Okay. So you’ve got an omniscient, omnipotent god on your side who’s sent his only son (who is also himself) to die for your sins, thus saving you (from himself). Fantastic! You lucky, lucky bean, you. Your god has told you to go out and share the Good News™ about himself sacrificing himself to himself to save humanity from his own wrath. He tells you that all you need is a tiny speck of faith, and you’ll have the power to do battle with Satan and move mountains and stuff like that. Outstanding! Sharing that really Good News™ with people shouldn’t be hard at all, should it? And you’ve got the example of your god to go by – or maybe it’s his son, things are a little wobbly there, it’s cosmic and beyond our ken, etc. Anyway, you’ve got his example. He liked hanging out with the outcasts and crooks, the sick and poor, and he’d even have a drink with unbelievers. While he was kicking around Earth, he mucked about with the least powerful, and thumbed his nose at all the holier-than-thous. He told you to get out there in the world and get converting. Yeah! That’s what it’s about. Bring the sinners to the Lord! Hallelujah!
So you go to the library, where you see a mother with her children. The little boy plays peek-a-boo with you. What a great opening! You can use the near-universal daw adorable children tend to elicit, and you know you’ll do great with that approach, because what mother doesn’t love to talk about how durned cute her kids are?
And it goes swimmingly. Chatter about children commences. You spread compliments liberally, and the children go on being cute, and the mother beams, and they’re all smiling and happy and cheerful. This will be a breeze! You prepare yourself to ask The Question and launch into The Spiel, positive these are Your Kind of People and they only need a nudge in the proper direction to join the Real True Church™, which just happens to be the one you attend.
Let us now jump from your mind, dear Real True Christian, into the mind of the sweet smiling lady with the adorable, cheerful, and well-behaved children, and see what happens next.
“Do you go to church anywhere?” she asks.Ah well, it’s inevitable in rural Missouri.“Nope,” I answer truthfully, but not feeling the need to elaborate.Is she disappointed? Put off? Of course not! This is her opportunity to invite me to her church. I am silent while she works around to it, telling me where she attends, what time their services are and what kind of programs they offer for children. I wonder how many of these conversations I will have in my life. I wonder if I will always be as patient and friendly as I feel today. It’s almost become a game, seeing how long into the conversation I can go before being put on the spot.“So, will you come?” she arrives at the point.I love this part.“No, thank you,” I smile, my sweet children beaming next to me. “We’re atheists, actually.”Judging by the combination of confusion and surprise on her face I’d say that we were her first. And that she didn’t expect atheists to smile and have happy children.Sometimes I have too much fun being an unbeliever in the Bible belt. But I feel I deserve to enjoy it occasionally, as much grief as it brings our family other times.The woman regained her composure and apologized. She did what? Yep, apologized. That was a first.“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know.”“Of course. How could you possibly know?” I am still exuding genuine friendliness which now seems to slightly alarm her. She takes a couple steps backward toward the door.
Seriously, Real True Christian Lady? You’ve been given the armor of God and ordered to convert the world. You believe the one, the only, the most powerful God in the universe, is on your side. So why is it that you Real True Christian people tend to be so terrified when you learn you’re talking to an unbeliever?
Why do you hide from the world you’re supposed to be the salt and the light of?
Why do you cringe and try to flee from the heathens you’re supposed to be saving?
When I see you do that, it reinforces my unbelief. I can see that you’re alone, with no backup. And I know that something got twisted around in your belief system somewhere. I see how fragile it is. I know it can’t survive contact with someone who doesn’t fit into certain pigeonholes. I know that if your worldview is challenged just a fraction more, it will crack and then it will shatter. The god you’ve created is a small and pathetic thing. It has no power over the cheerful atheists, the happy pagans, people who are whole and hale without believing as you do. You know that you can’t succeed in converting the confident. And you’re afraid you’ll be infected with doubt, should you get close enough to us to share your Good News™. You say you have a shield, but it’s made of paper. And you know that you can’t fight with it, so you run.
I’ve watched you. I’ve watched Real True Christian Ladies just like you literally run out of the library after I’ve told you I’m pagan. You might have stayed just long enough to call me a fool if you’d caught me after I divested myself of belief in all gods, but in the end you would have run just the same.
I’ve seen what a weak, frightened faith you have when you’ve shared a desk with me, and been unable to stand the poetry from other holy books I’ve had tastefully hanging on my wall. You were terrified of them. You had to cover them up with a poster of the most insipid Christian poem you could find. At the same time, your religious icons on the other side of our desk didn’t disturb me one whit. Who went through life with the stronger shield?
I’m so sorry for these Real True Christians. I’ve watched them flee from the world. I’ve watched the confines of their safe box become smaller and smaller. I’ve watched them cower in fear as the world brushed up against those tissue-thin walls. I’ve noticed that you say a lot about Jesus, but I’ve read the stories, and you look more like a Pharisee than an apostle, always fussing about rules and proper beliefs and purity the way you do. I’ve read the stories. Your Jesus liked to get his hands dirty. He enjoyed the company of the disregarded and despised. I think if you’re right about his existence and his return, you’ll find him at a table with me and the other poor, filthy, fornicating sinners. You’ll find us talking and laughing, sharing dirty jokes, and rolling up our sleeves to get on with making a better world. That might involve feeding the poor, or healing the sick, or visiting the people in prison. It might also involve overturning tables in your pristine church. I hear the guy had a thing for upsetting the furniture.
But I think you know he’s not coming. There’s a mustard seed of doubt in your mind, and because you can’t bring yourself to touch it, it’s sitting in a place where just one ray of light from an unbeliever, one drop of knowledge, will cause it to sprout and send its roots down into the cracks in the shell of your faith, forcing them wide open. You know, and so you run.
It makes me sad to see you go like that. I hope, someday, you will run to people like Samantha Field and Fred Clark, if you still need to believe. They’ll show you that you can have a robust faith and still be out in the world, doing actual good, rather than spending your life rigidly protecting a hollow lie. If you find yourself growing in ways that don’t fit even a roomy Christian mold, humans have invented thousands of religions to choose from. Have a look around.
And if that mustard seed sprouts and grows, if your doubt flourishes until it’s too great to overcome, you’ve got plenty of neat people to hang out and change the world with right here.
Don’t be afraid what God thinks. Any god that can’t stick with you while you doubt and grow and thrive was never a worthy god to begin with. Let it go. Stop running. Roll up your sleeves with me: we’ve got a world to save.