Posted August 11, 2013
A guest post by Casey O’Leary
Alise Wright gave an illuminating talk on Friday titled “A Christian’s Guide to Atheists.” She spoke about her husband’s very personal journey from Christian churchgoer to atheist, incorporating his story into a broader discussion about common misconceptions that Christians hold about atheists and their beliefs.
As I listened to audience members ask questions and share thoughts with Alise, I was amazed to find striking parallels between “coming out” as an atheist and coming out as an LGBT person. It became so obvious that I started looking around to see if anyone else could see it.
A woman quietly shared, “I have a son who’s an atheist,” then talked about all his good work. “If anyone’s going to heaven, it will be him,” she noted. Someone else revealed her husband is an atheist, then added, “He’s still a good person.” A mother spoke of the day her daughter said, “Mom, I have something to tell you…” and how her response of “it’s just a phase” was completely wrong. But she couldn’t stop herself.
The parallels further reinforce what the Wild Goose Festival seems to be telling me: we are not our individual struggles; we are one because we are all struggling. Alise’s husband’s personal challenge of being an atheist in a society that values Christianity felt the same as my personal challenge of being gay in a society that values heterosexuality. Other people might see the atheist’s experience as hauntingly similar to their own feelings of isolation, even as part of a faith community.
Everyone has felt like an outsider; everyone has felt misunderstood. I always believed that a Christian church would have all the answers, that embracing Christianity meant an end to the isolation and the confusion. Clearly, I was wrong; so many people are searching for answers. Alise Wright recommended that we instead approach people with questions, each interaction an opportunity to learn and grow as an individual and as part of a greater community.
This practice works. Two young women asked Marg about the “Christian Feminism Today” emblem on her shirt, and she joyfully shared the story of the beginning of the EEWC . I met some of the artists interviewed by Marg prior to attending Wild Goose, who loved her thoughtful, personal questions and seemed to value the opportunity to share more of themselves with readers and festival attendees. The Q&A sessions that follow many of the presentations are often my favorite moments, because people open up and share deeply personal feelings about the issues that matter most to them.
Alise Wright chose to tell her story here at Wild Goose, and it resonated with me. I can only imagine how many other stories are being told this weekend, and how many connections are being made between people. I hope the questions keep coming, too.