Over the weekend, my husband and I travelled to visit his family. We met them at a Presbyterian retreat center as many of his family members are Presbyterians. We attended one worship service, primarily because our niece was singing, but also out of respect for his family.
Overall, I like many aspects of the PCUSA. For example, I like that they changed their definition of marriage from “one man, one woman” to include same sex couples recently, even if all members do not agree with the change. I like that they ordain women. I generally enjoy the teachings about love and forgiveness and helping those in need, of course. But one thing that really stood out to me was the acceptance of transgender people. My mother-in-law told me a story about a person who played Jesus in a skit during the week. At first, she thought, “Oh, Jesus has green hair.” Then the person began to speak and she thought, “Oh, Jesus is a girl.” Later she learned that actually, Jesus was transgender. I fully embrace this image of a church – one that is accepting of people as people, to the point where portrayal of Jesus is not limited to white men with beards, but can be by anyone who shows love and compassion – the true spirit of the Jesus symbol, in my opinion.
As an atheist, I’ve come to understand the God and Jesus of Christianity as characters or symbols since I don’t believe in literal divine beings. I try to use this understanding to help me relate to others who do believe, but I have difficulty sometimes. For example, during the sermon of the service we attended, I had a chance to reflect on how far removed I have become from the belief in any kind of god. The sermon focused on the divinity of Jesus, which is something I don’t believe in and has no implication in life to me. Before it could have been powerful, or compelling, but now it sounded like nonsense. And I don’t have to understand it to appreciate what I can have in common with those who are religious.
My point in posting this is for me to remember that sometimes my point of view about the world is not so different from someone who believes in God. My parents have a very different worldview as Evangelical Christians than I do, but I share a lot in common with my mother-in-law, a devout Presbyterian. I don’t see anything wrong with being gay, or transgender, or accepting the theory of evolution, and neither does my mother-in-law. My parents have problems with all those things. There may be differences in more philosophical areas such as the origin of morality, the importance of the Bible in our individual lives, or the influence of prayer. But that doesn’t mean we are at odds.
It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of reading only atheist writings, blogs, and comics that put religious people down. Yes, I do believe religion can cause problems, and it was certainly very painful and destructive in my life; but that doesn’t mean it always is a negative. And it’s certainly not right to attack people just for believing in something. I don’t want to fight those who are religious. I want to support what I see as right ideas and actions, whether or not those thoughts and actions come from someone who believes in God or someone who doesn’t.