Dear Evangelical Friend — Would You Rather Fail At Being My Savior, Or Succeed at Being My Friend?

Dear Evangelical Friend — Would You Rather Fail At Being My Savior, Or Succeed at Being My Friend? May 7, 2015

A certain someone in my life recently reached out to tell me he’d pray for me.

It was a simple gesture and one that would have been most welcome had I been going through a tough time — facing a serious illness, perhaps, or coping with the loss of a loved one. But this was different. This “I’ll pray for you” was not a synonym for “I’m thinking of you” or “I love you,” but, rather, a synonym for “Something is terribly wrong with you” and “May God forgive you.” This was not a message of love — but a pointed criticism veiled as prayer.

woman prayingI suppose I should have seen in it coming.

Before I decided to write a book for non-religious parents, I was one of American’s “quiet disbelievers.”
That is, I didn’t share my views publicly. I knew atheism and agnosticism were roundly misunderstood, and I didn’t want my religious friends and family to think poorly of me — or to try to convince me I was wrong.

But I truly felt that my message, which involves raising children free of bigotry and indoctrination, was worth sharing. I wanted nonreligious Americans, like myself, to teach their children to judge people on what they do in life — not what they believe. I wanted parents to encourage their kids to choose their own spiritual or non-spiritual paths — wherever those may lead. But to write this book, I had to take a stand. And that meant outing myself as an atheist.

Now, a certain evangelical someone from my past — someone I genuinely like and admire — has emerged with “prayers” for me.

So what do I do now? How can I respond in a way that stays true to myself but does not send our friendship into the past tense? My sense is that a simple “Thank you” is the best course. Or may be a joke: “It’s too late for me, friend. Save yourself!” But what if that doesn’t suffice? What if, instead of dropping it, he just, you know, keeps on praying?

Here is what I want to say:

Dear friend,

Offending you is not my intention. I don’t wish to hurt you or make you worry about me. I hope very much you do not see me as someone who is out to threaten your way of life, or who wishes to do harm to your vision of God, or who wants to erase religion from our culture.

Faith brings many people happiness, inspires people to do good, and makes people feel fulfilled and at ease in their bodies. Those are all good things. That it does not do any of those things for me does not diminish that. Are there bad people in your group? People who wish to do others harm? Yes, but I bet you don’t support them. I don’t support the bad seeds in my group, either.

If I am wrong and God exists, I wish the being no harm whatsoever.  And if I am wrong and there is a God who is judging my behavior, I would hope very much that this God would see me as a good person — despite my “ignorance” for not believing.

But, if I’m being completely honest with myself, I must admit that I say this for your benefit, not mine. I say this to bring peace to you, not me. I am already at peace. I am living the best way I know how and, like you, I’m really happy in my worldview. I don’t feel a lacking or a longing. I feel complete and confident. I’m no less moral or more scared of death than I was when I did believe in God. There is no struggle within me. I feel only acceptance.

I look around and I see a wonderful world, just the way Louis Armstrong describes it. Sure, I also see a lot of disaster and sadness and a lot of deeply disturbed individuals who I wish had never been born. But mostly I see the stunning beauty of it all. Mostly I see a world well worth fighting for, and people well worth loving.

I just don’t see God.

I feel so lucky to live in a free country, friend. I’m lucky that I can write a book like mine and not be arrested for it, flogged for it, put to death for it. I’m lucky that my family — even the most pious members of my family — have chosen to support me. Did God tell them to support me, or did they make that call themselves? I don’t know. But whatever the case, I am grateful.

Some religions charge their adherents with the duty of spreading their faith to others, and I understand that. For evangelicals, this is God’s decree. This is how they spread a message of love — and how they spread love itself.

But to evangelize to those who have found peace in their lives, who are trying to make the world a better place, and who are willing to love you for who you are — that doesn’t look like love anymore. It looks like derision. At some point you have to choose: Would you rather fail at being my savior or succeed at being my friend?

At the end of the day, the simplest, kindest, most direct thing I can think to say to you — and to all evangelicals — is the same thing I would want you to say to me if the situation were reversed.

“We disagree on this one. Can we still be friends?”

Jesus’ version of the ancient ethic of reciprocity is often stated as follows: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I am doing that.

Are you?


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