“Where is your heart?” It’s a question I’ve been asked a time or two by believers trying to make sense of my de-conversion.
I get where it’s coming from. They worry about me…and maybe a bit about themselves, too. Though it may not be an explicit thought, atheism, leaving the faith, “backsliding”, straying — all of these things are associated in the modern evangelical’s mind with bitterness, disappointment, anger, and disillusionment. Given that, it’s only natural to worry about a friend’s overt renouncing of his faith.
I’ve heard it said that, deep down, atheists tend to have one thing in common: anger. (I’ve heard the same thing said about homosexuals.) To be frank, I think there’s some truth to that. One has to fight anger at many turns. When so many see you as misguided or lost, it’s natural to become defensive. When you can so clearly see the folly of faith but cannot adequately communicate it to others, it’s hard to avoid frustration. When good people simply shut you out or dismiss you out of hand or condescend, maintaining a loving and positive attitude presents a supreme challenge, and it’s difficult not to return the favor.
So, yes, anger accompanies atheism and de-conversion. But as I’ve said before, anger — like all things in life — needs to be properly tended. The believer must always be on guard against selfishness, dishonesty, inappropriate lust, and other temptations. Well, an atheist’s experience is quite similar. If we fail to properly tend to our character — no matter what our core beliefs — we run the risk of bitter hearts and damaged relationships.
Atheists stink, frankly, at character development, at encouragement, and at community-building. Part of it is that atheism, being an “anti” kind of thing, isn’t made for unity. It simply defines you as what you are not and is not designed to define you for what you are. My hope is that “atheism” goes by the wayside and simply becomes “normal.” That will make it easier to sketch out what each of us, individually and perhaps collectively, stand for. At least I hope it does. Christians, by contrast, by and large coalesce around certain basic ideas: Jesus died for you, He loves you, and He was raised from the dead, for example. Those ideas have a unifying effect, though that religion’s history speaks to the imperfection of the unity.
In the meantime, while humanity gradually discards superstition and slowly develops a more coherent (and hopefully unifying) set of moral standards based on reason, here’s what I — me, Luke, this guy here speaking only for himself — stand for:
- Doing what is right (i.e., doing what increases net human wellbeing).
- All things funny.
- (Ok, and perhaps a bit of smarminess.)
I want to spend the rest of my days loving my wife and my kids, hoping that we will live long lives together. I want to show love to friends in the hope that they will do the same. And I want to remain committed to truth, no matter where it takes me.
That’s where my heart is.