Today is Ask an Atheist Day. The Secular Student Alliance describes the purpose of this day this way:
National Ask An Atheist Day is an opportunity for secular groups across the country to work together to defeat stereotypes about atheism and encourage courteous dialogue between believers and nonbelievers alike. The event is intended to be an opportunity for the general public – particularly people of faith – to approach nontheists and ask questions about secular life. We’re encouraging all SSA affiliate groups to participate at whatever level they are able!
One of the benefits of writing for Patheos is the opportunity to get to know bloggers and commenters who are coming from vastly different perspectives than my own. I think talking with people with whom we disagree–even those with whom we disagree profoundly about things we each find very important–can be a really positive thing. It helps us to treat our neighbors as human beings and care about them as real people.
Two of the folks I’ve gotten to know a bit while blogging over here are atheist bloggers Neil Carter (Godless in Dixie) and JT Eberhard (W.W.J.T.D.). Both have had previous experiences within Christianity, although JT’s was more brief. Neil spent most of his life in the church before becoming an atheist. JT tends to be a bit of a firebrand on his blog, but courteous and friendly in personal interactions. JT covers the separation of church and state beat a lot, and I learn a lot from his posts about situations where religious power is sometimes used inappropriately within government. Neil is more of a diplomat and has an excellent grasp of theology. Some of his insights about church culture are so nuanced and helpful that I’ve often thought Christians could well benefit from thinking through some of his critiques. Both these men have been nothing but polite to me, and I really appreciate their willingness to come over here and talk with my readers.
I hope this mashup of my two interviews with them will help Christians and atheists talk with one another and show mutual respect, even amidst important disagreements. I hope listening a little more and talking a little less sometimes will help us as Christians treat atheists with more kindness in an increasingly polarized culture. There’s a time and place for debate, but I think taking a moment to just listen is important too.
And lest my Christian readers think I’ve gone off the deep end and have forsaken the Christian faith, such is not the case. This is one thing I really appreciated about a post JT Eberhard did about me a while ago. Here’s something he said that I think is really awesome:
So I just wanted to say kudos to Rebecca (and encourage you all to do likewise). This will not stop me from telling Rebecca I think she’s wrong about religion, and I suspect it won’t stop her from telling me I should believe in Jesus [Rebecca’s note: yep.]. But at least we can have the conversation in good faith now, knowing that each truly cares for the other as a person rather than just seeing them as a means to victory for our ideology.
Exactly right, JT. No, we don’t agree about a lot of stuff, but y’all are people, not a means of victory for an ideology. Thanks for talking with me.
Please briefly share something about who you are (your job, your family, or the like). Please also share a little bit about how you’ve come to find yourself as an atheist.
Neil: I teach High School Geometry, I’m a father of five, and I write for Patheos under the name Godless in Dixie. I’m a native Southerner from Mississippi, born and raised Southern Baptist, educated at a Reformed seminary, and a former Christian writer now turned secular humanist. How I became so is a long story but the shortest way to put it is that after 20 years of passionately investing in my faith, I found in my mid-30’s that the reasons I had for believing as a younger man no longer convinced me the way they once did. To my mind the biblical God was a personal one with whom I was called to have a discernible relationship, but in the end my experience led me to conclude that I was the one supplying both sides of the relationship. Once I decided to look for something outside of myself and my own mind as tangible evidence for the presence and activity of this person, I came at last to the conclusion that we made him up. Incidentally I remain open to being convinced otherwise. This is just the most reasonable conclusion to me at present.
JT: I’m an atheist blogger and speaker for a living by the grace of Patheos (and all my lovely readers/fans). I have a wonderful family life, I’m married to the woman of my dreams. My parents are my heroes and I have a curmudgeonly brother, who is always there when I need him, who I love very much. I used to be an opera singer. Here’s a video from when I was the musical guest for Kansas City Oasis a few months back.
I was converted to Christianity in high school by two of my [public school] teachers, which I now know was illegal. I was a Christian for about five years (and a pretty passionate one), but I had only read/encountered excerpts of the bible (like most Christians), some of which began to strike me as not very sensible or moral (scientific errors in Genesis, the barbarity of the OT, etc.). So I sat down and did my first full read through of the bible (I’ve done more since). Upon turning over the last page I said, “No, I don’t believe any of this.”