Rooted in fear

Jonathan Merritt, reporting today from Q Ideas in Boston, about Q’s Gabe Lyon’s controversial decision to invite Christian speakers who support gay marriage:

Even still, some conservatives protested the decision. Eric Teetsel, Executive Director of the Manhattan Declaration urged Lyons to rescind his invitations to pro-gay panelists who Teetsel called false teachers professing to be Christians. Owen Strachan, president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, echoed the sentiment and tweeted that he was “shocked that @QIdeas features pro-‘gay-Christianity’ speakers.”

Lyons did not respond publicly to the criticism, but said such positions were rooted in fear.

“Some people are afraid that if those who are theologically progressive are invited, it suggests they hold an equally valid idea,” Lyons said. “We still believe the historic view of sexuality is true, but we are also confident that the trueness of that view can carry its own weight.”

Lyons is exactly right. If the traditional Christian perspective is true, then it should be able to carry its own water in any debate conducted in the light of day. Any effort to sequester these debates internally – or worse, shut them down completely as Eric Teetsel clearly prefers – is a tactic rooted in fear.

How a gay Christian changed his mind

This guest opinion over at Al.com by J. Nathaniel McWilliams has at least two powerful and surprising moments:

When I came out to a close family member, she insisted that my orientation “was a choice.” I asked her, “Is your orientation a choice?” After great hesitation, she tearfully (and genuinely) said “yes.” She seemed deeply shamed. Because of this, I believe that she and many others who insist that it is a choice, might sincerely be speaking out of their own personal experience but feel too ashamed to admit it. Each individual can only answer this question of himself, rather than answering it for others. 

Didn’t see that coming. Or this:

In search of a reasonable voice, I turned to my father. I had once hinted to him that I was gay but we never openly talked about it until I poured out my heart to him a few weeks ago.

To my surprise, he said: “One thing I’ve noticed about your generation is that you see people as people. My generation had a hard time doing that. When I was growing up, people were judged by their race, the neighborhood they lived in, the church they went to, and many other things. Your generation knows how to accept people for who they are.”

The irony is that the gay son opposed gay marriage until talking to his conservative Christian father in Alabama. Things are changing fast.

Atheists who go to church for their children

An old story from ABC News, but still fascinating given my earlier question:

The study, by sociologists Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice and Kristen Schultz Lee of the University at Buffalo, found that many atheists want their children exposed to religion so that they can make up their own minds on what to believe.  In addition, church may provide a better understanding of morality and ethics, and occasionally attending services may ease the conflict between spouses who disagree over the value of religion to their children, the study contends.

And later, this:

“Some actually see it as part of their scientific identity,” Ecklund said in a telephone interview.  “They want to teach their children to be free thinkers, to give them religious choices, and so they take their children to religious organizations just to give them exposure to religion.”

As a Christian, I can honestly say I wish more people attended church, at least partly as an expression “of their scientific identity.” The world would be an infinitely better place if every religious person’s exploration of the possibility of God was an honest, knowledge-seeking and proposition-testing journey.

Atheist still counted as member of the LDS church

As you probably know, today is Openly Secular Day, which led me to stumble on this thought-proviking post by Justin over at Secular-Reality.com, keying off of the LDS Church’s claim of having 15 million members:

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I have long believed what the LDS church now readily admits, that The Book of Abraham was not “translated”from the common Egyptian funerary texts, but invented by Joseph Smith.

I am one of those 15,272,337 million people, though I do not believe that there is any kind of god, let alone one who lives on Kolob.

My name is Justin, and I’m a Mormon.

My name is Justin, and I’m an atheist.

My name is Justin, and I am not alone.

As a former minister, I know all too well that church attendance figures are often inflated, but I wonder how many atheists are currently counted as “members” by a church?

We refuse to draw lines in the sand

A passionate piece at Bedlam Magazine by one Millennial who is sick and tired of her generation being slammed and wants us to know a few things about their differences:

Millennials as a whole are more diverse than any other age group. We are comfortable with people who believe very differently than us, and can easily worship alongside them. What we are looking for is a space that is safe for us and for others. We want a place where it is okay to ask questions, and express our doubts. We refuse to draw lines in the sand and require people to check their baggage at the door before entering.

There was a time when having strong faith meant being unified in your beliefs, possessing the right answers, quelling all doubts, and drawing lines in the sand. All that is changing fast.

News flash: Millennials aren’t so sure about the church

From Barna’s latest survey of millennials concerning church:

A significant number of young adults have deeper complaints about church. More than one-third say their negative perceptions are a result of moral failures in church leadership (35%). And substantial majorities of Millennials who don’t go to church say they see Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-homosexual (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).

Lots of old news here, but it’s worth asking how these attitudes may reflect the values that underly a Millennial’s concept of what faith should be. Traditional churches often play defense to protect their current constituencies, but Millennials are the biggest generation – even bigger than the Boomers and far more diverse. Any church that nurtures their faith will have to at least reflect different priorities, if not different values altogether.

Trying to figure out the chaos

One last post on this subject today. Yesterday, the Friendly Atheist blog highlighted actor John Davidson’s (from That’s Incredible!) short video on coming out as ‘openly secular.’ This bit struck me:

I began to see that, obviously, religion is man made, that it’s made out of fear, of the afterlife, or trying to figure out the chaos, trying to find some…security in this chaos of our lives, which is part of life.

Two things: 1) These kinds of statements can be very hard for people of faith to hear. I hope it’s possible to come to a place where people can sit and listen, and even affirm each other, regardless of their differences, and 2) I suspect a lot of people on both sides of belief would be surprised to consider the possibility that holding the view articulated in this quote doesn’t necessarily make one an atheist (although John certainly is).

Atheist ‘coming out’ stories that didn’t go well

From a subreddit page on ‘coming out’ as an atheist:

Should I come out to my parents as being an atheist?

The short answer is No.

The slightly longer answer is that if you are not in a position where that is likely to end well for you, you should probably wait until you’re more self-sufficient. However, you know your own parents better than we do. You could try breaking the ice on the subject of atheism to get a feel for their reaction to it in general, if you’re not sure. Always keep in mind that for many people religion is a highly emotive subject, and for many parents who have been raised to believe in the “moral superiority” of religious belief, a child who comes out as an atheist can be interpreted as a betrayal of them or as a failure of their own.

I think it speaks volumes about the character of our society that atheists have adopted the language of ‘coming out.’ In case you think that’s unwarranted, spend a few minutes reading some of the stories linked to on that page, from actual teenagers who ‘came out’ to their parents. Here are a few of the more depressing snippets…

There’s this one from a teenage girl whose father discovered her reddit posts about atheism:

His reaction was “What the hell! I can’t believe you would turn away God. You are no daughter of mine!” Shortly after he had me pack up my things and leave. Just leave. I have no family near me so I was left to fend for myself. I was so scared and ashamed to tell anyone. I was alone on the streets for 5 monthes.

One day when I was walking to school (I felt it was important to keep school going. Plus it was my only steady food source.) my friend passed in their car and stopped. She asked me what I was doing so far away from my house and I broke down in tears and explained everything. Her and her mother were appauled and brought me back to their house. I have been living with them for the past couple of monthes. They accept me just like family, atheist or not.

Another teenage girl, who suffers from depression, finally confessed to her agnosticism to her mom:

Now as I mentioned before my mom came into my room and asked my what was wrong. At this point the tears were overflowing in my eyes because I hated to disappoint my family (although being an ex-cutter and suffering from depression, I had done that often). Finally I broke. In between bursts of tears I explained to her my situation and she looked at me with a blank expression. Finally she said “Okay you’re staying home but don’t try anything stupid.”

I was confused on what she meant by this until she added this: “We don’t have enough money to bury you anyways.”

Then there’s this post by a user named hotpeanutbutter:

In September 2009, after admitting to my parents that I was atheist, I was abruptly woken in the middle of the night by two strange men who subsequently threw me in a van and drove me 200 mi. to a facility that I would later find out serves the sole purpose of eliminating free thinking adolescents.

These places exist IN AMERICA, they’re completely legal, and they’re only growing. It’s the new solution for parents who have kids that don’t conform blindly to their religious and political views.

Obviously, I can’t know if these stories are true. But, sadly, although shocking and depressing, they seem entirely plausible to me.

Openly Secular Day encourages people to ‘Tell One Person’

I’m fascinated by this campaign, which kicks off Thursday, April 23:

Openly Secular Day is a celebration of secular people opening up about their secular worldview, and an opportunity for theistic allies to show their support for secular friends and family. This is a day to help others understand our values and how we think. You can participate by attending a local event, making a video, or posting on social media, or you can get involved in other ways!

Why should you celebrate openly secular day?

Real and perceived atheist prevalence reduces anti-atheist prejudice. Therefore, Openly Secular Day will help people realize they already know good and compassionate atheist, agnostic, humanist and nonreligious people.

Consider, for a moment, the fact that many people feel that simply being honest about their beliefs concerning God will lead to prejudice or violence of some kind. Whether one is a theist or an atheist, I would hope that fact alone causes us all to think carefully about our relationships and consider what’s really important.

(By the way, if you’re not quite ready to make a video for the Openly Secular Campaign, I invite you to consider recording an audio version of your story for the Borderlandz project. You’re welcome to do so anonymously.)

Zach Hoag on the expanding boundaries of evangelicals 

I really like this post by Zach Hoag where he identifies 3 distinct types of Evangelical Christians. The third type, he calls “Elsewhere Evangelicals”:

Elsewhere Evangelicals are generally of a deconstructive bent, or have passed through a deconstructive phase – for them, questions of biblical authority and evangelistic/conversional necessity are not always settled. They value spiritual vitality, but have begun to experience it not only in personal piety or communal worship but also sacramental rhythms and the Great Tradition of the church. On those other “essentials”, both are almost certainly rejected; Elsewhere Evangelicals are open and affirming and left-leaning politically.

Usually they refer to themselves as Progressive Evangelicals, but either way this group is the most interesting to me, partly because I suspect, as a group, they’ve experienced the most change in their beliefs. I could be wrong – I have nothing objective to back it up. It’s also a change that’s more likely to get you labelled as heretic by your former cohorts. If you go from being liberal to conservative, the liberals are usually confounded by your choice, but they’ll just wring their hands and lament your decision. But conservatives who become liberal are often declared to be damned.