Thursday, May 22, 2008

What?

When an atheist asks for a prayer to be said for her loved one, what is she asking for?  That's a real question.  When she agrees to allow her loved one to be buried from a church following a Christian service, what is she agreeing to?  That's another real question, which brings me to the third and final real question.  When a person says that he/she is an atheist, what are they saying?

4 comments:

H.M. said...

Is a person really an "atheist" if they do these things? Seriously.

The term "atheist" can be thrown around these days, cheapened, and made to mean things that perhaps it really doesn't, just as the term "Christian" can be done the same to, and has for longer than you or I have been around.

Could it be that there are actually very few true atheists? Could it be that there are actually very few true Christians? But I would never be the one to say, and to call into question a label that someone wants to put on themselves. To do so makes me judge and arbiter of something that I have no business being judge and arbiter of. If there are many different definitions of what a "Christian" is, I suppose there could be different definitions of what an atheist is as well.

You see, it's a sticky business all this labeling...and yet we are unable at some level to live and communicate without it.

In simplest terms, what a person who claims to be an atheist should be saying when they call themselves that is that they do not believe that any "supreme being" exists.

But even if they really don't believe...they are still surrounded by people, loved ones, a society, that does believe. And they may feel some pressure to give loved ones what they want, to go along with the norms in the interest of peace rather than rock the boat. After all, if they are really atheists...this is quite threatening to many....

I realize here that I have rambled and not even answered your questions really. But anyway, just some thoughts here, and...it's a complex business....

Peace to you, Parson. You're good at making us think. I like that. :)

Country Parson said...

Hey there H.M.
So far I have not encountered a real atheist face-to-face. Mostly they seem to be people who do not believe in a god that I also do not believe in, who are angry at God and deny his existence, or who lack the curiosity to invest any time or energy in asking the question. In any case, this was a real situation that is yet to play out and it's unlikely that I will see how it does.
CP

Malcolm+ said...

Seems to me the most likely explanation is that the atheist's loved one was a believer and that the atheist is respecting the loved one's faith. My wife is a Baha'i, not a Christian. Should I go first, I'm expecting that my funeral will be more or less the one I have planned.

Or it could mean that the self-described atheist has a consciousness of that God-shaped whole in her heart. If so, this is an opportunity for sensitive evangelism.

When different people self-identify as atheist, they probably mean different things.

They may me atheist - believing in the non-existence of God.

They may be agnostic - not believing in the existence of God.

They may be angry - believig in God sufficiently to be supremely pi$$ed with Him.

The oly way to fid out is to ask - and to listen to the answer.

Country Parson said...

Malcolm, I think your last suggestion hit it right - ask and listen. As it is, I encounter most of these situations as Fire Dept. Chaplain and am usually in contact with the family only once. I always give them my card and invite them to call, but protocol requires that it must be their initiative. It happens, but it's rare.