Thursday, August 22, 2013

Undercover Agnostic (Update 17): “He’s an Atheist, So He Has Nothing to Say to Me”

I have talked about “Jason” on the blog before. He’s my Sunday School teacher in the church I am undercover in, and he also happens to be a co worker of mine, albeit on a different shift than I am on. Jason can be quite the paradox sometimes, in many ways, he’s a typical fundamentalist, but in other ways he can not only break the mold, but downright shatter it.

He was a theology student after spending several years in the US Marine Corp, and he intended to become a missionary after graduation. He has never said why exactly he left the college he was in a year before graduation, and I’ve never asked. There are times that he can put fundamentalist dogma over his sense of compassion, even for his own family.

I’ve had many discussions with him where he has stood by many of the more absurd tenets of fundamentalism like Young Earth Creationism (he is one of the few people who know about my de-conversion, it’s led to quite a few interesting discussions), not only is he a YEC supporter, but he insists the earth has to be no more than 6,000 years old, it can’t be 10,000 or 25,000, like some YEC supporters say, it must be 6,000, and he won’t budge on that.

Then again, he breaks from the fundamentalist mold in some ways. He doesn’t understand why fundamentalist parents push their children to marry young, he enjoys the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and John Oliver, despite their very liberal leanings, and his own personal sense of humor is well….. the best way to describe it is as being rather twisted. A fellow co worker of ours, a blue collar, non-religious kind of guy, who likes to party on his days off once said that sometimes he can get too vulgar even for him, and that’s really saying something.

He keeps that kind of humor limited to the workplace, and with people he knows would be more flexible about that, he avoids that when in the church, or around church circles, for obvious reasons. That’s why I recently thought he would appreciate the hilarious rant Middle Aged Idiots, by the popular YouTube curmudgeon TJ Kirk, aka The Amazing Atheist, (be advised, video contains plenty of NSFW language). I was telling him about the video a few days ago, and he seemed somewhat interested, until he heard the screen name of who made it.

Then he completely shut me out, “he’s an atheist, so he has nothing to say to me”. Never mind the fact that I told him that the video had absolutely nothing to do with his atheist beliefs, that he tends to rant about anything and everything, it didn’t matter. The guy happens to be atheist, so he won’t listen to what he has to say on any topic, even if he agrees with him.

In one short sentence, he summed up much of the close mindedness of fundamentalism, a complete unwillingness to listen to anyone outside of their circles. I was that way too, but after my de conversion, I started to realize that there’s always something that can be learned from most anyone. Sometimes people we disagree with can be right about something, or at least give us a different perspective on life. I enjoy hearing from people that I don’t agree with on spiritual matters. Some of my favorite bloggers are liberal Christians like John Shore, Lana Hope, Samantha Field, and Rachel Held Evans.

One of my favorite regular commenters on my blog is a Muslim, and I even check in from time to time to see what fundamentalists like John Piper are saying. It helps to keep with the rhetoric of fundamentalists, if for no other reason than to remind me how far I have come from those days, but it also helps me to keep up with their arguments and arguing tactics. It’s always important to know your opponent.  

One of the biggest lessons I learned after leaving fundamentalism is that when you shut out the world around you, and refuse to listen to anyone who is not like you, you lose touch with reality and the world around you. There’s a lot that can be learned from interacting with people outside your circle of belief. I just wonder when fundamentalists will finally figure this out, but then again, they probably wouldn’t be fundamentalists anymore if they did……


  1. "One of the biggest lessons I learned after leaving fundamentalism is that when you shut out the world around you, and refuse to listen to anyone who is not like you, you lose touch with reality and the world around you."

    Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times yes! This explains the fundamentalist situation so well.

    1. It's easy to create your own reality when you live in a subculture of like minded people, and don't ever withdraw from it.

  2. It's amazing how much "Jason", and other fundamentalists, can compartmentalize their lives so much. I think therein may be the secret of how to get through to them the value of other people's opinions, among other things... Perhaps the secret is trying to have a conversation when they are not in the full-on fundy mindset, like when they're at work, or otherwise carousing in a non-fundamentalist manner?

    1. I can understand the confusion, since I put a picture of a church up, that was only because the post was a part of the Undercover Agnostic series.

      The conversation actually took place outside of the church at our workplace, strangely enough. It's odd how much he likes Jon Stewart and John Oliver, despite the fact that he doesn't like their political views, but mention the fact that someone is an atheist, and nope, can't watch that...

      I do understand what you mean about compartmentalizing, you would be surprised how some people act in the church, and outside of it, once you get to know them.He can be like that, his sense of humor dramatically changes.

  3. Many people of religion use that religion to keep it together in the worst times of their lives. You mentioned he was a marine in the past, as well as the fact that he dropped school, I would wonder if he's afraid of anything that challenges the weak thread that holds him in his present reality because he doesn't want to face something in his past?

    1. I never thought of that. During his time as a Marine, he had served time on a humanitarian mission in Haiti.

      It was hell on earth, heavily armed gangs fighting UN peacekeepers, sewage flowing through the streets, people dropping dead from various preventable diseases (cholera, typhoid, etc), on the sidewalks and streets, and their bodies lying in the hot sun for up to a week until sanitation crews came and hauled them off in dumpsters.

      I could imagine the kind of effect that had on him.

  4. I agree with is surprising how much of our actions and reactions are based on some sort of fear. Fear of change, fear of losing identity, and fear of displeasing someone, are the most common types of fear that all of us have to some degree.
    fear can be a helpful emotion if it promotes caution....but it can become harmful in excess....if it begins to control our lives.

    disasters---during disasters, one can see the worst side of human nature, the cruelties, despair and helplessness but there are times when disasters also bring out the best in humanity, the solidarity, altruism and hopefulness.....I wonder which side Jason saw........

    By the way, this comes from a particular evangelical interpretation of the OT? or some such....?......I have heard that the 6,000 yrs figure comes from a genealogy reference....?....


    1. Yes, Young Eart Creationism comes from a combination of taking the book of Genesis as literal truth, instead of as an allegory as more liberal/moderate Christians do. The 6,000 year old earth claims do in fact come from the genealogies given in the Bible, of the number of generations between Adam and Jesus that are listed, and multiplying that by estimated average lifespan.

      The problem is, even if you are taking the Bible literally, you shouldn't stick too dogmatically to the 6,000 year figure for two reasons. One, ancient Jewish genealogists had a habit of leaving out people in genealogies that they felt weren't important enough to be listed, so it is possible that there are many generations of people that aren't included in the genealogy, if they were listed, that would lead to even more years between Genesis 1 and today.

      The second issue is the interpretation of the Hebrew word "yom" in Genesis 1. Typically, the word is translated into English as "day", as in 6 days of creation. That Hebrew word did often mean day in it's literal sense, but it could also be used in a more figurative sense to mean a period of time.

      For example, in American English, it's common for someone to say "wait a minute". The person doesn't mean for someone to wait a literal 60 seconds, they mean a undefined period of time, they are saying essentially, "give me some time". The Hebrew word has even a more flexible meaning than that, therefore it's possible for someone to be a Biblical literalist and a theo-evolutionist at the same time, if they take a more figurative meaning of the word yom, and say that the 6 days of creation were really 6 long periods of time in which god guided the evolutionary process.

    2. Indeed, and, as you likely well know Sheldon, I would also add for consideration of a literal "day" that in Gen 1:5, that same "yom" is used to describe the lit time, as in "God called the light day", just as we use the terms "day" and "night" for the lit and non-lit portions of time.

      Add to that consideration the references to "there was evening, and there was morning" before each day ("yom") is enumerated (v.s 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).

      Combining these factors, it appears that the author's intent was to communicate an actual ~24 hour day as we know it as opposed to an abstract time period, even if the strict boundaries of the particular word "yom" are more flexible and extensive.

    3. OK, I was going by a lecture from a Old Testament Studies professor I had years ago, that was his explanation. I suppose YEC's go with the explanation of a literal day like you do. I spent some time in a Southern Baptist university as a Biblical Studies minor, I had to take both their New Testament and Old Testament classes in my year there, other students could choose one or the other.

      I don't know ancient Greek/Hebrew, I wish I did now. Can you do a guest post sometime on the different Christian interpretations of Genesis 1 as far as YEC, Old Earth Creationism and theo evolution? I could really use the help around here. ;)

    4. Thanks for the invite Sheldon! Honestly, I am a bit of a hack myself when it comes to Greek and Hebrew. A lot of what I have learned has come from using an online Bible Lexicon.

      I do know a little more particularly about Genesis 1 because of a debate with a Christian sparring partner/friend who happened to believe the "period of time" interpretation so that he could accept an old earth and the possibility of God-guided evolution. He had actually studied Hebrew, so it was interesting to see his interpretation. I tried to argue that the literalists/YEC's actually had the interpretation right, which is why it's wrong. ;-)

      I'll keep your offer in mind. I've got a lot of other projects and writing that I'm trying to tackle, so I don't think I will get around to a guest post anytime soon. But that the Genesis 1 stuff is kind of interesting to look at, and I think I even have copies of my debate with my friend to better render the time-period argument, so, I'll think about it. Cheers!

    5. Well, thanks for at least considering it, TWF.

      I've been busy myself with work and house rebuilding, so my blog has been a little neglected lately. So my professor wasn't the only one who saw the possibility for an old earth creationism or theo-evolution argument based off of the wording of Genesis 1? Interesting.....

  5. "I just wonder when fundamentalists will finally figure this out, but then again, they probably wouldn’t be fundamentalists anymore if they did……" :) this made me laugh as it is exactly the way I feel sometimes. If only people would think, not only about theism but other questions, life would be so much easier.


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