When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who has a different view than you on a deeply held belief? How did that go? Was it a civil discussion, or were there quickly defenses put up and verbal attacks sent out? Oftentimes it seems that our society is set up to be polarizing regarding the topics about which people care about the most. Such topics might be: politics, sexuality, parenting, equality, religion, etc. It seems we can easily paint a false ‘us versus them’ picture that excludes the chance that the other side, that ‘they,’ might have come to their beliefs in any sort of a thoughtful or informed manner.
In my own life, I can often paint the false ‘us versus them,’ or ‘me versus you,’ picture. Instead of have the discipline to take the time to listen to the other person’s point of view and to value their thoughts, I analyze their words for a mistake that I can point out. I can be so focused on trying to get my point across that I fail to listen to their point. Because I have this tendency, I am immensely grateful for a couple of online courses I have taken through RZIM academy that require ‘Interview’ assignments.
In these assignments we are instructed to interview someone who does not identify as the same religion that we do specifically for the purpose of understanding their worldview. I have found these intentional assignments to be refreshing and thought-provoking. In the past, I have interviewed friends, or friends of friends, however this time I had the opportunity to do something a little different. Please find my most recent interview below…
For this assignment I had the privilege to interview a fellow blogger who writes under the moniker ‘The Closet Atheist.’ The tag line on her blog reveals more of her current situation: “At college, a Christian. At home, a Lutheran. At heart, an Atheist.” On a whim, I reached out to her to see if she would be willing to complete the interview with me. I felt especially drawn to her story because it seemed that we share a few parallel experiences, yet ultimately ended with different worldviews.
I found CA, the Closet Atheist, to be a delight with whom to converse. She is an intelligent college student who is striving to think through and evaluate her beliefs. As our interview began, she shared a bit with me about how she came to her current understanding of reality. CA grew up in a very religious Lutheran (LCMS) family where she faithfully attended church every week. However, even at a young age, she began to come across ideas that didn’t make sense to her.
As a child, one thing she wondered about, as I’m sure many of us have, was Noah’s ark. How exactly did that whole thing work? Another question she pondered was the way in which the stories of Creation and Adam and Eve were written down. How did someone have the knowledge of what came before people? These were two of the areas she questioned, but for which she never found good answers. As she grew older she came to the realization that she really didn’t believe in her family faith.
Now she is at the point where she is digging into what exactly she does believe. She has discovered that not all Christians are as fundamentally minded as her family and that some have a different view of biblical inerrancy than the literalism that she grew up knowing. However at the moment, what seems most likely to her is atheism, and she currently maintains a lack of a belief in any God.
CA supports what one would expect for your typical atheistic to assert, that the universe began with the Big Bang and that humans evolved over time. However she recognizes the limitations that this view currently has, and looks forward with hope to scientific knowledge being able to one day explain the moments before the Big Bang as well as how the first life came to be. In her pursuit of understanding, CA has come across the idea that science answers the ‘How’ questions, but not the ‘Why’ questions. Although, ‘Why’ questions are not something CA is sure she actually believes in; she doesn’t believe that the big “why” questions truly have answers. Or rather that is to say, despite being able to phrase such a question with language, there is no ‘Why’ that underlies our questioning; instead there is solely the ‘How.’ I found this idea to be coherent within a materialist view of the world.
In our topic of origin, we also discussed what makes humans different than other animals, as well as the idea of the Earth being fine-tuned to life. Holding to her ‘How’ approach, CA readily acknowledged the evident truth that humans have a different type of intelligence than we understand other animals to have, which is shown through our technological advances as well as our ability to question and reason about our existence. In regards to the fine-tuning argument, she thought through how a multiverse could result in Earth existing as it does, but ultimately, at the moment, she’s not very convinced by the idea of a multiverse because the evidence that we have is not conclusive. She also put forward the question,“Is Earth fine-tuned for life, or rather, is life fine-tuned for Earth?”That is to say, if Earth existed as it does then we shouldn’t be surprised that life occurred and seemed to fit so soundly into its laws of physics, or its location in the universe because it would have been exactly those things that dictated how life has evolved.
On a broad scope, CA believes that different people find different meanings for life depending on what is most important to them. In her experience, this typically looks like having a family, providing for oneself through a career, etc. As a species, it could be said our meaning is to move forward and progress– to keep going instead of ending. In this line of thought, CA finds that Atheism gives a rather nice picture of how life should look. In the goal of life continuing, each individual adds up into the sum of the human race which then needs to care about things like the nature, animals and the environment on the whole, in order to make sure life continues.
In her own life, CA has a few ideas about what her purpose is. Her purpose isn’t the result of some grand scheme of fate or destiny. Rather she recognizes that she is influenced by the world around her. “You make it up for yourself,” she explained, “so it depends on your circumstances.” She continued on to share some of her ideas: she wants to graduate from her Christian college, marry her long-time boyfriend, and have children. In the meantime, she also sees her purpose as learning more about her beliefs and sharing her experience on her blog.
One interesting idea that came up while we were discussing meaning was the fact that it is really unlikely that any of us exist at all. Consider this, had anyone in your ancestry procreated with a different person, you wouldn’t exist. Someone entirely different would currently be living in the world. It is easy to imagine any other number of things that could have happened to prevent your being alive at this moment. How strange it is then that we even exist at all– instead of a group of entirely different people.
Due to the closeted nature of her atheism, CA hasn’t yet revealed her honest beliefs about the world to her family. While she is home for the summer, she maintains a double life. On Sundays she attends church with her family, and can be found reading Christian books around the house. However, when no one is looking, she updates her secret blog, posts on her atheistically inclined social media accounts, and reads Richard Dawkins. One curious result of this set-up is her exposure to the Christian worldview and the chance she has to think through her beliefs.
Lately, she has been reading The Language of God by Francis Collins, which has given her some food for thought. In light of the book, she has been considering the idea of morality a lot more. However for now, she does not think that there is an objective morality of right and wrong. As far as she sees it, for her it makes sense to consider it wrong to cause pain to others. She believes she can have a subjective idea of what she thinks is morally right or wrong, but there is no objective moral measuring stick (with good/right on one end and bad/wrong on the other). Instead morality has arisen as a result of human nature, to the end of continuing to improve the human race.
We discussed a few moral dilemmas, such as, “Why do we do what we don’t want to do?” “Why do we bring life into the world when it is guaranteed that the life we bring into the world will face suffering?” “Why is there beauty and brokenness in the world? And “Why is pain bad?” Each of the questions led to thoughtful conversation. Despite emotions being reduced to the mere firing of neurons under a materialistic worldview, CA recognizes that emotions help us make decisions and arise out of our experience. Ultimately, it seemed most of her ideas tied back into a Darwinian reasoning of helping to advance the human species.
For CA, she imagines that when we die it will be the same as before we were born. “It is scary”, she shared, “to think about your life just stopping. Especially when it’s an unexpected thing, like an accident.” However, she also recognized that when she is dead, she wouldn’t have the capacity for reflecting on her death. As a living being now, she much better likes the idea of reincarnation. To her it meshes the best of both worlds, you don’t end up with absolute nothingness but you’re also not resigned to an eternal existence. Yet, despite quite liking the idea, she doesn’t believe reincarnation is what happens when we die.
The tail end of our conversation turned back to how incredible it was that we even exist, and as a human for that matter! Think about we could have been something else, like a fruit fly. (And who would want to be a fruit fly!)
I greatly enjoyed my conversation with CA. I appreciated her desire to figure out just what exactly she believes and how that matches with the reality she experiences. It seems that her atheism has arisen out of a lack of logical and coherent answers for questions regarding the Christian faith, as well as the advancement in science that now accounts for phenomenon that people used to attribute to a divine power.
If you are like me and interested in learning more about her story and seeing how her ideas continue to become more informed, check out her blog: https://theclosetatheist.blog/
Share with me: What questions would you have for CA? What were your thoughts regarding our interview? Seriously, call me up, write me a note, send me a message or comment somewhere. I would love to hear your thoughts.