As Miz Pink pointed out a few days ago, I had a small issue with some comments some folks were making at Deus Ex Malcontent. No flame war or anything like that. Not much brawling. No hard feelings (at least not that I’ve noticed so far, though I think there is some lightly gnawing irritation among certain parties); in fact, I think the discussion that was sparked was a good one on both sides of the issue. But as I thought about the whole affair and the comments back and forth about whether religious folks just “haven’t grown up and joined the 21st century,” I started to realize where there is a major gap between the atheists and the theists.
I mean, other than that God guy…which of course is the primary gap between us.
Now, I’m going to confine myself to atheism vs. Christianity specifically, partly because Christianity is predicated on God’s plan to save souls from damnation, and because this ties into today’s topic on spiritual healing, at least for my take on the topic. (No, as much as you might have thought otherwise from the title, I won’t be posting on faith healing or anything like that.) And I realize that some folks, like Votar, who has been vocal in the discussion I noted above at Deus Ex Malcontent, don’t necessarily think of themselves as atheist. Humor me. I’m already about to use a metaphor, so let me deal in extremes, too. And don’t jostle me. This is volatile stuff and I don’t want it blowing my head off.
Basically, I see a large part of the atheism vs. Christianity debate like this: We see the problem of making people (and the world at large) healthier a lot differently.
Being Christian doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. There are some real losers, assholes and arrogant folks within the Christian ranks. But what gets Christians knocked by atheists almost as much as the hyprocrisy we often show as a group is our desire to “save” other people spiritually and to keep focusing on spiritual right and wrong.
This is, I think, part of why atheists often want to write off Christians as being stuck in a 2,000-year old program of supersition. The atheists don’t like the idea that Christians think they need saving. They feel (or so I think) that we are labelling them as deficient. And so the reflex is to label us as deficient for believing in the “invisible man in the sky.” And it works the same way in reverse: Christians don’t like being made to feel like fairy-tale-believing rubes, so they often label atheists as inherently arrogant, mean and tunnel-visioned.
As I see it, though, we’re both often missing the big picture. When trying to make people healthy, there are two major things a truly great physician will do: Relieve the symptoms and locate and treat the main underlying problem that lead to the ill health to begin with. (See, finally I get to my spiritual healing theme and my metaphor)
Problem is, atheists and Chrisitians don’t see the disease state the same way when it comes to human nature and human dealings.
To atheists, we Christians are ignoring the problems of this world. They think that we are only focused on souls and praying for deliverance to the exclusion of trying to fix economic, social and geopolitical problems (and many of us really do behave this way, frankly, so they aren’t all wrong in their belief).
To Christians, atheists are ignoring their souls and their eternal salvation by being so focused on believing only what can be proven that they don’t even consider the possibility that there is a spiritual realm as well.
The truth is (coming from the Christian perspective which is, of course, my own) that the real disease is sin. The basic underlying problem is our sin nature and our rejection of God’s way. And the result of that disease is some nasty consequences in the afterlife and some here on Earth too. So what Christians try to do is to get people to realize their sin nature and deal with it so that they are set for eternity.
Problem is that we sometimes forget that there are very real wordly problems that also need to be dealt with. We forget that we need to be good stewards of the planet. We look toward the bye-and-bye and the fact that all our problems will be solved when we leave the planet and kind of fuck around too much while we’re still in the flesh.
And so, in focusing only on the core disease, too many of us Christians forget to alleviate the symptoms and just go for trying to administer the painful cure. We also forget to treat the “co-morbid” conditions that were either created by the sin nature or that were exacerabated by it. In trying to get to the heart of the problem, we leave the patients still suffering a host of other ailments that we refuse to acknolwedge and we give them no pain relief. In other words, we may save the patient, but at what cost? Certainly, it puts our bed-side manner in question, if not our basic human decency.
Atheists, on the other hand (again, in my humble opinion) are so focused on the most obvious and visible diseases and in relieving the painful symptoms that they ignore and fail to recognize the core problem (sin) and leave the biggest disease untreated. And so the biggest threat is left unresolved, but the physician and patient think they’ve dealt with all the problems. Folks feel better, but are still sick.
Metaphors are always an inexact science of course, and leave out many subtleties. So this post is hardly going to put any nails in the atheism vs. Christianity debate. Just some thoughts, though, in terms of ways to view our respective persectives, by using the medical model, with which I am well acquainted as a healthcare and medical journalist for a number of years.
Of course, I also thought my post on atheism as a religion was harmless, and look what trouble that got me into…Lord only knows what this one might spawn.
(Miz Pink’s post on today’s topic is here.)
I’ve always seen that the way people go about ‘solving problems’ or ‘healing’ falls into two general categories, often split between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’. (Which in turn often matches up with ‘christian’ and ‘atheist’, but not always.
The ‘conservative’ way of fixing something (again, I am HORRIBLY generalizing here) is the authoritative father way. Which amounts to “Don’t do it, or I’ll spank you.” And there’s something to be said for this approach. I would never recommend removing the laws against murder, for example.
But what this fails to do is address the source of whatever problem is. This is demonstrated with the abortion debate. (Brace for the explosions, everybody.) It seems to me that many, mostly conservatives and christians, just want to outlaw abortion and be done with it. What they seem reluctant to do is search for the reasons why women are getting abortions and attempting to fix those, so that we can stop saying “don’t do it or I’ll spank you” and they stop on their own.
The ‘liberal’ approach (I’m now HORRIBLY generalizing and HORRIBLY biased) is the nurturing parent approach, which I spoke about above. It’s finding the root of the problem and solving that, as opposed to just trying to snuff out the symptom.
The problem with something like sin is that we can’t agree it exists. A believing friend of mine once made the metaphor of a building on fire. Christians are running around the building, trying to save people who obstinately stay where they are and insist there is no fire.
When, you have to realize, turning that metaphor around…I’m in the building, there’s no heat, I see no flames, I smell no smoke, and the only problem is this guy running around like a crazy person in my apartment telling me there’s a fire when there’s none to be found.
We can agree on things when you consider something a sin that also has clear negative effects in the real world. But when you talk about things that are sins that don’t apparently have such effects, I’m sorry, but we can’t help you in that.
And, wow, I’ve rambled on. Sorry about that.
Ramble away. No need for apologies.
I think your generalizations have merit. After all, my own metaphor has grave limitations.
I think a key problem even within Christianity is the liberal vs. conservative perception. God is often seen as punishing…and let’s face it, He HAS done some punishing…but people focus on that without seeing that in the grand scheme of things, God is a loving and nurturing parent.
The trouble is, there’s an impression that He’s out to get us, when in fact it’s more like the rebellious teen who keeps messing up their life even as the parent(s) try to reach out. There are consequences, sometimes metted out by the parents and sometimes just natural consequences of actions.
But in the end, it is often perceived as “God does this to us” or “God is punishing us” and it makes it hard for people to see what sin really is and why it is so detrimental.
My own bit of rambling…
One of my closest friends is an avowed atheist – which surprises a lot of people since I happen to be a clergywoman. They are even MORE SHOCKED when I mention that one of my best friends used to be a witch (casting spells, believing past lives, all of that).
I don’t attempt to convert ANYONE when I preach the Gospel. Conversions are NOT my role as a preacher because GOD changes hearts. I can present the truths that I have accepted, but I have NO delusion about “MAKING” converts. Making disciples is much different than “making” converts. i never attempt to change anyone’s mind about Christianity with persuasive arguments either – because winning a debate does not mean anyone’s heart has changed…it only means that they have run out of thoughts to form a rebuttal.
Continue to write about atheism and keep the dialogue moving. I even link to a few atheist blogs on my site! (smiles)
Peace, blessinsg and DUNAMIS!
Thanks, Lisa. I always love your comments at other blogs, and am happy to have you here as well.
Like you, converting anyone isn’t on my to-do list. I think there are some folks on other blog who scratch their heads at what I’m doing (whether they are Christian or non-) but I always see it as a weird mix of education and support (for believers), awareness-building (for non-Christians who think we’re all a big monolithic groupthink Borg-like collective), and pure entertainment.
I’ve had friends and acquaintances in the wiccan/pagan camps as well and atheists as well. Never thought it was a good idea to just hang out with “my people.” Hell, sometimes, you hang out with only Christians and you find out that with some of them, the only thing you have in common and have to talk about is Christ. A good topic to be sure, but it does limit the options for hanging out.
“The truth is (coming from the Christian perspective which is, of course, my own) that the real disease is sin. The basic underlying problem is our sin nature and our rejection of God’s way. And the result of that disease is some nasty consequences in the afterlife and some here on Earth too. So what Christians try to do is to get people to realize their sin nature and deal with it so that they are set for eternity.”
As usual, a superlative blog entry, insightful, and thoughtful. I see it this way: a mind and heart focused mainly on God [Love] stand a better chance of leaving sin in the dust, where the “serpent” goeth.
On Mz Pink’s blog entry I elaborate on this, briefly detailing a healing I experienced and the circumstances that prompted it.
Are you sure you want to go back into that Lion’s Den of atheistic thought? Your description of how the two sides keep miscuing, distrusting the motives of the others, is right on target.
You’ve got a present at my place
Thanks, WNG…want you to know I check out your place almost every day. You only barely missed out on my top 7 for that Brillante Award thing…and if I had paid attention and realized you were supposed to pick AT LEAST 7, you would have been there.