Two articles on atheists have popped up on my reading list this week. Anthony B. Pinn, a writer and researcher I like, identifies himself as a non-theistic humanist. The other article is of a different tone, though on the same theme of a United Methodist pastor in Florida, who has finally turned the corner and confessed publically that “I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that is totally false.” The writer of the article, Candace Chellew-Hodge and her analysis is that MacBain presents a false dichotomy: either you are a Christian or you are an Atheist—and the media loves the false either or construct.
The irony is that both writers call for as Pinn puts it “a bit of introspection.” Well said.
My heart aches for the United Methodist pastor as she now publically searches for a new grounding, as she weathers the hateful responses she has received, as she deals with the after math of what must be an ongoing personal dilemma. I wonder if it is part of the human condition to hope that in making clearcut, unequivocal decisions, we will solve the angst within? We have been set up in some ways by the media, by our too easy understanding of faith, by our desire to place our own markers of belief, of faith and its trajectory ahead as the map, when what we need is more dare I say it, a compass. (This is what the new media suggests—not maps, rather a compass.) Certainty does not equal faith. My own experience is one of a lifelong series of questions, with moments of despair and momentary atheism, amnesia, ambivalence—precisely because I am human, fragile, complex. I have walked on water and I have sunk deep down to ocean depths. Ok, so philosophers have been debating for centuries what constitutes meaning and purpose which inform or shape faith and our understanding of the Divine. I am reviewing, for example, the concept or idea of the hegemony of vision, or an “ontological order of presence.” I wish for those preparing for or in ministry the courage to see from these new angles so that those we serve in the ministerial capacity might genuinely and transparently participate in the angst of our time. This is the point of ministry for me. Not a one-size fits all approach; not some sort of core self we are to spend a lifetime striving to grasp or claim. Pamela Cooper-White calls this a façade at best, or “a well-functioning persona while concealing everything, anything: chaos, creativity, despair, multitudes.”
I hope MacBain finds her way and a source for nourishment of her soul. I appreciate Pinn’s clarity and honesty and careful scholarly research. Ministry is the art of tracing patterns within human communities and the human condition. It is the courage to be in open, transparent dialogue with grace, dignity, and compassion. When I or others suffer—how is that to inform us and shape decisions? Each of us answers that question in our own way, in our own context.
Sources: Anthony Pinn, “Can Atheist Billboards Kill Religion?”, May 1, 2012, Religious Dispatches.org.
Candace Chellew Hodge, “Clergy Come Out as Atheists,” May 2, 2012, Religious Dispatches.org.
Pamela Cooper-White, “Reenactors: Theological and Psychological Reflections on ‘Core Selves,’ Multiplicity, and the Sense of Cohesion,” in In Search of Self: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Personhood, J., Wenzel van Huyssteen and Erik P. Wiebe, eds.,pps 141-162. Eerdmans, 2011.