Monday, June 25, 2012

spending a Sunday AM with a group of atheists

It was an interesting and enjoyable time. (If they met at a different time, I would consider continuing to meet with them.) I learned a few things and said a few things. Hopefully, there will be seeds and fruit from the invitation-- at least for my friend (who will reciprocate by attending church with me down the road), but perhaps for others who were there too.

Some details:

-There were 11 others in attendance. They were discussing a book (more later)-- smart since that kept them grounded and moving forward. The group members came from a variety of religious backgrounds. The leader was a former So. Baptist minister.

-They seemed like thoughtful people and were respectful of me and religion in general. They asked where I went to church and a few seemed surprised at my reply, but I can't be sure that I wasn't simply imagining that response. In any case, they commended Southeast on a few things-- their success in building community, addressing felt needs, etc.

-The book, by Ron Aronson, is trying to encourage the search for a "positive" approach to atheism. Up to now, atheism has been largely "negative"-- what it's against, rather than what it's for. (In this, ironically, it resembles much of the Religious Right, especially in previous decades-- which has had the same problem, at least in terms of perception.)

-To the extent that atheists have had a positive angle to their beliefs, Aronson points to "progress" as a false god of sorts for them. But he notes that "progress" is not driving out religion-- and that "progress" has revealed itself to be a mixed bag, since it can be twisted and misused. (In this, I saw a parallel with the post-millennial optimism among Christians of the early 20th century. Two World Wars and other events turned that to pessimism. Fundamentalists responded to "the World" in opposition while Social Gospelers largely continued in the mainline denominations. After a few decades, many Fundamentalists moderated into Evangelicals. And even now, we see "moderation" of a sort as Evangelicals work toward a more Biblical worldview of doctrine and esp. practice.)

-One lady (raised in Reformed Judaism) made a really interesting point-- that "religion offers a perspective that encourages humility", by noting both our ability to do great things and bad things, that we are from the dust of the earth.

-For the author, but not so much for those in the discussion group, there was conflation between self-professing Christians who are religious and those who are mostly cultural. I didn't get to add this observation, but I love David Reagan's comment that most self-styled Christians are merely "practical deists".

-Aronson's project and the desire of the group to answer his call are both commendable. But I think the project is unlikely to get very far. First, it's not clear that atheism can provide what they seek. Second, if it can, it will be tempting to avoid the exercise, because it is easier to stick to criticism than to do the hard work of developing a positive philosophy. Third, if it's possible and many atheists are willing to put in the effort, they'll find that they run into all sorts of disagreements among themselves. Could atheism stand the fractiousness that would result?


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