January 6, 2016

Christianity from the Nonbelievers Perspective

While recently reading the post "A Nonbeliever’s Case for the Bible" over at Brain Pickings, I got to thinking about the importance of considering what nonbelievers see as beneficial when it comes to Christianity. I've been fortunate to call an outspoken, incredibly smart and talented nonbeliever (not that belief has anything to do with brains and creativity) a friend for many years. Matt Casper has helped me see my own faith a lot clearer through his lack of faith (read his books). Its helpful to see Christianity from the outside looking in. And that's difficult without conversation partners, whether that be friends or books or both.

Last year I read philosopher Alain de Botton's Religion for Athiests. He establishes that there are several benefits to religion that nonbelievers ought to consider. From his website:

"Alain (a non-believer himself) proposes that we should look to religions for insights into, among other concerns, how to:
  • build a sense of community
  • make our relationships last
  • overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
  • escape the twenty-four hour media
  • go travelling
  • get more out of art, architecture and music
  • and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs."
From a spiritually neutral perspective, Casper ter Kuile and Angie Thurston compiled a report on Millennials and religious affiliation called, How We Gather. In it, they establish that while young adults are less affiliated with churches than previously in the west, they are gathering around other organizations that offer:
  • community
  • personal transformation
  • social transformation
  • purpose finding
  • creativity
  • accountability
The values listed from either of these may not be the reasons why you–faithful Christian–attend church, read your Bible or believe what you do. Nonetheless, the value a nonbeliever sees in participating in a community (i.e. going to church) and the practices that come with that (i.e. reading the Bible, praying, etc.) is critical. They help us understand where to start with those outside the church and offer the opportunity for self-reflection and analysis.  For example, do we actually foster meaningful community in our churches? Or do we foster the arts or simply pay homage to the arts of another era? Or do we actually provide an alternative to "twenty-four hour media" and if so, why? Or do we provide participants with the tools of overcoming "envy and inadequacy" and find purpose and accountability? No matter how a faith community answers these questions, it seems important that we be aware of the perceived value of our communities and practices and reflect on whether or not they are true–and if they ought to be true, how we might attend to that.

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