So I said that Steve is a perfect example of why not to be an atheist, and why not to be a theist. What the heck was I talking about? Let's start with why not to be an atheist, since that's probably confusing most of my regular readers.
Steve and I were both raised in secular families. Our parents didn't go to church, didn't talk about religion, didn't explicitly teach us anything about God or Christianity, didn't force some sort of belief system on us. So why do I think Steve ended up a Christian while I ended up an atheist? Because there was one thing my parents taught me that Steve's parents didn't: skepticism.
People have been discussing this a lot now that the new wave of atheists are reproducing. We don't want to indoctrinate our children into atheism, but most of us don't want them to be swayed by religious people either. So what do we do? I think Dale McGowen, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, has it right: we need to instill skeptical thinking into our children. You know, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime? Well, tell a kid something's irrational and you help him for a day, teach a kid how to think rationally and he'll teach himself for a lifetime. ...Not sure if that phrase is going to catch on, but nevermind.
Steve's parents were atheists, but they didn't actively try to instill those skeptical thinking skills in him. So once Steve was exposed to religion, he was easily swayed. He was told something was wrong because he wasn't religious, and he believed it, like so many people unfortunately do.
But I think the bigger issue here is why you should not be a theist.
Why do I really think Steve became religious? I can tell you with some confidence, knowing his personality, that it was because Christianity on campus gave him a sense of community. Like I said before, Steve has always been sort of nerdy and socially awkward - he doesn't make friends very quickly. He was the only person of our group to go to that university, so he was friendless for a long time. But then a student in one of his classes invited him to Bible study, and the rest is history.
I'm sure the Christian students are nice people, and that's just what Steve needed. They offered friendship when no one else did, and those sorts of warm fuzzy feelings are enough to get someone thinking that religion is the thing they've been missing in their life. Compared to Steve's home life, where his parents had a hard time making ends meet and would frequently argue, the stable, happy Christian students probably looked like the better alternative.
I should be happy that he found friends, but I'm sad that they've changed him. He's lost a lot of his wit and won't dare to crack an "inappropriate" joke anymore. He used to be an absolutely brilliant poet and writer, and now all I see on his Facebook are little poems about God. I can't help but think if he just would have gone to Purdue or IU, where many of his high school friends were, that things would have been different. Or even if he had a club for atheists or agnostics at his university - maybe he could have found a community there.
So I guess this is why I'm so upset about his conversion. I feel like it's painfully obvious that he fell into this because he's this shy guy who needed some friends, and the Christian students are looking to snatch up those kind of people. But at the same time, he's still the same wonderful friend, and I don't want to make him miserable by discussing this with him. I'm just going to leave him be.
What would you do?
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