By Kally Leidig
“Nonbeliever.” Until very recently, I thought this was just a semi-patronizing yet endearing term my best friends used to describe me or other atheists.
So, I decided to inquire about it. It turns out that when they say nonbeliever, it means everyone who doesn’t believe in the Christian God. In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense, but in my atheist mind, everyone who follows faith was inherently a believer.
This sparked a series of conversations with my friends, whom I would describe as both very Christian and pretty liberal. I asked about something I really struggle to comprehend about Christanity — the coexistence of humbleness and thinking there is only one true religion, that others result from false prophecy or works of sin. In my mind, there was a pretty large disconnect between being humble and thinking that only your interpretation of the world is right.
I should point out that everyone I talked to expressed great levels of respect and tolerance for people, no matter their religion. There also was a reverence for the concept of faith, no matter the belief. Also, what I have just said is an extremely brief summary of very long conversations and is void of some necessary nuances.
Nonetheless, these conversations led me to wonder: When fellows are informing you on what they believe, of course you value and respect it, but do you think it is correct? Are other religions speaking the truth? What is at stake for you to say another religion is true? Or, furthermore, is your religion true?
As I type this, I am surrounded by Hanukkah decorations, Christmas decor, and one very extensive Pitbull (i.e., Mr. Worldwide) shrine, all of which make me extremely aware that such questions may be divisive or accomplish nothing. Perhaps being respectful and curious is all that is needed. Despite that, I can’t help but be troubled by the idea of “I am right and you are wrong.”
The purpose of this essay isn’t to highlight conversations that may or may not be representative of a group, but rather to wonder aloud at what the implications could be of learning about others and respecting them, but also disbelieving what they say.
I often find questions like these are much better posed in person — where you can alter them depending on the person, their responses or the situation. But, I hope that everyone can take solace in the fact that we are all united in the idea that others would consider you a nonbeliever.
Kally, who grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, is a senior studying political science, economics and environmental studies. “I became rather disenchanted with my church and started exploring alternatives,” she writes. “My interest in religion and belief systems has continued to grow despite me now considering myself an atheist. I am excited to learn more about new perspectives both foreign and familiar to me. It especially fascinates me how people relate or reconcile political preferences with morals and values.”