Tag Archive: atheism


Further Reading: Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel

I am not from east or west

not up from the ground

or out of the ocean

my place is placeless

a trace of the traceless

I belong to the beloved

– Rumi

His identity was subdued by crisis common to unnumbered droves of young people across the globe, an unbelonging draped like chains on the motivations and orientation of young lives like his. Where tradition tried to welcome him, he saw first the unoriginality of repetition and the boredom of which “old things”, like religion, often stink in the noses of youth. His name is Eboo Patel, and he began his exit from adolescence with myriad realizations.  One: as a second generation Indian American, from a family of devout Muslims, his youth and ascension toward manhood in America had obeyed the guidance of the privileged, of the white, and somewhere in his growing up he’d been handed the heritage of someone else, to believe it was his.  Two: to have your identity impressed upon you by anyone, let alone a culture that does not understand or appear to want to understand your people’s actual history, is unacceptable if not criminal. Three: radical things happen in the world everyday, and those events are perpetrated by those, and only those, who decide they will be a piece in the machinery of revolution. Somehow, the keystone supporting the edifice of self for Eboo remained service to others – not hatred, not intolerance or cultural totalitarianism – and as a result, Patel was able to write Acts of Faith:  The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

Patel opens Acts with a recounting of the young and terrible reign of Eric Rudolph, whose accolades include the detonation of a nail bomb in the New Woman All Women Health Care center in Birmingham, Alabama as well as the blast which rocked Atlanta in the ’96 Olympic Games. As a soldier in what he called, “the Army of God”, Rudolph represents the alternative to religious pluralism in Patel’s thesis.  Human’s grow ever better at impoverishing themselves, through the consumption of things that dilute personal identity and a lack of vantage points that gently look outward. Patel argues that, whatever the reason, young people want to be involved with what’s changing the world and so far, the precepts of intolerance and violence have put more effort into recruitment and mentorship than the peaceful and inclusive.

Patel’s chronicle is essentially the story of his Interfaith Youth Corps (also seen as “Core”), a growing movement of religiously diverse youth around the world who gather to learn from and encourage each other’s religions in order to better understand and internalize their own, all while serving their communities. They seek commonality, affirm particularity, and achieve plurality. In reading it, I have no doubt that with the right fiscal fuel and a generation of leaders to follow Patel’s, the IYC can absolutely revolutionize the place of pluralistic relationships in the religious world.  For this reason alone, I encourage anyone interested in the interface of religions or the mobilization of young people or the potential future of religious totalitarianism to read Acts thoughtfully and reflectively.  I tried, and that’s where the rest of this comes from.

——

Frankly, what overwhelmed me as I read through Eboo’s story was envy.  Not for his hardships or the wisdom they later endowed, or for his experiences unto themselves, but the identity that he rediscovered through his religion and its tradition. I am a young atheist, and though I am confident in my atheism, I realize that my fellow non-believers and me belong to a group impoverished in some unique ways. While I hold firm to my nonbelief, and readily defend it, I am not an atheist in the Dawkins/Hitchins/Harris camp. I understand their resentment for the religious world and share their frustrations over the elements of religion that defy unity, tolerance, stability, and too often, logic itself.  But more than I empathize with them over these things, I pity them in their inability to prioritize those things appropriately.

There exists a magnificent beauty in the development of true community, no matter the name under which that community gathers.  Patel’s exploration of spirituality, society, and self as a young man led him dangerously close to the doctrines of ugly theology, theology which violently rejects the prophets at the heart of so many religions and the central tenets of selflessness and community they ushered into the world. To the apostle’s of such ugly theology, the camps of Dawkins and Harris emphatically raise a single finger, and I completely understand why.

But there is a reason that Patel’s volume is not dominated by accounts of violence or repulsive transgression by zealots, but of his own religious enlightenment and the progress of others along side him. As I see it, the reason is this: if people, atheists included, focus on the inferiority of other groups and expend most of their energy scoffing at their ignorance, they have resigned themselves to the lesser treasures of our mortality. What drives my envy is that my community has yet to reach for our greater treasures, my community has yet to witness and experience the relentless desire for the betterment of others on the scale that Hindus witnessed in Ghandi, that Muslims still observe in the Aga Khan, that Christians treasure in figures as timeless as Christ or as contemporary as King. I certainly don’t mean to insinuate that atheists can’t admire or emulate these people – by no means – but the question is posed to us, can a devotion to others as radical as Christ’s exist and proliferate without a distinctly religious identity? I want our answer to be yes.  And like belief in any god, I think it is entirely a matter of choice.  But in reading about the mobilization of young people who readily pile their religious differences on the table, discuss them, learn from them, reshoulder them, and get to work transforming a broken world, I feel as though atheists risk missing the boat by writing and rearticulating The God Delusion.

On the flip-side, I’ve started asking some of my theist friends, mostly Christians, what they talk about in church, if their pastors ever mention other sects of their own religion. The answer, so far, is unanimously in the sentiment of silence toward their religion’s violent appendages: the Christian Identity movement is unmentioned; the Church’s missionaries continue to preach profoundly bigoted agendas which have started to grow roots within the law in places like Uganda; Pat Robertson continues to make an ignorant fool of the evangelical masses and the most serious response he receives from centrist believers is an eye-roll and a channel change. Movements as revolutionary as the Interfaith Youth Corps demand that those who desire peace and cooperation commit to their vision of the future as adamantly as the young men and, increasingly, young women, strapping bomb-belts to themselves and wandering into Marine bases or London subways. Bombs must be dismantled from the inside; and so must the doctrines of explosive religious sects be refuted by voices within the fold.

I see Patel & Co.’s project as a contender for the most hopeful idea currently circulating worldwide. It represents a vital dialogue, a summit on peace to which young people can be invited before the sewers of jihad or crusade can begin their demagoguery and the escalation of our parents’ wars. One might go so far as to say that its model, the heart of its existence, provides insight to possible solutions for calamities as serious as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (whose solution or mitigation certainly depends on the young generations) and hope for countries whose international political relations have reached an impasse, like Iran and the United States. Theirs is a revolutionary idea, one that no person should pass over light-heartedly.

Bio: J. Erik Peterson is a graduate of Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict’s Biology department. Samples of his writing can be found at jonerikpeterson.blogspot.com and beholdthesky.blogspot.com

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A/religious Discrimination Awareness

With the amount of atheist blogs I follow, I can’t help but be aware of the multiple ad campaigns going around right now for the areligious-reason groups. First there were bus campaigns in England with the following slogan:

Then came the billboards in America:

etc.

Then came the Christian vandalism of said atheist billboards:

along with many protests and lawsuits about the message on these billboards. This has resulted in some of them being taken down by the ad firms who give in to the sway of the protesters.

And I ask, how is this even Christian? How is this message hurting you and your belief? How is it that we cannot grasp that we live in a pluralist society where people are content with letting others have whatever faith they have?

The gospel was birthed in a pluralistic society, but Paul didn’t go around smashing the statues in Athens because they displayed heathen gods and “unknown” gods. He didn’t protest their existence. He simply proclaimed what “they knew as unknown,” and When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33At that, Paul left the Council. 34A few men became followers of Paul and believed.” Thus, the message of the gospel must be, in some way, stronger than the simple message of faith and belief the other religions of the day had. How did they convince a group of non-Jewish people to turn from their culture’s most popular religions to follow the way of a Jewish rabbi with simply the story of a man who rose from the dead?

In what way have we lost the true center of Christianity when we make it about what you believe rather than how that action is birthed in what you believe? There is no greater display of your personal theology than how you act towards other people. Faith is not intellectual acknowledgment of historical or even semi-historical events as having occurred. It is not in the belief of the existence of a God-man or in his resurrection and eventual return as a historical event. It is found where hope and belief cause us to behave in such a way that these things might be true. We hope they are true. Where this hope goes wrong is when Christians focus on what God dislikes rather than what God loves, and if we are to call ourselves Christians, we must acknowledge the love of God for everyone.

In what way have we lost the true center of Christianity when we suppress in fear the messages of other religions and a-religions? Is the gospel about being the only voice heard? And what message does suppression send to any person who is an atheist other than what they already believed: That Christians are self-centered bigots bent on world domination or condemnation through being the one voice heard?

In a nation whose first right is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Amazingly, free speech and free practice of religion are in the SAME sentence. Amazingly, this document was written by the very people conservative Christians hold high as banners of the True America and the “way it should be.”

If someone wishes to espouse their beliefs over a billboard, why protest? Christians would find it laughably ridiculous were Atheists to protest the advertisement of a church on a billboard. Besides, the South would become a barren wasteland of “YOUR MESSAGE HERE” billboards with the loss of religious advertising privileges. What would ever entertain me on road trips?

methumbBio: Josiah is a graduate of North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. His thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by his thirst for coffee. Thus, much free time is spent in the quest for the next fix.

Mistaken Identity- by nate.

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of working at the local Starbucks. This experience has brought across my path the most unusual of characters, and conversations that cover the vast majority of the spectrum. However, the unwritten policy within the Starbucks company is that conversations cannot cover topics of religion or politics. Needless to say, this policy has been ignored time after time. More so on the political side, yet every now and then the topic of religion comes up quite frequently.

Before I get into anything else, it is widely known by my friends that I have… different views on the topics of faith, belief, God, religion and whatever else has to do with this umbrella. However, for the sake of simplification I will let you all know that I call myself a Christian. Jesus has quite a bit to do with my life. Though I do not typically use the jargon that you typically find within Christianspeech.

Back to the topic!

Over the course of talking with my coworkers and favorite regulars, I have probably enjoyed most our discussions on faith and religion. Though I don’t know if describing them as discussions gives the right jive; typically I’m listening and offering my two cents whenever I found fit. Bringing up my views, debating them, and trying to get my point across just hasn’t been the most important thing on my plate. Perhaps it’s because I am not terribly articulate when it comes to them, I would much rather let my actions speak for themselves. And my actions most certainly have spoken.

During one afternoon shift I was talking with a coworker about her Church, who’s youth pastor is a friend of mine, and through that we dove into the shallower sections of Christianity and our faith. Through out the entire conversation another coworker had been listening intently from the other side of the room. After my Jesus-Lovin coworker went into the back room, he approached me and said in a quieter tone “Nate… I thought you where an atheist.” Typically, as a Christian, I should be pretty offended. Memories of hearing stories and sermons of people having encounters with strangers and stranger asking “Are you a Christian? Because I could tell!” Should I have been heartbroken by the question? Probably, but i wasn’t.

This friend who asked frequently protests a certain organized religion and has pretty anti-institutional view points. So do I. We have had many conversations about certain absurdities and contradictions in the purpose of an organized religion. We have had certain talks with a humanistic outline to it (to avoid confusion, when I say humanist I refer to respecting humans on the principle that we are all equals). And to top things off we’ve also mildly delved into biology. To him, why shouldn’t I be an atheist? I was respectful towards other’s view points, engaged others in a way as not to offend them but validate their situation while questioning their actions, I help others whenever possible, and I understood thermodynamics (not trying to toot my own horn here kids, these are other’s observations). Intelligent and respectful in his eyes. I didn’t mind being mistaken for an atheist.

“Well, actually I am a Christian. But not your average bear.” I replied.

“Haha! I could tell.”

And we resumed our jobs.

Many are squirming in their seats and writing out replies before they even get this far. Let me say this before you or I continue in this conversation. I do not mean to say that I am in any way a perfect or great person who is looked up to by all. In fact I am the opposite. I am pretty hotheaded and easily influenced by those around me. I don’t mind swearing, and i typically smoke when offered. Going to church isn’t on the top of my list, however meeting with Christians and sharing life is. Most Christians on first glance would doubtfully say “My, that person is most certainly a Christian!” Because i do not fulfill the x, y, and z criteria that we have created. So therefore, I am labeled an atheist on both ends. However, I believe being labeled an atheist by Christians shows a weaker understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ in this case.

So what does it mean to be a Christian? In my personal opinion, and this surprise some who might read this, it is to have a dynamic relationship with our creator and to let this relationship change and transform our lives. This transformation doesn’t necessarily involve what church you go to. With this argument, in someone somewhere’s eyes, no Catholics or Lutherans are true Christians. And in another’s eyes no evangelical Christians are of the right faith. I do not bring up certain conversations or let my opinions be widely known because I do not wish them to hamper the relationships that are being built.

To quote C.S. Lewis’s favorite author George Macdonald “Your theory is not your faith, nor anything like it. Your faith is your obedience; your theory I know not what. Yes, I will gladly leave you without any of what you call faith. Trust in God. Obey the word-every word of the Master. That is faith; and so believing, your opinion will grow out of your true life, and be worthy of it.”

Remember that I was not the one to label myself an atheist, I simply let someone else perceive me how they wanted to. And because I was striving to be obedient to God my life spoke as something that wasn’t necessarily the ordinary. It wasn’t perfect, but I had gained authority in someone’s life. Because of that authority, I am now allowed to speak my religious views and have respect for them. Faith is not about belief or theory’s surrounding such, faith is the obedience to the voice that calls. Thus far, the call that Christ has given me has been to build relationships and love others. It sure takes a bit of time, but I will put more time and more effort gladly to watch those around me be transformed.

Why I Won’t Take You At Your Word

Simply put, because you’re wrong. Well, you might be…

This thought was inspired by thinking on why I started questioning. All the questioning was started by my research on atheist perspectives. Why did I research atheist perspectives? Because I won’t take you at your word. So many Christians believe they understand why it is people are cynical, jaded, anti-religious, and atheistic. Ray Comfort, the “good news” bearing evangelist I struggle with most, has a whole shtick about how it is simply so they can live whatever way they like through the absence of absolute authority and judgment for their actions. I’m sorry. That’s not what I discovered. (But, more on that later.)

To me, taking you at your word on an experience or another’s feelings/views does not accomplish what it could. When we take something in, we form a perspective, digest it, and process it. If we tell that to someone else, it’s like the mother bird re-feeding her chicks the worm she was early enough to get; good, old, tasty, processed opinion. Compare drinking city water to drinking spring water. City water is run through systems to purify it from impurities and dirt, fluoride is added, it’s given a good mixing, pumped through pipes where it picks up trace amounts of metal, and comes out your chrome faucet into your glass for consumption. Spring water flows straight from the ground. It’s not as “pure” as the city water in one sense, yet if we’re comparing the two, one is far closer to the source of what natural water tastes like. Why was it I won’t take you at your word? That’s right, because you might be wrong…

Do I want processed opinion, Mama Bird? No. I form a perspective when I hear something. We all do. So, if I take you at your word, I form a perspective on your perspective on someone’s perspective. That’s not a perspective at all. That’s like trying to see around a corner without peeking. Sure, the source of the perspective is tainted too, but if what I am trying to achieve is understand that perspective, it’s far better for me to go to the source.

Back to the atheists.

So, they just want to live their amoral life without judgment? Then why are they so hard on the injustices of the world? If they believe there is no morality, why do they advocate the secular humanist perspective of understanding social morality? They believe right and wrong exist as evolved elements of society for the benefit of our survival. Imagine if we were murderin’, fornicatin’, and thievin’ all the time! Society wouldn’t stick together because our selfish need for survival would be infringed upon. So, there are ideas of social morality that hold us together and we must act within these. In this way, a culture can be wrong in their way of morality. The idea of this morality is to benefit the group in its entirety. If we stone a girl because she was raped in an Islamic country (one of the social injustices many times commented upon), we do not benefit her survival, nor the survival of the group. It is viewed as injustice. Immoral.

The idea that I can live my life how I want if there is no God is illegitimate to the atheist. You can live your life how you want as long as you don’t infringe upon the survivability of the social group or other individuals.

They don’t believe in God because they are unwilling to see the evidence of Him all around them? Well, unwilling might be an alright word. I might actually understand it as the evidence can be explained to go either way. I see no reason that nature MUST show a gaping hole where God’s finger fits so that He can miraculously fiddle with His clockwork. Does He? As a Christian, I say yes. Must He? Debatable. However, when you get back to questions like origins, the big complaint of atheists is against creationism and intelligent design. The agenda, to them (and me), is not science but an attempt to force a gap open where God fits. If we can eliminate the possibility something can naturally come from “nothing” (a relative term because energy is everywhere), then obviously it came from nothing with the spurning of an intelligence. However, trace this line back far enough, even if we were designed intelligently by aliens, they were intelligently designed by something else, aka God. Yet, having studied evolutionary theory and genetics for 2 years as a result of this quest, I think I have begun to understand how it works. Are there questions and holes in things? Sure, not large ones. (You want a transitional fossil? There are plenty. You want a species in transition, you misunderstand transition. All species are in transition. There is no end goal of evolution. Humans are not the final product of primate evolution. Even we are still evolving.) Does that make the whole thing untrue or possibly wrong? Only if the study of theology makes God not fully true and possibly wrong. Try that paradox on for size. Intelligent design has its own holes…they just choose to fill it with “Goddidit”. The question for the believer becomes, can God do it without leaving loose ends that prove He did?

Basically, it’s a quest for honest understanding. I love the logical questions atheists bring up. Most of them are very intelligent and respectable men in their fields. And if researching their work causes me to question, I feel it is possible that it is helping me achieve understanding and see holes in arguments used for so long. If questioning your faith causes it to fail, perhaps it wasn’t strong in the first place? To test arguments and test ways of thinking about God has served to deconstruct and rebuild my faith. Are there things I don’t understand? Yes. Do I use those as “Goddidit” and walk away? That really depends. If God is the gap in explanation, our God gets tinier by the day. When everything is explained, discovered, etc., and when all the gaps close, does God still exist? How do you know? If you’re holding out for the unexplainable miracle to prove God exists scientifically, what if it never comes?

Atheism isn’t unfounded in my mind. It’s simply the opposite spectrum from me. Where they choose to doubt when there is only an unknown possibility God exists, I choose to believe. Where they see the ramblings of deluded ancients, I see an aura of truth. Does this mean we are both right? No. One of us has to be wrong. I’m not a relativist for absolute truth.

So, I will not take you at your word. I will question. I will research both sides. And then if our words line up, we can agree.

Christ’s Unanswered Prayer

“If all the Christians who have called other Christians “not really a Christian” were to vanish, there’d be no Christians left.” – Anonymous

In surfing the internet I stumbled upon this quote in a list of atheistic quotes. It struck me hard as a result of my devotional reading recently.

As of late I have been reading the Gospels. I am a “letters of Paul” sort of guy and so it was rather interesting to pick up these and really read the accounts themselves rather than their theological commentary. Through this, my reading brought me to John 17 where Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane praying for his disciples and all those who would believe through them. In these paragraphs, Christ seems to have a major point he is working to get across. You see, a total of four times he prays, “that all of them may be one…” and at times modifies it with “…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

It’s a striking but logical thought. One which has resulted in ecumenical movements over the course of recent history. We seek to find unity in our denominations so that we might see the prayers of Christ fulfilled, yet still what is seen by the world is the division. We must continue these movements because people are not extremely willing to relinquish a little bit of rigidity in theology. Perspective is a tricky thing. When stared at long enough, one can begin to believe it is the only perspective. Think back to Philosophy 101, Plato created a thought experiment in which people are chained in a cave from birth staring, not at objects, but dancing shadows projected on the wall by a fire at the front of the cave. Is what they are seeing real? Is what they are seeing true? Is it full truth? Yes and no. If one believes the shadows are all that is reality, one never FULLY understands. But the question is, can any of us FULLY understand?

Scientific experiments reveal to us that our very perception is tainted. Even when looking into a mirror or at a photograph of ourselves, humans perceive themselves differently than reality. A study was once conducted in which participants were asked to choose between three images which was the undoctored photograph. The scientists had taken photographs of people known to the participant and a photograph of the participant and made three images of each; one slightly uglier than normal, one undoctored, and one modified to be more aesthetically pleasing. When the participant was choosing between the photographs of acquaintances, their likelihood of picking the normal picture was much higher, but when confronted with a photo of themselves, the doctored photos were more likely to be chosen, identified as normal. Thus, while we recognize most of what we see as ourselves, we are likely to perceive ourselves either more beautiful or uglier than we actually are. So, we see this world with eyes clouded. We view everything through our own perception, even when it is imperfect.

Look at the children of divorced couples. Their perspective on marriage and relationships is radically altered. Many of my friends have seen this occur and do not see the point in the risk of marriage. Why risk the hurt? Yet, I have seen how marriage can work, what it can be, and thus, I do not understand their perspective of its faultiness other than that their perception is tainted. All the while, they may believe I am simply ignorant to the problems that exist and struggles that ensue as a result.

What does this have to do with ecumenical movements and church unity? We must recognize that there is more than one perspective on things. Just as I have written before, we must think of God not as we think of a grocery list, possibly not even as we think of a painting, but as a sculpture. It is an artistic expression through which every angle is considered, and yet even viewing from the same point and angle in the infinite expanse of space, our perception interacts with the meaning and understanding making this sculpture different to one person than to another. All our experience and learning forms in our minds an interpretation. But by saying this, I pessimistically question whether church unity can be achieved? Would we ever dismantle our denominations? Non-denominational groups have become quite prevalent as a result of this, yet denominations still exist and divide. This is what the world sees. A broken church, not an organization of different perspectives, but people claiming to believe in God, yet being unable to agree one who He is or how He works or even what He does. I question whether this prayer will ever be answered until redemption is fulfilled in the end. Our testimony is broken because we are broken. Can we ever achieve this unity? Will the prayers of Christ be answered?

What is the definition of a Christian? Is it based in belief, action, or both? If it is based in both, how can we claim “grace by faith, and not by works”? And if it is based in belief alone, how do we balance the words of Christ in regards to the Last Day where he speaks to those with no care for the poor, needy, naked, and imprisoned saying, “away from me, I never knew you”? Can a Christian ever make a decision about someone else’s salvation, claiming they do not see “fruit”? Or are we to keep to our own accountability, tending our own fruit-bearing branches to make sure they are plentiful?