Did Christians make me a nice Atheist?

DSC_1284Two lovely Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped by the house Sunday afternoon. The one who did all the talking suggested that regardless of who I claim to be today, my immersion in Christianity as a child is the reason why I have tendencies toward kindness.

It was apparently their fourth visit. My Tara-girl has fielded all the others. She told me they have interesting things to say, and that she likes talking to them, except that it’s a little awkward to talk to strangers through an opened front door. She insisted they are “SO sweet and SO nice I almost wanted to convert to their religion just so they wouldn’t feel bad.”

As sweet as they are, when Tara spotted them through the windows of the front room, she said, “It’s the Jesus people! Your turn, I’m outta here.”

They already knew I was an atheist, since Tara had told them. But she had not told them my background that included some pretty hardcore religion at times. There were times when I went to church three days a week (twice on Sundays). I assisted in teaching Bible School one summer. I was in the church choir. I was baptized. In high school I was in a Bible Study group.

Thus, the Jehovah’s Witness was at a disadvantage when she began by saying, “Do you ever get frustrated about how neighborhoods have changed? People aren’t friendly like they used to be. Neighbors don’t help each other out. Many people don’t know what the Bible is all about, and don’t realize that the Bible offers guidance and understanding. If you aren’t familiar with the Bible, you may be happy to know that answers to many of your questions can be found here. {she pulled out an attractive, leather-bound Bible} Well, I’d like to show you this passage in the Bible that explains…”

I interrupted her and gave her a 2-minute snapshot of my history. It was only fair that I didn’t let her continue talking to me as though I had never touched a Bible. I didn’t want her to say something that might be embarrassing.

She started talking about how I came away from religion. “Is it because you were angry with God? {my father has asked me this also} Is it because you saw pain around you and wondered how a God could let such things happen? Were you fearful of what happens when you die?”

No, I am not angry with God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Heaven. Or Hell. When I die I hope my remains will be put somewhere so they rot or disintegrate, and hopefully I’ll feed or fertilize another living thing. And I said that’s a future I am proud to be a part of. I told her that after many many years of soul-searching, at the age of 30 I simply realized that believing in a deity doesn’t make any sense to me.

The woman was not derisive. She nodded and smiled and planned her next angle. But in a very sweet and tolerant way.

We talked for about 30 minutes. Over and over she mentioned that the things I said to her reminded her so much of what is in the Bible. I tried my best to put in a plug for Atheists around the world and said, “Isn’t it good to know that even Atheists can be good people? They can be people that are so like you that they remind you of what’s in the Bible?”

She responded with, “Has it ever occurred to you that it is because of all the Christianity of your early years that you are the way you are today? Maybe you have let go of the religion, but the messages of the Bible still shape your thoughts and opinions.”

The point she had been trying to make earlier was that without the Bible, none of us would know what proper behavior is. We wouldn’t know how to help each other, or how to be kind, or how to be neighborly. In my backstory, she found the perfect support for her argument: Atheist I may call myself….but I am Christian inside. A child of God at the core.

I think it’s a valid argument. It’s a blow to my ego, of course, but it does make perfect sense. I thought I had rejected those teachings, but maybe what I really did was to disguise them as something else that I felt better about. Maybe I disguised the religion of others by overlaying my own religion. Like the way the Romans assisted in Celts’ conversion by incorporating their arts and traditional holidays into Christian-themed arts and holidays.

They finally left without converting me, after we had enthusiastically thanked each other for the enlightening discussion. I continued to think about what it means to my self-identity, if the woman I am is based on Christianity. We all know that a child’s environment informs who she becomes as an adult. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

You see, my message to her was that Atheists are not bad or wrong, just different. We are not inherently wicked, simply because we don’t read the Bible and thus have no way of learning how to behave. We should not be pitied. What I really, really want the whole world to believe is that religion, or lack thereof, is NOT the thing that makes people good or bad, it’s the people who decide how to behave. I want to be respected when I earn it. I am so tired of being on the receiving end of the worried and narrow-minded faithful who frown at me with concern and tell me that Jesus loves me anyway. They tell me they will pray for me, and translated, that means: “I have judged you and found you wanting. I will pray that you soon learn to think the way I do.” Stop! Just stop! When you think that I am incomplete without organized religion, you are disrespecting me. And for no good reason.

So anyway… If I learned all my good habits from Christianity, then I cannot use myself as an example of how Atheists can be good people, simply because they have decided to be good.

After they left, my daughter came out of the laundry room where she had been hiding. Not wanting to come out, she had been trapped there, and consequently folded all the clothes that were in the dryer! Woo hoo! The Jehovah’s need to come by more often.

She said she had heard the entire discussion.

“You know,” she said, “They tried the same thing on me. That part about how neighbors aren’t like they used to be. I said to them, ‘That doesn’t make sense to me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I’m only 16, and I don’t remember what neighborhoods used to be like. I was only a baby. Second of all, this neighborhood is awesome. There are kids playing all the time. I know the people in that house, and that house, and that house; all of them! And we do help each other out.’ But they’re so sweet,” she said again. “I couldn’t ask them to leave. And they also said some really interesting things. Didn’t you think they are such nice ladies?”

It occurred to me that my daughter was not raised via Christian immersion. And she is kinder and more tenderhearted than me.

If the Witness woman’s theory turns out to be true, then I don’t really mind having a new identity: the Atheist woman whose goodness came from Christianity. However, I still firmly believe that it is possible for Atheists to have good character without religion. I have cogent reasons, based in economics and safety, why this should be true. I will continue to seek examples to support my theories from the world in which I live. And you know I will find them, right? Because we always find support for our own beliefs if we look around. Our neighbors are either friendly or they are not, depending on what point we would like to make.

10 thoughts on “Did Christians make me a nice Atheist?

  1. As a fellow human and christian, I couldn’t agree with you more. The people who think the bible makes us good, don’t simply know their bibles. Justice, fairness, are concepts which precedes these books. I know plenty of Atheists and never-thiests who are great, humble, loving people. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your response, John. I’m glad you have been able to know great people, regardless of their beliefs. You make a good point about concepts of justice and fairness existing before the book did.
      Kindness must have existed before human ancestors even knew how to write.

  2. Hey Crystal – I like this blog posting. I’ve been reading your hiking blogs, too. You know God is mysterious and that’s all I can say. No one can judge anyone’s beliefs but as you know we will lean and attract toward those who we share something in common for the most part. 🙂 The Bible does say basically don’t go hooting and hollering in the streets about God, or something to that effect 😉 haha! But, anyways, I just wanted to simply say I enjoyed this blog. It made me giggle at times, too. -Kristina

    1. Miss Kristina, my friend. Your faith is powerful and has always been something I admired about you. I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and have turned out to be a genuine friend, even though we have differences. Hugs to you.

  3. I agree with you, Crystal. Kindness is not inherent to Christianity. Just look at all the mean spirited, judgmental folks out there who claim to be followers of Christ. In fact, I have become more disenchanted with organized religion since moving to the Bible Belt because of that judgment and hypocrisy.
    Love Tara and her response to them (and for folding the laundry)

    1. My Tara is always reliable for a new perspective! I can’t wait to find out all the things she will do, and learn, and become in her life.

      One of the best things my dad ever said to me, he said frequently: “There are always greater and lesser people than yourself.” It has turned out to be true 100% of the time. 😉

  4. My parents didn’t believe in God, but wanted us to sample organized religion, then decide for ourselves. I’m a good person, fair and honest and kind, without the benefit of a religious upbringing. i agree, too with LB, that saying you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean you practice tolerance, love and acceptance of others.

    Great conversation.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I do love organized religions for reminding their followers to strive to be better. Maybe everyone doesn’t get it right, but I’m in support of any source that teaches tolerance, love, and acceptance. I agree with you: great conversation.

  5. Crystal this is a brilliant article. I love Jehovah’s Witnesses and I enjoy welcoming them in our home for a good coffee and theological discussion. I have learnt to understand and respect their position, as I would to a fellow orthodox Christian, atheist, Moslem, though I find their position historically and theologically wanting.

    I agree with you and John A. David that we are not good or kind because of our beliefs(or lack of) in God.

    My brother in law and a lot my best friends(including you) who self-identify as atheists, outshine majority of Christians(including me), when it comes to goodness, respect, gentleness and kindness.

    What philosopher of religion would argue is that: it is not epistemology, our belief or lack of in God that we do morally virtues acts but ontology, existence of God. Whether we believe in God or not, which does not affect God’s existence(if God exists, that is) , our moral virtuous sense and acts are possible and meaningful because they find there ontology in a perfect being(God).

    Thank you once again for a brilliant article Crystal. You have a beautiful mind, a beautiful heart and a beautiful personality that shines from inside out.

    1. Prayson, I always appreciate your thoughtful responses. Thank you for sharing your perspective, and your compliments. I often learn from you, and through your words (and those of my other friends who believe) I’m gaining a greater understanding of the perspective of the faithful. I can actually see the value in what you’ve explained about ontology, if I understand it properly: our behavior doesn’t have a point if there is no God.

      And that brings out the believer in me, I think with a smile. You help me remember that I do have a faith. It’s in the power of the Universe, the Earth, the Cycle of Life. I want to be a part of a community of people with a common purpose, and that is perhaps in the valuing of our planet and the vast reaches of outer space. I want to contribute, and not to damage. I want to be a part of protecting and revering life, and also revering stones and rivers and crisp Autumn air.

      So I do agree with the idea that my faith is a reason for my behavior.

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