On Sundays I’m going to start posting some thoughts of the value of lessons learned from within a religious tradition that persist even though I’ve long since stopped believing. I’ll keep them under the category heading “Amen, Atheist”.
I’m an atheist in the sense that I don’t think there is a god or any supernatural condition in any of the ways most people think of them, but I was raised Catholic and have lived my whole life around religion. I believed, when I was younger. I know what that is and even in the most shallow seeming fundamentalist there are layers that go beyond the cartoon, that express subtlety of perception and feeling. I still find a lot of wisdom in that experience. Nothing that survives in the psyche so long could be useless.
The piece of that past I keep coming back to these days is what I think of as the absolute key lesson of Jesus Christ, regardless of whether you think he was god, man or fiction. The radical thing about him, and the strength of his story, is his most basic instruction: Don’t be afraid.
Because basic rules of life should not be framed in the negative, maybe it’s better to say it this way:
You know, every misjudgment, every blunder, every self-inflicted wound, every stain on our honor, every liberty betrayed has always been the direct result of fear. I might even put it as unchristian fear. The lesson that hasn’t been learned by people whose extravagant protestations of faith really suggest that they ought to know better is that, yes, they are coming for you, and yes, they mean to do you harm. There is nothing you can do to stop that. The way through that is to stand in the open, adhere to the truth, and be fearless. In the garden he didn’t leap behind Peter and scream “Swing for their ears!” He trusted the convictions around which he had built his life, and he encouraged the people who were within his influence to continue to live by them, despite the danger. He trusted those convictions were more valuable than was security.
If you don’t go in for the afterlife, that stand didn’t end so well for Jesus, but then it wasn’t about comfort or safety for him. On a one off basis it’s an admirable, if often doomed principle. But, (and I really think Jesus understood this) – boy does that strategy scale!
So, you know, I’m trying my best.