Transitions: A Project for Fostering Empathy

I was talking to my friend Maria the other day. Her husband, Doug, is an biophysicist and atheist. Only his family doesn’t know. They don’t know because if they found out it would cause family friction that Doug sees no reason to bring about. Doug’s family, like the families of many people I know, finds atheism to be unfathomable.

When a child or loved one leaves the church, many families—even those that aren’t particularly devout—have a hard time wrapping their minds around why their family member would choose to live without god. For some parents the news that their child is an atheist seems the fulfillment of their worst nightmares. For others, the reality of a god seems so rooted in common sense, so immutable, that any other worldview must necessarily be the result of profound misguidance.

From the unbeliever’s point of view, it can be difficult to share the experience of changing worldviews when Mom and Dad are already familiar with the story from their own perspective. “I was there when Grandpa died. You weren’t an atheist then.” “I saw you sing at your cousin’s wedding. I know you meant it.” “What about all those times I saw you pray/go the church/read your Bible?” This is where I think stories can be helpful.

Stories allow us the enter the minds of other people, even those who are vastly different from us in age, sex, or life circumstance. Through movies and books we come to understand and even identify with alternate reactions to the world. Reasoning we had never previously entertained becomes plausible when presented through the lens of someone else’s experience. Collecting stories of people who have changed worldviews might make it easier for others who have never done so to see not just strangers, traitors, or people who have gone astray, but a piece of themselves.

So this is what I’ve decided to do. I’m calling my project Transitions, and it is a collection of stories from people who have changed worldviews by either converting from one religion to another, moving from theism to secularism, or from secularism to theism. My hope is that people from both all sides of the religious divide can read these stories and be inspired to understanding. And who knows, maybe this project can bring a few families together in honesty.

If you want to contribute to this project check out this questionnaire and send it to erinontheapex@gmail.com.

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