January 21, 2015

The Messages We Send: Belief involves the appearance of agreeing to the same ideals, even if when you don't

“Why don’t you just come to my church and keep an open mind?”

Recently, I shared that I have “come clean” to my best friend, a devoted Christian, regarding my atheism.

In that post, I looked at how the last year—a rough one, indeed—did not cause me to leave my faith. But that definitely wasn’t the only point made during the conversation. The question above made it in too, sandwiched between “Is that like Scientology?” and “Have you seen God Is Not Dead?”

The implication, of course, is that this church is different and it will change my mind like it changed hers—not a malevolent comment at all.

So why would I say no? It doesn’t hurt me to attend a church, although it might be slightly triggering of emotional responses I’ve tried hard to move past. I know it’s not going to magically change my mind. Most of all, it would make my friend feel better. She would know that at least she tried.

So why can’t I?

It really comes down to this magnificent quote by Percy Bysshe Shelly, in “A Refutation of Deism”:

The word God, like other abstractions, signifies the agreement of certain propositions rather than the presence of any idea.

 God isn’t a singular concept.

What I think of when I think “God” is entirely different from what you call to mind. I remember once commenting that I saw God as a father figure, and someone quickly corrected me—but that correction was based on their own ideas of God, and did little to change mine.

Attending a church, of course, means that I am agreeing to a set of characteristics for God, and unfortunately, I am all too familiar with what a Baptist affiliation requires me to believe.

  • The world is created…despite of scientific evidence to the contrary.
  • Homosexuality and transgender are sins…despite my personal beliefs to the contrary.
  • Women are submissive to men…despite my inability to subscribe to that notion.
  • A literal Hell for sinners and those that don’t accept Christ…despite my own distaste at such a concept.

Unfortunately, these are concepts that I find absolutely repugnant. Even if, like my friend, I reject them and even stand up to church leadership about them—my very attendance at such a place of worship sends the message that I agree with such untenable beliefs. Because God is an abstraction, because religious creed is an abstraction, it can mean whatever someone wants it to—and yet, that meaning is always grounded in an agreement with society at large as to what those beliefs are.

And that’s a message that I can’t send. That I won’t send.

It’s the very message that I am pushing back against.

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