Tales from Agnostic Camp

I am afraid I need to polish up my descriptive words in order to compete in this world. If I describe myself (accurately) as Christian and conservative I find that I am immediately stereotyped and dismissed by the free-thinkers and progressives. See how much cooler their words are? Because I have chosen to follow Christ and believe in God I can’t possible be a free-thinker. And since I have conservative values I am not progressive. Bummer. But I am prepared to struggle through with my cro-magnon worldview.

The topic was revived this week by a story in the Dallas Morning News. A camp for agnostic kids recently wrapped up in the Dallas area. The parents described a place where clear thinking and good questions can be encouraged. While they may be free-thinkers I fear they are not always clear thinkers. For example, one high school student had kept his atheism a secret because his fellow students would likely avoid him if they knew. But he gave his full name in the story. Hmmmm. Perhaps the flat-earth believing Christians don’t read the paper.

I wondered what goes on at agnostic camp. Do they sing camp songs like we did at church camp?

Kumbaya, pretty sure there is no Lord, Kumbaya… Just doesn’t have the same flow.

And what do they say when a camper sneezes? Inquiring minds want to know. One comment from a parent left me dumbfounded. “As a parent, I would be disappointed if Joseph became the next Billy Graham. But if he truly felt that was his calling, I would love him just the same and be happy for him.”

Can you believe that heartbreak? “We tried so hard but he became a man of integrity and faith that loves his wife and is loved by millions. Where did we go wrong? Still…he is our son so we love him anyway.”

A couple of items in the story made me sad.

“Another boy, 14, whose stepfather requested his anonymity, started home-schooling this year after enduring years of bullying for his open atheism.”

I am truly sorry when I hear reports like that. That should never happen and Christian parents should have that discussion with their children. Perhaps the saddest comment for me came from a student who doesn’t believe in heaven. His desire is to be put in the ocean when he dies “so fish will turn my body into a reef – so I can have a purpose.”

I believe with all of my being that there is an eternal purpose to this life beyond becoming fish food or fertilizer. But to anyone reading this who has no faith at all I must confess my dilemma to you. If I truly believe this to be the truth and if my faith in Christ has genuinely changed my life then how can I not tell you? Why should you be offended if I care enough to reach out gently and in love.

Michael Kinsley wrote in Time magazine about the anger that some folks feel toward Christians who seem compelled to share their faith. 

 “You may not agree that your soul needs saving, but why is he wrong to try as long as he isn’t prying away your soul against your will? As an ethnically Jewish nonbeliever, I find this fuss over conversion utterly baffling…But an insult? In a way, it is insulting to Jews that Fundamentalist Christians don’t try harder to convert us. Oh sure, they’re friendly enough now. But wait until Judgment Day. Then it will be, `Sorry, we seem to have lost your reservation.’ And from this perspective, the Jewish policy of actively discouraging converts to Judaism starts to seem like `theological arrogance’ indeed. At the same time, when you object to noncoercive conversion, it starts to look like the opposite of arrogance: theological insecurity. What are you afraid of? The decision will be made by you or by God, and in either case, there is no ground for complaint.”

I suspect that technique is too often the rub. I was a victim of over the top zealous religious people as a teenager. I am still a little amazed that I eventually came to faith. Kinsley said you have the right to simply say no.

If I care about you I will naturally want to share the most important thing in my life. But I think you have some other rights as the hearer of my message. I wrote the following in my book, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People.

The Unbelievers Bill of Rights…

  • I have the right to never have faith forced on me.
  • I have the right to never be treated in a condescending manner.
  • I have the right to always hear the truth.
  • I have the right for you to patiently hear my concerns and doubts.
  • I have the right to seek answers to those questions and doubts that you can’t answer.
  • I have the right to be steered to resources for my own study and investigation.
  • I have the right to be loved no matter how I respond to the Gospel message.

I hope that I honor you by following the list above. I hope you will understand that my wanting to let you know about the most important thing in my life honors you as well. I pray most of all that I will faithfully follow these words of Jesus.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”