Rational thinkers…and then Christians

Posted: October 17, 2007 in atheism, Blitherings, Celebrating Diversity, Christianity, Politics, Random Thoughts, Religion

What I find interesting in the increasingly vocal debates centering around atheism, the spurious church-n-state thing, and the apparently “growing” influence of a cabal of Christian “Dominionists” over all things secular in this country (?!?!) is the continued distinction the atheist set seeks to make between “rational thinkers” or “free thinkers,” and those who believe in God; as though the two must by definition be mutually exclusive.

The clear implication is that if you had half a brain, you wouldn’t be so easily duped by this whole “God” concept.  That those with a devout religious faith are some how drooling mental defectives, or possessed of so little discernment that they are too easily fooled by charlatans, or by their own willful self-delusions.  That they rely solely on a blind-faith in what was force-fed them by their parents, sunday school teachers, etc., to determine their worldview rather than thinking for themselves.

Yeah, thanks for that.

Flip over most atheists, and underneath you will usually find someone who was either hurt by a church or group of church members, grew disillusioned with what they were being taught because it didn’t provide answers, or rebelled against a faith that was force-fed to them by people long on rhetoric and short on real answers.

Which leads me to wonder, how many atheists has the Church created simply because those within it don’t know their own scriptures?  How many people have been turned away from the Church and God, simply because the people they met were too ill-equipped to answer the questions of a seeker? 

“BECAUSE I SAID SO!” doesn’t help much in winning hearts and minds.

The fact is that a great many of the traits ascribed to many of today’s churches by atheists are far too accurate.  We give them far too much cause to doubt.  Too often people within the Church are content to sit in a Sunday sermon and have 45 minutes of theology spooned their way, blissfully wandering back to their “other” life after a cup of coffee and a few vanilla cream cookies.

Many are even threatened by an active, questioning examination of the Bible, as though an eagerness to learn, or a willingness to admit confusion on an issue, must somehow equate to doubting one’s faith.

To know the Bible, you must know what it says, NOT just what people have TOLD YOU it says.   And this takes work.  And study.  And being willing to wrestle with the difficult issues.  A blind faith is just that…blind.  Unseeing, undiscerning, unable to explain and teach.  You HAVE to question and dig, or your faith will be shallow, and your witness and testimony to the world sallow, weak and ineffective.

From what I’ve read and heard of late, many atheists seem to be characterized not just by an apathy towards religion, or a passive disbelief in a creator God, but by an active distaste or opposition to all things religious. 

Why is this?  What is it about religious faith that inspires some to almost open hostility?  Despite all the evidence that we are quite clearly living in a “post-Christian” era, what is maintaining this perception that there is a “rise of religion’s influence on politics and policies,” when so much of religious thought and expression (specifically the Christian religion) are being steadily expunged from the public eye?

I don’t know. Somebody help me out here.

What is it that makes atheists and other ardent activists feel that we are on the cusp of some theocratic takeover which must be actively opposed lest the “free thinkers” be rounded up and burned at the stake as heretics?

Thoughts?

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Comments
  1. Candy Rant says:

    As often as I can, I *DO* flip over atheists. It makes a nice crunching sound.

    That was wrong, wasn’t it?

    But yeah, I get really sick of the rabid anger coming at me sometimes from atheists. Actually the anger is less offensive than the condescending eye-rolling that says “Oh my gawd. You BELIEVE that crap?”

    I had a professor in grad school who was openly hostile toward me because my Christianity came up in class. (It had to do with a Flannery O’Connor short story.) She said “Ha. I USED to believe in that. Then I grew up.”

    I saw her a couple years later and she was a full blown (no pun intended) Catholic, wearing an almost actual-size Crucifix. Suddenly, she rolled her eyes at nonbelievers. WTF?

    Love your post. And I agree: It takes study and digging in and not being afraid to ask questions and face doubt. Spoon fed religion is SO yesterday. SO Salem, Mass.

  2. checkpointreality says:

    I had everything planned out to say here, it briefly stated; I find religion confusing, therefore I uphold no specific opianon on the matter eitherway but certainly enjoy learning about it. However was distracted reading Candy Rant’s comment and laughing. O well.

  3. Steve B says:

    I just shake my head when I hear or read about how religious people are just SO intolerant and SO closeminded, and oh don’t they just think they are better than everyone…

    …and then read EXACTLY THAT KIND OF THINKING coming out of of the atheist side, scorn and derision, suggests that the religious mind is somehow inferior, yada yada.

    I love to debate the issues, but it’s hard when people try to put you into the “all those” category. You know, like all those Mexicans are lazy, all those black are criminals, all those homosexuals are pedeophiles, all those Christians are {fill in the blank}.

  4. theelectronicexperiment says:

    Could it be that atheists are naturally exposed to the most vocal and evangelical of Christians, who tend to rejoice about their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” I can see how this comes off both ‘braggy’ and hypocritical, as it seems they are going to church to celebrate what God can do for them, rather than what they can do for God.

    If I may resort to generalizations here, it seems to me that such Christians tend to be very doctrinal and superficial in their interpretations, and are often ill-equipped for any complex theological debate, particularly as it may relate to social, environmental, or global issues. There is no platform for conversation between a doctrinal Christian and an atheist, as there might be between an academic Christian and an atheist.

    The problem is, academics and theologically-engaged individuals are frequently less vocal, less visible, and therefore less likely to engage with an atheist than their “Bible-thumping” counterparts. Thus, this revived doctrinal-yet-modern-and-charismatic version of Christianity is what tends to be portrayed.

    Sorry for my long comment. Your excellent topic got me carried away:)

  5. Dartland says:

    We can remember that some of the greatest minds have some form of Christian. Newton and Copernicus immediately come to mind. As a minister I looked beyond spoon feeding believers. That does them a disservice as intelligent people. I strove to teach them to think and reason the scriptures themselves.
    We can admit that some of our doctrines were a bit shaky or unbiblical so we discouraged people from studying the scriptures (I’m thinking dark ages here). Now we need to encourage critical thinking and teach people critical thinking. We need to emphasize the importance of scripture and the need to read it and be familiar with it.
    A Christian who does not read their Bible is rather pathetic and is building a life on hearsay. One who studies it and applies what it says, is building a life on truth.

  6. trm1 says:

    Hello all, this happens to be one of my favorite topics to discuss. I am a sucker for the abuse. But first a quick note. Nowhere in our Constitution does it say anything about the “separation of church and state”, no where. I challenge anyone to show me where that statement is made. That little phrase stems from the judicial activism of Socialist(D) judges appointed to the Supreme Court, happily affirmed at every opportunity by those happy purveyors of communism, and enemy to our Constitution, the ACLU. But enough about that.

    The following is only my opinion. I respect every humans right to worship, or not worship, as they see fit. Our Founding Fathers felt the same way. My studied opinion is that the atheist are wrong. Hold on a minute, “everyone else”, your wrong as well. The atheist may be closer to truth than the faithful. Allow me to try and explain.

    Religion in ALL of its many forms are man made. They are man made attempts to answer the questions that, thousands of years ago were truly unanswerable. They were formulated to give man laws by which to conduct himself, those most conducive to the very real fact of our mutual dependence on one another. Why do you think there are so many variations to basically the same message all over the earth? Because all of humanity has always asked, where did I come from, why am I here, and where am I going? Give it a shot if you haven’t already, and look at the religions all over the earth, you’ll see what I mean when I say, in essence they are all the same with small regional twist. They all provided the answers for a mass of humanity who were largely illiterate and superstitious. With that in mind, I submit to you this nugget.

    The common messages of organized religion are timeless and indisputable. We shouldn’t indiscriminately kill, we shouldn’t take what is not ours, and so on, we all know the other eight. Organized religions are, however, antiquated which is a fancy word for outdated and obsolete. Religion is a matter of faith and can neither be proved or disproved. Humanity is, however, making huge strides every day to answer those questions. Questions that 3,4,5 thousand years ago were unanswerable. Here is where I usually start pissing the faithful off.

    The better our understanding becomes of the Universe and our small insignificant place in it, the more spirituality should grow with that knowledge (Gnosis). But it doesn’t. The very organized and lucrative religions of the world do everything they can to make sure that true enlightenment does NOT happen. Can anyone say, scare propaganda? Further food for thought, there are a finite amount of atoms in the Universe and that matter or atoms, are in constant motion. The matter that composes our bodies are the same atoms that make up the farthest stars, rocks and dust clouds. Everything we see, and do not see, are composed of atoms. Therefore, it is logical to come to the conclusion that your body has some T-Rex and plant atoms helping comprise your body, along with bits of comet, asteroid and star dust.

    I probably lost most of you several sentences ago so I will try and wrap it up. I guess I am trying to convey to you all that there is more to life, spirituality and our Universe than we know. We are learning more every day and I hope to learn as much as possible, because frankly, I find it all amazing. Search YouTube for a series called The History of the Hubble Space Telescope. It is an outstanding series that helps to explain what little we know about the Universe. The Bible, in all of its forms and names is purely symbolic and written in allegory. To take it literally, you do yourself, and those around you, a huge disservice.

    I believe in G-D, just not the one man would like for me to believe in, as I drop money in his collection plate or strap a bomb to my chest.

  7. Steve B says:

    That doesn’t really answer the question, though. Your response was call, rational, and well-expressed. I was wondering what inspires such hostility in the militant atheist? You don’t seem to be one of them.

  8. trm1 says:

    Organized religion has brought a lot of misery on humanity through the ages, and has rampantly stifled and suppresed thought. That bugs me a little. But I think open hostility is more a personality trait than it being derived from the actual subject matter. They are probably just as pissed every time beer prices go up, as am I! cheers 🙂

  9. Steve B says:

    TRm1,

    That’s kind of trite and convenient answer. Organized religion has also brought a lot of comfort, aid and support to people throughout the ages. Yes, there have been a lot of abuses, especially during the height of power of the Catholic Church, and at other times.

    But I think that if you look at history, with a truly unjaundiced eye, you’ll see that churches are the first to respond to a lot a disasters, provide a lot of meaningful ministries, have helped a lot of people out of drugs, addiction, and other dead end lifestyles.

    Which evidence yo use just depends on which point which point of view you’re trying to support.

  10. TRM says:

    You are absolutley correct, and I apologize for leaving out the good points. I often tend to do that. I still maintain my response above regarding those who are “militant” in their stance regarding G-D. I think its a character trait, immaturity maybe?. I used to get really irate when someone would tell me I was going to hell because I was not saved and had not accepted Jesus as my personal saviour et et
    But I realized what a waste of energy it was… maybe they have not realized that yet..

  11. Stephen R says:

    The only atheists you hear from are the loud ones.

    I blogged about this recently, here:
    http://striderweb.com/blog/2007/10/anti-anti-theism/

    …in which I make a firm distinction between “atheists” and “anti-theists”

    You might also find interesting a comment thread about a _review_ I did on Amazon.com. I commented on the subtitle of “Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism”.

    Mind you, I _am_ an atheist, and got repeatedly attacked for saying that the title was unnecessarily confrontational.

    As I say in my blog post:
    “The vast majority of us are quite content to let people believe what they choose to believe. As such, we remain largely invisible.”

  12. Stephen R says:

    By the way…

    “Flip over most atheists, and underneath you will usually find someone who was either hurt by a church or group of church members, grew disillusioned with what they were being taught because it didn’t provide answers, or rebelled against a faith that was force-fed to them by people long on rhetoric and short on real answers.”

    That is as gross a caricature of atheists as

    “[T]hose with a devout religious faith are… drooling mental defectives, or possessed of so little discernment that they are too easily fooled by charlatans, or by their own willful self-delusions.”

    is of religious people. If you’re going to attack stereotypes, be sure you’re not eating your own dogfood, eh?

    I have seen atheism-as-rebellion, certainly, but it’s not as common, in my experience, as atheism as a result of significant reflection on the nature of the universe.

  13. Steve B says:

    I guess I’m drawing a distinction between what I would consider an agnostic, or someone who is either unsure or indifferent, and an atheist, who has made a clear decision that there is no god, and is often as adamant about it as the devout theist.

    And I’ve heard/read enough of exactly the kind of rhetoric I used to, in my mind, justify the characterization.

    I fully realize that ALL atheists are not like that, but I would suggest a statistically significant sample are.

    And yes, I hate the broad brush as much as anyone, so it’s use here was definitely a tad of hyperbole to reflect my own derision towards those who caricaturize Christians that way.

  14. the chaplain says:

    …an atheist, who has made a clear decision that there is no god…

    Most atheists have not done this. What we’ve said is that we haven’t seen sufficient evidence to persuade us to believe in any god(s). Saying that we don’t believe in a god, on the basis of a lack of evidence to support such a belief, is a far different thing from declaring definitively that there is no God.

    Having said that, many of us believe that the specific Omni-Max God that is postulated by today’s prominent theistic religions, is incoherent and logically impossible. Therefore, we reject those particular constructs, just as we reject Zeus, Zoroastra, Mithras, etc. Nevertheless, we recognize that evidence of another deity that has not been discerned yet could still be forthcoming.

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