Believers and atheists can all feel the love | Angie Vogt

I am most gratified this holiday season for all the readers who take time to respond to my column.

Last week’s column on atheism generated the most thoughtful and interesting responses yet, so let me offer some follow-up thoughts and clarifications.

Most people on either end of the belief spectrum are well meaning, good people. I try very hard to listen past the invective or frustration (as well as the praise and agreement) to get at the heart of the issue.

There seems to be agreement that the display in Olympia was in poor taste, according to my atheist defending readers.

Let me clarify my point about the ability to feel compassion for other human beings or to do good works with or without a belief in God. I would never say that it's necessary to believe in God in order to feel compassion or to feel compelled to do good. I'm saying that reason alone will never be enough to compel somebody to act out of that impulse, and reason is what atheists appeal to as their reference point, or, if you will, their "god."

In Christianity, the requirement to do good and avoid evil is said to be out of gratitude for the love we feel for the gift of life from the creator. I can only give from what I have in my possession, so when my "cup runneth over" with gratitude, it is a simple and natural thing to offer some of myself to others. It’s only when I feel like I’m wanting that I cling to what I have.

Knowing I am loved because a loving God created me and is continually forming my heart propels me to want to give and share that love. A good metaphor is light: As it is generated, light can only emanate...it cannot stay inside itself.

There will always be the people who profess their faith, then fail miserably in their ability to show compassion or to "let that light shine." Welcome to the human experience. All human beings are in a perpetual continuum of struggling with feeling loved. All human beings have to contend with the reality of their own “baggage.” Believers, however, are charged with deferring to God’s love in order to overcome those obstacles. Willpower isn’t enough. Reason isn’t enough.

Believers lean on God and the teachings from Scripture not because we believe we are perfect, nor as something to hold over on others (though certainly there are those that do that), but because we know that each human being comes into the world apart from their own power. And so it is the power that created us that we draw on to perfect and renew us and, hopefully, renew the world. Reason alone can never account for this.

Many atheists believe we are motivated out of a twisted reward/punishment system — and I can certainly see where that impression comes from. Too many believers make the faith about the final end and not the journey. That’s like only going to Grandma’s house because you know you will have a full stomach at the end…without giving any value to the relationships garnered along the way. You sit on her couch waiting for mealtime without engaging anybody in conversation, expressing interest in others, observing courtesies and manners along the way. Such a person is greedy and self-consumed and can hardly be bothered with their relationship with God. He’s there only for his own gain, not gratitude, and presumes that God will dole out a reward for his mere presence in the food line. I have more respect for a thoughtful atheist than such a person who would call me sister.

I have to love both, though.

As I said, we are all on a continuum. Judging the belief system by the broken band of followers (guilty as charged) is like judging science by the many bad inventions and failed experiments.

Again, without the first recognition of gratitude and a genuine sense of humility for the gift of life, no faith is possible. The reverse would seem to be true: If one has that sense of gratitude and humility for life as a gift, it begs the question: Are they grateful for the random, unintentional biological accident? For whom is their gratitude the object?

No creature brought itself into existence. If I believe that your existence and my existence are merely the result of a random act of biological processes, there is simply no enduring value to that. I am compelled by nothing to respect your existence. This is what is meant in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: "We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights…” Our unalienable rights come from God, not because another human being or government "decided by way of reason" that I should have these rights. If that were the case, our rights would be at the mercy of trends and fads of current "reasoned" thinking. Our ability to reason away the rights of others lurks in the shadows of every generation.

By the way, dogma is merely our feeble attempt to crystallize what we've experienced as truth and an attempt to pass that on. Dogma is reserved for things that have weathered the test of time. Just like anything, it gets misused and abused. Government sponsorship of dogma is what is forbidden by the First Amendment, not the mere reference to the existence of God.

Many blessings to you and your loved ones during this winter season. I consider this a very holy season. I hope (and pray) that believers and non-believers alike will experience that gift as well.

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