Editor’s Note: Here is a very clever and very heartfelt public apology offered by an atheist to all the people he misunderstood when he was an evangelical Christian leader. This originally appeared on Clergy Project member Fernando Alcantar’s blog. It has been been lightly edited and reposted with permission. // Linda LaScola, Editor
By Fernando Alcántar
I’m sorry. I used to challenge the veracity of your love and doubted your understanding of it on a regular basis. I believed you didn’t really know love, or understand the fullness of love, because you didn’t know Christ like I did. At times, I’ll admit, I wondered if that hurt you. But to be honest, at times I also hoped it did. I figured that I would discomfort you enough to seek what I considered to be the source of true love—Jesus.
But I also did it for selfish reasons. I boasted of some proprietary rights on love because I felt it was my greatest evidence of the existence of an invisible being. That feeling inside my chest was really the one true “tangible” piece of truth I could really hold on to. Let’s face it — not much else can truly be proven between Genesis and Revelation.
1 John 4:8 reads,
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
This theme is narrated and strongly pushed forward at most Christian assemblies. They’ll preach and sing:
“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.”
The most quoted bible verse of all time reads, “For God so loved the world…”This persistent focus on the love of god made me and other Christians believe a number of things:
- That we had proprietary rights on love because our god gave it to us;
- That we possessed a moral high ground because we truly knew love;
- That any love outside of Jesus’ love is inferior;
- That real love outside of Jesus’ was impossible;
- That anyone who wants to experience true love must convert to Christianity.
This produced arrogance over our ironclad hold on love. But it also provided a fragile faith on a lifeline connected to that hold. We saw non-Christians as eternally incomplete, and our emotional mechanism overworked itself as it tried to compensate for lack of evidence of our faith.
The more scientific discovery tried to convince me to listen to my mind, the more I made an intentional decision to quiet my thoughts and only listen to my heart, because that’s where God spoke to me. It’s when life got hard, that I struggled the most to see evidence of my god’s existence. Facts were troubling and debilitating. But love had always been able to give me a second wind on faith.
So I preached love as a tool to win an argument and as a way to maintain myself in hope for a better life. When I testified of “Jesus’ love” I was holding on to a rope hoping that my public declaration of faith would lift me off my cliff of doubt. I built my support system so strongly around this love that the mere thought of losing it felt like a threat to my very existence.
And I wasn’t alone. Sermons were preached every Sunday about it. Posts on social media flooded our timeline as we thanked Jesus for giving us love and boasting of a special connection with him—through love. And I constantly assured people that they wouldn’t know “true love” unless they converted to my religion—I mean—“relationship.” At times I said that I respected all religions, or lack their of, but in reality I was preaching my faith with a pretense of respect for diversity.
I understand that some people use religious belief to further their value and love for humanity. I’ll take that over the atrocities done in the name of deities every day. But there is a point to be made about being able to have such value and love for humanity — not because a deity tells us to, but because it grows naturally from our connection to each other as members of the human family.
If someone chooses to believe their love comes from a creator—that’s their choice which they have every right to make. But human history has shown us that we don’t need gods to act in love or hate. Furthermore, breaking from the belief that love can exist just as powerfully and real outside of Christianity is threatening to Christian belief because:
- It supports the troubling hypothesis that a belief in Jesus is nothing more than a preference and is not evidence for a creator.
- If non-Christians can love just like Christians do, then Christians lose their upper hand and claim on morality.
- It would bring a weakening unbalance to the emotional health many Christians are tenaciously grasping.
Believing in an all-powerful god who sent his only son to die for the sins of humanity is a beautiful story that can really be inspiring when told by a powerful speaker. Christians admit that they’d rather be the creation of a loving deity than the result of a “cosmic accident.” But preference doesn’t produce causality. It may be uplifting to believe we arrived at work riding a magic carpet instead of taking the bus. Fantasy is certainly more alluring and awe-inspiring, but it doesn’t make it real — quite the opposite. Love and value for humanity exist just as much without belief in Jesus.
As humans we appreciate beautiful stories. They provide inspiration that we need for motivation. But I also feel it is beautiful to ponder that out of the billions of solar systems, and an even greater number of planets, we were the astoundingly lucky ones who got a crack at life – a diverse, colorful, and complex life.
I now value people because they comfort me when I cry, because they cheer for me when I win and because they give me a second chance when I fail. I hope my value and love for humanity is judged by my ability to do the same for others, and not because I believe in a mystical power. Love is not Christian; it is human.
(Also published on ExChristian.Net on 12/10/2017)
Fernando Alcántar is a former leader of the Foursquare (evangelical, Pentecostal) denomination in Mexico and senior coordinator of North American Partnerships at Azusa Pacific University, where he oversaw hundreds of churches in Mexico and helped to mobilize thousands of missionaries a year from all over the United States and Canada. He is now a gay atheist activist, spreading a message of tolerance, introspection and understanding. He lives in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He is a member of The Clergy Project and author of To the Cross and Back: An Immigrant’s Journey from Faith to Reason, with a foreword by Dan Barker.
>>>Photo Credits: by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) – Private Collection. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christ_The_Consolator.jpg#/media/File:Christ_The_Consolator. ; by Greg Dart