This article discusses the power of respectful communication and appreciation of different values for working through value-based conflicts. Understanding other people’s personal journeys, which led them to make their religious decisions, can resolve conflict by exposing shared interests.
This topic of religion has prompted me to think about the dynamics I have observed between atheists and Chrisitans thus far in my lifetime. I think conflict can easily arise around the discussion of one’s faith because it is a label we give to ourselves and use to describe ourselves to the world. For most of us, the categorization of ourselves as either atheist or Christian is an extremely personal experience. I know many people who have grown up in a faith-focused household and reverted to atheism due to a lack of connection with God, unpleasant encounters with some members of the church, or just because of a change in opinion. I have also known people who were raised atheists and later met people who introduced them to the church and to God.
I personally consider myself to be Christian. I was raised Christian, went to Sunday school, and continue to work on strengthening my relationship with God every day. Growing up, I automatically trusted and believed what we learned in church because I did not know any different. When I was little, I thought everything taught in church was undeniably factual and that there was no debate regarding the topics. It was not until later that I learned that every person had their own choice to make regarding their religious beliefs. There was debate and I had to analyze the information given to me, so I could decide for myself if this was what I truly believed in.
When I was in the fifth grade, I guess you could say I had a spiritual revelation. I knew the basics of the Bible and believed God was real because that is what I was being told, but I had yet to have a personal connection with Him that proved His validity concretely and undeniably. It was at this time that I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I had extreme separation anxiety from my mom, social anxiety at school, and panic attacks that convinced me I was dying. I spent most of my days in elementary school crying and being judged by my peers. I would run out of class, unable to catch my breath, and sit on the floor in the bathroom until I worked up the courage to go back. One morning, I was crying in the bathroom and I started to pray. I prayed for strength and courage. I prayed for things to go back to the way they were. I noticed that the things I prayed for regarding short-term things, like courage to go back to class, would always come true. Longer-term solutions like a cure for my disorder took some patience.
I struggled with unexplainable overwhelming fear and terror for years. I finally found medicine that worked for me by the beginning of high school. When people question my faith or tell me I am an idiot for believing what I do, I take it pretty personally because it means so much to me. If it were not for my faith, knowledge of God, and my constant prayer, I do not know how I would have made it through that time in my life. When my mom was gone, and I felt all alone at school, I felt His presence and knew I was safe. I talked to Him all day, every day. I gave all my worries to Him and it worked.
Especially since I have started college, faith has played a huge role in many different aspects of my life. It is interesting to observe how people’s past experiences affect their beliefs and therefore, how they treat those of opposing beliefs. To me, Christianity means that I believe in God and that I want to help and love as many people as I can. I want to be a good person and do some good in my lifetime. As a Christian, I value helpfulness and respect. I know that if I expect to be respected, I must also respect others. Unfortunately, when I moved into the dorms, some people that I considered to be my friends did not respect my faith.
Especially in recent times, many people have misinterpreted (in my opinion) the Bible and used the Christian faith as a reason to spread hate. There are many people who label themselves as Chrisitan and stand outside abortion clinics, telling medical patients that they are murderers. Donald Trump was president of the United States and told America that he was Christian while at the same time refusing to love his neighbors, falsely generalizing that all immigrants are rapists, making fun of people with disabilities, and many more things I consider not to be very “Christian-like”. All these things have aided in giving Christians a bad name in the same way that Trump and MAGA people have made “Conservative” a bad word.
In reference to the First Baptist Church of Eugene’s website, they are “committed to the core beliefs that reflect the historic, orthodox beliefs of the Chrisitan Church ”. They further go on to explain: “We believe that in these essential beliefs, we are to have unity (Eph. 4:4-6); in non-essential beliefs, we must have freedom (Rom 14:1-2); and, in all beliefs, we need to demonstrate love (1 Cor. 13:2).” I consider myself a part of this church and I would agree with their statements. As a Christian, I would say our main values are community, freedom, and love.
Everyone has their own story, and I respect that. Everyone has their own values and I respect that too. I value respect for freedom of religion and in doing so for others; I hope for those actions to be reciprocated to myself. After my first quarter of college in the dorms, I learned that when I first moved in, the people I later considered my friends, had seen the cross necklace I was wearing and made assumptions about me amongst themselves before even knowing me personally. Apparently, my roommate was dreading living with me because I was Christian, therefore meaning I was a prude and no fun to be around. They were saying I was stupid and would probably read my Bible in our room every day. It hurt my feelings to learn this and it made me question the character of these people I was calling my friends.
It was only after I learned their values as atheists, and their understanding of mine as a Christian, that we were able to move on in our friendship and build greater respect for one another. In Christianity, there are so many different interpretations of the non-essential beliefs of the Bible. Some believers are more conservative while others are more liberal. My new college friends had mainly only encountered the more conservative Christians. The ones who are pro-life, against gay marriage, and think Jesus was white. These Christians had hurt them and led them to believe that there were no other types of Christians. My friends explained how they wanted freedom in who they loved, who they wanted to be friends with, and who they wanted to be. They wanted respect in their freedom of choice to believe something different.
It was in this conversation with each other that we realized we basically had the same values. We both valued community, freedom, and love. We had the same good character of wanting to help others and do good for the world in our lifetimes. The only difference was the essential belief of whether there was a higher being that existed. We can believe different things but still value the same concepts. We respect one another’s differences but mainly focus on the similarities within our friendship and that was how we were able to work together past this conflict.
Raymond, Paul, and Barbara Norrander. “Religion and Attitudes toward Anti-Abortion Protest.” Review of Religious Research, vol. 32, no. 2, [Religious Research Association, Inc., Springer], 1990, pp. 151–56, https://doi.org/10.2307/3511762.
Dreisbach, Christopher. “What Is a Christian? It’s Not Donald Trump: Commentary.” Baltimoresun.com, Baltimore Sun, 8 Jan. 2021, https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/op-ed/bs-ed-op-1221-christian-trump-20201218-bt45wumpdnhptgddldppnnosqi-story.html.
“Beliefs.” FBC Eugene, 30 July 2020, https://fbceugene.com/beliefs/.
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