Tuesday, September 13, 2005

In the mind of an atheist.....

"so your atheism is founded more on the institution of what Christianity has become through the years rather than the message and values of Jesus...?"

This conversation has been going on some years. It started in our parent and toddler group. Trevor had proclaimed his atheism to which Kate replied "wow it must take a lot of faith to be an atheist...?" Ever since there has been open, honest healthy dialogue. (one here).

Trevor looks at me and replies...

"Well if we all got back to the message and values of Jesus we'd be a lot better off ... but problem is you can't say that the church has done a great job with the message..."

"What's the message you've heard then Trev?" I enquire - thinking this is interesting from someone who describes himself as 'unashamably atheist'.

"you've got it wrong...you've got it wrong...we've got it right and if you don't agree to what we think we're going to kill you... was quite a strong theme for a few centuries...!" he begins to get up a head of steam.

The conversation trundles on we talk Constantine - through to disillusioned Christian intellectuals and the emerging church before I ask "so Trev, what should the message be...?"

"I see it like this ... add a 'o' to God and that seems to give you the key word"

I nod sagely and 'hmm' sympathetically...

"... godo...!?"

We both laugh...

"Gordon, I like talking to you - you are a silly 'bugger' but I like talking to you"

I come away smiling but thinking I wonder how much atheism is based on not believing in church rather than the message, life and values of Jesus. I wonder how much we contribute to that ecclesiastical smoke screen choking the message?


Chris H said...

Time to ask my favourite question... "so what do we do about it?"

Actually, another question is, do you think the existing church can be salvaged? Or do we need a whole new start? Tell you what I think later :)

Eleanor Burne-Jones said...

I have to deal with a painful experience of the church, and it drags me down. But most days, in morning prayers, we remember a 'saint', some ancient, many more recent. It is a never ending source of amusement to me that as the minister leading happens to be Anglican, these are always Anglican 'saints', but what the heck, they have great stories. And it is like a drip effect, as you encounter one great person after another, day after day, you come to realise the church is larger than its failings. We don't celebrate our saints enough, of all denominations, SA included.

Five minutes on a saint every day is good medicine for the soul damaged by painful experiences of the church. My favourite is John of the Cross - persecuted BY the church, locked up, beaten at regular intervals by his own Order for having the temerity to call them to reform, and yet he wrote the most beautiful love poetry to God ever written. Why don't we celebrate them all?! :0)

Eleanor Burne-Jones said...

Chris, have commented on your comment on http://franciscansalvationist.blogspot.com

Either of you any thoughts on how I reply to a client in Spiritual Direction who asks me 'how she can get in touch with her inner salvationist'? All I could come up with was a long reading list, and she glazed over...

Pax et bonum

Chris H said...

Thanks Lana, read your comment and I agree... though I'm not sure I was asking the wrong question :)

My thinking is that, since it's often "organised" religion that people object to, doesn't that cause problems for the existing churches? If people distrust "the church" (as opposed to The Church) is there anything that can be done about it?

I think you're right, the key is individuals living out what it means to be Church without regard for denominational boundaries. I still think there's a place for denominations, but it's only when people see Christians working together regardless of which denomination they belong to that our message will actually seem attractive. One of the major objections my friends used to put to me against Christianity was that there are so many "flavours" of Christian who all believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. I think they were overstating the case, but I see their point.

So... to answer my own question... I think the existing churches can be salvaged, but only by working with The Church as a whole and showing people what Church really is.

As for finding your inner Salvationist... to be honest, I'd recommend reading too. "The General Next to God" and "Aggressive Christianity" are books that help me focus on what Salvationism really is.

Gordon said...

Centuries of christendom has lots to answer for - never got onto that at college Chris!

Is the church finished? - I don't think so - maybe some of the things we have majored on need less attention and what is needed is more attention on what it means to do a good job of being church.

Discovering what it means to 'be' church is a constant challenge as we have all been brought up to 'do' church.

I thought about posting some thoughts on Warrens Healthy church book - well worth a read incidently.