Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I'm an atheist

I was asked on Sunday how I'd recommend responding to those who are 'new atheists' (followers of Dawkins/Hitchins etc). I want to listen and love them and invite some conversation. Often it goes this way:

Person A: I'm an atheist.
Person B (often): Oh. 
End of conversation.

What if we could try this:

Person A: I'm an atheist. 
Person B: Can you tell me about the god you don't believe in?

This is a way of opening conversation that was probably being closed down, and it doesn't require expertise, just a listening ear. If the invitation is accepted what you'll often then hear is...

Person A: god is big, nasty, accusing, condemning, unstable, against us...
Person B: Interesting, sounds horrible - I don't think I'd want to believe in that kind of god either, where does that view of god come from?
Person A: ...
Person B: Can I tell you about the god I know, would you take a look at Jesus with me...

Which presupposes that a Christian gets that their god isn't "big, nasty, accusing, condemning, unstable, against us" which he isn't. That view verges on the demonic and is very ugly, whereas if we take a look at Jesus we something very different. Turns out for many people that this issue isn't so much whether a god could exist but a passion for a certain kind of god not to exist... and again I'm keen to engage with the historical person of Jesus whom investigation of might end up with us using (redefining) words like god, but in a very different kind of way.

And when we get talking I'm not convinced Richard Dawkins has that many followers. More people are like Marcus Brigstocke who have been put off hard-core atheism by Dawkins, have taken a cursory look at the options and are left without a god they're happy to believe in, but also left with a fear of being alone and without any good answers to the problem of suffering.