Tony Lobl, my colleague in London, makes an interesting observation about a backlash this week regarding the actions of New Atheism leader, Richard Dawkins. Mr. Dawkins’s aggressive comments at a recent protest of the Pope’s visit to the UK made many local atheists urge him to be more constructive and tolerant in his remarks about religion. [Read Tony’s full article, “Was yesterday a good day or a bad for ‘new atheists’ in the UK?”]
The value of not judging others and being willing to converse constructively about religion can never be overestimated. Besides fostering religious tolerance, it allows us to broaden our horizons and test our own convictions. It’s encouraging to hear of those speaking in defense of these values in the UK.
Tony’s article reminded me of the first time I actively discussed religion with an atheist. I was part of a small group of high school friends who enjoyed exploring all the profound life questions we could come up with. Most of us were Christian Scientists, including Jim whom I admired for his deep convictions in theological areas I struggled with. Questions like: “what’s wrong with pre-marital sex?” And: “why is there evil if an all-loving God is always in control?”
Then there was Bob, who described himself as a confirmed atheist. Bob was a deep thinker, perhaps more so than the rest of us. He had no trouble with the latter question since he never accepted the premise of God in the first place. Yet many times I grew impatient with his incessant and ongoing objections to God’s existence and the validity of the Bible. I remember thinking that listening to Bob is what the apostle Paul must have meant regarding being “long-suffering.” I always liked him nonetheless.
After graduation, we went off to different California universities and lost track of each other. Twenty years later we all met again. I was surprised that my friend Jim had left the study of Christian Science soon after entering college. Apparently, his convictions were not as deep as I had thought and he chose another path. More surprisingly, I learned that Bob was no longer an avowed atheist, but the First Reader of a Christian Science branch church! (A First Reader is an elected position responsible for presiding over the church services.) Learning this was humbling. At the time, Bob was the only one of us to have gained the respect and confidence of a congregation in this way.
After the reunion, I had a greater respect for Bob. I admired his courage in standing alone with his early atheist convictions. His sincere search for truth, never settling for pat answers, eventually won him his own solid convictions of what is true.