Monday, June 14, 2010

Not the Christianity I Knew, Part I

This is going to be more of an essay than most of my posts: I'm not trying to make a particular argument, so much as exploring a particular line of thought. So if it's a meandering and/or a little incoherent, bear with me.

I've mentioned before that I hang out on a fair number of blogs belonging to unbelievers. They're not the only places where I read and respond online, but they're a significant fraction. Now, unbelievers are not exactly a monolithic group. The simplest division is between "atheist" and "agnostic", but even that isn't really clear cut. There's a lot of arguing about just how to define those terms, and how they relate to each other. In addition, a lot of people don't find either one entirely satisfactory, so there are a host of less common designations: free-thinker, rationalist, humanist, apatheist, etc. There are people who were raised without religion (not many, but some); there are people who became devoutly religious and later deconverted; there are people who were never that devout to begin with. So, yeah: a lot of variety.

There are also varying degrees of what I'm going to call antitheism - the belief that religion is harmful. Think of how much further along we'd be if religion hadn't been suppressing scientific discoveries for all those centuries. Do you know how many wars and inquisitions and genocides religion is responsible for? Or, in a milder form: good men can be good on their own, and bad men bad, but for a good man to do bad requires religion. With the population pressure and technology increasing the way they are, we just can't afford to keep accepting irrationality.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of the people who are strongly antitheist have come out the more oppressive, abusive, and authoritarian strains of religion. Here in the U.S., that's usually Fundamentalist and/or Evangelical Christianity. And, perhaps equally unsurprising, some of them fairly strongly disapprove of my own attitude toward religion, which might be described as "gentle tolerance".

But, of course, we're coming at this from very different directions. For most people, losing their faith and/or leaving their religion is a hugely traumatic experience, akin to divorce or a death in the family. (Dr. Ken Pulliam has a post on the subject here.) For me, it was a much gentler experience, more like I went to take a look outside and just never went back in. But then, I was a strange child (who knew, right?). I wasn't so much antisocial as asocial, and Church was just one of a long list of things that seemed very important to everyone else and didn't make much sense to me. I remember, in the course of looking back at my religious upbringing, being angry at times, and sad at other times; but I didn't go through the wrenching grief that so many former believers do. Christianity just wasn't that big a piece of my identity or my emotional life.

And, of course, I didn't experience the social consequences that other people do: lost friendships, exile from the community, having the people you rely on for support turn on you. When I show back up at my parents' church (which I do, because my son spends his Sundays with them), people are friendly and happy to see me. Nobody stops to ask me why I drop my son off and leave; nobody feels compelled to warn me that my immortal soul might be in danger. It's not that sort of church.

Keep that last thought in mind; I'll be coming back to it.

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