I'd like to explain a few things to you, if you don't mind.
Why I'm an atheist:
Because I no longer believe that God is real.
That's it. I don't worship Darwin, I don't seek spiritual guidance from biologists, there's no rituals that I have to perform before I eat, The Theory of Evolution had nothing to do with my "becoming" an atheist, and I have never ever read The Orgin of Species.
However, I have read the Bible. Twice. From front to back and that had more to do with me not believing than any science class ever did. The clincher was reading Deuteronomy 21:18-21 for the first time. Even for Jews under The Law, I can not accept that commandment as being moral. I was a bit rebellious as a teen. However, I came through that period and became even closer to my parents as a young adult. According to the bible, I should have never been given that chance. I had to try to justify that commandment somehow. The only way that I could was to give up the doctrine of inerrancy. I later realized that the bible was not written by God and that it wasn't even written by men inspired by God. It was written instead by men inspired by power and greed. Verses like that one are obviously (to me) written to promote fear in people so that the priests could control them.
I realize that your sign was not intentionally hateful. But it may be subtly hateful, because it inspires an "us and them" mentality. I do not consider christians as being "them". Christians are a big part of my society and to be hostile toward christians would be counter-productive. I have to accept y'all as you are. I don't want to convert or prosyletize. There's no salvation in being an atheist. I just want to get along with my religious neighbors. However, it's hard to do that when I seem to have an undeserved reputation of being immoral, wicked and doing nothing good (Psalms 14:1). I am not a "them", I am an American, an Ozarker, and an Arkansan just like you and your congregation. I was even raised as a christian by a minister. I just happen to not believe in God anymore. I just don't buy it anymore. I am no longer convinced.
You may be interested to know that for a long time I still attended church after I no longer believed. I was trying to believe. I was trying to do the "right" thing. Instead I was having such terrible feelings of guilt. Not guilt for being a sinner, but guilt felt because I just couldn't find that switch to throw that would make me believe. I realized that belief is not a voluntary thing. Either you believe or you don't. So, I stopped lying to myself. Sure, claiming to be an atheist is not very comfortable, but at least it's honest. Keep that in mind. Because, someone just like me may be sitting in your congregation every sunday and the more you make non-belief sound bad the more guilt, shame, and depression someone in your church may feel. Please be gentle to that person.
Your sign comes on the heels of a slight personal tragedy. My wife's family discovered that I am an atheist and they over-reacted a bit. I really felt scared. I love my neices and nephews. I was so afraid that my in-laws would no longer let me spend time with them. I still don't know how I stand with them. I am playing it cool, trying not to invoke any discussion about it. My wife's family knows me well, so I really shouldn't fear being cast out by them. I've associated as an atheist for about two years and they have had no problem with me for all that time. I have not tried to indoctrinate thier kids (and I won't). So, why should they have a problem now? What I'm afraid of is that one of my sister-in-laws will get some bad counseling. They both have pastors that they talk to and it would be a shame for them to ban thier children from my wife and I over advice given from someone who does not know me. Also, it would break my heart. My wife and I have no children, so the frequent visits we used to get was very welcome. Sadly, I fear that those visits are going to be rare now. The only reason I can see for this is that atheism is seen as something bad when it really is not.
That brings me to what I call Postive Atheism. It's not a religion. It's just the view that atheism is not a bad thing. That's what I want to promote. If I can get the message that it's OK not to believe out, maybe, someone who just happens to not believe won't have to endure the guilt and heart-break that I have had to bear. It's not about de-converting anyone. It's about reaching those who are already non-believers and letting them know that they are not alone and that it's not a bad thing to not be convinced.
Proud to be superstition-free!
Monday, March 16, 2009
Open Letter to The Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church
I wrote this letter to the pastor of the church that posts anti-atheist messages on it's marquis (after a short correspondance). I actually started to cry while writing it.