Sunday, November 08, 2009

Are Proselytizing Atheists Becoming Just Like The Religious Bigots They Condemn

I like Frank Shaeffer , the writer who grew up in the midst of the beginnings of the modern Christian evangelical movement who now rejects their fanatical and heavy handed methods. His new book, Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism) gives us a look at the other side of the religious coin, so to speak. It claims that atheists often are not really that much different in their fanaticism when compared to the actual organized religious fundamentalist types they are vehemently condemning as lacking in reason or as stupid crackpots.

Shaeffer’s point is that no one really knows the truth. Because humans are incapable of knowing beyond any doubt what the truth is when it comes to the existence of god or non-existence of God. He thinks that both sides should start from a place of humility and open-mindedness when they claim that their truth is the only truth. Most often delivered with the added claim that any belief other then their own also renders one ignorant or stupid. Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins come to mind. I enjoy all three of these men’s ideas, but sometimes I think they take on a rather self righteous attitude and smugness when they argue in support of their atheist beliefs.

My personal experience is one of a person raised as a Catholic who fell away from that religion because of trouble with a number of its tenets. Later in life due to a personal crisis I began to look at spirituality in a different light. It lead me to a belief in god, but this time it was a god that was very personal and surprisingly actually worked in such a way as to revolutionize my perception of what it means to be human and alive. I would also argue that you needn't look to far to see the the destructive nature of dogma, and rigidness of any kind.

The important thing here is my experience of spirituality is extremely personal and what works for me may not necessarily work for you. Being an atheist may work for you after all. But it’s not my experience and I have no right really to dictate or claim or condemn you for what works for you. I guess what’s important is, does what you believe actually work to make your life better and happy and above all make you useful as a human being in concert with other human beings and nature.

I liked Shaeffer’s thinking because I’ve often noticed on a personal level the tendency of religious types to claim that there is only one way to salvation. He makes the point in his book that atheists are in fact claiming rather snobbishly the same thing by condemning and belittling those who believe in god. Who really knows? I guess the question is does what you believe or not believe work for you, and it’s really not anybody’s business to dictate to you what you should believe or condemn your beliefs, no matter what they are.

Here a video excerpt from a interview with Shaeffer from GRITtv about his new book.


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