I have many thoughtful atheist friends and here are the kinds of things we’ve talked about together.
– While they might reject the idea of a personal God, some can talk about a direction or trajectory of evolution. (Some will not – seeing everything as random and accidental and in that sense ultimately nihilistic, period.) They might be able to use terms like Dr. King’s – speaking of an arc in the universe that bends toward justice. That direction or trajectory or arc provides us common ground, I think, between God and non-God.
– If they don’t want to speak of any moral grain to the universe, they may still want to work for justice, joy, and peace, as best as they understand them. Justice, joy, peace, and other values are for them a kind of beckoning vision – not written into past and present actuality – but calling from future possibility. Again, this might be some common ground where what I call God intersects with a reality they do not call God.
– If they don’t want to speak about anything like that, we can at least enjoy the gifts of life together – whether it’s a baseball game, a comedian, a great piece of music, or a good cup of coffee. Even savoring “goodness” points us in the direction of the Giver from whom all good gifts flow … and I suspect that God doesn’t mind being anonymous in many circumstances. In fact, anonymity may be a relief after all the ways God’s name gets dragged into craziness by human beings! I must admit, on many occasions, I find letting God’s presence be anonymous, unspoken, or understated enhances my joy in God, just as situations where God’s presence is over-hyped and exaggerated makes me feel less and less aware of God’s “still small” whisper.
In situations where believer and atheist encounter one another as friends, extending grace toward one another that transcends fundamental disagreement, it is pure friendship itself – extended and enjoyed without the static of religious or atheistic rhetoric – that makes God most real. At least, that’s how I see it!
A few weeks ago, the boys from Homebrewed Christianity had my friend Steve Knight on to talk about some important things. I already responded to what I thought was a misunderstanding of what Atheism For Lent actually is – or is trying to be. But, I also caught wind of something else I found interesting…
Steve mentioned Skeptimergent. I can’t remember how he worded it – something to the effect of “the most important thing in the history of the universe.” Something like that. Thanks, Steve.
But, the response from Tripp and Bo was what was fascinating to me: it was entirely dismissive, and they moved on. I’ve heard this kind of reaction from at least a few other people. So, I thought I would try to highlight what Skeptimergent isn’t, and then what it is (or is trying to be):
Skeptimergent is not an attempt by atheists, humanists, and so on to hijack the Emergent movement and make it its own. It is not just another trendy thing that is going to disappear.
But, what we have sensed is that there are a lot of people in the Emergent movement who are skeptically-inclined. And, there are those in the movement who would call themselves, in some sense, atheists.
Recently I was hanging out with Doug Hammack and he said he thinks the only possible Christian approach is a “Christian agnosticism.” Tony Jones has also recently described himself as an agnostic. The more people I talk to, the more this seems to actually be the norm in Emergent circles. I think most of us fit along a spectrum of agnosticism.
So, one thing that we’re trying to bring to the surface is that “skepticism,” broadly defined, is an integral part of the Emergent ethos. We are everywhere. I’m honestly surprised when I run into people claiming the Emergent brand while uncritically embracing orthodox Christianity.
Also, there are a number of people who seem to be “on the way out” of any organized spiritual anything altogether. But, they have found a “home” in a sense in this movement. I think Emergent should find ways to love these people out – as a sort of “transitional space.”
With all of that said, I think there needs to be an ongoing conversation about these realities and ideas within the Emergent movement. I think we need to find ways to get people together to talk about how to encourage critical thinking, to avoid the pitfalls of toxic, cult-like religion (which are what the “new atheists” are reacting against), and to acknowledge the presence of people along these spectrums.
I hope that Tripp and Bo were being dismissive of Steve’s comment due to a misunderstanding of what Skeptimergent is trying to accomplish. But, hopefully, through ongoing dialogue with those of us who have a really hard time signing on to even the most “progressive” set of Christian beliefs, all of us within the Emergent movement can see its enduring importance.