This is something I wrote a couple of years ago.
I have had many deep discussions over the years with people, some of whom describe themselves as Christians; some who still believe but no longer like using ‘Christian’ to describe their beliefs; some who consider themselves to be agnostics and others who describe themselves as atheists. I have come across many attempts to define the various terms but I sense that almost all of us are agnostic to some degree – having some doubts – on a sliding scale from close to being a theist (one who is convinced about the existence of a god or gods) to close to being an atheist (one who denies – not just doubts – the existence of a supreme being), and that our position on that sliding scale may have varied considerably from time to time.
I realise that this is an extreme over simplification, that might be a problem for some academically minded people, but it could perhaps be a good starting point for discussion – especially perhaps for those of us with only a limited amount of ‘theological’ education!
I recognise that there are many myths and misunderstandings about what atheism is and what it means to be an atheist.
I have considered changing the title of this Page to:
Theists (not necessarily Christians), Agnostic Theists, Agnostics, Agnostic Atheists and Atheists.
I have been in touch with many former Christians who now describe themselves as atheists and who reject religion of any kind, but who accept that there may be a spiritual aspect of life that they are unaware of. It was in 2009 that I had an ongoing discussion with a former church leader that seemed at that time to sum up so much of why people sometimes reject the Christian religion – see “From Christian to Atheist” or more recently “Different Conclusions”.
There have always been people who do not believe in God. Writers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are very vociferous in their attack on theism (belief in God), insisting (quite rightly I believe) that you cannot prove beyond doubt that God exists. But they often ask some very valid questions that the Christian religion doesn’t seem to have good answers for, such as the place of suffering. I would suggest that if it is true that God exists, he/she/it originates from a place beyond the physical universe. It is then surely impossible for the evidence to exist within our human understanding, and that a trust (not just a belief) in God is something that lies outside the realms of intellect, logic and reason – but I realise that this will be difficult for many rationally minded people (this is the subject of a separate discussion topic – “Head v Heart?”).
I’m not sure what others might make of a brief comment made by the current Archbishop of Canterbury during an interview in September 2014.
After all my years of questioning I have come to the conclusion that there are very few ‘right’ or ‘easy’ answers – a recognition that learning is an on-going process – with very few final conclusions. What place cognitive dissonance?
What can we learn from listening to each other’s stories in open and honest discussions – getting to know and understand why others think the way they do, even if we see things very differently?
Here are a few thoughts:
- Ask someone to tell you why they really believe / not-believe and the answer is unlikely to be very convincing to others. How convincing would your story be?
- How do you react to the idea of explaining your belief or non-belief in God?
Is it more of a feeling rather than a reason or conscious conclusion?
Do you feel the need to have reasons to justify those feelings?
Do you have beliefs that don’t quite tie up with what you were originally taught?
Do you feel that you were indoctrinated from an early age?
Maybe you have totally rejected what you were taught!
- How many people feel ‘lost’ – afraid because they don’t sense what they are expected to sense – and may wonder if their faith is genuine, or if they really are Christians?
- Why do you think that some people believe but can’t explain why?
- Would you like to be able to ask questions and/or share some of your thoughts and frustrations with others who may have been on similar journeys?
- Would you appreciate the freedom to talk about where you have come from and where you are now, even if that position is changing or has changed recently? We have all been on unique journeys and that means that we are all seeing things from a specific vantage point.
- It is obvious to me that whether we are believers, non-believers or something in between, we can learn so much from listening to each other’s stories in open and honest discussion without the need to turn the discussion into a contest or a debate.
- Can we accept that the Bible is a human creation?
- What place traditional theology?
- What place the language of myth and symbolism?
- Does deconstruction necessarily lead to abandonment of faith?
We are all on different journeys. I have had the time to learn so much about why people believe what they believe, often as a result of divisive, denominational theology and the culture in which they were brought up.
Would you like to be able to share some of your thoughts – maybe some of your own story?