I got a phone call the other day from someone I care about. She was concerned because another person we care about said that she was “thinking about becoming an atheist.”
Now, I want to say that I’m unqualified to talk personally about atheism. But I am qualified to talk about faith. I am suited to talk about how, perhaps, a person of faith loses that faith.
When I talked with those lovely people I mentioned, it became clear that what was at stake was not the loss of faith per se but the loss of a particular kind of faith. There is faith in the sense of what community I’m a part of; faith in the sense of doctrines that I profess; faith in the sense of the meeting between me and the Divine. Faith can be understood in different ways. Securing one’s understanding by the word is vital before we even know what faith we’re talking about.
Further, sometimes faith is worth losing. Sometimes faith is worth leaving. It depends on what one’s faith is. If it the unexamined doctrine that makes me feel unloved by God, isn’t it worth leaving? If it is the way in which a text is read by one community and always used over and against another community, isn’t it worth distancing oneself from? If it is the relative ease I feel by a community when we, together, join against some other community in opposition to that people’s God-made-ness, isn’t it worth losing?
I found myself affirming this woman and how she was thinking about “atheism.” In fact, she wasn’t thinking about atheism in a philosophical sense. She was thinking about leaving the tightened faith that was handed on to her; she was, in a sense, leaving the representations of the Christianity she found death-giving. She was, to my way of thinking, considering a better faith. Not no faith. Not no God. A different God.
Of course, I think differently about these things than those who preach and teach this woman. I’m the person in the room on the edge. I’m the person considering how the underside is represented, blessed, or undone by whose being quoted in the preacher’s sermons. I’m still the kid who got kicked out of Sunday school because I knew all the teacher was saying, was bored, and was asking different unanswered questions. I’m the person who is uncomfortably comfortable on a weird psychic boundary because making a theological home has always been a work-in-progress.
Thinking about atheism may just be thinking about a deeper understanding of the me and God relationship. It may be utter contemplation. It may be worth affirming and encouraging as a person is truly on the road toward a holiness that can only be beautiful. It may be worth celebrating.