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Ask An Atheist: Stranger in Strange Land

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By Jim Downard

I was struck by your statement at the last Coffee Talk that you are “an unbeliever in a sea of belief.” I know you also mentioned this in a previous post as well. I was wondering if you can elaborate on that more as far as how this feels to you. Like how do you live out your unbelieving culture in the midst of believers? What are the challenges? What do you find meaningful in your unbelief? And anything you’d like to add. Thanks!!

I’m a Stranger in a Strange Land in many ways, not just the religious angle.  I naturally think historically, when so many people don’t.  Because I am aware then of the wide range of beliefs in our current world, none of which appear much more than a few thousands of years old, its more the curiosity as to why more people don’t recognize they too are “awash in a sea of unbelief” that differs from their own.  It makes we wistful at best, worried at worse.

I’m always mindful of how perilous the “wrong” belief can be, which is why I take pains to remind people of how fragile the liberty of conscience is, and how that precious right must be defended for all, otherwise its of true value for none.  But I do not define myself by my non-belief of those others, but by my positive beliefs.  That the universe is interesting, and worthy of being understood.  To be curious is part of being human, and I wonder at those who lack it, are they not diminished by their insularity?

I hold that knowing that which actually has happened is of value, to guide our judgement.  History rarely repeats itself, but it frequently rhymes, and its better the more we know what tunes have played before and how they played out.  That’s how we avoid repeating the same mistakes, and unfortunately a certain current leader of a great nation is as historically illiterate and confused as any person I have ever seen.  That’s not good, and I worry.

The historian in me wished I didn’t live in such interesting times.  But there we are. Meanwhile, I try not to make a nuisance.

If there is a Grand Purpose to the Universe, might it not be to understand itself?  If so, are beings like us the only way that can be done?  We are the observers.  We alone are keepers of the record of that which is true, that which happened, and the ones who make things happen (or not) for good or ill.  It is up to us to blunder or succeed.  I’m rooting for the succeed.

And that’s how comparing belief and unbelief affect me.

Jim Downard

About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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