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.
You might want to check out these additional resources:
Alise Wrights Pinterest Board
Alise’s Facebook Page
Alise Wright on Twitter @AliseWrite
Alise Wright made an audio recording of her presentation and put it on her blog here.
Index and links to content about the 2013 Wild Goose Festival.
I love the idea of conversation being the intersection of an individual and our larger community. When we truly listen, and set aside fear and judgment. Thank you!
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending the better part of two days with an atheist friend. Because I’ve known her for a long time, I knew that our value systems and ways of processing and analyzing information were very similar, and I’ve always known that she and her husband are “good people”–better, in fact, than many who carry “Christian” credentials. But as we spent uninterrupted time together in serious conversation, I was surprised to learn that I had been harboring a number of false assumptions about her life experience and about the process she had gone through as she freed herself from religious faith. I found many new commonalities that were more specific than I could have previously imagined. And, as she listened to me, she picked up on an experiential pattern that neither I nor any of my other friends had recognized. Her insight helped me to understand one of my current life dilemmas in a whole new way and served to break up a spiritual log-jam. By listening to her story, and sharing my own, I came away enriched and enlightened–convinced, more than ever, that everyone wins when we seek understanding and set aside the fear & judgment that plagues us all.