There are lots of articles about “Atheism vs Christianity” on News24, and they are consistently some of the most-commented articles on the entire site. Lengthy articles of dubious quality have been posted - and I mean from both “sides” of this so-called debate - so why add more?
I hope to contribute some unique perspectives to the discussion.
I am an Ex-Christian
Firstly, I am an “Ex-Christian”, and I feel this title is important to claim, not least because there are many Christians who feel that no such person exists. “You could never have been a real Christian in the first place, or you would still be one” - an assertion that is factually and intellectually bankrupt, but also reveals a lot about the psychology of belief.
I was a Christian. A “real one”, by any reasonable definition. I grew up in a Christian home, attended Sunday School, Youth Group, read my Bible, prayed, “gave my heart to Jesus”, went to church once a week (or more) almost without interruption for close on 30 years, etc. Want more? I did tertiary-level biblical studies (Old and New Testament) through correspondence. I played in (and occasionally led) worship teams, taught Sunday School classes, led home groups. I have worked in full-time ministry not once but twice in my life, once in a more than 100 year old church in a “mainline” Protestant denomination and once in a pentecostal megachurch. I have counted myself as anything from traditionalist to pentecostal to radical progressive Christian, and everything in between, at various points in my journey.
I know Christianity far better than most Christians.
I am anti-Christianity, but not anti-Christians
Having been a “committed” Christian for so long, and having left all of that behind, I’ve got some scars. I’ve got some bones to pick, too. But I don’t hate Christians. I don’t think they are “stupid”, either. How could I? I was a Christian till the age of 29, and I don’t consider myself a fool (I’ll let you be the judge of that over the course of my writings).
I hope to introduce some compassion from the atheist, ex-Christian side of this “fence” we’re fighting over.
I was a Christian for too long to be arrogant about finally seeing “through” it. Make no mistake, Christianity is bullshit, but I mean that in the philosophical sense, not a derogatory sense. A bullshitter differs from a liar in that they are being taken in by their own bullshit. They are a victim of their own psychological and intellectual trap - and the faulty truth-filtering system they have internalised - as much as anyone who listens to them.
I think ex-Christians, as opposed to people raised atheist/secular (lucky kids!), have a unique perspective to add. We have real stories to tell about the damage Christianity can do to ordinary lives and relationships. We also have unique stories about how we got free, and that can help people. Christians have “testimonies”; ex-Christians have “ex-timonies”, and these are more powerful tools than a bunch of name-calling and arrogant intellectual posturing.
I am a Buddhist
I firmly lay claim to the label “atheist”, which simply means that I see no good reason to believe in a God or gods. However, I don’t think being an atheist means having to jettison all interest in what is usually referred to as “spirituality”. On the contrary, in my experience, relinquishing the belief in “God” has allowed my spiritual life to deepen dramatically. The path I have chosen (actually I think it kind of chose me) is Buddhism.
People have a lot of ideas about what Buddhists “believe”. I personally reject a lot of what many Buddhists “believe”. But it is vitally important to point out that for most Buddhists, “belief” is not really the point, anyway. What matters is what Buddists “do”. Even Richard Dawkins was careful to point out in The God Delusion that he considers Buddhism less of a religion and more of a philosophical system. For me, what is attractive about Buddhism is that it is concerned with the human condition; it provides insights and, more importantly, techniques to reduce human suffering. And that makes it fascinating and extremely worthwhile in my opinion.
This does not mean that I want to “convert” people to Buddhism. I have learned a lot from Buddhism, but people learn a lot from many other areas of life, and even from other spiritual traditions (including Christianity!). That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree about what is more useful, plausible, or backed up by evidence.
I have a strong opinion that Christians are wrong to attempt to claim a monopoly on the “spiritual”. I also have little time for New Age spirituality insofar as it makes dubious claims about all things “supernatural”. I am not interested in supernatural religions.
Where to from here?
I will be following up this initial article with a number of others, covering aspects of my own “ex-timony” journey as well as some musings on issues relating to Christianity, atheism and Buddhism. Feel free to say hi in the comments, or ask any questions you may have.
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