Thanks for the comments on the first post in this blog, where I asked if you thought it was possible to discuss spirituality without dragging one another into a religious war. I’m encouraged by the civility you showed, despite obvious differences of outlook.
An interesting challenge came from friendlyneighborhoodatheist, who asked, "Are just theists welcome or can I join in on this debate as an atheist? If so, prepare to defend yourselves."
Of course atheists are welcome to read this blog and to interact respectfully – for instance, to ask for clarification of what a believer means by a certain statement. But this blog is intended to be a place for us to talk about our faith, not to shoot down one another’s beliefs (or all beliefs). "Prepare to defend yourselves" certainly gives the impression that you are interested in battle, not conversation.
The question that friendlyneighborhoodatheist asked later, though, raises issues that I had thought to talk about at some point. Why not now?
The comment on Sept. 9 read:
1. atheists are moral people
2. i would vote for an atheist for
3. religion has no place in the public
– if you answer "no" to any of these statements please explain why.
Here’s how I would answer:
1. Some are and some aren’t, just as some churchgoers are moral and some aren’t. Piety doesn’t equate to morality. Organized religions may be inspired by God, but they are run by flawed human beings who sometimes commit horrible, ungodly acts. An atheist who tries to act lovingly and honorably toward others is more moral, to my mind, than a regular churchgoer who runs his business deceitfully or treats his employees with contempt. Religions do such a good job of chasing people away that I consider it miraculous that so many people do believe. As a bumper sticker I once saw put it, "Jesus, save me from your followers."
2. Yes, if the atheist is the best person for the job. However, I would not vote for an atheist who refused to allow the free exercise of religion. Just as I would not vote for a Christian who refused to allow the free exercise of other religions – or no religion.
3. No! Of course religion has a place in public life. Something that has such a deep, life-giving importance to so many people shouldn’t be pushed underground. Belief is private – intensely private – but it is also communal.
Whether candidates should parade their beliefs on the campaign trail is another matter, and perhaps that is what the comment was aimed at. It’s hard to distinguish between sincerely held convictions and poll-influenced blather. It’s useful to know a candidate’s motivations and values. But it matters less to me what a candidate believes than what those beliefs have led the candidate to do, for good or for ill.
What do you think? How would you answer our atheist neighbor’s questions?