Monthly Archives: May 2013

Reflections on my relationships with believers

It’s been nearly a year since I put my blogging on hold, so I figure it’s time to come out of hibernation if only to share a few of my recent musings. Work has been a killer, especially in the past 6 months, when I’ve been averaging nearly 70 hours a week trying to keep in operation the small software company I work for. Once I’ve put in my day’s work, I can’t even bear the thought of sitting in front of the computer again to tax my brain cells even further to craft a new blog post or to engage with others on controversial topics. Fortunately my work hours have started letting up a little recently, so I’ll give the blog a shot at least this one time and see what happens.

It wasn’t just my work hours that curtailed my blogging; it was also a general weariness with the whole battle over belief. If I only have threescore and ten or fourscore years to live, why spend my time locked in conflict with others? I know, I know–as Edmund Burke observed, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We could just as well substitute “false belief” for “evil,” since I would never call my ideological opponents evil–at least, not the ones I know and love. No doubt some New Atheists would consider my decision to pull back a failure of nerve, a cowardly capitulation to the forces of superstition, anti-science, and bigotry. On the other hand, in a sense feel I have put in my share of service to the cause of skepticism–I wrote a book, tended a blog for the better part of a year, and engaged in countless e-mail debates with those who were eager to bring me back to the fold.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just declare a truce, each of us working, raising families, attending soccer games, and generally minding our own business when it comes to our existential beliefs? I wish I could say to Muslims, Christians, Mormons, unbelievers, and the rest, “I’ll remain quiet about my views if you remain quiet about yours.” But alas, it’s just not gonna happen. There will always be groups who are ideologically committed to seeing their views become dominant  on the world stage.

Nevertheless, skepticism seems to be gaining ground, at least in my country (the USA), where the share of nonreligious individuals has nearly doubled to 20% in the past 20 years. This is a continuation of a broader trend that has occurred throughout the developed world and which shows no signs of abating. Some have argued (and it seems plausible to me; see here) that as economic security improves, religiosity tends to decline, since for many there is no longer a perceived need to call on a deity to meet their basic needs. In other words, by and large the Western move toward secularism is not due to the book-writing and blogging and speaking activities of activist atheists but to the advent of economic prosperity and security.

Even as I write, I’m having a conversation with myself, trying to get a feel for how much I really want to or ought to be involved in speaking up for skepticism and secularism. I will say it has felt good for the past year to take a break, to refrain (for the most part) from engaging with others in religious or political proselytizing–not even on Facebook! And I’ve enjoyed hiding the status updates of many of my Facebook “friends” who are constantly trying to push a religious or political agenda.

Then there’s my ambivalence toward the New Atheist and secular movements. On the one hand, I largely agree with their outlook on a broad array of philosophical and political topics, but I’ve simply never grown comfortable with the people of the movement. I’m not here intending to critique these movements; perhaps due to my past and present connections to the evangelical world, I simply don’t fit in socially with my ideological allies. In fact, I have been attending church maybe once a month or so with my wife this year, and I feel as though I fit in socially (though not philosophically) more at church than at a typical atheist conference.

As long as I’m not sparring in an ugly verbal battle with a fighting fundamentalist, I find most evangelicals (at least at the church my wife attends) to be quality, caring, sincere, and unpretentious people. No doubt there are bigoted, holier than thou, rights-denying, anti-science crusaders in the ranks of most evangelical churches, and they make easy targets for the New Atheists, who don’t lose an opportunity to paint the whole evangelical world with the same broad brush. In the times I have attended church recently, no one has gotten into my face or made me feel uncomfortable in any way. They have all been nothing but gracious to me. A cynic could argue that these churchgoers are simply trying to show kindness in an effort to win me back to the faith–and perhaps they would be right to some extent–but it doesn’t change the fact that that they are great people to be around.

Lest you think I’m yielding to what secular humanist leader Paul Kurtz called the “transcendental temptation,” don’t worry. I don’t have any expectation I’ll ever cross back over to the fence to the pastures of faith, though stranger things have happened. The church my wife attends is quite conservative, holding to a young earth and biblical inerrancy and generally adopting the political agenda of the Religious Right.  It baffles me now that I could have ever held these views in my youth, and it churns my stomach when they are promulgated from the pulpit, which mercifully is not that often, or I probably wouldn’t set foot in the church. Many of my readers must consider me to be schizophrenic, and maybe I am, but I’m just feeling my way through this unusual no-man’s land between an unbelieving intellect and believing social circle, as long as I’m connected with my believing family, from which I have no intention of severing myself. I’m certainly not prescribing any template for others to follow; each situation will be different, and I encourage my readers to find the path that works best for them.

I can’t make any promises about future blog posts at this point; things are about to become very busy on the family front, even as the work front seems to be lightening up. Our oldest son will be graduating from high school on June 5 (complete with an open house celebration, etc.). our middle son, a junior, will be going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis for a week right after that, followed by drum major camp for his band, while our daughter participates in a soccer tournament in Alabama (and maybe later in Florida), then my junior son attends a one-week NASA training program in Houston, then my graduating son starts college at Rice University. Our junior son will also plan to complete his Eagle Scout project sometime this summer while finishing up his drivers education course, all of which I’ll need to be involved with.

Thanks to all of you who’ve supported my book and my blog in the past, and I look forward to occasional posts in the future!

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