A truce?

December 8, 2006 | Atheism | 25 comments

So I’ve been thinking this afternoon about how markedly the tone of the site has changed in such a short time. Just the other day Mike J commented about what a great community we have here, and now it seems that the vibe has really gone downhill. I think anyone would agree that the debates we had in these posts had a far different tone than the ones we’ve been having in the past two posts.

While reading through the comments that have been rolling in to my past couple of posts I had all sorts of grand retorts laid out in my head, usually reading something like, “You wanna call me prideful?! Yeah, well, YOU SUCK!” though usually with a little less elegance and charity.

As I hit delete on a particularly troll-ish comment I muttered jokingly, “I swear, these people would crucify me if they could.” Ooooooh yeah. You know, that actually happened to Someone a long time ago. And here I sit, telling myself that these days I am one of his servants, getting indignant and expecting better treatment than he himself received. Upon reviewing my offending post and the internal dialogue I heard when reading the comments, I had to ask myself if my motive here was the glory of God or the glory of myself? Was my goal to bring more souls to Christ or bring more readers to Jen’s blog?

Even worse, I was part of the cause of all this hostility. While I attempted to make the post about pride and atheism mostly about myself and what I was like before I believed, I did throw in a little dig at others while I was at it. If I want to have an open dialogue with atheists, which I really do, I’m not setting the tone very well by making sideways comments and assuming the worst motives on the part of those who disagree with me.

And the cherry on the cake of all the absurdity is that I really feel a strong kinship with my atheist brothers and sisters. One thing my lifelong Christian readers probably can’t relate to is the treatment you receive from so-called Christians when you’re an atheist and you discuss your beliefs. I could tell story after story of mean, hurtful things done and said to me by people who claimed to follow Christ — so I of all people should know to tread lightly when discussing atheists and their beliefs. I’m sure they’ve been called Satan-worshipers and hellbound jerks enough times that they’re getting weary.

I had another post typed up with new rules for commenting on my site. Rather, I would like to propose a truce. I was lamenting the loss of the great community of atheists and Christians alike that we had here, pondering which new commenter should be censored, I realized that it is myself who should be censored first. To all the people I called out as pots in my post about pride, I would like to introduce myself, the kettle.

One thing I will say is that despite the hostility the commenters here still seem to be really intelligent, with many insights to offer. Let’s start over. I am sincerely sorry for the offense that I caused. Especially as a former atheist, it’s really hypocritical. Can we go on from this point forward with a more calm, charitable tone towards one another?

Also, immediately after I hit Publish on this I’m going to say a rosary. My intention is for all my atheist readers: Mike J; Jerret; R and all; Rhinoqlous; Darwin’s Dagger; Anon the Catholic-turned-atheist; Anon whose religious beliefs almost led him to a mental breakdown; Anon (the non-atheist) whom I offended so; all the other anonymous commenters. And especially Professor Chaos, whose story of begging God for help that he never received brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.

My prayer is that you will forgive me, and be patient with me as I work to overcome my lifelong habit of self-centeredness and pride. And that you may find peace, wherever your search may lead you.

25 Comments

  1. Mike J

    All my years in fundyism showed me plenty of examples of looking down the nose at those “foolish atheists” (or Mormons, or Moslems, or anybody else who didn’t agree with us). And I took part in it at times.

    Over time I learned not to. And I slowly began to try to understand the points of view of others. When I did, I found that they were usually based in something sensible. And i found that all those other folks who weren’t Christians were very often good folk with whom I’d be glad to share a brew and a chat.

    But you know what? When I went Orthodox, I actually fell into the “poke fun at Protestants” rut a time or three. Thankfully I got sick of it quickly.

    You caught yourself in about a day or so. That’s a sight quicker than me. So good on ya.

  2. Anonymous

    Well done Jen. A good reminder and a good example to all involved.

  3. professor chaos

    Jen,

    Your pretty much unnecessary apology is accepted and appreciated, and I hope you will accept mine as well.

    I’ll try not to drag this out and keep it as brief as possible, but you pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as how we are treated as atheists by the majority, particularly this time of year. (I love how we’re responsible for the “war on Christmas” when the majority of us don’t care what the Wal-Mart greeters say to us. Ultra-Liberal bleeding heart Christians, IMHO, started this mess.)

    But I digress. I definitely came here with an attitude because of your post, and for that I am sorry. I am very, very new at being an out of the closet atheist, and am learning to deal with my bitterness at mistreatment. (Real or imagined.)

    I think SteveG can testify that I’ve come a long way toward civility since I first started cruising the blogosphere, and I hope that I’m getting better at it, too.

    But like you said yesterday, you’re going to get a different crowd from the “raving” than from the “friendly.”

    One thing that somewhat confuses me, though, is this: Aside from the jabs at your post from myself and others (many of which were taken from RA, not from here), I thought the back-and-forths in the comments were maintaining civility.

  4. professor chaos

    I just realized that I haven’t checked out the comments from your previous post since I left work yesterday, also. I’ll go check them out now.

    (How ’bout them Steelers, eh, Steve?) 🙂

  5. Bekah

    Jen,
    This post is one of the most gracious things I’ve read on the ‘net. I hope that others will take you up on starting over. I, too, enjoy the previous tone on the blog, though I often don’t have time to keep up with comments. I have not had great exposure to atheists, and their thought processes, and especially what causes one to convert, really interest me. I can tell that God has matured (as in faith) you greatly already, to be able to take the attacks that have come your way and quell that defensive urge we all have.

  6. Anonymous

    I think SteveG can testify that I’ve come a long way toward civility since I first started cruising the blogosphere, and I hope that I’m getting better at it, too.

    Absolutely, I will back this up 100%. At least as far as I have seen, there has been a huge change (improvement) in the way you approach discussion over the last year of so. No question about it.

    (How ’bout them Steelers, eh, Steve?) 🙂

    Sweet! But depressing too.

    Do you realize (I am sure you do) that but for two plays (Colclough’s fumble against Cincinnati, and Rothlesberger’s pick in the end-zone against Oakland) we’d be 7 and 5?

    Ugh…when they call it a game of inches they aren’t kidding.

  7. professor chaos

    Aargh! No doubt, Steve.

    And that doesn’t even take into consideration the Atlanta game and all the fumbles that blew that one, too.

    Ah well, Let’s go Pengu…no, that’s not working out too well, either.

    Let’s go Pitt! Final Four, baby!

    Anyways, thanks for your words of support, Steve.

    Jen, when I came out of the closet (only about seven months ago), I had years of anger, bitterness, and frustration building up inside of me. I used to go by the name “Militant Atheist” and signed up over at the RA forums and exploded. Over time, I’ve simmered down, but my bitterness at the Christian world still pops up from time to time. I’m far from the calm, cool, rational person I long to be, but the trendline is encouraging. I feel I’m doing better.

    While I still consider some of the elements of your post to be a bit offensive to me, I fully realize that my emotionally triggered approach was in haste and certainly counter-productive.

  8. Anonymous

    I was never offended. I just wanted to point you toward a post I did a few months ago on the issue of Fact and Faith. I think you’re kidding yourself if you think you have evidence of the existence of God. It requires no more faith to believe in a self evident God than it does to believe in the sun (all bright and hot up there in the sky as it is), and how is that having faith at all? You talk about evidence because you want to pretend that you are still the same rational person you always were. But you aren’t. You’ve made a leap of faith beyond rationality. Be that person, enjoy it, but don’t expect the rest of us to sacrifice our rationality to your vision of God.

  9. Darwin

    Darwin’s Dagger,

    I read your post, which was interesting, though in some ways I think far too philosophically simplistic.

    Clearly, it’s foolish of a Christian to claim to have “irrefutable evidence” of Christ, since there is no such thing as irrefutable evidence. (One of the standard apologetics claims is: “You can doubt now, but you’ll know for sure when you’re dead.” But I think in some ways C. S. Lewis came closer the mark in The Great Divorce where those permanently separated from God in death are so partly through their continued conviction that there is no such thing.)

    Faith and fact are both terms which I think are thrown around far too loosely. Few things are believed without any form of evidence, even those traditionally classed as “faith”. And few “facts” can be established without granding certain base assumptions which cannot be known with utter certainty.

  10. Martin

    I avoided adding to the comments in those posts. I spent every day for about 6 or 7 years doing apologetics online and I concluded that by and large, it was a waste of my time. One of my apologetics-leaning websites, Catholicsource.net is still up (it has some great articles BTW), but I’ve since turned over the management to a friend.

    I look forward to the return in civility and the wonderful comments that people have posted here.

  11. Jerret

    Jen, I appreciate the mention a great deal. But you didn’t need to apologize to me. I wasn’t offended once, and I found the discussions thought provoking. I was actually more on the theist side there at the start, because of the atheist hostility.

    I’m really flattered, I’ve never been mentioned in someone else’s blog post before :p.

  12. Tim

    I’ve been reading the posts back and forth over the past few days – it’s been a rollercoaster for me as a reader. Some really intelligent, thought provoking comments from both sides, then someone takes offense and lobs a little attitude back, and then it escalates a bit, and then I find myself cringing as things get more heated and ears start to close, and then Jen puts up this post with such sincere humility and is greeted by the atheist crowd with equally humble responses. I just want to say that I applaud you all for grabbing the opportunity to return to a peaceful, civil discussion. What a great example of the mutual respect that is essential for a terrific blog like this to thrive.

    I am a Christian (Catholic), and I absolutely abhor the self-righteous attitude that some Christians bring to any discussion they have with “non-believers.” I haven’t found that attitude here for the most part (a few slips here and there), and that’s why I’ve stuck around. I’m not looking to become an atheist, but I am learning a great deal reading the comments of those who do not believe in God. Really fascinating stuff.

    If I could, I have a question for the atheists who have been commenting on this site. What draws you to a site like this? By “this,” I mean one that is run by a Christian and who wants to talk about issues of faith. I realize Jen is intelligent, a good writer, rather friendly, and has significant experience as a former atheist – but for those of you who are currently atheists, why isn’t talking about God or the absence of God a waste of time? Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that you all are here! But I’m just very curious as to what the draw is for you.

    As a Christian, when I talk with a non-believer, there is always in my mind/heart the hope that somehow, someway, someday, the person will come to believe in God/Jesus. I’m not interested in winning a debate or landing some great zinger (although my ego gets the better of me sometimes). I don’t care how the “conversion” happens or if I’m involved at all – I just have a general hope that the person will come, at some point in his/her life, to believe in the Lord. And it’s my opinion that any Christian who truly has the Lord in his/her heart feels the exact same way because that is where the Lord’s heart is at (obviously I’m speaking as a believer here). And of course, as a Christian, I believe Jesus has commissioned me to share my faith with others so that they too might believe. And so one reason I am drawn to this site is that it offers an opportunity to engage non-believers in conversation and discussion. Sure, the atheist may not accept what I have to say about God or faith, but that part I have to leave to the Lord. My role is simply to share, when given the opportunity, in a way that shows nothing but love and respect. I realize none of this babbling has application to atheists because I am speaking from a position of faith in God. I’m just trying to explain what brings me to this site. Which brings me back to my question. What motivates you to participate in a blog like this? I don’t have any agenda – well, as a Christian I guess I do – but my question isn’t motivated by my agenda. I’m just trying to understand it from your point of view. Why engage in the discussion if you are convinced there is no God? Is it simply the fun of a good debate, or is there something else?

  13. proud to be an atheist

    Tim,
    What draws me to this type of site is to try and understand how someone who used to be an Atheist, is now studying to become Catholic because I am convinced there is nothing out there that can make me change my mind, no offense. Us Atheists want to be understood just as much as you do. I came to this site from another one that refers to this one quite often. And because of Jen’s site, I have also learned of the Friendly Atheist, but this is just my opinion of why this type of site is attractive. Everyone loves a good debate.

  14. R and all

    Okay, Jen, sounds good. I’m sorry too, for the “now you’re stupid” comment. I don’t really think your’re stupid–for all I know you are smarter than I. I do think believing in the supernatural is silly, pointless, and counterproductive, but lots of very smart people do it anyway.

  15. Jennifer F.

    R and all – no apology necessary. It was really a clever response, I was sure to include it because I thought it was so hilarious. I really set myself up for that one. Touche.

  16. Jerret

    I come here for the intelligent conversation, more or less. And I like reading Jen’s posts.

  17. Anonymous

    Hello, I started at your last blog awhile back.

    Anyhow, I just thought I would share my brother’s story which is pretty funny and apropos to the previous posts.

    He was out one night and really contemplating Jesus. So, he did the typical thing and said, “Show me a sign.” He said just then a shooting star went across the sky. lol So, he thought, “Oh, that must have been a coincidence.” He said he then saw the biggest, freakin’ shooting star/comet he has ever seen. He still doesn’t believe Jesus is God. lol

    Nicole

  18. Anonymous

    Well, things like that really shouldn’t be one’s reason to believe anything. If you’re in the northeast and have clear skies tonight, for example, and you asked any of a gazillion questions, and then looked up, assuming a shooting star was going to be a big sign, you’d be in trouble. We’re in the middle of the Geminids. 😉

    We’ve had pretty good showings for both the Leonids and Orionids this year, too, so you can probably catch a couple of shooting stars more often than you think. It’s just that people rarely look up, so when they do, and when they see shooting star, they think it’s a big deal. If you checked out the night sky on almost any clear night, you actually have pretty good odds of seeing one.

    Besides, we’re told not to look for signs by God himself. For that very reason, I suppose.

    And if your belief is based on something that superficial, it can disappear just as easily. What happens if a person asks the same question your brother did, but does it on a cloudy night…does that mean God doesn’t exist?

    And lots of people don’t believe Jesus is God, but believe in God. The Jews come to mind…and the Muslims…

    I once saw a Catholic rip apart someone for believing in God but not believing Christ was the Messiah. Oh, she went on and on about how you couldn’t really believe in God if you didn’t accept Christ, and so on. Way to totally dehumanize and discount millions of people whose religious traditions are way older than yours…and who believe in the same God you do…

    But I find a lot of Christians think Judaism is somehow separate from Christianity and that Jews worship a different God, which is really an appalling display of ignorance when you think about it.

  19. Anonymous

    It’s funny, I didn’t realize that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians until I read about it in a history book for my *6* yr old! lol Talk about ignorance.

    You know, we know we should not look for signs, nor ask for them. However, my brother seems to have some weird connection with God (which God, I don’t know). When my dad was dying, my brother heard “3 o’clock”, repeatedly. Without getting into detail, suffice it to say there was no way of knowing that my dad would die at 3 o’clock that afternoon. My dad also had some weird connection with God (he was a Christian, which, ironically, I didn’t know until after his death).

    Yet, with all of my family’s experiences, I still remained firmly entrenched in agnosticism. Weird, eh? Like Jenn was saying, you can have proof delivered on a silver platter and still not believe. My friend told me that it is written in the Bible that some people will never be able to believe. I believe her. 🙂

    ~Nicole

  20. Tim

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of ignorant Christians out there(including the Catholic woman you mentioned who is obviously ignorant of Catholic teaching), just like there are ignorant people in every religious group, and, for that matter, non-religious group. However, that shouldn’t keep us from noticing the informed, knowledgeable members of those same groups.

    And Nicole, I have no problem believing that God was sending your brother a sign – it’s in the timing. There have plenty of times in my life when God has spoken to me through a subtle sign, or a not so subtle sign. Every one of them could be explained away by coincidence – that is, if you believe in coincidence. And every one could be taken as a sign. It’s really in the eye of the recipient. After all, if it was in fact a sign, it probably wasn’t meant for the person who hears the story later. It was a sign for your brother, and perhaps you. And who knows, he may change his mind.

    Our God is a personal God who often speaks in a still, small voice that invites you to believe – not a booming exhibition of power that forces you to believe.

  21. Anonymous

    Our God is a personal God who often speaks in a still, small voice

    That is what I tell my son. 🙂 Just because I don’t believe, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.

    ~Nicole

  22. Anonymous

    I understand the connection to God. It’s something you experience when you finally transcend all this legalistic, religious, comparison-game, “personal holiness” stuff. And there’s only one God. People use different names, and understand God differently, but there’s only one God.

    And, sign or coincidence, shooting stars aren’t evidence of anything outside of science. We can choose to believe they’re proof of something, but I actually think it’s pretty awful, when you think about it. I mean, God is sending all the nice, well-to-do people lovely little foo-foo signs that affirm all their navel-gazing ponderings, but some child dying of hunger in Darfur gets jack? Uh-uh.

    I think we sometimes forget that all this kind of thinking, that even faith, actually, is a tremendous luxury. It’s easy to have faith when you’re financially secure, your kids are healthy, you’ve obtained a high level of education, and you’ve got all the time in the world to play mental ping pong when it comes to this stuff. It’s not so easy when you have less than nothing, not even an expectation that you or your children will be alive tomorrow, much less fed, clothed and housed.

  23. Jennifer F.

    It’s easy to have faith when you’re financially secure, your kids are healthy, you’ve obtained a high level of education, and you’ve got all the time in the world to play mental ping pong when it comes to this stuff. It’s not so easy when you have less than nothing, not even an expectation that you or your children will be alive tomorrow, much less fed, clothed and housed.

    I actually think the reverse is true. Perhaps it’s because we don’t feel like we “need” God when we have everything here on earth, or because life is just too depressing to take without God when you live in misery, or because people with simpler, more important day-to-day needs like just surviving are more in touch with God than the rest of us.

    Of course I am ridiculously spoiled compared to most of the world so I can’t speak from personal experience. However, in my area there are a lot of Mexican immigrants, and a couple close friends of my family are immigrants. I was just talking with a friend last week about her life in Mexico: she grew up with six brothers and sisters; her father was murdered when she was young, leaving the family destitute; they were so poor their mother had to get rotting fruit from the local fruit stand for them to eat; the roof on their house was just leaves, leaking every time it rained; for a treat they would get a block of cheese about the size of a deck of cards to share among themselves. Yet she and her family and everyone else in their area were devoutly religious. She’s one of those people who just “knows” God is there. I’ve heard the same from all the poverty-stricken immigrants I know.

    Also, when I was younger I went on a working tour of Fiji where we saw what life was like for the locals, how the sugar cane workers did backbreaking work for about a dollar a day; the children didn’t have enough clothes; their houses had no furniture. Yet they were some of the most religious people I’d ever seen, glowing about the “good news” and apologizing that their ancestors ate the first missionaries who came over. 🙂 They were all devout Christian.

    It seems like people tend to be less religious the more material wealth they have. Of course there are exceptions, but the most religious people I’ve ever met were very poor.

  24. Tim

    No doubt, wealth and comfort are often a hindrance to a relationship with God. If you’re rich, who needs Him or who cares – that’s the potential trap. This way of thinking – the lack of any sense of need for God – is what led Jesus to tell his followers how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. But not impossible – all things are possible with God.

    What often forces people closer to God is desperation. Sickness, poverty, addiction, etc. That’s how God got through to me – in a moment of pure desperation, I had no one else to turn to. I was helpless. In that situation, you can choose between reaching out to God or sinking into deeper despair. I chose the former, and God responded in a way that would only make sense to me – a “sign” if you will.

    I’m not advocating that we not assist poor people because desperation is good for them. To the contrary, we’re called to help the poor. I’m just saying that it’s very inspiring to see how people with nothing, and seemingly no reason to be happy, are often much happier than people in our society who have great wealth. The difference is that one has a spiritual joy that is not dependent on circumstances, while the other seeks a material happiness that is passing.

    It seems non-sensical that a poor person could have joy, but then God often does things backwards. He blesses the meek, not the proud. I often wonder if that isn’t why so many of us often find ourselves rooting for the underdog. Made in God’s image, maybe we picked up His love for the underdog (as in David vs. Goliath).

    And a “sign from God” and “proof” can be two totally different things. I wouldn’t offer you a shooting star that Nicole’s brother saw as proof of God. But, it could be a sign from God intended for Nicole’s brother. There’s nothing foo-foo about a loving father reaching out to a son with whom He desperately wants a relationship. What does it matter if he uses a star, or a dirty sock, or a bowl of jello? All that matters is that He gets through.

  25. Anonymous

    Okay….let me rephrase…it’s a luxury, it’s easy to have a certain kind of precious, cutesy faith, the kind of faith that has people believing they are the center of the universe, that every perfectly normal, everyday occurrance is a sign meant just for them, that their sparkley little guardian angel is flitting around saving parking spaces for them right in front of Neiman Marcus, and making sure they get the last DiorShow Mascara or XBox-3, or whatever, as they go about spending thousands of dollars celebrating the great commercial orgy that Christmas has become.

    Yes, the faith of those who have nothing tends to be far more genuine. But it also tends to be far less legalistic and condemning and rigid and those with that kind of faith don’t compare their “personal holiness” with their neighbor’s, or think that it’s all about them 24/7, or tell other people they’re going to hell, or play the my-denomination-can-kick-your-denomination’s-ass pissing game.

    So, yes, genuine Christian faith is a rare thing, and is more often found among the poor and disenfranchised.

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