Back in college, I went on a few dates with a woman that I assumed was a Christian…as it is statistically safe to assume that just about everyone you meet in Auburn, Alabama is a Christian. After a few dates, I began to talk in flowery language about my dedication and love for Jesus. This woman looked at me like I had lost my mind and replied, “You know I am an atheist.” I freaked out. I drove as fast as I could to get her home, out of my car and out of my life. As she left the car, I apologized and told her that I just couldn’t date an atheist. I got home and prayed that god would forgive me for spending romantic time with one of his enemies. Before my world began to widen and my heart softened, the only way I knew to interact with atheism was to run like hell or something like that.
Over the past few weeks, I have been following the journey of former Christian pastor and professor Ryan J. Bell, who in announcing his “A Year Without God” (or his year to leave God or Jesus behind and try out atheism) has made a major splash in the news (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/08/pastor-learns-the-price-of-atheism/). When I first heard Bell interviewed, I was struck by his sincerity and courage in stepping away from the safety net of traditional theism and I began to ponder his chosen journey. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that Bell’s sincere experiment fails at the misguided binary where it began. I don’t think that the true follower of Jesus is ever a theist.
The god in the biblical Book of Deuteronomy commands the Jews to slaughter the Canaanites. I am an atheist when it comes to a god that would command genocide. The god in the biblical Book of Leviticus commands the stoning of gay men. I am an atheist when it comes to a god that would command the stoning of anyone. The god in the Letters of the Apostle Paul condemns homosexuality, promotes the sexist mistreatment of women and gives guidance for a humane human slavery. I am an atheist when it comes to a god that would bless such statements. Throughout the centuries, the Christian Church has claimed that god encourages, promotes and gives blessing to sexism, classism, genderism, racism, homophobia, slavery, war, intolerance, hate, violence and a whole litany of evil practices. I am simply an atheist when it comes to such a god. I am in good company.
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self not to commit genocide.
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self not to stone gay men.
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self not to exclude homosexuals, oppress women or enslave our neighbors.
Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self not to oppress and commit injustices against our neighbor.
So I guess Jesus was and is an atheist too.
Jesus sought and found the divine that was and is beyond a traditionally constructed god…the indescribable uncontainable God beyond god. Jesus pushed aside numerous traditions and demanded more…even daring to command a love beyond traditional concepts of love. Jesus was an atheist with regards to the limited constructed gods of theism…and I think we should dare to be the same.
Surprisingly in leaving theism, perhaps Ryan J. Bell is now more a follower of Jesus than he ever was before.