I was once at a college Bible study meeting, and its leader made an interesting point: “One reason I’m a Christian is that I don’t want to be like non-Christians.” To illustrate what he was saying, he told us that his girlfriend had a class with a prominent gay student, and that she had remarked that the student was “bitter.” The leader didn’t want to be bitter, however. He wanted to be joyful and at peace, which is what Christians are (in his mind).
I still have mixed reactions to this statement. Today, I’ll say what I like about it. Here is what I can affirm on a positive note:
1. The statement puts atheists in their place. I’ve often heard atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians say something like, “Judging from the lifestyles of the Christians I’ve seen, I definitely don’t want to be a Christian.” They usually refer to the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the nasty, hypocritical Christians they’ve encountered in day-to-day life to bolster their sentiment. Well, it’s good to see the shoe put on the other foot, for once. Why should I want to be like non-believers? What makes them think they’re so perfect?
2. Atheism would make me bitter too. “But you’re already bitter,” I can envision my readers observing. Fair enough, let me rephrase that. Atheism would make me more bitter than I currently am. If I had to believe that I was in this life alone, without the care of a loving God who is continually working things out for my good, then I would lose all hope. I’d have to rely on myself. Sure, I have talents, qualities, and a bit of charm, but there are a lot of times when I mess up. And, while I have a solid support system in my family, there are sometimes things that they can’t really control. Consequently, I am reassured to believe that there is a powerful, benevolent being in the universe who is guiding my situation.
Also, life would seem so meaningless if this were all there is. In the atheist worldview, we are born, we live, and we die. And that’s it! We can experience fellowship with our family and our friends, but they too will eventually pass, sometimes sooner than we may expect. If this is all there is, then we won’t be able to enjoy them forever. What is the point?
“Well, you should enjoy yourself and your loved ones while there’s still time,” I can hear atheists saying. “You must live this life to the fullest.” And that is indeed something to contemplate, for I certainly don’t want to use the afterlife as an excuse not to take advantage of what this life has to offer, while I still can. But not everyone makes the right decisions in this life. Should someone who made the wrong decisions have to go to his deathbed with a life that is totally wasted, without any hope of making things right? What about those who couldn’t fully enjoy life because of circumstances beyond their control (e.g., living in an impoverished country, abuse, etc.)? And even when we live this life to the fullest, many of us don’t want that full life to come to an end.
And, if all that exists is what I can see around me, then things are pretty bleak, not only for me, but for many others as well. From my own perspective, Asperger’s is a hard life. There’s a lot of social isolation that comes with it, even (or especially) when I’m around people. Atheists may tell me to stop trusting God and look instead to a human community. Look, communities are great, but they don’t always satisfy me the same way that they do for neurotypical people. I don’t necessarily view groups as warm, loving, accepting places. And other people besides myself have problems, such as poverty, infidelity, abuse, war, post-traumatic stress, and the list goes on and on. So thank God that this life is not all there is!
So these are my problems with atheism. I wouldn’t be surprised if atheists were bitter. If I had to believe that everything hinges on me making the right move, that all of the wonderful people, places, and things I’ve experienced are only temporary, and that this hard life is all there is, then I’d go crazy. Christianity at least offers some hope.
someone once said, ‘the problem in thinking that you, or your position, or you people, are superior, is that you must then spend the rest of your life making sure that everyone else is inferior.’
this is the danger in saying one is glad not to be like someone else. now this is not a defense for atheists who say the same thing. in fact, one of the atheists who i think is one of the best thinkers i know just said how glad he was not to be a christian in a recent comment, much to my dismay and disappointment.
i’m sorry your experience with atheists and agnostics is of the bitter variety. sam norton on his blog might call such people ‘humorless.’
as an agnostic, i don’t think i’m bitter. except when new england loses the super bowl.
but you are right, there are a lot of bitter ones out there.
on the other hand, i know a lot of bitter christians, too.
i’ve not forgotten your questions. i just got a little busy. you’re at the top of my correspondence pile.
have you started classes again? if so, which seem most challenging? and what makes a class a challenge?
it’s good to talk with you.
This was only part I, Scott. I’ll go after the evangelicals tomorrow, unless another topic sweeps me off my feet. 😉
I somewhat recall reading on your profile that you’re an agnostic. Are you really in that category? Some of your posts seem to indicate that you believe in God.
I’m on a leave of absence from school right now. But you ask a good question about what makes a class a challenge. But we can discuss that particular question through e-mail, if you want.
Thanks for your response,
my email is gray9999 at earthlink dot net.
i am atheistic about the judeo christian god. i am agnostic about a creator. i am most theistic when i think about god as ‘tao.’
i think there is profound wisdom in the jesus writings; it’s why i stay connected to christian thinkers, like yourself, whenever i can.
don’t know if that helps.
I was thinking about Tao a few days ago. I don’t know much about Taoism–my knowledge is from someone I once knew, the Tao of Pooh, and some Taoist writings I read in an undergraduate religion class. But something a Taoist told me is that Taoists look at the order in nature. I thought about that once when I was getting up early to tape Mr. Rogers (which is something I do). Levar Burton had a show that was talking about how Native American religions view animals. There is the turtle, with his wisdom in evading more vicious animals. There is the reliable bear.
That’s when I asked myself: Does Judaism or Christianity point to any lessons that nature has to teach us? My hunch is “no.” In the Bible, animals are usually things that God takes care of. Or God protects his people from wild beasts, or threatens not to when they are bad. Or they are sacrifices. The focus is God and morality. There isn’t this playful sense that nature has something to teach us.
Of course, this is just my impression, and I may not be thinking of certain passages that contradict my point.
First off, let me coincided the point that there are “bad apples” in both barrels of belief.
Your statement about wanting to fit in is very revealing, but exactly how much alike are Christians? I mean, which version would you pick? “I’m a Baptist because I don’t want to be like non-Baptists.” Make sense?
You say that atheism would “make you more bitter”. I’m sorry to hear that you’re bitter in the first place. You say that you couldn’t really face life if you had to think that this amazing universe we have is all there is. You also say that you’d lose all hope because you’d be “alone”.
I’m not alone. I have my family. I have friends to share this life with, and I see that you do to. But still you need more?
I’ll admit that when I stopped believing in a higher power, I was afraid for a little bit too. You mean we’re just careening around the sun with no one holding us in his powerful hands?! You mean, all we have is this life?
You have to make your own meaning in life, and everyone does regardless of their beliefs. Think about it this way: why watch a movie when you know it’s going to end? Why experience anything when you know there’s an end to it?
The fact that it gives you comfort does not auto-magically make it true – a fact I was forced to coincided. I’m actually happier that I’m on my own, that this is all there is. It makes life exponentially more valuable. I was more bitter when I believed that a magic man in the sky was watching me all the time, and if I messed up he’d want to roast me forever. I was angry to think that the creator of the universe loved me, but gave children smallpox and cancer. It’s tougher to deal with that, I think, than to understand that there is no reason; that nobody’s commanding it.
I am a happy small-town atheist.
Hi Small Town Atheist. Thanks for responding.
Ironically, if you stick around here long enough, you’ll find that I’ve said many of the things that you did in your response. I wrestle with the problem of evil–though, of course, I see it as a problem because I believe there is a God. You’ll read me criticize Christian apologists. “Wait a second!” I say, “There are other ways to interpret the evidence there!” And I wrestle with the nature of God–is he a nice, benevolent being, or a wrathful being, or what exactly? How can I know for sure that God loves me?
So my faith life is quite a wrestling match. But the possibility that someone is actually there and that there is an answer to my quest makes it worth the effort. Also, I am encouraged that the biblical authors struggled with these problems too.
I’ll stop here. You’ll probably see what I wrote as a pat answer, and I’m not really going to try to convince you that there is a God. I’m sure that you, like a lot of atheists, will be able to respond to my arguments. Heck, I could probably refute my own arguments, as far as that goes.
But I will leave you one more thing: I checked your site, and I saw some books that you recommend, such as the one by Bart Ehrman. Perhaps you believe that these books have overthrown Christianity. But one thing to remember is that there are Christian scholars who have addressed with some of those arguments. You probably already know that, and I’m not saying that they’re infallible. I’m juts making that point in case you believe that there are all these reputable scholars in the atheist camp, while the Christian camp has non-enlightened people who don’t know anything about science or textual criticism or biblical contradictions, or whatever.