Easter thoughts from an atheist
Easter was a positive experience for me this year - thanks to some thoughtful worship leaders in various places and some time to reflect. But it is not always so. Sometimes I find it painful, sometimes I just go blank.
My Easter experience found some support from a surprising quarter - from the humanist philosopher, Julian Baggini, who wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian on Easter Monday. He accused atheists who dismiss the Easter story as being too often disrespectful to believers and worse, plain lazy in their arguments.
Baggini pointed out that ‘there are plenty of people celebrating the resurrection who are sane, intelligent and well-educated’. They are ‘as aware of the implausibility of their beliefs as anyone else’. He argued that ‘there is nothing irrational in accepting a story that we are unable to make sense of rationally’. Atheists often forget that ‘many-perhaps most- religious believers are less than completely convinced’…. ‘Easter is like quantum theory’, he said, – ‘if you find it easy to believe, you haven’t understood it’.
Baggini suggests that we all sustain dissonances throughout our lives, we all assert contradictions about all sorts of things. We often say ‘one part of me’ believes one thing and another part something else. In the end, Baggini is pressing fellow atheists to deal better with the real dissonance between believing that Easter is nonsense and recognising that intelligent people believe the resurrection story.
It was a very honest and lucid piece. Honesty like this deserves an honest response from believers like us. Clearly, many atheists, humanists, agnostics, and people who have lost their hold on faith often act with great integrity. The Christian story no longer makes sense of their complex lives. In some way, it does not ‘ring true’ in 2018. Some wish that it did. Others have been served a pretty poor account of that story, that way of life, by Christians. Many thinking people will just not accept easy reassurances about life’s problems and mysteries. Why should they?
I believe that the border between believer and agnostic is often a porous one. Rather like the French and Italians who live in the Alps, and who move across the border often without realizing. It’s like me being blank during some Easter celebrations or agnostics finding questions about the divine in a cathedral or in breath-taking mountains.
Baggini is right. The only way for believers and atheists encounter each other is with mutual honesty and respect. To listen and not to dive into our spiritual trenches. And on all sides to know that ‘if you find it easy to believe, you haven’t understood it’.