BLOGGERRaised outside of Chicago, Emily Atkinson is a junior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she is pursuing a double major in Anthropology and English Literature. Her studies of...
Where do young people come down on questions of faith, values, and public life? How do they relate their values to public policy issues including education, economic inequality, and the environment? These questions, critically important for the 2012 election, are at the center of a campus conversation being organized by the Berkley Center and Georgetown University. This blog features an ongoing conversation about these issues between students selected as Millennial Values Fellows through a national competition. You can read and comment on their blogs here.
To learn more about the project, visit the Campus Conversation on Values page.
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AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES: CHRISTIAN
Emily Atkinson (Smith) on Faith and Values
March 17, 2012
I’m the ‘them.’ As one of the 1.6% of atheist Americans, I’m also part of the least trusted minority in America—according to a recent study, most Americans trust me about as much as a rapist. That’s right—I’m practically a public menace.
I was raised Lutheran, but more importantly I was raised to be tolerant, by loving parents. They taught me about Jesus—and to care about other people, to work for social justice, and to stand up against injustice. When I became an atheist I maintained those values—because if there is no afterlife, how much more important is it to help people have the best life possible on earth? How much more need we fight injustice now?
It is not necessary to have faith in order to have values (especially because everyone has values, they simply don’t agree on which ones are the most valuable), nor does everyone who has faith have the values I consider important to humankind. I’ve seen Christians display a shocking lack of empathy for those who are different, a cruel, mocking superiority that has nothing to do with criticizing in Christ’s love. I’ve seen atheists belittle believers. I’ve seen the emotional violence, the paucity of fellow-feeling that we’re all capable of, particularly under the broad black cloak of anonymity the Internet provides. But then—my parents are generous with love and with their material possessions; I’m moved by the activism of atheists. Faithful or irreverent, we are all capable of making either a positive or a negative impact on our world—and we all have the freedom and the capacity to decide which we’ll choose.
Brice Ezell (George Fox) comments March 22, 2012
You are correct in many of the problems that plague the contemporary church; as a self-professing Christian, I too reject much of the bigotry we've seen play out in the American landscape. Moreover, I think many apologies are due to you for being a "person of distrust," so to speak. I don't think that of atheists at all, and neither should Christians. As a philosopher I find that suggestion historically absurd; crazy as Nietzsche might have been, I've learned a lot from him, as well as Hume, Russell, and Marx. We all have worldviews that involves various faiths, and for one to pretend he knows with absolute certainty that worldview X is absolutely true is no doubt pernicious.
But I do think the conversation of "faith" needs to change. The word is generally taken to mean something that one believes with absolutely no evidence. On the contrary; I'd say faith is trusting in good authority. Though I don't know how the tenants of your belief (as atheism, like Christianity, is quite broad), I do think people who claim to be atheists do take things on faith. For instance, atheists such as Sam Harris tout scientific rationalism as the key to understanding things in the world; however, is the belief that scientific rationalism is the key to understanding the world itself scientifically verifiable? I would say that is taking something on faith. (I'm not trying to lump you in with that particular stripe of atheism; I'm merely trying to demonstrate how I understand faith.)
Despite our faiths, from what I can tell you and I share some values that I think would prove for a fruitful discussion. Christians and atheists have more in common than most people know.
Stephen Ark (Macalester College) comments on Emily Atkinson March 27, 2012
I agree with Emily’s concern about vague words. Perhaps if pollsters avoided unclear terms like “Christian values” and “faith,” the responses would change. That’s because faith means different things to different people. As a philosophy student, I think we should use the definition closest to that of the apologists who wrote about it. In that case, faith is belief based on something other than our rational faculties. However, having grown up in religious schools and red Congressional districts, I know that is not what everyone means by faith. For many people, it’s about values, which can include God. If theism, faith, and values all basically mean the same thing, isn't atheism nihilism? That might help explain the survey results. Like Emily wrote, ambiguity makes conversation challenging. Before we consider whether faith is a sure foundation for life, we should first figure out what it is, or use more precise language.