Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Christmas Card for a Closet Atheist

Peace Be Unto You

Yes . . . I still receive Christmas cards. But, I don't mind.

Since the cards I receive usually come from acquaintances, friends, and loved ones, I still take time to read them. The fact that I no longer consider myself Christian is still largely undisclosed to most people who know me. So, it makes sense that people still send me Christmas cards.

And who knows? Perhaps they would still send Christmas cards to me if they discovered how I really felt about Christianity. Maybe they would try to use the cards as a means to stir up convictions in my heart concerning my apostasy. Nonetheless, the fact remains; I don't mind the Christmas cards.

So, I get a particular card wishing me peace for this holiday season. I honestly appreciate the sentiment. They even took the time to hand write a personal note which also wished me a happy New Year. That felt good to read.


Peacemakers-- the Children of God

This lovely card concluded with an afterthought from Matthew 5:9 which reads:


Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

After reading that, I tossed the card aside. But then, I started to wonder about the implications of that verse.

Next, the questions flooded my mind.

Exclusive?

The verse from the book of Matthew implies that peacemaking is a virtue that can identify one as a child of God. If such a virtue identifies one as a child of God, then is the virtue of peacemaking exclusive to Christians? In other words, are the only people capable of pursuing peace the children of God?

What if a Muslim acted as a peacemaker and denounced the radicalized versions of his or her faith? Could that person then be called a child of God based on the teachings attributed to Jesus concerning peacemakers?

What about an atheist who engaged in peacemaking endeavors? Could that individual be named as a child or God?

The Nobel Peace Prize

Could the Nobel Peace Prize be a reliable standard for declaring someone a peacemaker? If so, what if an non-Christian became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate? I wonder would that individual still qualify to receive the label "child of God".

What about an atheist laureate? Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize doesn't have a high enough standard to be use as the criteria for a true peacemaker. The award seems to hold at least some integrity because the laureates have usually pursued an outcome of peace in the face of adversity on a national or international level. But, perhaps this standard isn't what Jesus had in mind during his sermon on the mount. If that's true, then what do those standards for a peacemaker look like?

What Did Jesus Mean?

Is it possible that being called a child of God had more to do with how one behaved rather than the religious doctrine one professed? After all, being called a child of God carries the connotation that one is saved and has a relationship with God as a Christian. Perhaps that verse from Matthew records an attempt by Jesus to suggest that the children of God only need to be peacemakers, rather than adhere to any specific religious doctrine. These are, after all, the words of Jesus, right? Couldn't he have meant that?

Did Jesus even mean to equate peacemaking with being a child of God? How can one think that peacemaking is an identifier for the children of God after considering the following quote attributed to Jesus?

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

(Matthew 10:34-35 KJV)

Since Christians generally accept Jesus as the only begotten Son of God-- and often call him the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), it would make sense that Jesus would equate peacefulness with being at least one identifier of God's children.

But according to Matthew 10:34, Jesus would not have us be confused or mislead-- peace on earth is not his objective. Yet, the same source that revels Jesus' teachings about peacemakers being called the children of God also revels to us that Jesus has no interest in bringing peace to earth. Instead, bringing a sword to divide people against one another is an expectation we should have concerning Jesus.

Perhaps peace requires strife and that was the true idea Jesus wanted to convey. Is this what Jesus, the son of God, means when he says that he came to bring a sword to earth to cause strife while still at the same time says that peacemakers are called the children of God? Does this mean the true peacemakers are those who cause strife in the name of a higher purpose or cause? Could killing for God, should he ever command it, be a possible action of peace?

Hoodwinked?

Though all this line of questioning, I do not mean to suggest that Jesus ever lied to us about what he really means concerning peace. I don't claim to know exactly what he said or meant; I was not at the sermon on the mount 2,000 years ago and I don't have authoritative understanding concerning his declaration that he came to bring a sword-- not peace-- to earth. Therefore, I do not have enough evidence to accuse him of deception. However, as I contemplate the quotes which both come from the book of Matthew, I can't help but wonder if people added words to Jesus' teachings over the centuries as the book of Matthew entered circulation.

How can we be sure the words of Jesus were never altered once they were written down-- assuming his words were correctly recorded in the first place? Consider the book of Mark: an ending by a second author was appended to the book of Mark according to many reputable scholars. Even a few main stream study Bibles make a note of this occurrence. How then can we know that the book of Matthew never had revisions by multiple authors? And in those possible revisions, how would we know if words were attributed to Jesus that he never actually said?

And Again, I Say: Peace Be Unto You

Shall we solidly conclude then that only children of God are the peacemakers of the world? This is a worthy question to ponder during the holiday season.

Also to consider: Can non-believers be peacemakers? And . . . what can we all do-- believers and non-believers alike-- to spread more peace throughout the world and towards those close to us in our lives.

Think about it. I'll try to think about it, too. I see nothing wrong with endeavoring to be peacemakers if that means making the world around us a better, safer place.

May peace be unto you all-- not only for this holiday season, but to the fullest extent possible!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So . . . How Do You Feel About God?

So . . . if you happened to have read my recent post A Storm is Brewing, then you might consider this post to be part two.

My mother-in-law and wife have a mother-daughter talk over the phone. I can only hear my wife's side of the conversation. And I hear something like:

I just don't like going to church . . . I dunno . . . I just don't feel comfortable there. I mean, I give you Mother's day, Christmas, Easter . . . I just can't come every Sunday. I just don't feel comfortable there . . . . No, no . . . it's nothing that anybody has done . . . No, I don't want to go to that church either . . . I know this is important to you and this is an important part of your life but I'm just not like you in that way . . .

Uh-oh.

Later, my wife told me what prompted her end of the conversation. Her mother asked her, "So, how do you feel about God?"

My wife totally went into politician mode on her and evaded the question by discussing a slightly different, but related topic. She just talked about not liking church.

So . . . the MIL is making her rounds. She asked her grandson . . . then next she's asked her own daughter. Now, I think my daughter and I are next on her list.

I guess I had better plan what I'm going to say. And I better hope my daughter doesn't out us from the closet.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Least of Us

With the First Amendment, the Framers of the Constitution bridled Congress from making legislation which gives preferential treatment to any religious establishment; Likewise, Congress shall make no law which prohibits the free exercise of a religious faith or establishment-- for free exercise of one faith demands on some level the rejection of another.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .
From the First Amendment of the United States Constitution

For if Congress introduces legislation that gives any religious establishment power over the people, then Congress by default places prohibitions upon any other group which differs from the religious establishment in question.

What better barometer do we have for measuring the true level of our freedom as a nation than to investigate how minority groups are treated? Often the minority is the least popular, least powerful group whose rights are rarely realized to the same, full extent as the majority.

On that premise, I submit the idea that the treatment of the agnostic and the atheist in the United States is a gauge of our true state of liberty concerning matters of religious freedom. If the non-religious don't have freedom from religion in the same way that believers may embrace their faith, then I dare say only the members of the most popular religions truly have the right to enjoy their own religious beliefs to the fullest.

Whenever society decides that liberty and justice is not for all, the treatment that befalls the least of us will eventually become everyone's lot in the end.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Perhaps It's None of Your Business

On my way into the grocery story, I overheard a mom speaking with her son-- who appeared to be around the age of five or six. They were walking right along beside me, so I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. Their proximity made hearing this tidbit impossible to ignore. I've changed the names for privacy sake.
son: Tony is mean to me.
mom: Well, don't play with Tony . . .
son: I wasn't playing with him. He was just mean. I play with Sally.
mom: How is Sally doing? Did you ask her why she didn't come to church Sunday? Did you tell her we missed her?

Huh? Did you ask her why she didn't come to church? 

Admittedly, their conversation was none of my business. But perhaps, that notion answers her question just as well.


I wonder sometimes if the majority of issues between believers and non-believers could be solve simply by people minding their own business concerning matters of faith.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Storm is Brewing

A storm is brewing; I think I may be outed soon.

See . . . evangelical Christians have a duty to evangelize. As a former Christian, I was trained to share my faith, my mom was taught this way, my mother-in-law believes this and practices this, and passages like Matthew 28:19 imply this duty. Over and over, I've heard that parents are charged with teaching their children "the faith"; Christians who are seeking a spouse are admonished to avoid marrying non-believers (1 Corinthians 7) and convert their spouse if neither of them were in the faith before entering matrimony.

To make this duty towards evangelism more complicated, the various flavors of evangelical Christianity have their own outline of creeds and articles of faith which detail the preaching and obtaining of salvation and how to introduce the gospel to others. Some evangelical Christians can accept the differences of other Christians sects while other Christian groups cannot. So then, a strong drive to teach others about the correct Christianity can be seen in some believers. They will attempt to convert anyone outside of their belief system-- even other Christians outside of their specific denomination.

When I stopped looking through the lens of Christian duty, I found it curious when various Christians claimed they are under attack by secularism, the "new atheism", Islam or the government. I say this because many Christians are unaware that they sometimes go beyond simply sharing their faith; rather, they find themselves imposing it. And when non-believers (theist or not) push back in order to maintain their liberty to worship as they please (or to not worship at all), some Christians can become offended by that.

Since Christendom contains members who assume their faith is the only correct viewpoint, such believers tend to unwittingly posses a sense of entitlement for preferential treatment-- for no policy can exist outside the ultimate authority and bridle its overstep; for without their faith, there could be no good or correct policy in the first place. So naturally, these kinds of Christians feel attacked when others simply remind them that the world shouldn't be required to follow suit and adopt their religious faith.

All of which brings me to the problem at hand.

My mother-in-law approached my son about matters of faith recently-- behind closed doors. My son told me and his mom about this incident shortly after it happened. My mother-in-law cornered him and asked him if he believed in God. My son has told me in the past that he does not, but he responded to her question with an emphatic yes. He even recounted that he tried to use such a tone in his voice that made her inquiry sound crazy. She proceeded to tell him that he doesn't need his parents' permission to have a relationship with God. And well . . . I don't dispute that. What worries me is that her probing implies that she doesn't trust that we, his parents, are doing what we should and she feels now that it's her duty to impose Christian faith on our children since we don't seem to be doing so. I also hate to see my son caught in the middle of this issue. He's being pressured to deal with matters that shouldn't be of his concern, yet. Neither of my children deserve that.

My wife, on the other hand, became incensed to the point of planning a day to confront her over this issue. She seems quite ready to revel that she's done with church and God and wants her mother to leave our kids alone concerning matters of faith.

Me . . . I'm not ready to have that talk. I don't want my mother to know that I'm no longer a believer in Christianity-- let alone God. I don't want to deal with all the questions my mother-in-law will have as to how or why I could have come to be this way. And worse-- I'm not ready to deal with my mom's feelings at this point in our lives. I know I don't have a lot of time left with my mom relative to how long I've already had. I don't want to ruin what may be the last years of my relationship with my mom.

Also, I feel my son is grounded in what he does and doesn't believe. I am not opposed to him being a believer; my only hope is that he thinks for himself. I have not forbidden him from believing in God. I have only asked him to make sure that whatever group he connects to, he thinks for himself and chooses which ever deity he worships for himself. I am also teaching my daughter this way. So, I'm not too worried about my mother-in-law converting my children as much as her dragging them off to church when they have decided for themselves that they are non-believers as well. That will become hard to explain and forcing them both to play along for years to come isn't fair to them.

And finally-- right or not-- I feel that I would face discrimination upon being outed concerning my non-belief in God. My place of employment often appears in a local, Christian-based business magazine. Upper management assumes everyone is a believer and they take the liberty to forward pro-Christian e-mail chain letters with the tone that anybody is stupid who disagrees. I've seen non-believers lose their jobs for reasons that to me, seemed to boil down to their being too outspoken about their unconventional thinking. To be fair, I only think one person actually lost their job for being openly atheist on YouTube while in the same breath mentioning his place of employment. Dumb move. But, I think when you make yourself open about non-believe, that becomes a marker against you and may be the deciding factor should you ever find yourself being re-evaluated by management.

It seems an unfortunate destiny awaits me-- that duty bound Christians will continue to pry until they pry away the door to my closet. Waiting for this day is like watching a brewing storm; I worry about the damaged relationships the storm might leave behind in it's wake.