There are many things I wish I could tell you about myself. Unfortunately, the beliefs I hold come with a cost. The price is far less than many braver individuals have chosen to pay, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not ready to pay it myself. The unfortunate result of my reluctance is that I live a double life, unable to be true to myself and admit my beliefs publicly. Thus, I remain anonymous. And for the sake of my anonymity, so does my friend, Pascal.
What are these beliefs? Dear reader, I’m about to do something that I’ve never done. I find it so difficult and troubling, I’m visibly shaking as I type. Please understand, this really is hard. I’m going to make a confession that I’ve never made publicly in any way, and even though this is anonymous, it still feels like what I imagine some homosexuals might experience when they first discuss their orientation. It’s difficult for at least three reasons: 1) the difficulty of admitting it to myself, 2) the fear that my identity may one day be discovered so I may be admitting it to everyone, and 3) the fact that even my friend, Pascal, is unaware of what I’m about to say. I’m sure he suspects it, especially since I selected Russell as my pseudonym, but I’ve never admitted it. He knows of my general skepticism which is one of the reasons for our recent conversations and this blog. He recently directly asked me about my belief position. I changed the subject because we didn’t have enough time for a full answer, and really, because I wasn’t emotionally ready to admit it.
So here it is. Please understand my difficulty and try to take this with compassion. Pascal, and my fellow readers, I am an
a. A. Ath. This is so very hard. I have actual tears trying to type that word. It appears I’m not ready to admit it yet. I hope to write a blog post sometime soon on why I turned away from my Christian upbringing and how I find myself here, now in tears.
Pascal, thank you for respecting my anonymity enough to hold my secret safe.
Other than my general belief position, few things are worth mentioning beyond the following:
I agree with Bertrand Russell that the “good life” is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. In this blog, as in all of life, I’m focused on knowledge, which mixed with wisdom leads to understanding, which provides the framework for better compassion. All this results in deeper love.
Why am I writing this blog?
Gentleness and respect. That’s a phrase from 1 Peter 3:15.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (NIV)
I recognize that the hope it’s speaking of is Christ, so for my position, that quote is out of context. However, I think this is exactly what’s missing today. There’s a reason that I can’t even type the word that represents my belief position. Some research suggests that to the average believer, non-believers are the most feared, distrusted, and despised group of people, about as respectable as rapists. This all stems partially from a great misunderstanding of each other’s position, which leads to a lot of burned straw men. One reason for this lack of understanding is that the mind is wired to interpret any challenge to closely held beliefs as a challenge to its model of the world, so it naturally reacts by attacking the threat. As a result, a few loud, vocal skeptics often arrogantly proclaim their seemingly dogmatic positions and rail at what they see as the arrogance and closed-mindedness of believers. Likewise, many believers do the same to skeptics. In short, I’m saddened by the vehemence with which the topic of spiritual beliefs is discussed. It is a very polarized issue that impacts real people every day. My hope is that if we can all learn to approach the issue with gentleness and respect, we can see through the hurt in people’s words, and peer into their hearts. This understanding may lead us to love one another, no matter what side of the belief fence we’re on.
When Pascal asked me about moving our faith discussions to a blog format, I wasn’t sure of the benefit. Then I realized how different our conversations are from many of those we see around us. There are not many places one can go to hear the Christian vs skeptic sides of this topic being discussed with gentleness and respect. My purpose for participating in this blog is to demonstrate how people can have this conversation with civility and love, in order to help encourage others to do the same. I know that the coming conversations with Pascal, as well as your comments, will help me understand and love all believers and fellow skeptics even more than I already do. Perhaps I’ll change my belief position a few times, and a few of you might too. Even if not, the more people treat those with opposing views with understanding, the easier it will be to admit my belief position to my own group.
If you continue to read this blog, please keep the tag-line in mind as you consider our words and the words of our commenters. Gentleness and respect.
Now, let us let down our defenses. Let us grow past the “us versus them” classifications that tear this world apart, and seek instead to learn about one another. Only then can knowledge lead to understanding, and understanding lead us to love those who disagree with us.