On the Thred platform, we acknowledge that various postures of faith can engage in spiritual dialogue together. From time to time, we’d like to offer a look at some of the differing perspectives you will find online. Today, we are excited to hear from an atheist author, who joins us for a conversation about what open-hearted community and conversation looks like to him.
COMITY (noun) 1: a. friendly social atmosphere: social harmony b. a loose widespread community based on common social institutions (comity of nations) c. the informal and voluntary recognition by courts of one jurisdiction of the laws and judicial decisions of another 2: avoidance of proselytizing members of another religious denomination
Most atheists dismiss the supernatural.
It isn’t in our lives. We do not accept its existence in general. Reasons vary, but for the most part we see no verifiable evidence of gods or any other supernatural forces at work in the universe.
Rather than evangelize on their thinking, most mature atheists seek comity in the world they share with those who do see and embrace the supernatural. For the purpose of this writing and my position in this Christian space, let me clarify I am an atheist. And I come in comity.
What do I mean?
What do I mean by comity? I’ll define “comity” not in terms of friendship so much as mutual respect and accommodating of differences. There lies a significant gulf between people of faith and those who do not live with faith in the supernatural. It can and will lead to conflict in the hands of people not on guard to make sure it doesn’t.
I toyed with the idea of making this an “Ask an Atheist” blog. I participate in a fairly well-known online community of atheists. There is plenty of that going on – questioning that is, about who we are and why we believe in non-belief. But it isn’t always intellectually honest questioning. When the faithful show up in online atheism spaces to ask questions, they usually come to troll and spread general snark. A distinct lack of comity is often the result.
The net gain for either side all too often is a sugar high of winning “gotcha” debates followed by a retrenchment into adamant denial of the legitimacy of the other side.
And denial of legitimacy is not a target I want to hit here. I will not mislead you. I have fallen to the level of chasing the sugar high of one-upmanship in online forums in this subject era. There is no lasting gain from it – not on a personal basis and certainly not on a societal one either.
What does the future look like?
A target worth hitting is comity: living together with each other despite our differences.
In a world of rapidly shifting demographics regarding belief and participation in faith-based activities, there is a lot of desperation to tap into. A Gallup poll taken in 2021 shows less than half of Americans take part in weekly church. That’s down from 70% as recently as a generation ago, and it is projecting to a precipitous drop in the next generation – maybe down into the 40% range.
What will life look like in an America that doesn’t have its traditional religiosity? We will have to discover that unknown together. As a nation. In a system of governance wholly dependent on the concept of equality under the law for all.
What if we don’t?
I prefer to live in a nation of laws. The main reason is I see no existence past this lifetime.
I want comity to protect my family and myself now, during my lifetime. And I seek it for those who disagree with me on matters of faith as well. There can be no other solution but to invoke a spirit of comity in pursuit of peaceful coexistence in the here and now.
We cannot have comity if either side starts with a position statement of, “You are wrong, and now I am going to lecture you on why you are wrong.” That breeds alienation. If it is followed up with systemic attacks on the beliefs of others and vilification of those who have different beliefs, the outcome is disunion. It will lead to strife.
It can be a challenge to coexist with those who do not agree with your beliefs on the supernatural. I am married to a person of faith. I have to guard against not offending my wife with dismissive commentary about religious practice and how it is largely meaningless – at least to me. I am moderately successful in this.
I doubt I would have been in the years when I first separated from religious observance in the Catholic church more than four decades ago. Lack of belief was too frequently a license to criticize others on my part. Not a very easy thing to cozy up to for others. So being an atheist was largely a solo pursuit, and I was decidedly a solo act in life.
What changed? I evolved in my own way – in fits and starts. Mostly I lost my youthful anger, a formidable weapon to set aside. Living with a chip on your shoulder isn’t sustainable when no one is really looking to knock it off.
I believe we all accrue faith as it is taught to us by our communities. Most atheists not born to non-believers dissemble their religious training over time. Atheism doesn’t usually come on like a thunderclap. A lack of faith in the supernatural starts with questioning and works to realization.
And one of my later realizations was that I need not approach this issue with aggression. I embraced comity.
I’d rather sit at a table full of people unafraid to disagree, instead of alone in a corner with my own thoughts.
Can you handle this?
Where I come from bears repeating. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in god(s).
Can you live with that fact?
I can live with your faith in the supernatural. If your religious practice and my disbelief do not infringe on each other’s freedoms, there is a chance for peaceful coexistence.
If we can both acknowledge the legitimacy of the other’s starting point, we can have comity and we have a path forward.
It is time to find common ground. We share a common humanity. It’s time to honor humanity with an honest effort to have comity and peace among all of us.
I’d like to see where we go from here.
Interested in continuing the conversation with people like this author online? Make sure to check out the Thred curriculum series and our course on the Spiritual Conversation Curve, where you will receive practical tools for engaging in comity-driven spiritual conversations both in-person and on your feed.