New to open atheism, here is part of what recently allowed me to publicly affirm my beliefs.

Here is the setup, I am the only science teacher in my community. Four to five weeks ago, the bible study class for youth started on this small, remote island, with Austin at the head. Since then, I have been targeted by students because someone in the congregation, I’m not saying Austin directly, but someone is teaching these kids intolerance for science. I finally manned up and decided to address the problem at its most likely source. Here is the entirety of my initial email and what followed: 

Austin, 

I have heard from students that you and others have recently started children's Bible study at the teen center and/or the local congregation. When is this session conducted, I would love to attend, as I am also a student of the Bible? Perhaps I can give opposing views (posing as the  "devils advocate") to better prepare them for them for spiritual conflicts they may encounter outside of the church. I attended 13 years of catholic school, and have read numerous philosophies regarding human existence in numerous religions and cultural situations (both in country and work environments). I think that Jesus was an excellent teacher and would love to expose the children to positive spirituality in Christianity, and all religions I have come in contact with, including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Naturalism, Ancestor Worship, Paganism, etc. 

I am highly qualified by the state of Alaska to teach these subjects in a historical context. I feel that children should have the broadest knowledge base necessary (in all topics) when it comes to religion, as it exposes them to a larger view of the world, and if they choose a religion based on merit, they choose the one that is right for themselves as individuals.

Please let me attend, as I will form a group on comparative religion group regardless. If I am shunned for giving knowledge to the less prepared in society, so be it. I believe the students in this district have their own best interests in mind, and that given knowledge, they will succeed in life.

 

For the children,

 

Nate

 

In Response:

 

Nate,

I appreciate your time and the interest that you expressed in the last email. I understand your position, and know that you have been a student of many different disciplines. Similar to you I spent 13 years in private Christian education which I swiftly and strongly rebelled against post-high school. I started my education as a philosophy major and studied Eastern/Comparative Religion as well. By the time I was 22 I was pretty much at the point of being an atheist and was moving towards the direction of being a complete naturalist. That very much changed one day when I had what I can only classify as a supernatural experience that I can't explain away, which caused me to pretty much sell myself out to Christ and live my life with that relationship at the forefront of everything I do. It has been a radical experience that has solidified my position in regards to faith.

I still spend a significant amount of time reading about the modern developments in science and I want you to know that as I discuss faith with the students I try to explicitly tell them that science and religion are not two things that are opposed to one another. There is a common belief that science and christianity are two forces at war which only one can survive. This is propagated by both sides of the debate and I believe it is terribly wrong. That being said you and I both know the significant push in Western Secular Humanism to use modern evolutionary theory in order to defeat the existence of God. Looking at the evidence I find this to be incredibly faulty and does not hold water. If evolution by natural selection from a common ancestor is truly the means by which we developed, and the cosmos came because of infinite time and infinite chance (even with the development of the controversial multi-verse theory) more than just biology has to be explained. Development of depth grammar in language, objective truth, aesthetics and objective morality are other fields, just to name a few, which cannot really find an answer outside of transcendent knowledge. 

I know that there are responses to all these statements, I have read them, but I do not see them as truly being able to satisfy the questions left. Also there is just way to much evidence towards supernatural phenomenon's, which I have seen much of in my life, and if just one of them was real, then it blows materialism out of the water. I say all this because I want you to know that I am not trying to feed these children mindless drivel. I want them to be well educated in all sides and to have a reasonable faith, but I am not scared to say that we are epistemologically and evidentially justified to ask questions regarding the validity of the modern evolutionary theory. That being said my main emphasis to the children is that evolution does not disprove God, and that however God did it He created the heavens and the earth. I would hope that they are respectful to you as the topic is discussed. I have tried to make sure everyone knows that in this discussion we must be loving and kind even when we don't always agree.

Finally towards the idea of opening up the Bible study into a more comparative religion type of forum I am going to have to say that I don't believe that would be beneficial at this time. The kids have much opportunity to hear all the sides through the state education system, but as our country progresses in the direction it has, there is less and less of a chance for them to just hear straight out of the Bible. I am thrilled that literally overnight something happened with the kids where an interest in God was sparked. I hope that this is fanned into flame because honestly these kids are hurting. They need more than just book knowledge on all the options, they need a knowledge of God that changes their hearts and brings them healing. There is just too much death, destruction and violence in their lives for me to not give them what they really need right now, which is the Word of God. 

Please do not think that I do not respect you, because I do. And I understand where you are coming from, but I believe that what the Bible teaches is the truth. There is one way to the Father and that is through Jesus. This in my opinion does make Christianity an 'exclusivist' faith. I feel that I am called to tell people about the truth, just as you have. Ultimately we must choose what we believe the ultimate source of truth is. 

I hope to still remain friends with you Nate even if we have disagreements on things like this. I think you are a kind person and I enjoy all the time I have spent with you. Let me know your thoughts on this matter.

 

God Bless!

 

Austin


In Response:

Austin,

I appreciate your time and the interest that you expressed in the last email. It is interesting to me that we share similar backgrounds. Allow me to respond to some of the statements you made.

“I would hope that they are respectful to you as the topic is discussed. I have tried to make sure everyone knows that in this discussion we must be loving and kind even when we don't always agree.”

This is what prompted me to write you in the first place, because this is exactly the opposite of what I have recently observed. You may believe this yourself, or just be making this statement to placate me, but you most definitely did not teach this to your students. In the past few weeks, I assume since your study sessions started, I have been personally attacked for my supposed beliefs or lack there of multiple times in my own classroom. As a rule, I NEVER inject my personal beliefs, be they religious, political, or opinions of community members, into our lessons. The students have no idea where I stand on most non-academic topics, as it should be. I strive to make my classroom as fair and open to students’ ideas as possible, and give every student the opportunity to speak their mind if it pertains to the topic at hand. My classes function so smoothly because the students and I have mutual respect for each other. The students know there are certain topics I will not/can not answer, and do not ask me out of respect. That was the case until just recently.

In the past few weeks, I have been asked if I believe in God multiple times, been called an atheist in a condescending and disrespectful way multiple times, and have even had a student take their cross out from under their clothing and say ”You don’t like this do you, because you don’t believe?” I have had students refer me to the bible when “controversial” science topics come up. I have also had students send me links to creationist websites, citing them as proof that science is against the bible or religion. I even had a student make a claim that all scientists were atheists.

Through you action, or possibly inaction, you have made this a personal assault on me. Allow me to respond to the rest of your message in personal way.

“There is a common belief that science and Christianity are two forces at war which only one can survive. This is propagated by both sides of the debate and I believe it is terribly wrong.”

This is only a common belief among people that really have no idea what science is. Science is not a belief or value system. Science is the process of understanding the universe without resorting to explanations that cannot be physically observed or measured. Both sides have not propagated this, people like you have.

“That being said you and I both know the significant push in Western Secular Humanism to use modern evolutionary theory in order to defeat the existence of God.”

As a member of a “Western Secular Humanist” group, the AHA, I will tell you that this is an absolutely false claim. First of all, it is absurd. More than 90% of Americans profess belief in at least one god. More importantly, it shows me that you do not take science seriously and see it as some type of threat.

“Looking at the evidence I find this to be incredibly faulty and does not hold water.”

You are absolutely entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

“If evolution by natural selection from a common ancestor is truly the means by which we developed, and the cosmos came because of infinite time and infinite chance (even with the development of the controversial multi-verse theory) more than just biology has to be explained.”

Science does not claim to be bulletproof; in fact it works so well because it isn’t. A finer and finer picture of the universe is slowly revealed by continually questioning what we believe to be accurate and correct. Science is a process, not an end goal.

“Also there is just way to much evidence towards supernatural phenomenon's, which I have seen much of in my life, and if just one of them was real, then it blows materialism out of the water.”

There is no hard evidence of supernatural phenomena, just anecdotal evidence such as your own. Prove me wrong.

“I say all this because I want you to know that I am not trying to feed these children mindless drivel.”

You say all of this because you are trying to placate me, at least be truthful about it.

“I want them to be well educated in all sides and to have a reasonable faith, but I am not scared to say that we are epistemologically and evidentially justified to ask questions regarding the validity of the modern evolutionary theory.” 

You do not want this; again you are trying to placate me. That being said, evolution is one of the most tested theories ever devised. It is continually tweaked and improved as new evidence becomes available. You are justified to ask questions and examine the evidence, which is the entire point of the modern scientific method. However, you are not justified in making things up and teaching falsehoods because you do not understand the evidence.

“That being said my main emphasis to the children is that evolution does not disprove God”

This is absolutely correct; evolution does not disprove, or even address the existence of God. Good Job!

“Finally towards the idea of opening up the Bible study into a more comparative religion type of forum I am going to have to say that I don't believe that would be beneficial at this time.”

Of course you don’t, it would undermine what little authority you have over them now.

“The kids have much opportunity to hear all the sides through the state education system, but as our country progresses in the direction it has, there is less and less of a chance for them to just hear straight out of the Bible.”

They really don’t, public school teachers have to steer clear of most religious topics because of separation of church and state. Which really is too bad, as religion can be a wonderful influence on people’s lives and religious history explains quite a bit of why the world is the way it is today. That is why I offered to teach it with you outside the school, but you know what they say about good intentions.

“I am thrilled that literally overnight something happened with the kids where an interest in God was sparked. I hope that this is fanned into flame because honestly these kids are hurting.”

I’m sure you are, you finally have a semi-legitimate way to get your personal beliefs into the school. And it’s good to know that you are the one fanning the flames when this witch-hunt comes to an end and I am the one tied to the stake.

The kids here are hurting, and by teaching junk science and the art of religious confrontation and intolerance, you are hurting them even more in the long run.

“Please do not think that I do not respect you, because I do.”

You obviously don’t. Your email, like your tone in most of our conversations, was smug and condescending. You do not respect what I do and it shows by how your students were influenced to treat me.

“And I understand where you are coming from, but I believe that what the Bible teaches is the truth.”

You have absolutely no idea where I am coming from. None. But thanks to your email, I now know where you are coming from. 

“This in my opinion does make Christianity an 'exclusivist' faith.”

Wow, there are no words to describe how pompous this statement is, just wow.

“I hope to still remain friends with you Nate even if we have disagreements on things like this.”

I do not. You are one of the most insincere people I have ever met, and I now know that you have never respected me, or what I am trying to do here to give the kids a solid science foundation in a difficult place to live and teach. Have a good life; I hope you find the truth you seek. And please stick to teaching the Bible, your science teaching needs some work.

God Bless!

Nate


In Response:

 

Nate, 

Hey man I am so sorry that I have given you that impression of myself. Being smug, condescending or prideful is not how I want to behave towards anyone. I want to ask that you would forgive me if I have ever acted that way to you, these are issues that I address daily in myself and know that I am not perfect in and if you would even pray for me in this area I would be very appreciative. 

My last email was directed towards what I thought the issue was, which was the idea of questioning evolution. I see now that that really isn't the issue and that the behavior of these students is really the heart of this problem. If I had known that I would have written an email accordingly.  I mean it when I sincerely say that I have said many times that the Bible teaches that our  behavior is supposed to be one of respect and kindness. I would like to please know exactly who is talking to you this way. As we both respect who Jesus was as a teacher you know that this is not right the way people are treating you and is dragging the name of Christ through the mud as well as hurting you. I would like to talk to these students personally to show them that this is a problem.

Again Nate please accept my apology for how you are being treated. I also want to let you know that when I said Christianity was an exclusive religion this was in the context of why I wanted to keep the focus only on the Bible at this time. I do want to partner with you to create a loving, kind and tolerant culture for these kids to grow into. Perhaps you and I can get together to talk, let me treat you to a coffee this week/weekend. I don't want this to end this way. No one should ever be, or feel that they are being, put on a witch hunt. I know what persecution feels like and it is horrible. 

 

So please le me know who is treating you this way and what else I can do.

 

Sincerely,

 

Austin

 

In Response:

 

Austin,

Someone in your congregation is teaching intolerance.  I felt like I walked into a trap that was set especially for me three Mondays ago. And it is extremely suspicious that I was the only teacher targeted. I will not name individual students, because they are not the problem. The problem is whoever is teaching them this prejudice. 

As for not knowing, I do not believe or trust you. There had to be signs that something was going on even if you are not personally involved or responsible.

Actions speak louder than words, and until I have seen a change in what is being taught to your students through their own actions, we are no longer on speaking terms. I simply cannot trust you or your cohorts and will not associate with you.

If you are sincere in your beliefs, you will find the individual(s) responsible and stop them from ruining your congregation’s reputation in any way that you can.

Sincerely,

Nate


In Response:

You are right Nate, I have been thinking the same thing that my actions on this matter will have to speak for me. Thank you for telling me about this, this has not been an easy couple of days and for you a number of weeks. Thank you for showing me these things. I hope to talk to you soon and please let me know if there are any new developments, I will be talking with all the youth that I have interacted with.

 

God Bless Nate,

 

Austin

 

Nate

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Tags: Bible, Study

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Comment by Nate Julian on May 30, 2012 at 10:13pm

Write4U: Unfortunately I am dealing with a far-flung Baptist sect, so anything to do with Catholicism would probably be like pouring gas onto a fire at close range ;). There is, however, a large Filipino population here, and I will definitely use this as a resourse when I start teaching Biology again next fall (I start by teaching the scientific method and evolution, because it is so central to modern Biology) Thank you for your support.

Steph S: We are not on currently on speaking terms. We were never close friends to begin with, I know him through my best friend on island. We have had a couple of dinners together, but I always got a weird vibe from the guy. Literally the first time I met him, he asked if I taught evolution. I told him to come sit in my classes if he was interested.

Comment by Steph S. on May 30, 2012 at 8:01pm
Thanks for posting your conversations with Austin. Are you both still friends and everything?

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