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What is a “considerate” atheist? – The Considerate Atheist
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What is a “considerate” atheist?

OK, so it’s time I write a little bit more about what it means to be a “considerate” atheist.

I chose the name “considerate” because I wanted to approach people who are still in faith communities in a calm and collected manner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about de-converting people. I’m all about destroying faith. I’m an evangelical anti-theist. But I want to be nice about it.

There are many beliefs and ideologies inside religion that cause societal problems. Hatred of Gays; Doctrine of Hell; Belief that Jesus is literally coming back in the clouds to rescue us someday (and hence we shouldn’t worry about the state of this planet); The doctrine of original sin – that we are evil at our core; Rejection of scientific method of reasoning. I could go on.

But there is one thing found in all religions that is even worse than all the errors I just mentioned. It’s the Big Daddy blemish that makes the rest of the problems look like child’s play. It’s not an official doctrine, and you won’t find it on the list of any church’s fundamental beliefs. The trait that I am speaking of is the better-than-thou attitude that almost inevitably comes with the belief that you have found the “one and only truth.” It’s the in-your-face sense of I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong-and-I’m-so-much-better-than-you feeling of superiority. In group vs. out group. Tribalism.

I am not the only person raising a stink about this. Religious people sense it too. John Shore recently wrote a book called I’m OK – You’re Not: The Message We’re Sending Nonbelievers, and Why We Should Stop. Sounds intriguing. Other writers and bloggers such as Michael Spencer and Donald Miller have been taking their swings (albeit soft ones) at Christianity, trying to encourage the faithful to use a gentler approach, to acknowledge that the approach of saving “the lost” has problematic implications.

It was actually this issue, more than any other, that brought me out of faith. I was always involved in religion because I thought it could bring people together. I was inspired by the words of Jesus when he told us to not judge each other – to remove the beam in our own eye before attempting to remove the moat in our brother’s eye. I kept clinging to the words of love and compassion in the bible because I knew that these words could bring an end to wars, bigotry, and hate (and I still believe they can). But the more I was involved with faith communities (I have worked for 7 different denominations), the more I saw how much focus was spent on lifting up the in-group and demonizing the out-group. Most of the distinctions between these groups lay in theological differences, of course. At one point I remember thinking, “If only we could realize that we don’t know all the answers. If we just realized that it’s impossible to know anything about theology in general, we wouldn’t have these lines in the sand, and we could all get along together.” That is when I realized I was an agnostic. I also realized that claiming to not know anything about God would bring humanity together.

I stayed an agnostic for a full year while I still worked for the church. I found a way to leave, and before too long I realized that I was an atheist. I discovered there were atheist conferences, leaders, and blogs. Imagine my excitement at the thought of finally being part of a community that didn’t claim to be superior than others; a group of people who didn’t have in-group vs. out-group tendencies. I would finally be a part of a group of people who realized that lines in the sand were unnecessary and we could finally get around to living in a global community of humans. Was I in for a disappointment? Of course I was, and I’m still trying to get over that disappointment. While I do believe that atheists have the potential of setting the stage for a global inclusive community, we are not there yet. Atheists still cling to labels, name-calling, and in-group mentality just as much (and sometimes more severely) than Christians. It seems the trappings of tribalism are hard to break.

Imagine a world where we judge someone based on their character on not upon their religious or non-religious culture? Imagine trying to find the good in others before you point out their flaws? I’m not talking about tolerance, for I don’t think religious ideas should be tolerated. I’m talking about inclusiveness, where we welcome all people as our fellow human relatives, honor the good that is within them, and seek friendship above all else. Once a connection is made with a fellow human being, there is a natural tendency to learn from and adopt their positive values, even if this means questioning our own dogma. This is how religion will finally fall. When we finally learn that friendship and love is more powerful than dogma or faithfulness to a group.

And so I have this to say to all atheists and Christians: Stop yelling at each other. Stop calling each other names. Take a moment to build a relationship with someone outside your belief system. Tearing down the walls that divide us will always work better then building them up.

2 Comments

  1. Suz says:

    BRAVO!!!!! Standing ovation in the peanut gallery!

    Yes, even atheists are tribalistic. It’s a big part of human nature, and it can serve a useful purpose. What gets me is nearly every tribe’s presumption of superiority. It’s perfectly natural to have preferences that aren’t based on rational analysis, but we tend to assume that things we haven’t considered aren’t WORTH considering. Plus, if we’re really clever and witty when we belittle “them,” we get accolades from “us.”

    I had a comic strip showing a picture of two gates into heaven. Lots of people were lined up in front of the gate labelled, “The Right Church,” and nobody was at the gate labelled, “The Wrong Church.” Two heavenly beings were talking and one said something like,”They just never get it, do they?” I lost it and I can’t find it on the internet, but It pops into my head nearly every day!

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  2. Rachel says:

    Wow! I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a profound way. If we could all just keep this in mind as we go through life the world would be a much better place…

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