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An Atheist’s Appreciation of Christians

February 9, 2018

As a friend/family member emotionally blackmailed into reading loyal and avid reader of my blog, you will know that I am an atheist.  I have not always been an atheist; from the age of four until I was 16 I attended a Methodist church near my home every Sunday, and from 16 until I reached 18 I went to an Evangelical church based in various school halls and community centres in my home town.  I taught 4-6 year olds in Sunday school from aged 12 to 16; however even at that age I wasn’t keen on indoctrinating children so used to tell the stories as fantasy tales, and get into the arts and crafts-ing with them rather than push ‘god’ onto them.

I was a nascent activist from around the age of 8, enthusiastically joining in whatever Save the Seals/Elephants/Tigers etc. project Blue Peter was doing at the time, and can remember early political awakenings at age 6 and 9 when in Saudi Arabia* and Trinidad** respectively.

I lost my Christian faith quite early on.  I have yet to lose my love of (the vast majority of) Christians.

It was whilst watching Miriam Margoyles’ final episode of her BBC1 documentary Miriam’s Big American Adventure, in which she tried to understand the USA that elected Donald Trump, that I was reminded of my love of those who are Christians with a small ‘c’.  She met a family who subscribe to the ‘quiverfull’ branch of the Christian faith, a particularly patriarchal and strict denomination of evangelism.  They believe in creationism, and believe it is more valid as a theory of human evolution that, well, evolution.  They believe that it is a human duty to produce as many children as possible, as an ‘army for God’.  They believe that the man, the husband, the father, is the person who is dominant and that the wife should submit in all decisions.

This does not mean that the wife should not get a say and that there is no discussion, and whilst it is seen as a wife’s duty to submit to her husband sexually, this does not mean that she does not have the ability to say no.  It is more that she should not want to, but still can.

Whilst I have many problems personally with this ideology (and that is for another blog), if it is a lifestyle that is freely and openly chosen (based upon informed educated choice) by all the participants then as far as I am concerned, go for it.

The family on the documentary stated they encouraged their children to question (whilst being home-schooled and restricted in their access to information, so there is a problem with informed choice already) and would not reject or stop loving their children if they rejected Christianity, or were lesbian/gay (whilst still believing it is a sin).  Most of all, the sadness they feel at those of us who are not Christian is not that of someone trying to convert others to Christianity, but the sadness of someone who believes wholeheartedly in goodness and empathy, in caring for the community, and that they found their path to this goodness and empathy through their Christian faith.

They believe their goodness and charity comes from their faith.

I believe it comes from their morality, which although formed through their faith is actually representative of them as people.  I believe morality comes through empathy and understanding, and that whilst the Christian believes it is reached externally, I believe it comes from within.

I have no idea if this family is a fair representation of Quiverfull religious people, and have a feeling from my research that it may not be.  There is a disproportionately high number of incidents reported of abuse and oppression in such families (have a google and prepare to be shocked and disgusted).

However, what this particular family and Ms Margolyes reaction to them reminded me of was how lovely, how caring, how giving and how wonderful Christian-identifying people can be.

The reason I stayed at Church far beyond the period in which I believed was because of the people.  Because of the love and joy I was surrounded by, the idealism of caring and sharing and lifting people up.  Mine were inclusive churches; I had a female vicar at the Methodist Church, and at least one gay locum vicar (if that’s the word!) during my time there.  The “happy clappies” as I know them were a hugely mixed variety of people brought together by their love of God and Christ, but also (and in the main) by their love of humanity.

They practised what was preached.  They did not judge, they did not presume, they used their love of Christ to be the example to them of how they would wish to act.  I continue to be extremely fond of my time at the Church and of the people I met there and still miss them in many ways.

However, I stopped going to Church because I stopped believing and because I cannot get past the inherently patriarchal system of organised religion, and because I simply don’t believe in any form of deity.  I felt to continue attending would be hypocritical of me and I would be deceiving those at the Church whose faith was honest and true, and I cared for them enough not to wish to be deceitful.

Christianity (and, indeed, any religion but Christianity is the one I have experience within) can be such a force for good.  It can be the impetus for truly loving behaviour.  It should be.  There is bad in every religion, people who exploit faith for their own gain, who desire power over their fellow humans.  That is a problem for all faiths in extremism.  The further into extremism one gets, the less true to the faith a person appears to be.

As an Atheist I have a deep love and respect for the Christians I know and I know they have a deep love and respect for me, too.  We are all humans, and ultimately that love and respect is the lesson Christ intended, whether you believe he was the son of God or simply that the man who existed to be known as Jesus Christ was a very loving, caring teacher and leader.

Group hug!

* Saudi Arabia – when I was 6 I stayed with my parents in Saudi; I was entranced by the heavy coat wearing locals when I was in shorts and a vest top.  My most enduring memory, however, is of a girl who must have been about 12, hugging a younger boy, who I remember seemed to be my own age, to her as she held her hand out to passers-by to beg for money.  She had several fingers missing or foreshortened.  She was dirty, ragged and thin.  I saw myself in her, and remember vividly the shock and sadness I felt at her situation.  It made such an impression that it remains with me still; when I close my eyes, I still see her.

** Trinidad – aged 9 and staying with my beloved Aunty B and her family, as her husband was working out there for a contractors firm.  She employed a domestic servant.  I cannot remember who was driving the car, but I was taken to visit her home, and her children.  I remember the concrete platform on which a large one-room concrete building with corrugated roof rested; the goats tethered nearby and the children sitting around as it was early evening.  The mountains behind the hut were pointed out, and I was told the children walked over this, for over two hours a day, to get to school.  It left a deep and lasting impact and I know is a foundation stone in forming the person I am today.


From → Ideology

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