Hey there, I love your site!!! I hope you’re still maintaining it. It cracked me up to no end when I found it one day and I’ve showed as many people as I can. Most folks laugh (probably because I’m discerning about who I show it to…).
Here’s an idea I had as I was reading your informative articles and correspondence: how many of the people who have contributed to the debate on this have lived in a country that was not primarily Christian?
I was raised Christian and then during high school I felt the “calling” and went off the deep end (in hindsight), then in college I was a missionary of the nth degree. I was trying to convert anyone I came into contact with until I had a near-conversion experience: I fell in love. And the object of my affection wasn’t Christian. Suddenly things were different, especially the way my Christian friends treated me! I started examining my feelings and thoughts. It was crazy! My friends said I was going to hell, that I wasn’t the same person they knew, that Jesus was the only thing that made us friends so we could no longer maintain a relationship. I dropped out of the Christian group, I moved out of my dorm room, I continued to date the non-Christian, and I was in depression and denial! Luckily I graduated soon after that and was able to take a step away from the situation.
Basically, up to this point, I was acting on emotion, as you’ve pointed out in your site. I was emotional as a Christian and I was emotional in my denial of my faith. You know what I did? I moved to Japan. I went over to teach English and to escape my situation, and I’ve never made a better move in my life!
While there, I was able to see a nation of people who do good things for each other because they just do, without any hocus pocus about an afterlife (granted, there are societal pressures, but that’s in the here and now and it’s very tangible). I’ve also seen people do some pretty shitty things, but that too was calculated and they had to deal with it instead of claiming forgiveness and redemption from a deity. I think I was in the exact right place in my life at exactly the right time for me because I was able to look at things rationally, make educated decisions about my life and my faith. Granted, I was still concerned about going to hell if I didn’t believe in Jesus and claim him as my personal savior, but one day all that residual guilt melted away. How? I read a poem one day in a classroom.
It was a Buddhist poem actually, written by a Japanese monk named Mitsuo Aida. One poem, very short, more like art really, not even a haiku, just said: “you see beauty reflected in your beautiful heart” (my translation. It’s really: anata no kokoro ga kirei da kara nan demo kirei ni mieru n da na). I had been so bitter up till that point and was projecting that bitterness on the world around me, when all along it was my heart. If I could “clean up” my heart, I could be happy and see the world as a better place. This was my first step to my true conversion experience.
Then I read a book. A beautiful book by a beautiful man: Bertrand Russell. He wrote many books about happiness and thinking and having a full life. The one I read that was so helpful was called “Why I’m not a christian” which is admittedly an inflammatory title. But it was a title of one lecture he gave among this compilation of lectures and vignettes. In it he refuted Christianity in ways that spoke so strongly to me, finally freeing me from my chains of guilt and fear.
After years I was free! Now I could start being mean to people and then regretting it and apologizing for my bad behavior. I could be nice just because I wanted to not because anyone told me I had to. I could appreciate people for who they were and circumstances for what they were instead of constantly trying to “see God” in things and attribute to him the goodness in the world around me.
I’ve since returned to America (with a Japanese spouse of all things!) where we’re happy to be atheists and paying our taxes and living our lives. I’m so thankful for my time out of my comfort zone in a place where I could see people living their lives and paying their taxes — without a single mention of Christianity.
Incidentally, my spouse says I should tell people I’m now Buddhist since I “married into” that religion. I’ve thought about it, but it would be more for reactions than anything, especially to get my relatives off my case about not going to church.
I guess my point in all of this is that I think a lot more people need to go to other places and recognize the good in the differences. Everyone does not want to be like the West, everyone does not need to be capitalist or socialist or communist. We can coexist, but we need to first understand and respect the differences in the world.
Since becoming an atheist, I think I have more faith in humanity than I used to when I had faith in a god. Now I look to people to be good and kind in situations that demand social justice, as a teacher I want my students to learn virtues that are universal and not dependent on any one religion. Faith in humanity not in god, that seems to be my new motto.
Thanks for your time and thanks so much for your website! It’s fabulous to have “community” among atheists, it’s the biggest thing I miss about Christianity. Thank you thank you thank you.
What an excellent letter. I appreciate your sharing your journey with me and my readers.
I think one important point here is that humanity is better thought of as “we” than of “us and them.” Your Christian friends caused you needless harm when they made you an outsider, and did no good for their own cause.
I think it’s interesting that your spouse suggests you call yourself Buddhist. If you’re an atheist, I wouldn’t (even though it’s technically true) because it could lead people to incorrect conclusions about your beliefs. I can certainly understand wanting to get relatives “off your case,” though!
By the way, I am also a great fan of Bertrand Russell. He was my first big atheist-philosophy read and had quite an impact.
In: Atheists' problems, Personal account