Thursday, February 19, 2015

My year on Twitter. What have atheists ever done for me?

Almost exactly a year ago, at the beginning of Lent 2014, I opened a Twitter account. I had decided to spend my Lent as a time to really listen to people, with the intention to understand, engage and connect.

When I say 'people' I meant in particular atheists. I figured that by listening to atheist strangers I might learn something about atheists closer to home, and that some conversations might be easier with strangers than with loved ones.

A year and 20.5K (!) tweets later, perhaps it's a good time to reflect and look back. And hey, a new Lent has arrived and who knows where this one will take me??

My life on Twitter turned out more varied and interesting than I had anticipated. I became political and tweeted about marching for the NHS; about the Greenbelt festival and LGBT issues; about knitting #ToriesMustGo beanies; about running; being a humanist Christian and lots more. And more importantly I made a bunch of friends and had heaps of fun!

But back to the atheists. After all, this blog is dedicated to them. :)

Having innocently joined the Twitter community I very quickly met atheists like I had never met in real life! The aggressive, militant, out-to-offend type.
I got to practice taking a deep breath, being gracious and forgiving, keeping calm and friendly A LOT!

To be honest, being offensive or aggressive isn't a problem for me. As long as people are willing to engage, sooner or later there is common ground, which friendships or at least connections can grow on. I have taken part in some pretty tough and painful conversations which have led to great friendships - once the waves had settled, the pain and anger eased ... and two people had remained, still looking at each other and eventually smiling too.

The bigger problem are the people (and not just atheists, of course!), who actually have no intention to engage; who just want to shout their message loudly and without distinction into the void.
So if you are a one-trick pony with just one message and seemingly nothing else in your life, chances are we will struggle to engage with and learn from each other.
Even then, I have learned to stop and ponder why some people might be so angered and so driven to just share that one single message.

I have learned from my time on Twitter that many atheists are...
  • ... Angered by theists who reject scientific proof if it contradicts scriptural accounts/teachings (apparently there are many of those out there); especially when those teachings lead to harmful, hateful or discriminatory behaviour (i.e.being against LGBT rights; denying climate change; being against human rights in general; discriminating against people from other faiths or none; rejecting medical treatment, especially for children etc). I am with you, my atheist friends.
  • ... Bewildered by theists who use 'religious language', which to an atheist has no meaning at best and which can sound patronising at worst. I have learned to avoid expressions such as 'I will keep you in my prayers' or 'I feel God is calling me to...'. I use this kind of language with ease when speaking to other believers, but I have learned that for many atheists it touches a nerve.
    I am finding that some atheists are curiously literal in their interpretation and find it quite hard to accept that other people take a much less literal view.
    When I say 'God is calling me to...', I don't usually mean that I have just heard a booming voice giving me instructions.
  • ... Irritated by the superior thinking of some theists that everybody who does not subscribe to religion A will be doomed to eternal hellfire and misery. And some have been treated terribly by those who call themselves religious and godly. I feel ashamed on their behalf!
  • ... Upset by a world in which suffering is a reality and even more frustrated that theists believe this world to be created a by a loving deity. This is probably the most meaningful issue for me. Especially since there has been a fair amount of discussion about this in the wake of Stephen Fry's thoughts on what he would tell God if he met him.
The issue of suffering is one we all have to grapple with, and we come to different conclusions.
I can see that simply disbelieving in God seems the easier option. Shit happens, and that's all.
Suffice to say, when I meet God the question of suffering is right on top of the agenda.

Perhaps the most difficult moment comes when atheists meet theists who don't fit into the "all-theists-are-thick,-uneducated-and-gullible" category. Sometimes I think that is the most frustrating of all.
So you question the Bible? You disagree with much it says? You don't think it is God's direct word? You think much of it is metaphorical? You think you have to read it through the lens of modern knowledge and understanding, and interpret it for yourself? You think it is your responsibility to question it?
Then why on earth do you follow it at all??!

If you atheists have taught me anything over the last year, it is to think about my faith much more and to be much clearer about what I believe and why. Frustratingly for me, that doesn't mean I can always convey these things to you. Often we seem to lack the common language and perception to be able to make each other understand. And a limit of 140 characters does not help! 

You have taught me to not assume that the path which seems so right and beautiful for me is not necessarily so for others. And that I must be careful in how I choose my words, because being hurtful and causing offense is just not something I want to do.
If I value your thoughts and feelings, then I should do my best not to hurt you in any way.

So, what now and where to next?
I don't yet know. Perhaps I am waiting for God's calling ... ;)

Here's to my atheist friends. I love you all! xx


  1. I grew up in England in a non-conformist branch of the Christian church. I went to a C of E secondary school, was christened at 13, later confirmed and at 16 was a Sunday School teacher,
    I now believe that the Bible, the Q'ran, the Talmud and other religious texts provide guidance for living in a world that no longer exists,
    We now know that homosexuality is decided before birth, is not an illness to be cured and may even be, who knows, nature's way of population control.
    I see a lot of hypocrites who claim to believe in Christ while I do try to do as I would be done by as I see that as the foundation stone of secular ethics.
    I see many self styled religion us people who actually are power hungry, and we all know that power currupts.
    If I am remembered favourably after I die then I will have a life after death but I do not aspire to immortality.
    There may be a god, who knows. There is as yet no scientific proof that there is one and I kind of favour Stephen Fry's point of view!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rosemary. :)

  2. Cheers, Anke!
    Thanks for articulating many of my own thoughts from the past year on Twitter. I got on a couple of years ago, having never considered the forum as a valuable, meaningful, fascinating tool for connecting with people around the world and learning all kinds of information. I'd seen it mentioned in several book-marketing resources as THE means of engaging with an audience, establishing "brand presence", selling books and developing speaking opportunities. Since I'd published a Christian children's book, I got on to connect with other Young Earth Creationists, and share the YEC message with the world, as I truly believed God had called me to do.

    I quickly encountered atheists and non-Bible believers who challenged me to rethink my positions and examine the material I had blindly accepted as a child, then learned and taught for over 2 decades. I had never questioned the existence of God, and had been one of those "THE BIBLE SAYS!" fundamentalists that British folks call Bible bashers and Americans call Bible thumpers. I believed in heaven and hell, and that God had given me the purpose in life of warning others that his judgment was coming and they needed Jesus to save them from it. I didn't shout "turn or burn!" but I believed that was the point of accepting Jesus as Savior--he was saving people who chose him from an eternity in hell, reuniting their spirits to spend forever in heaven with their Creator.

    Over thousands of tweets, I learned about my faith, and all the reasons that scientists in all fields reject YEC--it's not that they haven't learned the truth, or that they're deliberately misinterpreting 6,000-yr-old evidence of creation to be billions of years old, as Answers in Genesis insists, based on their literal reading of the first 11 chapters of Genesis. The same science that allows our modern world to function gives answers that clearly and easily contradict their interpretations of the ancient texts. I was recently told that rejecting YEC is simply arguing against a strawman of 1950s fundamentalism, and that modern theists know better than to add the dates listed and try to make a coherent chronology, or believe that Noah's Flood was anything more than a metaphor. I still have no idea what it would be a metaphor for!

    My full deconversion story is on my former YEC site,

    The questions you present as being asked by atheists you encounter are some of those I've posed on many occasions before, during, and after my decon. Most significantly: If you can't believe all of it, why believe any of it? Additionally, since I preached Creation because the Bible opens with its God being introduced as Creator, I challenge believers (and myself) with "IF there's an intelligent designer, why does it have to be BibleGod? IS there an intelligent designer, or is all of life truly the result of emergent behavior just doing what it does? How could a just God not only allow evil, suffering, false religions, Satan's interference, etc, but create hell and damn his beloved people to it for billions of years?"

    I don't claim to have all the answers, but I no longer believe that the Bible offers them. As @davestewart4444 challenged me, "Either these books were written by men, or God WANTS the confusion." I rejected BibleGod because of the confusion conclusion, and the simple statement of @AtyHans, who patiently pursued my education in order to free me from the fear of hell..."No God no sin, no sin no hell, no hell no fear--simple!"

    May we all be wise and wonderful, and seek to serve our fellow humans because it's the right thing to do, and the loving way to live the only life we've got.

    Sandra Edwards, @playdoughpoem