Over at his Better Living blog, Mark Daniels has written a heartfelt post entitled 'Note from a Former Atheist and Current Sinner/Saint to My Atheist Friends'.
As one of Mark's atheist friends, I felt obligated to reply.
From Mark's post:
"It’s not too late to make a fresh start with God.'
Take it from one who has wandered from God time and again, God does give fresh starts.
Don't believe there is a God? I was once there myself. I was an atheist. But something (or Someone) incited me to dare to believe. I found myself willing to believe, though I couldn't explain that willingness rationally, in spite of the fact that such belief ran counter to my penchant for utter empirical rationalism and complete self-sufficiency. God, loving and powerful, has been turning my surprising willingness to believe into a deepening trust (faith) in the God made known in Jesus Christ ever since.
If I go to a great movie or a cool restaurant with tasty fare or if I read a book that changes my perspective on things, I don't keep that stuff in. I tell people about them. The same thing is true for my faith. I fell in love with Jesus Christ, God-enfleshed, thirty-plus years ago and I've found God to be incredibly faithful, my relationship with him exhilarating, challenging, and comforting.
Please, consider being willing to believe in God. Just tell the God you're not even certain is there that you're willing to believe and then see what happens.
Then, be prepared to be as surprised as I was and have remained for over thirty years, by all the fresh starts that come your way. Really."
"I can't tell you what a heartbreaking, near-insanity inducing process my attempt to maintain and regain faith was. The farther I get away from it, the better and healthier I feel.
The shift in worldview has been painful and overwhelming at times, but now--as a secular humanist--I feel much more justified (and less defensive) in my beliefs. I also feel a lot more compassion for my fellow man, and have found myself just being good--for goodness' sake--much more often.
I don't know whether or not there's a god, but if there is, I can't imagine that god objecting to where I'm at right now."
Even though the prospect of returning to the Christian religion seems akin in my mind to returning to an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, I deeply appreciate the concern for my well-being and eternal welfare. As Penn Jillette remarks in his oft-used youtube video on the subject of proselytizing, 'how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?'
I agree with Penn, and interpret the witness of Mark Daniels, and all of those other wonderful religious people in my life as an act of love. A willingness to engage in good faith talk about important existential issues--that could certainly cause some social and internal comfort--is a wonderful show of respect. The best way I can think of to reciprocate that expression of respect and love is to return the favor.
I've documented my ascent (or descent, depending on your perspective) from religion here, here, here, and here. It's been a long process that began with an attempt to give God credit for the good things that happen to some while giving him an out four allowing so many inexcusable things to happen to others. This issue--among a handful of others--led inevitably to a view of God that was very close to that of Harold Kushner's: A God that is good, but is not omnipotent. Some other considerations brought me farther away from that point to a deism of sorts, and from there, I landed at atheism as kind of a default state. Realizing that I would now have to create my own value system without the aid of the revelations of a good god, I have adopted the life stance of secular humanism. Things seem to be working out so far. Not being forced to defend claims about things that I couldn't possibly know has been helpful, and it's been a great relief to no longer have to serve as the christian God's spin doctor for some of his less than attractive traits.
All of that as it is, I'm glad that there are people out there who love me and are concerned for my well being. I return their love. I also offer up for their consideration the thought that a life lived for it's own sake, without the need to make and defend unsubstantiated claims, with an awe for the vastness and complexity of 'life, the universe, and everything', a focus on loving your neighbors, your family, yourself, and your community, and with a desire to leave the world just a little better off than it was when you found it, is a worthy enterprise.
As someone much more famous than myself once said, 'there is grandeur in this view of life'.