Mesa Musings: I too was once an atheist (or an agnostic)

Atheists are getting to be as evangelistic as most evangelicals.

They seem hell-bent — forgive the awkward reference — to exhort fellow nonbelievers to "come out" and announce to the world their rejection of divinity.

Bruce Gleason, in his April 14 Daily Pilot "On Faith" column "Time to come out, come out" (which more aptly could have been called "On Un-Faith"), encourages atheists to "be yourself, let others know how you believe and make this a better world by promoting a rational, reason-based belief system."

Nothing wrong with that.

Only, I wonder, why?

Once upon a time I was an atheist. There, I've said it. Guess that means I'm out.

Maybe I was really just an agnostic, but, as Gleason says, "if you call yourself an agnostic and don't pray, don't go to church except for the holiday culture experience, and don't tithe, then you are behaving as an atheist does."

That describes my 10-year sojourn to a T.

I didn't believe in God but, if he did happen to exist, well, I didn't need him.

One thing I do recall, however, is that I felt no compulsion to push my belief — or lack thereof — on anyone else. OK, so I don't believe in God. What of it? So you say you do believe in God? Good for you. Whatever floats your boat!

I knew what I didn't believe and I didn't care about what others believed. The only time I recall trumpeting my nonbeliefs was when "Bible-thumpers" ambushed me.

"Do you have a personal relationship with God," fresh-faced adherents would chirp as they approached me on a beach, or in a mall, or on a campus.

"I'm an atheist," I'd say.

That either put a damper on further conversation or stimulated lively debate.

Gleason, in his column, advises atheists to talk to "people of faith." I join him in urging that.

"You'll be surprised that many of them are moderate believers," he observes, "and have often thought about discarding their faith."

What believer hasn't thought that, or experienced a "dark night of the soul?"

I certainly have. Believers haven't been automatically inoculated against life's tribulations.

But it seems our atheistic cousins are being advised to confront Christians at traumatic moments, like when our faith is teetering at the brink.

Permit me a word of caution: Don't!

Take it from a Christian who has struggled with many a despairing moment. During times of deepest anguish, when even the lifeboats are sinking, God has a way of breaking through in unanticipated ways. Prayers of desperation frequently elicit responses.

Should an atheist elect to test my mettle during a particularly perilous trial, I say bring it!

After a decade of immersing my tortured soul in sterile materialist cogitations, something happened 30 years ago.

I hungered for something deeper. The old Peggy Lee lyric, "Is that all there is?", haunted my subconscious. Was I experiencing some kind of early midlife crisis? I wasn't certain what I wanted, but I needed it to be profound.

I don't hate God, I reasoned. I just don't know if he exists. Without anyone hitting me over the head with a Bible, I endeavored to find him.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah quotes God as promising: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

I sought and I found!

I can't imagine facing life today as an atheist. I've been on both sides of the street, and I know which I favor. I can't prove a darned thing but, as the blind man said after encountering Christ, "I was blind but now I see."

So, if my atheist brethren want to hit me at an appropriate moment in hopes of turning me, and cause me to discard my faith, I have a suggestion.

Don't hit me on a day when I'm struggling just to get by and doubting my beliefs. That's when God reaches into my existence and leaves a single set of footprints in the sand.

No. Hit me on a day when I'm feeling good. When the world's my oyster.

That's when I'm likely to believe almost anything — or nothing.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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