She Left Church, Wants to Go Back, and Tells Us Why March 22, 2012

She Left Church, Wants to Go Back, and Tells Us Why

Rachel Held Evans left her church (but not Christianity) when she was 27. Now, she’s 30 and trying to find a new one.

She wrote a great post explaining 15 reasons she left her church years ago:

3. I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities.

4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse.

5. I left the church because I believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that humans share a common ancestor with apes, which I was told was incompatible with my faith.

9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”

13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school.

15. I left the church because one day, they put signs out in the church lawn that said “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman: Vote Yes on Prop 1,” and I knew the moment I saw them that I never wanted to come back.

None of that’s going to change anytime soon. The churches promoting those archaic views are outnumbering the “liberal” churches in number and membership. Rachel’s not the only person who left a church because it refused to deviate from a certain vision of what a Good ChristianTM looked like, and she won’t be the last. If only more people had the courage to leave.

But there’s a theme to that list. Many churches will never change. Maybe younger Christians have changed. If they can’t correct the church from the inside, they’re going to walk away. At least until they find a church more accepting of their views.

That’s when you get to the list of 15 reasons Rachel didn’t leave Christianity and why she’s looking for a new church…

1. Jesus

3. The fact that when somebody gets sick or dies or has a baby or loses their job, it’s the church ladies who are the first to show up at the front door with a casserole and a hug

5. Communion

12. The Biologos Foundation, and especially Karl Giberson, who was the first to reach out to me and tell me that I didn’t have to choose between my intellectual integrity and my faith

14. Friends with whom we gather each week for movies, food, conversations about God, and the occasional (slightly awkward) church visit

15. Grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace

Basically, it sounds like she’s trying to find a new church because she misses being part of a close-knit community and creating the bonds that form when you’re around people in that type of setting. Those things seem *far* more important to her than anything specifically “Biblical.”

Sure, she begins and ends her list with things about Jesus/grace, but you get the feeling she just *had* to put those things in to remind everyone she’s still a Christian 🙂 It’s not like her old church ever said, “We don’t care about Jesus.”

Rachel will disagree with me on this, but here’s the takeaway I’m getting from her posts: Community matters more than faith. Jesus is just a means to an end when it comes to that.

It’s a lot easier to bond over a specific person (I

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  • It sounds like she could find more community in a Unitarian Universalist church.  I’ve been a few times with my husband (he is Pagan) and though, it wasn’t really my deal, it wasn’t that bad. You’ll get a mixed bag of religions and even non-believers, but they could possibly provide what she’s looking for without all the hate and shame.

  • Lisa Blair

    I think investing in communities are great, but an online community isn’t really capable of showing up with the proverbial casserole and a hug, either. Communities that are actually IN OUR COMMUNITIES might make a stronger impact on the people who feel the need for strong social bonding around a central point of view.

  • Some Girl

    This is why I haven’t left church either.  All my friends are there and they are my second family.  It’s not so easy to just walk away.  My experience with church has been for the most part a positive one.  I’m not one of those people who were abused and mistreated.  I just came to the intellectual conclusion based on science and history that I could no longer accept Christianity as absolute truth.  

  • Pither

    My favorite scene in The Simpsons is when Homer gets his arm stuck in the vending machine in an effort to get a free can of soda. The EMT guy is just about to cut off Homer’s arm with a circular saw when he pauses to ask Homer, “You’re not just holding onto the can, are you?” Homer lets go of the can and pulls his arm out.

    IMO, Rachel and other “evolving” Christians are still holding onto the can of Biblical authority. As soon as she realizes that the Bible does not deserve the authority she has been granting it all her life, she’ll be ready to move on. It will surprise her how much more sense the world suddenly makes. That certainly was the case for me.

  • Marguerite

    I like the Unitarians. When I admitted to myself I was an atheist, I tried to convince my kids to go to the Unitarian church, because they don’t seem to force any sort of particular doctrine on the congregation, and I DO miss the community of a church (and the choir!). Alas, the kids are used to the Lutheran liturgy and didn’t want to make the switch. What this means in practice is that I usually don’t bother with church at all, and in a reverse of the usual, the kids upbraid ME weekly for not going to church (even though none of them are really serious believers, either; it’s more of “we’ve always been Lutherans so we should go to church”).
    However, to me Rachel sounds like she’s still a believer and thus will be happy in a liberal Christian church. Lutherans have the same heavy emphasis on “grace” that she does, so that might be a good denomination for her to explore. (I backed away from ELCA Lutheranism partly because officially, they STILL have not decided gay marriage is acceptable, but it’s a fairly liberal church and doesn’t generally bash gays on the church signs, either.) Episcopalianism might also be good for her (and since she lists “the book of common prayer” as one of her reasons for staying, I suspect that’s the denomination she’s chosen).

  • Nena

    The leader of one of our local groups talks a lot about trying to establish a sense of community with our group; she says she isn’t trying to “replace” church (meaning we don’t want to emulate them), but trying to provide an alternative. It always reminds me that I never, ever felt like part of a community in church, even when I was a serious believer (and I was embarrassingly serious).

    I remember seeing the sense of community in other people, and I tried hard to embrace it and be a part of it. I attended get-togethers and meetings and community service events and meals and all kinds of gatherings; but I never fit in. The only friends I made in church were my fellow orchestra members, and that was more of a bonding of musicians than a bonding of believers. That should have been my first clue that I didn’t belong there.

    The lack of a supportive community wasn’t what led me away from my faith; letting go of fear and finally looking at reality did that. But now that I am an atheist and have found like-minded groups of people, I have more real friends and a greater sense of community than I ever have. 

    Sorry about posting a comment that turned into “The Nena Show.” But this subject always fascinates me because it’s something that eluded me for the first thirty or so years of my life.

  • Online communities can work for casseroles and hugs, you just need to set up networks based on physical location.  I’ve cooked meals, driven people to airports, brought magazines to hospitals… all actions that were initiated by online communities.

  • mkb

    If Jesus is her number one reason, then she should be in a Christian church.  The United Church of Christ is very liberal (the pastor of the one I used to attend is gay) and very friendly.  Lots of community.

  • Gunnar Tveiten

    I don’t think you need a “person” to create a community. But working towards common goals help. I’ve found excellent community in environmentalist groups, in the Red Cross and in Amnesty International. But yes, it helps if they’re local groups and not -only- people-on-the-internet even though that can be nice too.

  • I’d suggest UU (Universalist Unitarian). There are several atheists attending regularly at the local UU congregation.
    If you can make it through some of the ceremonial stuff that crops up now and then, I feel it presents the best of both worlds.
    Just my 2 cents.

  • I have found the fellowship I was craving from my running club.  Perhaps if she has a hobby that have clubs/groups in the area that could replace the “need” for church.  However, if Jesus is the reason…well there is not much I can say about that.   

  • Anonymous

    …  she’s trying to find a new church because she misses being part of a close-knit community and creating the bonds that form when you’re around people in that type of setting.

    Oh tosh! And pish!Please allow me to offer an alternative explanation:This rationality stuff is hard, man! One actually has to think for oneself and ponder the immediate and delayed consequences of one’s actions, as well as take responsibility for them. -pfaww!- Who wants that?I’d rather be the part of a close coterie that hugs and comforts me with magical thinking and vapid fantasy, where every action of mine and its consequences can be easily ascribed to an invisible non-existent entity – thereby unburdening my shoulders (Ahh… what freedom!)… Who cares that this umbrella group has been responsible for systematic suppression of women, dehumanization of people of different sexual orientation, diminution of believers of different faiths, perpetration and hiding under the carpet horrific sexual abuse of vulnerable children… As long as I get my hug and casserole, it’s all Someone Else’s Problem. Intellectual integrity along with faith? Integrity after giving up Reason? After placing your trust in tenets that are built on lies and misrepresentations and tales of fantasy? That’s rich. She is free to do whatever she chooses. It merely irritates me to find so much hypocrisy. 

  • Agreed.  She should try UU.  Someone can be christian and also UU, just as someone can be atheist and also UU.  They can be a supportive community as she finds her own way.  They won’t tell her she has to dump Jesus.  (They won’t tell her she has to keep Jesus, either.  That’s up to her.)

    And there’s community and social justice projects, and potlucks and all the church trappings.

  • Erp

     Episcopalian very much varies by diocese and parish (East Tennessee seems to be divided).  The United Church of Christ (aka Unitarians Considering Christ) might be a fit but they also vary.

    The nearest UU church to Dayton, Tennessee is about 50 miles away so a bit far too go.  The nearest UCC church is about 34 miles.  The nearest Episcopal church is in town.

  • Pither

    You’re like the EMT guy with the circular saw! Love it!

  • Wild Rumpus

    I agree with the Unitarian Universalist church suggestions. It has all the benefits of any other church, like fellowship and support, with none of the nastiness like burning in hell for all eternity.

    I’m an atheist, the minister is gay, there is a lesbian couple with kids, and we even welcome Christians to join our caring community.

    The biggest and best thing about the UU is NO DOGmas allowed. I wish more people who enjoy weekly community fellowships would join us, but we’re not fond of prosletyzing so it’s hard to get the message out there.

  • L.Long

     Friends??? are there?  Really??
    TRUE friends are there because they like YOU!
    Not because of some myth you don’t believe.
    Yes you may have lots of Xtain you know but but when you are friends based on silly reasons ten there is no real friendship.
    But if they are important to you then stay in the closet, but when push comes to shove, don’t fool yourself, your true friends may be scarce.
    I tried to live that way for 5 years, the tensions are not worth it.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    12. The Biologos Foundation, and especially Karl Giberson, who was
    the first to reach out to me and tell me that I didn’t have to choose
    between my intellectual integrity and my faith</I.


    Templeton-Funded BioLogos cleans house, promotes young-earth creationist, begins slide into irrelevance

    With the departure of Biblical scholar Pete Enns from BioLogos,
    who had an official position as “Senior Fellow in Biblical Studies” (as
    well as a Ph.D. from Harvard in Old Testament studies and a
    considerable reputation for work on Biblical literalism/nonliteralism),
    it appears that the organization is cleaning house.  What both Enns and
    Karl Giberson (also recently departed) had in common was their
    repudiation of the physical existence of Adam and Eve—something that
    angered the evangelicals, who desperately want to save that story to
    ensure that Jesus didn’t die for a mere metaphor.  I would guess that
    both Enns and Giberson were shown the door because of this issue, and I
    predicted some time ago that BioLogos would fall apart…

  • Carla

    You forgot an important point. Atheists need to work on community building *that does not involve out-group bashing.* Outsiders find this incredibly unattractive, and it will fail to “convert” followers from any religion. How can you be sure you’ll be met with compassion on the inside of a group if all you can see from the outside is their disdain for the group you’re already in? Besides, who wants to join a group when all you can see are a bunch of inside jokes that make fun of you and your friends? As Hemant has been pointing out lately, Christians have cornered a market atheists can’t seem to get a handle on: compassion. For as much as we put them down, they still beat us to the front door of a grieving neighbor (sometimes even the gay ones!). Like it or not, Christians and their religion aren’t all bad, and if we’re going to win them over, we have to *actually* pick up their good points while leaving their bad ones behind. I get that we’re right, and that evidence is on our side, but that doesn’t give us the right to be dicks about it.

  • Rich Lane

    When my dad died, my wife and I were deluged with help and food from the people we worked with.  When a fellow teacher had a serious health issue, many of us donated sick days to her so she wouldn’t lose pay at a critical time.

    We eat together each day.  We discuss our lives and problems.  We go to bars together on occasion.  

    Neither theism nor atheism play into any of this.I guess I’m saying community is where you find it.  I don’t necessarily need an atheist group  for community any more than I need a religious one.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Ahem #2:  Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve

    Giberson — who taught physics at Eastern Nazarene College until his views became too uncomfortable in Christian academia…

  • The Other Weirdo

    As a rule I make it a habit of accepting what people tell me about what they want or their reasons for doing something as truth, especially things that are ultimately unimportant to me. If she says she is going back to church because of Jesus and grace grace grace, who am I to look for a nebulous alternate reason that better jives with my beliefs?

  •  I share your irritation, but I also remember a time when I was in her shoes. Perhaps a more liberal religious environment can be a stepping stone to total deconversion. For some folks going cold-turkey can be an extremely stressful and even traumatic experience and I’m hesitant to judge those who might not be as ready to take that final leap as I was when the time came. Everyone is different and to one degree or another many people (not all) need to feel part of something larger than themselves. Is it a weakness? Perhaps. As I was always something of a lone wolf, getting away from organized religion wasn’t such a big deal. For me, the biggest hurdle was finally accepting that there was no evidence for a deity. She may never deconvert, but I will say with certainty that I would much rather have her in the voting booth than a hardcore fundamentalist. We aren’t ever going to see the total elimination of religion, so we may as well try to be understanding and at least tacitly supportive of those who come closer to our idea of what mankind should be. We all share the same planet, so we may as well try to get along as much as possible.

  • Anonymous

    It seems to me that she merely left a church but did not abandon religion.  I guess this is why there are so so many denominations of Christianity.  If you don’t agree with some tenets of your church, just go to another church that allows you to do whatever you want to do.

  • Forrest Cahoon

    One of her reasons for returning to church which Hermant didn’t copy is

    8. Sucking up my pride and embracing the fact that, like it
    or not, I need community…and real community isn’t about surrounding
    myself with people just like me

    I’ve got to admit, this is seriously confusing to me, because to me it seems you could hardly find a more homogeneous group of people than in church. Besides all sharing the same supernatural beliefs, they are likely to be all of the same race and class.


  • Scotty

    Best I’ve found for fellowshipping with like minded individuals and families are local groups…..

  • A in TX

    Maybe I’m being too sensitive, but the “church ladies are the first to show up” reason is offensive to me. I have a friend who lost a child and I literally showed up with  BBQ (and a pie!) and gave her my shoulder to cry on many times that day and many days since. Christians do not have a monopoly on caring about your friends and others in your community. I know I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but the assumption that only christians care and are worthy of some things really pisses me off.
    Yesterday, I was reading an article about Patrick Greene receiving money from the christians. In the comments, people are going on about how other *christian* people deserve that money more. Apparently, being an atheist makes you undeserving of basic human needs, like healthcare and food and whatever else Mr. Greene uses that money for.
    It’s just a shitty way to be treated. I care deeply for other people and I know from your comments that many of you do too. It hurts for it to be assumed that I’m always the “bad guy”, even after I go above and beyond to help out people in need, just because I believe something different. It hurts to think, that if I ever need help, some christians out there are going to say that I am undeserving of it because of my beliefs.
    The article I read:

  • A in TX

     Sorry to get off topic. Just pissy today.

  • KMR

    Christians are just as different as atheists.  Some believe in hell, some don’t.  The ones who believe in hell don’t agree on exactly what it will be like or who gets to go.  You have your inclusivists, exclusivists, universalists, complementarians, egalitarians, reformed, anabaptists, etc.  And this is just in my small church.

    The only thing Christians agree on is that there is a God (or a least a pretty good possibility of one) and Jesus Christ was/is divine in some shape or form. 

  • Anonymous

     Great Simpsons metaphor!

  •  Well said, Carla. Of all the unpleasant experiences I’ve had on the internet, nearly all of them were due to atheist dickishness.

  • Rwlawoffice

     That is because at its root, despite all of the “religion” that gets tacked onto it, Christianity is built on selflessness and grace.  I normally  don’t see that in the atheist community that believes in self first and community second.

  • Rwlawoffice

    If there are those here who are in the same position as Rachel, I would invite you to have a look at my church.  I’m not preaching or evangelizing here , just showing you that there is a church out there that is not the stereotypical one.

  • Excellent point. If you want to give people a sense of community and togetherness, you cannot do it while bashing those outside of the group with a smug sense of superiority, especially if said bashing is completely off-topic (like, say, bashing religious people in a group about separation of church and state, especially if there are religious people who would otherwise be on your side).

  • Al

    The winter game (sport) of curling does it for me. It generally involves at least one committed gathering per week, provides some exercise, the cost is relatively cheap, both genders can play together, it can be played by all age groups (except infants and toddlers), and it involves post game socializing. It also provides the opportunity to interact with curlers from other clubs. Religion, politics, social status, and life style are of no concern to curlers. Like church, curling is also an excellent means to become accepted into a new community.
    To bad there aren’t more curling clubs in the Bible Belt. But, I expect there are other similar activities that fulfil one’s need for community.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Christianity is built on selflessness and grace”

    If that is what it is truly built on then no one would leave.

    The reason why you don’t see it in the “atheist community” is that you assume the person embodying such virtues is a Christian. Should I wear an “Atheist” tee-shirt when I volunteer my time to charities?

  • Anonymous

    An over-emphasis on social activities is a way churches bind members to them. They do everything to make sure their follower’s entire social life revolves around the church. That then makes it harder for them to leave. It’s not service or selflessness, but just another control mechanism

  • The Other Weirdo

     So, you’re basically a book club without the books. If there is no dogma, why do you need a minister?

  • The other problem is that at it’s core, our community is joined together by what we don’t believe it, not necessarily what we believe in. We start off with a lack of belief in gods and from there we tack on things like being good for goodness sake and an appreciation for science, logic and reason. But those things aren’t requirements of being an atheist. (Though they do seem to be the requirements of being a big A Atheist, and this is the right direction). But when it comes down to it, as human beings it’s very cathartic to “bash” outsiders and join together at our common denominator. 

    Humanism and big A Atheism actually show what we’re for (civility, reason, evidence-based beliefs) and this is how we should be living our lives. But as Hemant points out, we generally tend to lack a non-virtual sense of community. Now if there were only some sort of Atheist temple we could all start going to… 😉

  • Deltabob

     I had the same experience of not belonging to the community, despite how hard I tried to when I was a christian churchgoer.

  • James Willamor

    I left the church when I became an atheist. A few months ago we found a new church – my local Unitarian Universalist fellowship. It has all the things I missed from my old church including community, fellowship, and exploration of humanism but minus the creeds, dogma, and devotion to blind faith.  Having a newborn it’s been helpful for us to network with other new parents who also want to raise their child in an environment of tolerance and diversity. They have a great children’s program that exposes them to different faiths free from indoctrination.

  • Sajadiah

    Denver has several on lots of different types. Book clubs, hangouts at various places, game nights, and even a parent group where the kids can get together and not be bombarded with religion. It’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

  • Shanti

    I am so happy to live in Phoenix, where we have socially active groups for skeptics, humanists, atheists–and any identifications in between. We have many sub-groups of hikers, foodies, book club, skeptics-in-the-pub, philanthropy…we’ve even made jewelry…something for all. A group will only be as strong as your individual levels of activity. When I want something particular, I ask for it by posting…we’re even thinking of a humanist choir for kids. Just make it happen! Out of 1200+ people in the atheist meet up, I’ve made 10 or more friends that I can really count on. Pretty good1 

  • Trina

    Community can be a lot of things.  I’m a relatively solitary person, but I do need some community.  To this point, I’ve found it with friends – mostly gay, mostly neopagan, but we don’t have anything to argue about really.  I’d love to get involved in a meetup group, but don’t have transportation of my own, and things get complicated…

  • Anonymous

    No dogmas except the dogma that there are no dogmas. 🙂

  • Birdie

    The thing that jumps out at me is that she doesn’t need a god to have any of those things (except Jesus and Communion – but really, does she love Jesus because he is supposed to be the son of god or because she likes the good parts about Jesus – the warm fuzzy Jesus, and does she love Communion in the small “c” sense of the word, or because she likes the idea of pretending she’s eating Jesus’s flesh?  I’m guessing it’s the “communion” part).  So, anyway, it doesn’t have to be a church group – any group that has a social conscience (equivalent of “church ladies”) and provides a loving community would give her this – why throw god into the mix?

  • Nena

    I wonder why some of us didn’t fit? 

  • Johnk

    Or, in the right church, she may realize how much sense the Bible does make to her. Don’t assume that because you don’t relate to it, others don’t as well. 
    She may in fact realize that the Bible does deserve the authority she has been granting it, and the world will suddenly make more sense because of it. 

  • Johnk

    Most everything Hemant posts is of the faith-bashing variety. He could easily find news about loving, compassionate Christians, but chooses the “dickish” path daily.

  • Uh, yeah, okay. This isn’t a Christian blog. You want news stories about Christians doing nice things, go read a Christian blog or news site. How is reporting on the bad things religious people do in the name of their religion “dickish”? How is this article even dickish? Please, point to the parts where Hemant acts like a dick.

  • Carla

    But that, again, is an over-simplified view of Christianity. The heart of the Church (to borrow Evans’s terminology) is “selflessness and grace,” and there are many wonderful Christians, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing personally, who embody this. Problem is, these people are selfless and graceful. They aren’t the loudest speakers or the policy-makers; they’re the ones who show up to comfort the grieving and feed the homeless completely unthanked while the bigwigs cause problems. People leave because these voice, by their nature, are not the loudest. And people leave because, simply, the tenets of the religion, however well-intentioned, just don’t make sense. 

    Your second point cannot logically follow your first. If the Christian church is not build on grace, then people doing good are not to be logically seen (especially by this community) as Christian. The reason we do not see an atheist community as selfless and graceful is because we’re not. We, by our nature, are selfish and graceless in the most positive ways I can mean that. Living by your rational mind alone is the most selfish act a man or woman can perform. Speaking that message unforgivingly and unashamedly is graceless. These are what define us. That is not to say that atheists cannot perform selfless acts, or act with grace. It is to say that those things are second, a product of our awareness of the sufferings of humanity and of our human nature. They are what should logically follow from the conclusion that there is no god to save us. If the atheist community were to write a manifesto, it should be that the realization that there is not divine grace gives us an urgent compulsion to show the grace of human love to other suffering humans. 

    But the difference between us and the Christians is that we can never complete these acts with the sense of peace and assuredness that a Christian can. Because we know that we, with no divine guidance, can be wrong. We know that if we fail, there is no second chance in the afterlife. The gives us a sense of frantic urgency to our message and deeds that many people find unappealing. It is dissonant, and it is uncomfortable. How do we reconcile a chaotic world with our desire for peace? How do we reconcile horrible suffering with our inability to help? How do we reconcile injustice and privilege and wealth and poverty and…? 

    The need for an atheist community, a “temple” of sorts, is to aid us in coping with this. People will not leave the Christian world of peace and community to enter the frantic, chaotic world of the atheist. Put plainly, reason hurts and ignorance is bliss. The reason you don’t see an atheist community is because those of us who have joined don’t need that support; we’re selfishly autonomous, able to cope with our dissonance through our own reason and some blogging. But those who remain Christians will need more than that if they’re ever going to join us. If we, as a community, can’t recognize and fill that need, then we will never accomplish our goal of a secular world.  

  • Sue Blue

    Exactly.  Creating an insular, “us-against-the evil, sinful world” environment where the church provides all your social needs serves the both the purpose of retaining members and of controlling them.  Humans are a social species and the sense of belonging is a basic psychological need.  Churches know this and use it.

  • Sue Blue

    I’m one of those people who are comfortable with themselves and don’t mind being alone to a certain extent, but like all humans, I have a need to “belong” somewhere, with someone.  There are not many atheists (at least, people who admit they are atheists) in my area to meet with in person, but my husband, daughter and the many atheist blogs I visit and causes I support give me a feeling of community.  

  • TiltedHorizon

    “But that, again, is an over-simplified view of Christianity.”

    It is a simplified answer to Rwlawoffice’s simplified assertion. Rwlawoffice stated “Christianity is built on selflessness and grace”, as if Christianity is a uniform entity. If that is true, then Evens will eventually leave as the failing of one Church is owned by all.

    “Your second point cannot logically follow your first”

    Sure it can as it is not predicated on my opening comment; it addresses another of Rwlawoffice’s simplified assertions.

    “The reason we do not see an atheist community as selfless and graceful is because we’re not. We, by our nature, are selfish and graceless in the most positive ways I can mean that.”

    I’ll grant you that I have no grace, my two left feet are a testament of that, but ‘selfish’? You really need to elaborate. As someone who has never asked for thanks, as someone who helps others unmotivated by thoughts of heaven or fear of hell but out of love for humanity. How am I selfish?

  • Rwlawoffice

    I don’t mean selfish as in atheists can’t or do not do selfless acts or good deeds.  Of course they do. I mean that in the sense that this is the basis of their worldview.

  • Anonymous

    Her first list didn’t indicate any rejection of Christianity. She just didn’t like her particular church. It’s no big surprise that she want to find a new one after a breather.

  • I agree with everyone else. I was thinking of joining the UU with my family (all of us atheists) because, although I was raised atheistic and freethinking, I really would like to see a group of like-minded people at a potluck dinner from time to time without my daughter and I being treated like shit because we’re women. 

  • TiltedHorizon

    For the record, my reply regarding being “selfish” was to Carla.

    As for you. I have to admit, this view that an atheistic “worldview” is grounded in selfishness or, as the wordsmiths like to tout, nihilistic, befuddles me.

    If my “worldview” is “selfish” then any charity on my part is out of character. What’s in it for me?

  • John

    This is the worst article I’ve read in a while. She very clearly states that she desires a connection to her god through grace and communion. You can’t just pretend that she doesn’t. And saying, “I KNOW she SAID it, but what she MEANS is…” is intellectually dishonest and honestly, I have a higher standard set for this blog.

    If you want to talk about the importance of community, do it. But don’t take words out of people’s mouths and don’t add words that weren’t said. That isn’t the rational reasonable atheism that we’ve come to know and love. It’s propaganda nonsense. 

  • Guest

    Absolutely. With a little time, patience, social pressure, and cognitive dissonance, she will find a convenient rationalization that’s both psychologically satisfying and socially acceptable.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly some people get a lot out of the community aspect that church can provide and I can understand why they’d miss that. But I don’t agree with Hemet’s suggestion that there needs to be an atheist replacement. Why should we be a party to maintaining the divide between the religious and the irreligious? Why not “replace” church with a secular, as opposed to atheistic community? Why not join together over some shared interest, rather than over a shared lack of belief?

  • Guest

    “Yes, we are all of the same race / class / SES / political orientation, but look at all the diversity in our opinions on obscure theological points that have no bearing on the real world!”

  • Anonymous

    I think you’re projecting. Friendships are based on shared time, and it can be convenient to have a place and time that you know you’re going to see your friends. If Some Girl has a routine that works for her then why should you care?

  • I find it kind of sad that Unitarian Universalists get so little face time with people who leave the Christian Church, I think it is a good stepping stone from Chritianity to Atheism.

    At least, it gives you the community without the Jesus dogma. I love my UU church, and I love what we do for the south eastern Texas community in which we live. It’s like a little pocket of reason sandwiched between Joel Olsteen and Ed Young.

    As a matter of fact, we are throwing our second annual Gay Prom, this year, Free to Be You is the theme. And It will ROCK!

    I think there is nothing cooler than a place to go where you can believe or not believe (we have atheist church goers) and be a part of a spiritual community based on mutual respect.  And I wish I had know about this years ago before I started attending an awful non-denominational but mostly evangelical church just because I was lonely.

  • Anonymous

    The UU by me is about 50/50 theists/atheist.  The UU also hosts our freethought group’s meetings.

    Stand up folks, and I’ve considered going mostly so my son can do the religious education classes which seem quite good.  From the services I’ve attended, it doesn’t seem to be a great fit for me personally though.

  • Carla

    I did elaborate: “We, by our nature, are selfish and graceless in the most positive ways I can mean that. Living by your rational mind alone is the most selfish act a man or woman can perform. Speaking that message unforgivingly and unashamedly is graceless.” 
    Some definitions as I see them. To be selfless is to give up your rational mind to the command of another, and to act at the command of the other; to do with you are told in spite of what you may be thinking. It is not always a negative trait, and can lead some people to do great things in the name of “God.” By submitting their desires to what they consider a great good, they are able to do great good in spite of themselves. To be selfish is to create your morals, beliefs, and actions solely through your rational mind; it is to act by no other force than your own compulsion; it is to accept no higher authority than your own mind. It can be positive if it allows a person to escape the confines of religion.

    These are distinct from selfish/selfless acts. A selfish act is one that benefits you, possibly to the detriment of others. A selfless act is one that benefits others, possibly to your detriment. 

    You are selfish because you help people because you love them. The act comes solely from your love, and the rationalization that you must help the people you care about (and the rationalization that there is no god to save them). It does not come from divine command, and you do not do it because Jesus/Allah/Yaweh/etc says so. You selfishly help others because your rational mind insists that you do good. 

    That is not to say that these are not selfless acts. It is possible to do selfless acts selfishly, such as when a mother gives up her dinner so her child can eat. She is selfish because she is acting from love of her child and a vested interested in seeing it survive, not because she is told it is the right thing to do. But that in no way negates the selflessness (and goodness) of her action. She goes hungry solely for the good of the child. It is also possible to do selfish acts selflessly, as a Christian who works with the poor to avoid going to hell. He is helping others because god told him to, and he does it for his own gain, not their good.

    I would address your other points, but my wireless is about to get shut down to get worked on. I look forward to your response.

  • KMR

    If our opinions on obscure theological points have no bearing on the real world then why did you feel the need to type a rude, sarcastic response?   

  • Rwlawoffice

    I believe Carla answered this question very well. C.S. Lewis also summarized it well when he said  (paraphrased) that  atheism will never get you to the point of true altruism, that only Christianity can do.

  • Except an atheist who does something for another person can be truly altruistic since there may be nothing in it for them. A christian will be expecting a reward, or seeking to avoid punishment, even if there’s no immediate material advantage. It’s an unavoidable part of the religion.

  • Carla

    I disagree. I have met a select few Christians who were just plain good people doing good things because they want good for you (in the name of God). (And those parentheses are both grammatical and to convey their intention.)  They are few and far between, and they are definitely the quite ones, but they’re there. 

  • Rwlawoffice

     If you haven’t read it I would suggest you read C.S. Lewis  Mere Christianity.  He explains very well why your impression of Christianity is not the correct impression.  Not to say that this impression is not warranted based upon what you see in some Christians, but it is incorrect in the tenets of the faith.  In Christianity we are taught that salvation comes from belief in the sacrifice of Christ and we are called to be more like him. So the whole premise of our deeds and how we deal with others is to follow his example of sacrifice to the exclusion of self.  An atheists doesn’t have that because at the end of the day there is only self.  

  • Carla

    I think Johnk meant that atheists need a more diverse picture of Christians (and other religions). As the rational ones, it is also our job to be well-informed. Someone in a position of power should be spreading a balanced view, not just reporting the bad. We can’t let ourselves forget the responsibility that comes with rationality. We become wholly responsible for every word and every action, and we must be conscious of its effect on the people around us. If all we do is tell the bad stories, we risk spreading hatred for Christians. Although I will stop *far* short of suggesting that atheists will cause the next genocide, I will remind you of the historic dangers of consistently making one religious group the bad guy without allowing a diverse picture. Hatred only hurts those who hate. And it’s not like atheists need their views reinforced by a hatred of Christianity; we know we’re right because the evidence says so, not because Christians are wrong, or mean. And our moral considerations aside, the only people who think that just sitting around saying bad things about other groups actually works are politicians. We should be more focused on saying what we’re for that what we’re against.

    But, really, I don’t think Hemant is a dick. He’s really one of the more tolerant atheists out there. 
    And, most importantly, why do these comments get so damn skinny?!

  • Carla

    I’ve wondered about that a lot. I never fit in at my church either. I think, retrospectively, that it had something to do with my extreme analytical thinking. Doesn’t usually mesh well with those groups.

  • Carla

    There are good and bad people in all groups. I think it’s fair to say that, in the author’s situation, the church ladies show up first because she’s part of that community. When my mom’s brother died, the neighbors and friends were piling on the help, but no one from our church even showed up at the funeral home.

  • Anonymous

    The most self-deprecating, nihilistic and inhumane things I’ve ever read all came from Christians.

    Christianity forces you to believe that you’re created sick, wretched and sinful with no hope to ever be good in your life. Your only hope is to grovel to a tyrannical, vengeful being so you might have a chance to attain some happiness in the afterlife. I can think of nothing that devalues humanity and life as much as that

  • Anonymous

    What a load of crap. You really except anyone to buy that pseudo-intellectual nonsense?

  • Carla

    Well, Stev84. If you have an intelligent rebuttal, I’m happy to hear it. Part of the reason to have an intelligent discussion is to allow yourself to be proven wrong. If you can do so, please feel free. Otherwise, perhaps you should save your comments for times when you actually have something to say.

  • TiltedHorizon

      Rwlawoffice & Carla,

    I have started a new post as the thinning make following replies difficult.

    Rwlawoffice said:

    “I believe Carla answered this question very well. C.S. Lewis also summarized it well when he said  (paraphrased) that  atheism will never get you to the point of true altruism, that only Christianity can do.”

    We seem to have different standards, you see Carla’s reply to my question as “well answered”, I see a well written response that never answered the question.

    Since the both of you seem to share the same sentiment, I’ll try to explain this in a way that applies to both conversations. First off, “true altruism” is a fallacy. The word “altruism” is defined simply as “an unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others”. Altruism is an adjective qualified after the definition has been met, adding a modifier does not change the definition. It is not a verb; there is no variability or degrees contained which can be modified. Therefore there is no benchmark, there are no shades of grey, there is no unit of measurement, which mean a dollar donated by an atheist buys just as much as one donated by a Christian and a charitable act by one is still a charitable act no matter the individual who does it.

    The only way to transcend real world meaning is to delve into the ‘meta’ domain where anything is possible (i.e. Meta-physics, Meta-ethics  ). In this meta world, I can honesty claim myself super+human and fly, I can make something more+better to create something ‘betterer’, and I can combine true+altruism to define: “a more better super-duper unselfish regard for or uber-true supercalifragilisticexpialidocious devotion to the welfare of others.” None of which has any real world use.

    Since altruism is an “unselfish regard” for others, note the word ‘unselfish’, my question still remains unanswered. If I display altruism (unselfish regard) then how am I selfish? The human nature response does not answer the question. Nor is selflessness defined as an “ability to give up one’s rational mind to the command of another, or to act at the command of the other; to do with you are told in spite of what you may be thinking.” By definition, this is more in tune with ‘brainwashing’ and ‘mind control’, not selflessness which is simply acting without self-interest.

    Kudos on your literary style Carla but I require substance.  

  • TiltedHorizon
  • Awesome Christian

    Jesus is awesome she should come back to church

  •  “If Some Girl has a routine that works for her then why should you care?”
    Agreed. Everyone’s needs and life experiences are different. I really do understand the frustration and irritation from the atheist perspective, but it would be encouraging to see a little more compassion and balance when we approach topics such as this.
    I think less lecturing and more listening are in order.

  •  Because…?

  • Carla

    Thank you for the new thread. Those skinny comments drive me nuts!

    I think we’re talking on different planes. I come from a school of psychology that denies that “true altruism” exists. It suggests instead that every action is based on a selfish desire, even if that desire is just to feel good about what you’re doing, and completely subconscious. I admit I’m completely out of date with the research, but it’s the line of thinking that’s influenced my perception of selfishness and altruism. And, because it seems necessary to clarify, I’m not arguing as an Objectivist either, although I’m familiar with the (slightly deranged) school of thought. 
    So I suppose we disagree because I don’t believe in “true” altruism. And while I believe in true compassion for another, I think that compassion leads to action based on both compassion for the other and self interest, which in this case would probably be relief of cognitive dissonance brought on by inaction. To me, this is action based on rational self interest. Selfish selflessness. To me, “unselfish regard” describes and action set, not a motivation. The action of giving up your time or money is selfless, but that says nothing about your motivation, which I believe is some sort of self interest. The only people I think can have a “true” selfless motivation are the religious because they are willing to submit their reason to a higher power (and we’re talking saint-level religious here). And even then I’m willing to doubt the “true” selflessness of it. 

    Hence my perspective that selfish thinking and selfish actions are two different things, and that neither are exclusively negative. I’ve always drawn a line between action and intention (neither excuses the other). Good actions can have bad motivations, and bad actions can have good motivations. I don’t think that’s “meta”, I think that’s the reality of being human. I’ve also never been a big fan of black and white; I think the world and the mind are too complex for that. (But, this too may be because of my upbringing. I was raised heavily in the Christian church, and actually planned to be a missionary one day. This, and a liberal arts education, would explain what you kindly call my literary style. It’s a habit I’m trying to break. Your patience is appreciated.)
    So what I’m saying is that all humans are inherently selfish, unless we subvert that to a higher power, which is, I suppose, selfish if it’s done for self preservation…. I don’t think that’s bad, though, and I hate the negative connotation of the word. In evolutionary psychology, it means that we help our family because it helps us survive. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t do good things, or that good things are any less good if they’re done out of self interest, or even that self interest is bad. We began this conversation talking about outside perceptions of atheists. To Christians, the idea that we are able to be moral because we can decide for ourselves what’s right is selfish. To them that’s negative, and to me that ‘s good. Does that make sense?

    In post-script… It stormed all last night, and I’m at work at 8am on a Saturday, and I’m only through half of my coffee, so bear with me. I’m not entirely sure that all made sense. But I don’t have a computer at home, and it’s gonna be a bust day, so time’s up for now. >.<
    Also, awesome:

  • Carla

    Addendum to the below: 
    “bust” meant “busy”
    Also, I’m a painfully rational person. I don’t act on feelings, I act on thoughts. From my perspective, this is a chance to analyze motivation. I understand entirely how this could also be considered a case study. I do attempt to base my perspective on human thought on solid psychological research, not just observation. This frequently puts me at odds with others as the data can often show unpleasant or counterintuitive things about the human mind. But I also firmly believe that psychology is meant to be proven wrong, and that talking to those outside this way of thinking is the best was to do so. (To paraphrase: although my perspective is based on the current evidence, I don’t necessarily believe that makes me right.) 

  • TiltedHorizon


    I enjoy philosophy as a social pastime but there is a practical limit of what can be applied to the real world, this is especially true of metaphysics which is a form of philosophy. When regarding the world, or any concepts attempting to find purchase in it, I tend to be literalistic.

    Terms like “selfish”, “altruism” are adjectives, describing character in relation to an action. It is like the word “On” in terms of a light switch, it can only be “On” or “Off”, “Dim” is still “On”. In philology(metaphysics) and quantum mechanics (to be fair), we can debate ad nauseam, that something can be On and Off simultaneously, or that there are varying degrees of “On”. But none of this matters in the real world or on my electric bill.

    One cannot be selfish and selfless, these are opposite terms and cannot coexist in the same space. One can be selfish THEN selfless or selfless THEN selfish as separate actions, just not together, especially in terms of concluding the same action. Even if we examine time and space in a microcosmic sense, and isolate the moment in which one’s action would be “selfish” it is ultimately superseded the moment the “selfless”  act is committed.

    I understand the arguments you are asserting, I am saying, they don’t apply outside of philosophy. 

  • Rwlawoffice

    I am not saying that you can’t be compassionate or loving even to people you don’t know.  What I am saying is that the atheist worldview is inherently selfish because it ultimately ends  in self.  As I stated in another thread, even the evolutionary reasons for community and helping others is based ultimately in self preservation. Christianity is the opposite.  At its root Christianity teaches that we were saved despite ourselves and because we did not deserve it and there is nothing we can do on our own to change that.  Our example is Christ who’s sole reason for coming here was to be a sacrifice for others when he got nothing out of it for himself.  We are called to be more like him when we are called there is no greater love then one who gives his life for another.    

  • TiltedHorizon

    Actually you are attempting to ascribe degrees of worth to “compassion”. Basically saying there is an inherit difference between Christian compassion and everything else. This is a philosophical debate, as I stated to Carla, it has limited real world significance. 

    I personally think  it undermines compassion and altruism to predicate worth of such things to faith. It means a Mormon is free to devalue and discredit the contributions of Baptists, Baptists in turn can do the same to Catholics, and under the banner of Christianity, all can unite to lessen the positives done by non-Christians. Charity is charity no matter who does it, by promoting the idea that those of faith are better at it, you assert bragging rights, making charity a contest, thus evidencing the selfishness of Christianity.

  • Rwlawoffice

    It is admirable that you do good works and don’t say that you are doing it to promote your atheist worldview.  I agree that if Christians do good works for self promotion then they are doing it for the wrong reasons.  But it is in the worldview where there is a difference at the end of the day.   At the root of Christianity we are called to do good deeds and help others because Christ did it for us, not because we will get anything out of it.

  • Carla

    Sorry, Rwlawoffice, we seem to have broken rank. I have never meant to suggest that the Christian’s worldview was in any way better than the atheist’s, nor that Christians could somehow be more altruistic. I said that Christians (well, selflessness, but we seem to be combining the two) can do good in spite of themselves. I find it ultimately it more good (Yes, I meant to do that. And yes, it works grammatically.) that atheists do good because of themselves. In other words, because we know that we’re good people doing good for good’s sake. We don’t have to put ourselves aside to do good; we’re happy to believe that we’re good people as it is. We don’t need saved because there’s nothing wrong with us. If I imagine that I’m putting aside my evil nature in sacrifice to a god who’s compelling me to do good for my salvation… let’s just say that doesn’t jive with my idea of living. Good things can come of it, yes. But please don’t pretend that makes your good better than ours. 

  • Carla

    I disagree. They apply frequently in psychology. Personality traits and subconscious ways of thinking are distinct from actions and stated opinions. It has very real applications in daily life and therapy. It is no stretch for a psychologist to believe that an individual does work at a homeless shelter (does a good/selfless act, if you will allow me to use my definitions) despite her revulsion for the people because she will get extra credit in a class (selfish motivation, and a rational reason to do something). Nor is it any stretch to say that the same person could help a friend (selfless act) because she feels bad for the friend and wants to alleviate that feeling (selfish motive, and documented phenomenon).

    And again, you are using one definition to describe an action and its motivation while I am using two to describe them independently. These words are adjectives, but they describe either character or action, not necessarily both at the same time. We are used to thinking of it that way, yes, but that does not make it true. We cannot have this discussion if you keep using loaded, simplified versions of words that can have many meanings and connotations. You say you are speaking literally when you’re really speaking simplistically. It is scientifically documented that a person my speak and act non-racistly, but be implicitly racist. They may say they are not sexist, and act that way, but be implicitly sexist. Humans are not so simple that a single adjective can describe both action and intention all the time. It would be nice, yes, but that is not how the human mind works. Nor is language so simple that one may decide that a single word may only be used a single way. Our use of language to describe our thoughts and actions is significantly more complex than that. I think this debate may have been a bit personal for you from the start, and that we’re never going to agree on a premise, let alone the issues at hand. I cannot force you to believe that people can be more than one adjective can make them. Not to mention that the entire issue has become completely irrelevant for this post. So I think I’ll end my posting here. Thank you (sincerely) for the discussion.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “But it is in the worldview where there is a difference at the end of the day.”

    I wholeheartedly believe if you walked away from faith today, the sum of your contributions and character would not change. So you can argue causality till the end of time, it is the sum of one’s experiences which dictates how an individual evolves mentally and socially. Therefore being atheistic or theistic based has no influence “at the end of the day.”

  • John Figdor

    FWIW, those arguments don’t fly in philosophy either. An act of charity is an act of charity, whether it is performed by a Christian, or by an atheist.

  • John Figdor

    Yeah, can’t we do one step better for Atheists and Humanists than the UUs? I think we can, and it is called Humanism. Check out the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, the Humanist Community of Central Ohio, and the Humanist Community in Silicon Valley, as different examples of how do to Humanism in a community setting. 

  • John Figdor

    I largely agree with you, except that some people feel like the one thing upon which they want to bond with their fellow citizens is their rejection of supernaturalism and their acceptance of morality predicated on human welfare. I think Humanism is for these people who want to come together with people to do social justice projects, to mitigate the harms of religious dogma and supernaturalism, and to celebrate the beauty and wonder of human life in a reason-based setting.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “We cannot have this discussion if you keep using loaded, simplified versions of words that can have many meanings and connotations.”

    The words in discussion are not loaded. They don’t have multiple meanings and are therefor limited in their scope of application. Don’t fault me for insisting they be used in proper context.

    As for being “a bit personal”, possibly, this whole debate started after I acknowledged the deeds I perform as being altruistic (by definition). Which you called “selfish”, which is a polar opposite.

    For sake of the argument, the ‘joy’ I receive (selfish by your definition) as a ‘reward’ for helping others, how are Christians above such selfishness?

  • TiltedHorizon

    That’s what I have been saying John. I am starting the think philosophy is the real problem here. LOL

  • 15. Grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace

    I don’t even get this reason. It seems like Rachel is still convinced she’s a terrible person in need of forgiveness and redemption from a deity. So since she believes she’s an awful “sinner,” the thought of a god offering her grace for being imperfect feels necessary? Have I got that right? This is why even liberal Christianity sounds horrible to me. There’s nothing wrong with Rachel, but she can’t accept that because the notion that she’s inherently broken and sinful has been driven into her her entire life.

  • Rabbittime

    I think it’s interesting that the comments here are focusing almost entirely on whether or not this lady should give up her religious beliefs and not at all about Hemants major point, which is that community is a powerful draw. There was a time when secular community organizations were important in people’s lives, and I think it’s rare for that to be the case anymore. I remember hearing a radio piece about how VFW organizations were made up almost entirely of elderly members, even though younger veterans may really benefit from that sort of community. If organizations organized around things other than religion were more robust, maybe people wouldn’t feel like religion wasn’t their only option for the community feeling they crave, and maybe they could untangle those arguments from their actual beliefs.

  • Piet Puk

     Atheists don´t believe the word was created for them, christians do. Open your mind just a little bit further, you´ll see how dulusional you are.

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