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lindagray

A Conversation with a Christian : from atheists.org 1

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I recently had this exchange with a Christian friend. I know him from back when I used to be Christian myself:

Jared, a Christian who attends graduate school at a Bible college in British Columbia:

I could not stop laughing at the irony of this [article about “atheist church” aka Sunday Assembly]

Dave Muscato, American Atheists Public Relations Director:

Just because atheists don’t believe in a supernatural god doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy each other’s company, music, hearing interesting speakers talk about interesting topics, and so on. We’re human, you know. I’ve been to some of these and they’re fun. You listen to a rock band, you hear a lecture from a famous scientist or activist or author or whatever, and get to meet them afterward if you want. Then everybody goes to lunch. Religions don’t have a monopoly on human social interaction… I don’t see anything ironic about the idea of atheists congregating. Congregating is something humans do.

Jared:

“Just because atheists don’t believe in a supernatural god doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy each other’s company, music, hearing interesting speakers talk about interesting topics, and so on. We’re human, you know.”

This is not what I find ironic. You seem to be mistaking a social byproduct (and one very particular to religious expression in the West) of religious assemblies for their actual function and purpose. “Enjoying each other’s company, music, hearing interesting speakers, etc” is not a function or purpose of religious assemblies. This is at best only a symptom or byproduct of them, and arguably so only in Western and other developed or capitalistic regions. Outside these regions, you could hardly find any of the sort going on in Christian assemblies. 

The fact that this is the perception you have of churches is yet another sign that you never were a Christian, despite your continuing profession to the contrary. I know that you love to pull that card as it supposedly adds weight and legitimacy to your “flight from faith”, but it really is not winning you any hands. But by all means, go enjoy your “social club” and whatever else that entails.

Muscato:

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that for religious people, church is more then that. Church is where transcendence happens. The thing is, since I realized that I was the source of those feelings, and not some external entity, I can have those same feelings pretty much anytime and anywhere I want to. I feel the same awe, the same sense on insignificance and humility, the same connection to something greater than myself – a connection to everything that is.

The difference is simply that I understand that my connection to all life on this planet is biological, not because every living thing was created by some agent. I feel a connection to this Earth in a deeply meaningful way, knowing that every bit of my body is made up of chemicals from all around me, and in this state of continuous flux, I return chemicals to the Earth where they are recycled into other things. I feel a profound connection with the sun, which provides not only light and warmth but the mass that keeps us in a stable orbit and the energy to power plants through photosynthesis, in addition to providing things like vitamin D. I feel a profound connection with trees, which supply us with breathable air, and a profound connection with the billions of billions of microorganisms living inside me, more numerous then my own cells, that make it impossible to say where what is “them” and what is “me.” I am connected to the rest of the universe atomically. When I look at the night sky, and I think about the fact that the light I see has been traveling for millions and millions of years, and finally ends its achingly long journey on my retinas when so many other things could have come in the way first, it amazes me.

I could go on, but the point is that these feelings of awe and wonder and oneness and connection are available to anyone who wants them. They are created by and in our minds, not zapped into us magically. When you experience your god in church, you’re really experiencing something your own mind is doing to itself. The music, the lights, the repetitive driving and droning rhythms, singing along, certain familiar words and phrases all play a role in getting you into this mental state, but it is a mental state. I know it’s tempting to give credit for these experiences to an outside agent, but that is the difference between a theist and an atheist. 

Religion is always taking credit for human accomplishment. In this case it’s quite easy to demonstrate that those transcendent feelings don’t come from a god because atheists can feel it, too.

atheists.org

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