, am from the south. I have gotten many judgments, just like you mentioned. I really appreciated your honesty and your kindness. I have already shared the video with atheist/agnostic internet friends, and I will probably share it with some Christian friends/family if I ever need them to understand what it is like to be an atheist some time, so that we can be more understanding of each other and have better relationships. So thank you! Your explanations were clear, honest, concise, and (maybe this is a Christian phrase? lol) full of grace. It is a great video for opening up honest discussions between Christians and atheists.

Now, on the other side, I appreciated your perspective and think that ATHEISTS have a lot to learn from your video. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there are a lot of atheists who are not as forgiving, understanding, or patient as you are, and tend to make fun of Christianity a lot. A joke here and there doesn’t bother me, but I do not like this insulting attitude many of them have that only makes the divide greater between us. We need to learn how to coexist better. And the responsibility is on us as well. Since I deconverted I have been around many wonderful atheists and agnostics (okay, it was mostly online! lol) but often their attitude was arrogant and insulting towards Christians, and this unfortunately has rubbed off on my way of thinking. And this attitude, I find to be incredibly unfulfilling. I want us to love and accept each other. I want us to be tolerant. We live in a world filled with many beliefs and ways of living and thinking and seeing the world. I do not like the way of thinking that says “my way of thinking/believing is better than all of the rest.” But it seems that many people take this stance, but atheists often think they are absolutely correct in taking this stance because they don’t believe in a “stone age religion” or because science is on their side. I get that, but at the same time, the arrogance, like I said, just creates a bigger divide.

Anyway, I just wanted to say I very much appreciated what you had to say. I think there needs to be more atheists like you. Your video inspires me to be a more accepting person, and that is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

********

(My response)

Thank you, Rachel! I needed that today. Sometimes it can get terribly discouraging, especially in those moments when you realize that the way you are approaching something puts you at odds with people on both sides of an issue! My Christian friends and family are obviously upset with me for not believing in their god anymore, but my newer atheist friends often get onto me as well for not being more confrontational and challenging to my friends and family.

My take on the latter opinion is that most people get where I am in baby steps. It can take YEARS. But these people seem to think we should be shoving people through that door, when I know good and well that’s not how it works for people like these. The only thing that works is a little here, and a little there, slowly chipping away at the dogma and narrowmindedness, like the guy in Shawshank Redemption (one of my favorite movies of all time). I’d prefer to stay in conversation with people rather than toss out bridge burners that I know will cause them to shut down and tune me out.

Thanks again for the encouragement. Like I said, I needed it today.

******

I should probably have added that I believe there is a time and a place for mockery of bad ideas.  Parody and satire have been essential tools for social change throughout history (just look at the political cartoons of colonial America) and without them, our challenge of power will always be incomplete and ineffectual.  We must be able to poke fun at those things which harm us because doing so is an essential part of robbing those forces of their power.  But we must take care that we do that in a way that does not disable us from having real, face-to-face conversations with people within our personal sphere of influence.  There is a fine line between mocking ideas and mocking the people who hold to those ideas.  Difficult as it may be to find that line, that’s the task before us.  We must learn to challenge bad ideas without using personal insults and name-calling.  People deserve respect, even if ideas do not.  But that shouldn’t stop us from hacking away at the ideas themselves.

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  • Linda R

    Just to let you know, there are, I’m sure, many readers like myself who DO read your blog faithfully but may not always have a response.

    You are appreciated, keep it coming.

  • Like Linda says – I read every one, and I’m encouraged by your honest and forthright approach.

    When I first de-converted, I had a chip on my shoulder. I had lost all respect for the religious – mostly because I was resentful of the people who pulled the wool over my eyes at a young and impressionable age. I generalized this resentment to all religious folks.

    While I believe that they’re often misguided by “scripture” and church dogma/doctrine, I understand how that can happen and recognize, to paraphrase John Bradford, “There, but for the knowledge of reality, go I.”

    Keep up the good struggle!

  • Excellent. And I read them all, whether or not I comment.

  • I read every one as well. You are the atheist blogger that I relate to the most. We come from extremely similar backgrounds and both from the South. Also, most of my family and friends, whom I love, are still firmly in Christian culture. Unless I was to alienate everyone I know, I have to be kind.

  • Rachel

    Hey that was me!

    I have to say that since watching your video I have been enjoying many of your blog posts as well. I very much appreciate your point of view and I’m glad to have a new atheist blogger to read, especially one that is just a genuine, nice guy. Your positivity is a great thing. Thanks for doing what you do, and Im sure I’ll continue to follow your blog!

  • :-)

  • I encourage you to keep up your blogging even if I disagree with some parts. Actually, I expect it. There is so very little of this that is cut and dried (no matter what other atheists pretend) that to become dogmatic about religion, for or against, is foolishness.

    As for the bad behavior of people online: Unfortunately, those psycho/sociological experiments in the 60s showed us that when people can abdicate responsibility, they tend to act very poorly.

    Thanks, Neil, for all you do – Keep up the good work.

  • Stephanie

    As a senior citizen from NC, I enjoy your site and read it often.