As many atheists will tell you, shedding religion is a lot like shedding your belief in Santa Claus: It’s a childhood phase, not something you carry with you into adulthood. (At least that’s what I’ve heard.)
This is also the metaphor used by Anne Grant in an article for Religion Dispatches. Grant, a retired pastor (married to another retired pastor), grew up the same way many young American Christians do: She “accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior” before she was fully potty-trained, and was taught to talk to Him like you would a best friend.
Eventually, the toxic immersion of religion and politics, in addition to increased wonder about earth science, paved the way for Grant’s unbelief.
In 2003, when President George W. Bush grew impatient with the search for weapons of mass destruction and launched his tragic invasion of Iraq, I suspected he thought he was hearing from God, like Joshua at Jericho. He seemed to think Iraqis would eagerly lay down their arms before our triumphant Lord.
Bush declared that he had to invade Iraq because God wanted to set people free. I paced our empty church and told the President: “You just cut my umbilical cord to Christianity.”
I had no idea what that meant. If President Bush was like a midwife, cutting my connection to those lifelong beliefs, then what new life was being born?
In the year after [husband] Phil’s cancer diagnosis in 2005, we had begun to take comfort in the BBC documentaries of Sir David Attenborough, who thrilled us with the wonders of nature and never mentioned God…Breathtaking photography of animals and plants on far-flung continents filled us with awe.
Phil and I felt no crisis of faith when we told each other we no longer believed in a supernatural being. The bad midwife had freed us from magical thinking of religious ideologues. The good midwife had welcomed us into a vibrant world of natural wonder that had been here all along.
Grant also learned to see a disconnect between fervent belief and the laws of nature. When tightrope walker Nik Wallenda crossed the Grand Canyon a few years ago, he thanked Jesus as he did it. But Grant knew that wasn’t going to make a difference. If he fell, Jesus wasn’t going to catch him. Wallenda deserved the credit for his feat, not God. As Grant said, “Faith often works when you believe, but gravity always works, whether or not you believe.”
My experience with religion looks a lot different than Grant’s, but this insightful, respectfully written editorial should be a must-read for Christians who believe that all atheists, deep down, are just “angry at God.”
Grant has no animosity. She’s not looking to pick a fight. She’s not “angry” or “militant.” She just came to a conclusion about faith that went against her childhood beliefs. She calls herself a “secular Christian,” which may rub many atheists the wrong way, but her desire to let go of the supernatural while holding on to the aspects of Christianity that she likes is probably a tension felt by many people who aren’t ready to jump ship from religion anytime soon.
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