I have a Lutheran minister friend. I’m an atheist. I’d say that’s a counter intuitive pairing of people. What’s going on there?
With permission, we’ve decided to have a conversation about who we are that will be posted on my blog. It’s not a planned out conversation in the long run but naturally we have belief differences. That’s not all. We have upbringing differences. Also, we have some similarities including crossing paths in middle school.
This isn’t a debate, at least it’s not intended that way. I entirely doubt it’s useful to try and talk Matt down from his position. I’m not moving anywhere. So I thought maybe Matt’s position answers questions in his life that are relevant to him and that might be the better way to frame his position. Similarly even though I believe my position is a rational one, I didn’t simply think my way into being an atheist; I lived an experience that helped propel me to the position I now occupy.
I have two introductory emails: one from him and one from me. I’ll keep the conversation on the blog and feel free to leave comments especially questions that might be interesting for such a conversation.
As a potential starter, I’m probably an atheist because my parents had a blend of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, they moved around a whole lot, and I found some of my values felt intrinsically at odds with the Religious Right folk. If I had grown up in a community church, if the message had been more inclusive, or if the message had been more like the Episcopals (which I think are similar to Lutheran ideas) in regards to allowing married pastors and gay people and such, I probably would have had fewer arguments. And those arguments that were left might not have felt as important to focus on.
I never took Creationism seriously but these days the lack of science awareness in a large portion of Americans fuels a lot of my complaints with Christianity in general. I have also explored some of the basic questions of faith such as do I believe in a God and all. Unsurprisingly and possibly biased by my particular peeves, I haven’t felt like I’m missing anything from the church experience.
Despite that, I’m always oscillating between extremes on how best to act my values. I don’t have a real issue with faith. I have a big issue with ignorance in the areas where I think humans have made progress such as in biology. Other times, I get a little irritated that we live in a country where non belief seems frowned upon even though non belief stances probably make more sense than me picking a faith totally different than yours. I’m not believing in Islam any more than I’m not believing in Scientology and so forth. So I feel like non believers represent pure secularists and should have a better reputation than they have currently.
Those are basically the issues that motivate me away from belief or motivate me to be more committed to non belief or nuance what I would like to accomplish as an atheist. Since atheism is a sort of negative logical position, I spend most of my time just being a regular person and trying to live ethically and happily and so forth as a software engineer.
For lack of a better way to start, here is a short autobiography of my faith-life.
I am a pastor, the child of a pastor, baptized as a baby and raised on regular Sunday School, family devotions, and worship throughout my life. While it is natural of the human condition to doubt, I cannot remember a time when I did not have faith. Doubt comes and goes but faith has always been part of my life.
I come from a long line of pastors and teachers, going back three generations. My dad, grandpa, and great grandpa were all pastors as well as many uncles and great-uncles. There are also many in my family who are teachers. Both my sisters teach, I have a brother-in-law studying the ministry and another who is a professor at our seminary. When I was at college I had 16 1st, 2nd, and 3rd cousins there with me studying to be pastors or teachers. That’s just how my family is. I mention this because it’s always been a worry of mine that my choice to become a pastor might be seen as “following the family line of business.” I’ve always been careful to make sure that is not the case–especially since I’ve wanted to be a pastor since before I knew this about my family.
My earliest memory of wanting to be a pastor goes back to before 3rd grade. (Prior to that I wanted to be a garbage collector because it looked like fun holding on to the back of a moving truck.) I recall one day as my mom read the story of Elijah to us kids that I said to here that I wanted to be a prophet like him, doing miracles, etc. My mom said God didn’t make much use of prophets these days but that I could always be a pastor. That is when I think the thought first stuck and grew in my mind. That combined with growing up in a pastor’s family taught me what it means to be a pastor both on Sunday and at home. In high school, I went back and forth between wanting to be either a pastor or a history or English teacher. Finally, I figured I’d try out pastor track at the preparatory college and switch to teacher track if I didn’t like all the language studies. I never switched.
My schooling consisted of five years of college and four at the seminary. In addition to a liberal arts degree I learned Latin, German, Greek, Hebrew, Church History, Philosophy, Systematics, Dogmatics, Homiletics, Hermeneutics, and pretty much everything else in the curriculum.
I most certainly was NOT at the top of my class, but not at the bottom either. College was a huge wake up call for me though. I never did any homework in high school except when absolutely necessary, and then most likely on the bus on the way to school. I’m not sure if I was just really good at school or if my high school was really easy (I tend to think it was the latter). I kept an A average in HS without much effort. College was very different. I nearly failed out my first semester and was put on probation for the second. I got my act together, started studying more, and brought my GPA up every semester from the first to the last (it was pretty hard to get it any lower). I like Hebrew more than Greek and dogmatics more than anything else. The more I learned history, the more I’m glad I didn’t become a history teacher.
I am now five years into the ministry. I and one other pastor serve a church of about 450 members. My focus is youth and evangelism.
Seth, you and I met in 8th grade and were good friends through high school even though we didn’t attend the same one. I look forward to chatting with you again after so many years!