… or irrational being…or angry individual… or rebel… or antagonist… simply, but proudly atheist.
Not long ago I was speaking to someone who runs a Christian spiritual group that I’d heard of previously and thought sounded fairly interesting. I opened the conversation by saying: “I’m an atheist and realise that your organisation is Christian but I’m really interested and wonder if I would be welcome at one of your sessions?”
In case you’re wondering, there was nothing disingenuous about the request. At the risk of sounding like the racist who wheels his black mate Bert out as a stock defence, some of my closest friends are religious. More than that, I love religion. I think it’s one of the most powerful forms of social grouping. It gives people a framework through which to live and love. I of course see and fear its corruptible side, but if we’re honest, religion is only corruptible because humans are.
The response that I got was a ten minute spiel about how this form of spiritual Christianity was so empowering, open and awakening and then an abrupt halt, a pointed look and the following: “to be honest though Rachel, I wouldn’t bother with these labels like atheist, or atheism, they’re unnecessary and limiting. I would just allow yourself to be open. You don’t need labels.”
Open?? Labels?? Limiting?? If asking to join your teaching sessions isn’t open then pray tell, what is? AND, and, atheism is no more of a label than “Christian spirituality”, it’s a belief system, a way of viewing and understanding the world. And I’ve got to tell you, the world I see is beautiful. Evolution and Humanism is beautiful – even when it’s ugly.
Oh the fury, the shock, the fury.
I could be wrong, because I didn’t ask and it has been known, but I assume if I had said: “I’m Jewish, and I know that your organisation is Christian but I’m really interested in it and I wonder if I would be welcome…” I’d wager the -10.47 in my bank account that the answer would have been, “yes absolutely, we’re a really open group who focus on….”
I tell this story not because it’s the exception, but because it was the straw that broke this Rationalist’s back. So tell me, why is atheism such a dirty word? Whatever angle I approach this from, I genuinely don’t get it. Yet so pervasive appears to be the view that I’m starting to think that perhaps I’m missing something.
Alpha is free to advertise its courses on billboards nationwide. By contrast the British Humanist Association causes national outcry because of the sheer audacity of running its own advertising campaign, which is in turn slammed as being pious and preachy.
I would never dare, nor desire, to disrespect someone so deeply as to flippantly declare their belief system as an unnecessary label. It almost seems as though people take it as a challenge to their own views. Or perhaps that atheism is just a casual decision, as though we couldn’t decide between Allah or Buddha so opted for neither.
In case there’s any doubt, that’s not how it happened. I love being part of a Humanist community, I relish being challenged by others at atheist events (think church service without the robes or incense). Angry blog post aside, I have no desire to preach, or attempt to convert anyone to Rational Thought. I’m just tired of the ease with which people dismiss atheism, and so my beliefs, without considering any of the history or knowledge from which this beautiful movement that celebrates humanism arose. Am I wrong?
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