Happy Atheists and Other Leaps of Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Each week, I rediscover the meaning of faith.
This week I had lunch with Pastor Claire McNulty Drewes of Father Dryer United Methodist Church. Pastor Claire combined her passion for social justice and a love for God and turned her plans for a career in social work into a calling to become a leader of a church where she can live out both in her community.
I also attended a meeting of the Summit County Interfaith Council. They are a diverse group of faith leaders focused on promoting legislation and long-term solutions around our health and affordable housing needs, from a faith-based perspective.
Mom told me that she now distributes food to 51 people in her community. She loves people and this is her ministry.
The other day, I used Google Maps to locate Father Dyer church, though it is a block from the library I visit every week. Yet, my introversion serves me as I spend long periods alone, reading and writing about faith. This is my ministry.
As St. Paul said, we are all members of the body of Christ, but like feet and eyes, we are each called to use our unique talents to serve God and our community.
It’s been thirty years since I joined the Catholic Church and I am filled with more joy in my decision now, than I was then. On the other hand, Mom went to Mass with me for twenty years, but as soon as she landed back in Fort Lauderdale, she immediately returned to her Presbyterian church.
I believe we find a spiritual home where we best experience God, where we can grow into an intimate relationship with Him. With all our individual quirks and complexities, this seems natural. And since we serve an infinitely complex God, it seems plausible that He understands.
But what about those who don’t believe in God?
Well, they are part of God’s body, as well. Even as they deny His existence.
I began writing, A Map of Heaven, twenty years ago after my father died and I tried to make sense of his death and the meaning of my life. I had recently left Wall Street to discover my purpose and a career that meant as much to me as my brother’s and mother’s careers meant to them.
A Map of Heaven is a novel about Elizabeth, who discovers she has few weeks to live and embarks on a journey to discover the meaning of life, and life after death.
In a pivotal chapter, Elizabeth travels to hell, a place of cold, dark, isolation. My reasoning was God is the Light of the world; therefore, a place absent from God would be without light. The isolation describes the soul’s separation from its Creator. And that’s what makes hell so unbearable…our souls long for communion with God.
This longing, I believe, is the source of the profound anger in an atheist’s argument. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1)
The other day, my brother sent me an article that consisted of a refutation of at least twenty verses from the Bible. My first thought was the person who wrote it had spent more time reading the Bible than I had, up until five years ago.
Where we focus our attention reflects the longings of our heart or mind or subconscious. Whatever you want to call it. I believe the most ardent and antagonistic atheist is searching for God, and yearns to find Him. How else to explain such passion and focus on something they are certain doesn’t exist?
And that’s okay…I believe God calls each of us into a relationship, in our own time, and by our own path. Yes, I’m certain even atheists will eventually find God.
Whether we believe that God exists, or not, God sees us. Whether we believe that God loves us, or not, He does. God promises that, “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
At the end of our twelve-hour conversation, back and forth by Facebook messages, my brother noted that I still had not answered all his arguments against God.
The simple reason is that I don’t have all the answers. I doubt I ever will. Even physicists who study the origins of the universe are made up of believers in God and non-believers. An atheist will say that advances in science prove that God does not exist. I believe that advances in science reveal the magnificence of a universe that undeniably points to the hand of God.
So, I am not afraid of not knowing everything. I still believe in God. It takes courage, not ignorance, to embrace the mystery of faith. Atheists and believers alike, take the same risk every day we choose to love someone else.
And even if we are all wrong…look at the good that is done in the name of God. The natural impulse of humans should be toward self-preservation and enrichment. Yet everyday in our community, we see men and women give of themselves to help others under the banner of a church or a religious organization.
If December 25th marking the birth of Christ bothers you, then please, spend that day serving in a soup kitchen that may be the only warm meal someone eats that day. And don’t be surprised if you find Jesus there. As he said, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:4)
So, if you believe in God or not. If you call God by another name. Let us agree on this: We will treat each other with respect. We will listen and respect the other person’s beliefs, even if they are not our own. As St. James said to the early church, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)
Here’s the thing: if we get angry because other people don’t accept our beliefs, then we become the person that we argue against.
Atheism or religious absolutism becomes a religion when our need to be right becomes our god. Or when our willingness to condemn anyone who doesn’t believe what we believe becomes our version of sending someone to hell.
To be clear, I am certain in my faith that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is One; that Jesus died and rose from the grave for our sins and that He is the Savior of the World. But my faith is big enough to respect the differing beliefs of others.
History is full of people forcing their beliefs on others, and then becoming instigators of holocausts, genocides, and yes, inquisitions carried out in the the name of God. But, and this is very important, they were not acting under God’s direction. God is Love.
I can’t convince anyone that God exists. Nor can anyone convince me that He does not. I believe God reaches each of us where we are. My desire is not to change anyone, but to allow God to change me, through this walk of faith.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of A Map of Heaven.
She lives in Breckenridge, Colorado. Join her at www.Facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths or at www.suzanneelizabeths.com