Five weeks of reading various atheistic critiques of and responses to religion can leave one feeling empty.
As we begin the final week of Atheism For Lent it would be no surprise if you find yourself feeling wholly weak on this holy week. For the entrance into Jerusalem, welcomed by the triumphant waving of palm fronds, quickly moves towards thirst, forgiveness, forsaken, and finished. And so it is with Atheism For Lent.
We are thirsty for something that will quench us, something more than the salt water of religion. We offer forgiveness to those whom we have hurt along the way, out pursuit of intellectualism misused as a power over and against. We find ourselves not only forsaken by God but necessarily forsaking in the process. And we find our task finished, or more aptly put, accomplished. For the task is not ended, but it continues through this week and beyond.
Before we enter this holy week full tilt, take a moment to reflect on where this journey has led you.
“I thirst.” [John 19:28]
If Lent is a dry season, Atheism For Lent is a drought in the midst of an already dry world. For some it is like holding your breath, for others is it removing a crutch, or perhaps it is simply a walk through the desert, discovering the God-mirage that we (and our religious systems) project, perpetuate, and protect.
As we begin to see the ongoing darkness at the end of our tunnel, we find ourselves thirsty, aware of the ways in which we have quenched our thirst (or at least attempted to) in the past, learning from where and what we’ve been as we make our way forward, trodding through the dry ground but realizing we do not walk alone.
“Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” [Luke 23:34]
Both asking for forgiveness and offering it can be one of most difficult and humbling experiences. When asking it’s an admission that you were wrong. When offering forgiveness it’s an extension of grace (and sometimes animosity feels so good).
Atheism For Lent has not implicitly been about forgiveness, but as we reach into the depths of our soul, our tradition, and our upbringing we no doubt reveal some wounds that had not had time to heal. As we pull away the bandaid of religion we reveal the hurt we have received and experienced. And we likely point a finger at whoever is responsible for the scar we’ve discovered.
Forgiveness is not implicitly religious; it is implicitly human. It is to “give the before.” It’s not always easy, in fact it rarely is, but it reminds us of our common humanity, our sadly natural ability to bring someone with us when we’re falling, hoping they will catch our fall but knowing that they will likely fall with us. And when we fall (or are pushed and pulled down), we have the opportunity, obligation even, to request and extend forgiveness.
Atheism For Lent may have been space to finally stand up, to realize how much and how far religion or religious communities have pulled you down. But Atheism For Lent is also space to offer forgiveness, not out of some religious duty but because of our shared humanity.
Or Atheism For Lent may have revealed the way in which you use religion or secularism, faith or reason to pull and push others. If so, it is also an invitation to ask for forgiveness for those you have have hurt along the way.
Wherever you are, standing or falling, the invitation is the same: one person forgiving another.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
What do you do when you realize that not only has God forsaken you, but you have forsaken God?
“My God, my God, I have forsaken you.”
There was once a preacher who possessed an unusual but powerful gift. Far from encouraging people’s religious beliefs, he found that from an early age, when he prayed for people, they would lose their religious beliefs, beliefs about the prophets, about the sacred Scriptures, even about God. Now he rarely prayed for others, instead limiting himself to sermons.
One day, however, whilst travelling across the country, he found himself in conversation with a businessman who happened to be going in the same direction. This businessman was very wealthy, having made his money in the world of international banking. The conversation had begun because the businessman possessed a deep faith and had noticed the preacher reading from the Bible. He introduced himself and they began to talk. As they chatted together, the rich man told the preacher all about his faith in God and his love of Christ. It turned out that although he worked hard in his work he was not really interested in worldly goods.
“The world of business is a cold one,” he confided to the preacher, “and in my line of work there are situations in which I find myself that challenge my Christian convictions. I try to remain true to my faith. Indeed, it is my faith that stops me from getting too caught up in that heartless world of work, reminding me that I am really a man of God.”
The preacher thought for a moment and then asked, “Can I pray for you?”
The businessman readily agreed, not knowing what he was letting himself in for. And sure enough, after the preached had said his simple prayer, the businessman opened his eyes in astonishment. “What a fool I have been for all these years,” he said. “There is no God who is looking out for me, there are no sacred texts to guide me, there is no spirit to inspire me.”
They parted company and the businessman returned home to work. But now that he no longer had any religious beliefs to make him question his work and to hold it lightly, knowing himself to be, deep down, a man of God, he was no longer able to continue with it. Faced with the fact that he was now just a hard-nosed businessman working in a corrupt system, he began to despise himself. And so, shortly after his meeting with the preacher, he gave up his line of work completely, gave the money he had accumulated to the poor, and started to use his considerable expertise helping a local charity.
One day, years later, he happened upon the preacher again. He ran up to him and fell to his knees. “Thank you,” he cried, “for helping me to lose my religion and find my faith.”
“It is finished.”
The task has ended. Go in pieces.
“The true formula of a/theism is not, ‘I don’t believe’, but ‘I no longer have to rely on the big Other who believes for me’.” (HT: @michaelschertz)
What’s finished is the god-object, the projection of our own image, the object of our desire.
God as an idol is finished; the end of religion and the beginning of faith, but not as we’ve known it before.
For “finished” does not mean “done,” but rather “accomplished” as in “ready for what’s ahead.”
Our faith has been rear-ended, certainty amended,
and something might be mended that we didn’t know was torn.
What we were is finished; we are accomplished, equipped from one journey for the journey to come.
And we are fire, bright, burning fire,
turning from the higher places from which we fell,
emptying ourselves into the hell in which we’ll find
our loving and beloved brother,
mother, sister, father, friend.
We do not retreat to the enclaves of ivory towers or the predictability of our parish, but we take this journey and whatever has emerged, our faith or lack thereof, forward to the world all around us and always ahead of us.
And so friends, the task has ended.
Go in pieces
to see and feel your world.
(Go In Pieces by Padraig O’Tuama)