I’ve Decided I’m an Atheist

No GodSomething has been brewing within me for several years now that I have been too ashamed, too embarrassed, and very afraid to admit.

I’m an atheist.

After a long journey of thoughtful introspection through a continuous strain of disillusionments, disappointments, but also eye-opening clarity, I’ve concluded that there can’t possibly be a supernatural deity who somehow controls and influences things.

Interestingly enough, I learned this lesson in the church through my work as an ordained pastor.

On Sunday mornings, I have preached wonderful sermons about God and Jesus. I learned that I could tell all these stories with great conviction without really having to anchor my life to any of it. I tried this, just for kicks- preaching powerful, passionate sermons about things I had struggled to believe. I found I could put on a great show. The people would walk away inspired. “That was a beautiful sermon, Pastor!” But then nothing changes. Everyone goes back to life as usual. I did this for weeks on end and realized that I didn’t need a god to do any of it. Great, emotional shows. Happy people. Same people. Week after week. Where is the divine in that?

Then I noticed that there was no need for deity in any of the church’s activities. People talked about God. I talked about God. We said nice little prayers to God. But I looked around and realized that it was just decent religious people doing good people things. This went on for month after month, and then I concluded that if there really was a deity, there should be more than this- a lot more. But there isn’t. I could have started a wonderful charity group or a recreational club, made no mention of deity and have done the exact same things.

I looked at the way we learn. I have taught lots of Bible studies. I do love to teach, and for many years, I walked away stimulated by the deep discussions we were having. People get jazzed about discussing things, often in painstaking detail, bringing history and the writings of scholars into our learning. We eat it up! People walk out thanking me for a thought-provoking, powerful study. Those same people would come back, week after week, but I began to notice over time that nothing would change. We’d end up talking about the same things. The same kinds of speculative questions would be asked. It was all superficial. People spoke in generalities about God, people and the world. Still, nothing new happened. I didn’t see any real changes of heart that led to improved behavior or priorities.  There were no grand ideas generated that would lead to anything positive or constructive. Thus, there was no deity needed or involved in any of it! Once again- no god doing anything supernatural.

And then I looked at they way we pray. Prayer time in worship is more of a support group and story-telling time than what I would imagine prayer to be– getting on our faces before God in submission, fully relying on the strength, power, mercy, and love of God. No, we turn in prayer cards for this hurt, that surgery, this and that struggle, and say nice little prayers with tears, hugs, and tissues to go around. And there is never any evidence of supernatural intervention, other than what a doctor could do. After a while, I thought our time might be better spent creating a doctor and patient support group for mutual encouragement. Meanwhile, there was no real evidence of a god or deity; anything people described as “God’s intervention” I could find a natural cause for. I could see that! Why couldn’t these people see it?? No god, no deity… just religion wrapped up in emotion and speculation.

But what really led me to conclude that there is no god is the suffering of the poor all around us. We read and study in our Bibles that Jesus loves the poor and fills their mouths with good things. But there is not a smidgen of evidence for that anywhere. I looked at the priorities of my church and other churches in our neighborhood. Sure, we all do canned food drives, fill poor kids’ backpacks once a year, and maybe even serve a meal in a homeless shelter. But anyone can see– an atheist like me can see!– that these are token gestures. Lives aren’t changed. No one is removed from poverty and suffering because of a canned food drive. I had always heard that love, relational love, changes lives. I had heard that communities bound together in a common cause for the kingdom of God changes lives.

That would take no less than the work of a deity through people who claim this deity as their god. But it doesn’t happen. The poor still suffer while we religious people sit in our church buildings. Why say we believe in a god and carry on about religion when our neighbors still go without a home, without good food and water, struggling in addictions, alienated, and alone. If there is indeed a god whom people claim works through them, then this “god” has failed.

So, it’s very simple. If I can be a Christian and have no real need for God other than self-help– and I can get a therapist or read a good book for that– then there is no need to bother with the notion of a sky-god who controls and influences things. Leave that to nice ancient story books like the Bible.

Oh by the way, Bible discussion group will be held after Sunday morning story time and mutual support group… A creative, able-minded, talented atheist like me can lead all of that!

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April Fools! But… my point is far from a joke.


Filed under Atheist and Agnostics, Church Culture and Leadership

14 Responses to I’ve Decided I’m an Atheist

  1. Edmund Metheny

    That’s a weird coincidence, since I decided today that I am actually the reincarnation of Christopher Hitchens.

  2. Edmund Metheny

    (Saying I joined a monastery would have been too easy).

  3. April Fool’s was my first thought. Then, as I read through, I thought, “Damn, he’s serious!” So, you got me.
    Having said that, good points raised.

    • Thanks, Mark. I had to place myself in the mindset of atheism to a degree, which was rather uncomfortable. And I almost left off the April Fools postscript, but that might have really gotten me in trouble!

      • You might still get in trouble. The points you raised sound a lot like the sorts of things that get brought up at my Seattle Atheists Meetup. You make good arguments in favor of atheism.

        • You know, Mark, I’ve noticed that atheism tends to be most critical, not of notions of God, per se, but of religion. Yes, I see literature and billboards attempting to throw out the necessity of a belief in God, but the harshest rejections are aimed at religion, especially fundamentalism and Catholicism. I share much of their grief, actually. So, this blog is highly critical of Godless religion, which unfortunately fills too many churches. Ironically enough, when it really comes down to brass and tacks, many churchgoers actually carry on like atheists. I call it functional atheism: giving intellectual assent to God but making decisions, behaving and setting values without trusting in or referring to God in any deep, meaningful way.

          • markwalt

            I’m not sure I follow you. I personally think that “religion” and “notions of God” are kind of the same package.
            I can’t speak for other atheists, but I can tell you what I tend to be critical of. I believe that buying into religion, self-identifying as “faithful” or “religious”, and adopting the mindset of a worshiper of God leads the person who wants to be a good person into doing bad things.
            Here’s an example of what I mean: A good person, who goes to church on Sunday (or Saturday, or whenever), tithes, gives to charity, thinks good thoughts, prays for the health and deliverance of others, and acts in a moral way and keeps positive about life…. the typical church goer … can begin to believe that it’s okay and just and moral to vote for denying the marriage rights of same-sex couples.
            This person isn’t evil. This person is trying really hard to be good, in the way they understand what being good means. They might not believe or realize that they’re working to oppress others by denying their rights as humans. They might even believe that unless they vote against gay marriage, that somehow, gays and gay marriage might somehow cause them harm.
            The reason they’re willing to do this, and the reason that they are holding this mindset… doing something bad thinking that it’s good… is because the most prevalent interpretation of the Bible specifically calls out homosexuality as being a bad thing.
            Even though it isn’t, because humans are born the way they’re born. The way God made them. So, either the BIble’s wrong, or the interpretation is wrong.
            And yet, the worshipper’s membership in Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam) puts them in an environment that encourages them to do something bad, and call it good.
            And the nature of church is to inculcate. The core concepts of a given church are driven home through constant praying, chanting, singing, lecturing.
            Churches are one of the organizations that have the power to change, or shape, the way people think and behave.
            Now, not all of it is bad, of course.
            But the bad parts are, to me, quite objectionable.
            The more functionally atheist churches get, I think, the better they become.
            There’s a church here in my neighborhood of Greenwood, in Seattle, where I live that gives out free food on Thursday afternoons. The sign they put out shows a nice pasta dish.
            All you have to do to get food, is to sit through a sermon. A few months ago as I was walking by to catch the bus as I was headed out to meet friends, the little sign they put out had a quote from Timothy about women not having authority over men. (I remember it so well because I actually typed a note about it into my phone so I could look it up later).
            I’m sure those folks think they’re doing good. I’m sure they think that they’re doing God’s work by promising food to homeless people so they would have to listen to a lecture about how men are superior to women.
            I know that the oft-used argument against criticism against religion goes along the lines of “well, those people aren’t GOOD Christians. We don’t preach that.”
            Forgive my straw man, but it’s just something that I hear so much. I hear it so often, in fact, just about every conversation I have with a Christian (or an apologist) when I bring up some criticism, someone will claim that “real” Christians don’t behave that way.
            I submit to you that… yes… you do behave that way. Or in some way that you’ve convinced yourself is good, but really isn’t.
            Not all the time, and not in all cases. And sometimes the “bad” things are pretty minor, in the cosmic scheme of things.
            You guys aren’t putting witches to the torch, or executing heretics, or proclaiming leaders to be ruling by Divine Right so much anymore. You’ve come a long way in the past three hundred years or so.
            So far, in fact, that you are starting to be functionally atheist. Your fore-bearers of centuries past would be quite disapproving of the way you conduct yourselves today.
            You might say, you’re evolving. Keep at it. You’re almost there.

  4. Edmund Metheny

    When I first moved into atheism, I found it very uncomfortable to slide back into the mindset of one who was religiously minded. All I wanted to do was scream “your wrong!” every time I did that. But I finally realized that not all my religious experiences were bad ones – in fact the vast majority of them were good experiences with good people who just happened to have a different mindset on certain matters than I did. Now I find it easier to get back and look at that religious mindset because I can remember good friends and good times and good experiences. That allows me in turn to remember and understand more why people believe the way that they do – even if I don’t necessarily agree with their conclusions I can at least see the chain of reasoning involved. And I think that’s a good thing.
    So I applaud you for putting yourself in that uncomfortable place and making the effort to understand a mindset and belief system not your own.
    (Maybe this Christmas I will even get you to celebrate Pancha Ganapati and recognize the truth of Great Ganesha’s holy message!) ^_^

    • You know, Ed, that’s the sign of a mature conversion. When a person first gives their life to Christ, they immediately become obnoxious towards anything that is not of Christ. I’ve always said that we need to put tape on a new Christian’s mouth for at least the first year. I would have required a lot more than that, actually.
      But yes, one of the refreshing things about talking to you is that I don’t sense condescension or incredulity from you. We disagree about major substantive things, yes, but there’s still plenty to talk about. And for that, I’m grateful.
      As for Pancha Ganapati… well, I’m more of a Diwali guy. 🙂

  5. Carol

    American Christianity has lost the meaning of the Cross which is central to the Apostolic/Patristic understanding of the Gospel Message. The “health and wealth prosperity gospel” witnesses more of to a capitalist ideology than it does of the Christological Mysteries. Jesus did everything “God-pleasing” and look what happened to him!
    “The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it.”
    – Simone Weil
    “Nature is value-free. It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.” ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner, rabbi of the conservative Jewish tradition
    “To suffer is to have anything—great or small—otherwise than as you wish or will or want it to be. If your self-will is powerful and untamed, you will “suffer” horribly when you miss a train or run out of cigarettes: if your self-will is wholly conformed to the will of God, as manifested in the circumstances of the moment, you can undergo extremes of physical pain without “suffering” at all. Hence the joy of the martyrs: hence the serenity of an agonizing but saintly death-bed.” –Christopher Derrick, That Strange Divine Sea
    Transformative Suffering
    Partnering with God
    Monday, April 7, 2014
    Many people rightly question how there can be a good God or a just God in the presence of so much evil and suffering in the world—about which “God” appears to do nothing. Exactly how is God loving and sustaining what God created? That is our dilemma.
    I believe—if I am to believe Jesus—that God is suffering love. If we are created in God’s image, and if there is this much suffering in the world, then God must also be suffering. How else can we understand the revelation of the cross and that our central Christian logo is a naked, bleeding, suffering man?
    Many of the happiest and most peaceful people I know love “a crucified God” who walks with crucified people, and thus reveals and “redeems” their plight as his own. For them, Jesus is not observing human suffering from a distance; he is somehow in human suffering with us and for us. He includes our suffering in the co-redemption of the world, as “all creation groans in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22). Is this possible? Could it be true that we “make up in our own bodies all that still has to be undergone for the sake of the Whole Body” (Colossians 1:24)? Are we somehow partners with the Divine? At our best, we surely are.
    Adapted from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps,
    pp. 120-122
    and Job and the Mystery of Suffering, p. 181
    Gateway to Silence:
    God is in this with us.
    Copyright © 2014 Center for Action and Contemplation
    1705 Five Points Rd SW, Albuquerque, NM 87105 (physical)
    PO Box 12464, Albuquerque, NM 87195-2464 (mailing)
    (505) 242-9588
    Spiritual Development Program
    30. Living Paschal Mystery
    Central to understanding Christ is to understand the Paschal mystery. However, we tend to think of it only as Jesus’ passion and death. Actually, the Paschal mystery is Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and Pentecost. What were historical events became ongoing process and is at the heart of Incarnational spirituality.
    No longer limited by time or geography, the Risen Christ has created through His ongoing Incarnation in us real-time, on-line continuity with Jesus’ earthly Incarnation. Especially with His passion, death, resurrection and gifting us with His Spirit. When we enter deeply into this Paschal mystery, we experience Christ on two levels.
    First, we are connected more intensely with Jesus in His passion and death. When we prayerfully meditate on Jesus’ passion and death, not as something outside of us but as something inside of us, we are not just creating concepts and images of the suffering and dying Christ in our minds. We are unleashing a dynamic process. We are unleashing the indwelling of the Risen Christ, Who gifts us with His Spirit Who pours the love of God into our hearts. Through this process, we identify more closely with the sufferings of Jesus such as those in the Garden of Gethsemane and His death on the cross.
    Second, in encountering the Paschal mystery we are connected more intimately to the Risen Christ as we live our own lives with their many passions, deaths, resurrections and transformations by the Spirit. In his book, Intimacy with God, Cistercian Father Thomas Keating explains the connection in this way.
    As Christians, we believe that Jesus in His passion and death has taken upon Himself all of our pains, anxieties, fears, self-hatred, discouragement and all our accumulation of wounds that we bring from our child hood and our childish ways of trying to survive. That is our true cross. That is what Jesus asks us to accept and share with Him. When we enter deeply into our experiences of the Paschal mystery, we are entering into something that has already happened, namely our union with Jesus as He carried our crosses. Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is our cry of a desperate alienation from God, taken up into His, and transformed into Resurrection and gift of the Spirit.
    Again, we unleash a dynamic process as we identify our many passions and deaths with those of Jesus. Gradually we place our faith in the Indwelling of the Risen Christ and place our hope in Jesus’ victory, entrusting our wounded lives to Him. Gradually, the Spirit strengthens our faith through the gifts of wisdom and gradually enlightens us with self-understanding, enabling us to fathom our compulsions and weaknesses. Gradually we experience being healed of our emotional wounds and the wounds we have inflicted on our conscience. All of which leads us to greater love of Christ.
    However, the impact of our entering deeply into the Paschal mystery does not stop at our own self-healing. As the love of the Spirit is poured forth in our hearts, we bond with others in the Body of Christ and act as channels of the Spirit’s healing of the world. Fr. Keating writes “We will not know the results of our participation in Christ’s redemptive work in this life. One thing is certain: by bonding with the crucified One we bond with everyone else, past, present and to come.”
    In our spiritual journey we will invariably encounter many deaths—the death of our youth, the death of our wholeness, the death of our dreams, the death of our honeymoons. They can be Paschal deaths, deaths that are real but do not end possibilities if we take them to the crucified One and set in motion the process of identifying with Jesus and allowing the Spirit to empower us to live our new lives. If we allow them, our Paschal deaths will open up Paschal resurrections and achieve greater intimacy for us with Christ.
    First Posted June 19, 2001
    2001 NY Cursillo (English).
    When we finally allow life to take us through the Paschal Mystery of passion, death, and resurrection, we will be transformed. At this stage we’ll have found the capacity to hold the pain, not to fear it or hate it or project it onto other people.
    Actually, it’s really God holding the pain in us, because our little self can’t do it. But the Big Self, God in us, can absorb it, forgive it, and resolve it. We know it is grace when we no longer need to hate or punish others, even in our mind. We know someone else is working through us, in us, and for us. Our little life is not our own henceforward, nor do we need it so much. We are now a part of the Big and One Life.
    Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation
    Starter Prayer:
    Christ fills everything everywhere
    with His presence.

    • Carol

      God of My Bitter Hours
      by Karl Rahner
      You knelt in the Gethsemane garden
      In the final hours before your death,
      The sweat of bloody regret on your brow.
      We, too, have our painful episodes
      When the bitter taste of obvious defeat
      Barricades any hope of comfort and release.
      You join us in our bitter hours of struggle
      When opposition, discontent, or lament
      Block the corridors to our peacefulness.
      You reassure us, “This, too, will pass.”

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