Saturday, February 27, 2010

An atheistic caramel chew

I enjoy chewing on things, mentally. One of the greatest gifts I have given myself is permission to truly study and understand those who are different from me in their thinking and their lives and their beliefs. It is humbling to realize how easily I categorized people under one label. I didn't think I did. I swore I didn't.

But, oh, I did.

I once lived in fear of spending too much time with those with whom I disagreed. In church lingo, I feared them "pulling me down" instead of me "pulling them up." Ugh. It's a big deal for me to say that out loud. That one hurts to read and confess. See, it is in being open to the world and to people which continues to solidify (as well as confuse) my beliefs and my theories and life choices. Yet, when certain things do come together, I can know that I came to that decision with true understanding ... not just what I thought was true. People are people - individuals. You can't understand them unless you know them.

So, I read a lot of statistics and studies, but I also realize they are a portion of the entire picture. One study does not a full determination make. Just doesn't. Man, wouldn't life be grand if it DID? We would have all the answers.

Yet, I find things fascinating. I find certain things confusing. For instance, the more intelligent you are the more likely you are an atheist or agnostic. My first response to that years ago? Well, of course! They're so smart they don't think they need God (not my response, but one that I regurgitated from some Christian writer or something-or-other). Well, on that same note, the more intelligent you are the less likely you are to be racist.

THAT is my caramel chew. It has been stuck in my teeth for quite some time. I read the stats, but I also read my friends. I see it. It takes years of sharing life and building relationships. Yet, it is there. It's not 100% across the board. Nothing is. But I refuse to just ignore it. What can I learn from this? Why? And to learn it I have to spend more time and share more of my life and listen without retort (holy crap, that's hard for me, because I like to say at least 45,000 words per day ... at least).

Years ago I would have just gotten mad at some of this stuff. Now, I have to listen to my own advice - errrrrgggg, I HATE that! I know that mad/angry is a miscue for what you're really feeling. I was typically feeling fear when my beliefs were challenged. Had to stare that one straight down. Had to determine the "why?" and work through it. Tough stuff. Does not happen overnight.

I don't share this kind of stuff often, because we're all in a different place, and some of you will immediately respond with anger. I seriously don't want to trigger that in you. This is just about hearing. Hearing to understand. That doesn't mean you have to agree. It also means that it can challenge your belief system and you can let it. Try to just chew on it. Whatever your initial responses are, hold on to them and chew. Taste it. Feel it stuck in your teeth. Try to figure it out. Learn something about yourself while you're learning about others.

It is a TOUGH discipline. I won't sugar coat it (no caramel chew pun intended). We are passionate people. That can be such a great thing! Allow it to be a part of sharing your life, but don't let it suffocate you. I'm speaking to everyone on every "side" (whatever those are).

Just try it.

So, here is the article which got me to munching on these thoughts again today: "Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ" by Elizabeth Landau, CNN.

Something I found last year: Jonathan Haidt's "Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives"

I'm currently reading Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" (yes, I realize I'm always a few years behind everything). I enjoy Dawkins. It's interesting to read how an atheist finds agnostics entirely too on the fence. :) He also had a wonderful presentation at TED (if you're not a reader) titled "Militant Atheism." That particular talk taught me a lot about myself and how I live out my faith - how I really don't listen and respond without understanding - how I stop listening and begin the debate in my head. My favorite portion is right around the 8:20 mark. I understand Richard Dawkins and I learn a lot from him now that I hear him.

Unwrap it and get to chewing.

(photo by Chris Chidsey)


Story of our Life said...

as have touched my heart in a way that needed to be done today!! Pure and True!

I'm not mad. I spend 8+ hrs a day driving "just for my job" that doesn't include the time it takes me to drive to 'get to that job' (or paradise I call..hahaha). Anyway, I've thought about some of this stuff the last few days as I drive in circles.

Anonymous said...

I love this, Christine!

I'm on a similar path. A few weekends ago I was reading some weekend magazine in the paper - USA Today or Parade - and there was an article about finding political compromise, written by someone smart and well-known (Dale Carnegie? I need to look this up!). One of his points was that in order to find compromise you must fully understand and empathize with the other side so you should spend time reading about and trying to understand people you disagree with.

When I 1st read that I felt VERY threatened and angry. I felt like if I read and understood where my "enemies"/"opponents" come from then they might convert me! And don't you know, I'm right and they're wrong so why waste energy doing anything but proving them wrong?! But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I was reacting from a place of deep insecurity. Since then I've made a HUGE effort to really see where the other side is coming from. If my beliefs are so tenuous that I can't stand to understand the opposition, then they aren't good beliefs anyway. Even down to the basics of reacting to someone who acts irritably has changed my outlook. I used to react to people all the time thinking "what a b*tch!" or similar. Just changing my reaction to "wow, she must have unhappiness in her life" or "there's certainly some latent anger there. Must be hard to feel that way" has changed the way I look at the world.

What I'm finding is not that my mind has changed much, but that I am growing kinder, wiser and more empathic through this process. I'm becoming a better, bigger, more understanding person. As a mother I think this growth is REALLY important both in the way I treat my children and in the way I teach my children to interface with the world. I'm so glad I'm making myself stretch!

My husband is an athiest. He's also a tremendously kind, giving, wise person. He works with victims of violent crime and his patience, empathy and ability to see past people's facades and see the good within them is amazing. I think we all make judgments about people that are unfair. I tend to react negatively towards Christianity and I'm working hard to see the other side.


Jena said...

this post is pretty amazing because you have articulated so much of what I have been chewing on internally and processing through with friends and family who are not Christians....

been listening to Shane C..

and that always makes one think...

also started reading a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality...
making me think...

I wrote on my blog a week or so ago, about how coming to peace with my beliefs has really freed me up to allow others to do the same...

there seems to be something really false(in my opinion) about forcing my beliefs on others--- if they don't show forth for themselves, what is the good of them...

If my beliefs aren't changing me, and making me more authentic, whole, healthy and able to empathize and hear others.... um what is the point...

so... all that to say... I really hear this post... and appreciate it....
Most of Christianity(from my vantage point) is so entrenched that... and rather than living out our faith in a way that invites others along, we shut everyone else out with an "us vs. them mentality"...

obviously this post hit a chord with me :)

Steph, G's Mom said...

Excellent topic Christine! We watched Haidt's talk on TED as part of a Leadership class I took with my State job. I could just "feel" the offense bristle among some in the class. THeir inability to be objective about what he was saying and instead just feel insulted by what they perceived he was saying about conservatives (that they were closed-minded).I think the ability to remove oneself from the personal attachment to ideas and concepts, and consider them purely as information to be pondered, is very hard and even anathema to some people. People cling so hard to beliefs and i think feeling like its OK to question no matter where that questioning leads, is a very hard step for people to take. but there's no denying it opens the brain and creates neural pathways to QUESTION QUESTION! even if that questioning affirms your own beliefs further in the end, it grows the brain just to DO it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I cant tell you how much I love this post! I was raised by loosely Jewish liberal intellectuals. I had very negative attitudes towards anyone who called themselves Christians when I came to adulthood. It took me a while to recognize that there really were Christians who gave to others without putting them down or demanding something in return, that there really were Christians willing to work with people who weren’t Christians. Or that there were Christians who wouldn’t react only negatively to me, based purely on the fact that I'm not Christian.

It is a mark of how much I’ve grown that I know have close friends who are Christian, and that I love your blog so much.

I watched the first video you posted, Moral Roots, and LOVED it. It really clarified a lot of things. I love the idea of balance between order and freedom. It makes me think esp of how my ideas changed as I became a parent . . . my kids need structure. Its not something I was given much of as a child

Ok, not sure what else to say, but I love this post, from the other side of the aisle here!

Anonymous said...

Love it love it love it!! I just finished "Losing My Religion," and autobiography of a well-known Times reporter (I think) who did the religion beat, and his journey from incredibly deep spirituality through losing his faith from his reporting...and how he found unexpected peace from it. I loved the book, especially his point at the end about how Christians seem to view those who "leave" Christianity as having just made a choice or decision..when really, often, they DON'T WANT to leave and they are TRYING to hang onto their faith and they CAN'T FIGURE OUT why it's slipping away but in the end they can't FORCE themselves to feel it...and they finally let it go...and they can be OK with that. But it's not a light, cavalier process for many. It's a gut wrenching battle they're fighting against every step.

Great insight into such a journey, and really easy to read. I'm on to "The God Delusion" or "God Is Not Great" next :-)

Not A Mountain said...

What wonderful, intelligent commenters you have! I am a neo-pagan, but I love to hear and learn about other flavors of religion. I get MUCH more touchy when it comes to politics. I have massive difficulty understanding where the other side of the fence is coming from sometimes, but I am fighting against the "us" vs. "them" mentality. Being devisive is not healing. Finding what we share in common and expanding upon the good is more efficient.
Your blog has become one of my favorites. I have learned so much in here. Keep writing! I'm reading!

Recovering Sociopath said...

Excellent. I am preparing an apologetics class for my church and my single biggest goal for the class is to impress upon them the necessity of acknowledging our common humanity with *everyone* and really making the effort to put ourselves in the other person's place rather than reacting out of defensiveness, anger, or fear. It's a hard row to hoe.

Jennie said...

i was raised nondenominational christian and being on a hard road in life, it was murderous to continue to think and behave the way so many nondenominationalists do. I've found peace in my faith in the methodist church because there it is easier for me to say, "i have a lesbian sister who is rastafarian and a pansexual sister that goes by the name of Drew becasue she thinks she might be inherently male but physiologically female and she is agnostic. I love these people, I love their points of view. They round me out in my thinking"

personally, I'm a lover and a nurturer and it was so hard for me to compartmentalize individuals the way charasmatic churches demand. they don't worship Jesus christ, they're sinners condemned to hell! but I LOVE those sinners. Heck, I'M a sinner!

so I think, act and live outside of the box AND love my faith at the same time. Very freeing. My greatest wish? that Christ's grace at the cross really WILL be sufficient to save us all. Isn't that what He says? So why do "christians" act differently?

here's a site you might enjoy as you chew on your caramels: the thoughtful christian which allows us to wrestle with these tough questions without feeling like we're denying our faith.

becasue honestly, who of us REALLY knows the mind of God?

lizvelrene said...

Hi Christine,

I read your blog regularly, and I'm also an atheist. YOU challenge my opinion of what christians are like, all the time.

(I grew up heavily, well, what I call indoctrinated, which I don't want to use to insult your faith but to say that I am extremely familiar with the religion in a less positive way than what you portray. Let's say that my experiences with christianity seem very different from yours.)

Anyway, I get very frustrated with the portrayal of atheists/non-religious/heathens in our culture. Look, I am a fully participating member of society with love in my heart for all people. My career is in medicine, because I want to help people. I volunteer at animal shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and anywhere else that seems like I could be useful. I am not an "evil" person. I just feel that "god" is a coping mechanism that humanity developed to get them through life, and too often to keep people in line. That is my own personal opinion that I generally keep to myself. It doesn't make me any less worthy as a human being, despite what I regularly hear to the contrary.

I wish we could all just live together in spite of our differences without demonizing each other.

lizvelrene said...

p.s. I really don't like Dawkins. I think he perpetuates the stereotype of the arrogant atheist who thinks religious people are stupid. Which is obviously not true! Dude hasn't read his Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis.

Anyway, when I was leaving religion I was more into stuff like Karen Armstrong, which isn't even about atheism but about religion in general. I highly recommend her work. Even the most recent one where she argues why religion is good and necessary - I disagree but she sure makes me think!!

Birthblessed said...

For a few years I've experimented with getting out of my church box and get back into the city box. Talking to and choosing to spend time with people from all walks of life, that don't go to my church.

I learned 2 things:

1. The church people get very offended when you can't come to their events because you are out doing secular events. When they get offended by this, they stop inviting you to their events. Even their bridal and baby showers, kids' birthday parties, and weddings.

2. The church people finally call you in for inquisition, telling you that they question your Christianity. At the same time, an atheist can tell you that you are the first Christian she's ever met that she didn't hate. The church people will actually use this as ammo proving you must have questionable Christianity.


Christine said...

lizvelrene, check it. We disagree on which atheists we like and don't like. Ha! THAT is beautiful!!!

Shan said...

As usual you have your finger on the pulse of many of your fans. I think this is why I gravitated to you several years back. I am kind of like Jennie there ^ having a similar upbringing and a homosexual sib (also bipolar and genius IQ-to go along with the study. haha) that the church has ALWAYS made my mother feel like a failure over.

I have been around this judgmental form of Christianity (that seems to want to keep us safe in a tidy box) all my life. And though I don't see that in Jesus, who we are to emulate, In many churches I see this prejudice against specific sins and lenience with others that doesn't seem fair in my book.

Seeing my brother suffer that isolation and rejection and leave the Christian faith has probably made me want to understand the Bible better as well as other people's hearts and where specifically they are coming from.

All that to say blah blah, I like to befriend people who are totally different than me and see where they are coming from. Meanwhile, I want to be the most Christlike me I can in the process-reminding myself that I am here to show His Glory which I don't think is actually supposed to look obnoxious or unappealing to others. :)

lizvelrene said...


Anonymous said...

Yeah, you rock.

And you have some pretty amazing readers / commenters too.


Country mom said...

I am totally there. Where? I am not sure. LOL. I was raised in a strict family oriented religion, where not only did they ignore the abuse happening in my home but they kicked me out of Sunday School at age 8. What was my crime? Asking too many questions. When the guy in charge of that particular congregation agreed to meet with me each week during Sunday School and attempt to answer my questions, I as thrilled, until he left that religion and I was blamed. I left that religion as an adult, my mother did as well. She got into a lot of new age religions and setting on Wicca. I explored and when I married a devout Methodist I joined that church, but again got myself into trouble. Asked politely to leave a Women's Bible study because of my questions and comments and the evil book I kept using (greek/Hebrew word study book) Now, we have gone to a southern baptist church. My husband is a deacon, he and I teach Sunday School together. I just finished doing VBS where I wrote the scripts. I have not joined the church. The pastor is aware of my history and I think enjoys the challenge. My controversial posts on FB (honestly most of the time it's boring stuff, rarely is it controversial.) He is still allowing me to teach. I did manage to attend most of a short term ladies Bible study without getting kicked out, but sharing my life made the other women very uncomfortable with me. (not even theology this time, just telling them about living with a traumatized child) So, yeah, I kind of don't fit anywhere. At least I know someone who is as, unusual as me. LOL. The world is so not black and white. My husband puts up with me and refuses to try to censor me, though at times he does shake his head. LOL

Kristine said...