Saturday, December 7, 2013

Creating a message versus destroying one

Those who read my posts on Blogspot might notice that among my blogroll is the blog of Justin McRoberts. He's a Christian singer/songwriter, and an old friend from back when I was in high school. I have his blog up there primarily so we can all laugh at him and make fun of him, 'cause he's a Christian, and therefore, he is STOOOPID. No, just kidding. Calm down. I have it linked because I read it whenever there's a new post. I often agree with him, sometimes disagree with him, sometimes have nothing to say, and am sometimes confused. But hey, that's probably true of me with just about anybody's blog.

Lately Justin has written a post or two with the theme that it's easy to critique and tear down, whereas it's harder to create something new and better. There were several moments where I wanted to comment and leave a critique, but I kept hesitating. Eventually I had to relent and admit the simple truth: he's right.

This puts me in an interesting position. While I have other interests that I write about, I do spend a fair amount of bandwidth with posts about atheism. I make no apologies nor do I hide the fact that I'm an advocate for atheism, but I'm starting to realize that I'm probably going about it the wrong way.

My last post received some thoughtful criticism over on Glipho. I was essentially trying to make a case for eradicating faith, and well, let's be honest - that comes off as a bit negative. I'm not changing my position, but I do think that I could do a better job of communicating my message. That's kind of the problem with atheism though. The word itself means the absence of something. When you advocate it, you're telling people that you want to take something away from them that they think they need, and I don't know about you, but I don't like people trying to take stuff away from me either.

Instead of being an advocate for taking things away, I need to be an advocate for reason and critical thinking. Of course, it is my contention that faith is in direct conflict with those two ideas, but I don't even need to say that if I'm trying to help people look at the world through the lens of science and logic. My goal should never be to prove atheism, because if the theists have the better, more logical, argument, then I should change my mind. In other words, I cannot lose if I'm promoting freethought and skepticism.

This leads me to the current billboard that's been placed in New York's Times Square by the American Atheists. It's animated and reads: "Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody." It then lists off the "true meaning" of Christmas with words like: charity, friends, family, and food. I cannot say that I'm a big fan of this particular message. Obviously, I agree with it, but it's just going to feed into the persecution complexes of certain attention-seeking Christians out there. I mean, who do they think that this this going to reach? It's just going to make Christians mad, and it will make it easy for them to dismiss atheists as being a bunch of angry curmudgeons who are mad at Thor Yahweh/Jesus.

Personally, I was a big fan of the billboards that read along the lines of: "Don't believe in God? You're not alone." and then gave the contact information for a local atheist organization. I don't have any sympathy with anybody who's offended by that message. In fact, as such an outspoken atheist, I've become a bit of a go-to guy on a few occasions when people make the switch over to atheism. A few years ago, I had a student open up to me that he was an atheist, and when he told his father, his dad refused to even speak to him. Recently I've had another tell me about some of the difficulties he's been having now that he no longer believes. I've got another story to tell, but...well, let's just say that the wrong people might read this and I might wind up divulging information that the recent ex-Christian is not ready to divulge just yet.

(And while this might bear a longer explanation, I want to point out that I never advocate for atheism in the classroom. That would be in poor taste to say the least, not to mention illegal. I do let my students know that I'm an atheist before I do my Bible lesson - and I tell them that the reason WHY I'm telling them is so they can suss out any bias that they might detect. I could elaborate, but I don't want to "protest too much".)

This is what atheists need to do. Thankfully, we've got guys like Jerry DeWitt who are starting to provide an alternative to those who cannot believe but miss the community that comes with being part of a church. We need to let others know that we're out there and that we're leading positive, productive lives. I hope that I'm not being too full of myself when I say that I think that I help in my own small way when I not only post my thoughts about religion to Facebook, but I also post stuff about being a father who likes homebrewing and superheroes. (In other words, I'm not too different from many Christians in my day-to-day affairs - I'm just out walking my dog when they're at church.)

Most importantly, we need to let people know that it's okay to not believe. One friend of mine expressed that she was worried about not bringing her kids up in the faith, but then I countered that some of the most awesome kids I've known are atheists. (And yes - I've known some awesome Christians, Muslims, and even a Hindu or two.) We need to be there when they need to vent their frustrations or to be an ear for those who are afraid to let their families know their true feelings.

And when we discuss faith, let's discuss the process. Let's not knock people down for believing differently. Let's talk about how we reach our beliefs in the first place, and what's the best way to come to conclusions about reality. Never be afraid to say "I don't know" and always communicate how we have no problem with the thought of changing our minds. After all, many of us have already changed our minds, and losing that thing that we thought we could not do without has not brought us to despair. Rather, it has filled us with a sense of wonder about the world that we never realized we could have.

I could elaborate on this last paragraph, and hopefully I'll get a chance to do that soon.


Roger Rabbit said...

That's a beautiful message you got there, sir. You also got a new follower.

Lance Johnson said...

Thanks, man! That makes me feel pretty damned happy, believe it or not.

Tony from Pandora said...

This reminds me of another J.McRoberts post entitled something like "You're Right... So What?!?" where it matters less that you're right when you're an a**hole. It's fostering relationships that's the important thing.

That last paragraph was near perfect. I'm not sure what elaboration is needed, but I'm looking forward to reading it...

Lance Johnson said...