Figuring Out the Meaning of Life and Other Trivial Matters
Friday, April 23, 2010
How to Use the Bible Like Flying Ninja Stars
SKEPTIC: I recently had a very strange email exchange with an old friend from my high school days - more than 40 years ago. Her name was Kathy, and she was part of the group I hung out with at church - back when I was a churchgoer. I remembered her as a really fun and vivacious girl, and so when I acquired her email address through a mutual friend, I was excited to get in touch again.
I sat down and penned a very long and friendly email, catching her up on what I've been up to for the last 40 years. Along the way, I briefly explained that my worldview vis a vis God and religion had changed quite considerably in the last four decades. I sent the email into cyberspace and waited for her reply.
Finally, after one full month had passed, I received a reply. A pretty weird reply, but a reply nonetheless. The whole email consisted of a series of Bible verses, flung at me like those little flying ninja stars. The verses were definitely not very friendly. They contained words like "godlessness," "wickedness," "unrighteousness," and "depraved." There was no message, no greeting, no signature. Just the Bible verses. Apparently she had decided that since her and I no longer shared the same belief system, I was not worthy of her attention, even after 40 years, and it was her solemn responsibility to put me in my place.
PREACHER: Well, it looks like she is definitely giving you the boot, at least for as long as you hold to your "enlightened" world view. It is typical of Christians to respond with Bible verses since we believe that the Word of God is the most powerful tool to convict sinners. It would have been nice of her to respond personally, but I suppose she didn't feel up to discussing the issues with you.
SKEPTIC: Well, I didn't even indicate that I wanted to discuss it. It was just part of my life story that I thought she might be interested in. I wouldn't even have minded a couple of Bible verses thrown in to illustrate a point she wanted to make - but to reply with nothing but very angry and accusatory verses was pretty strange, I thought. I was confused at first, then insulted, and then angry.
PREACHER: It is unfortunate that some Christians feel intimidated by non-believers. I think that is what happened with her, and so her response. A lot of Christians, particularly in the United States, rather than being a witness to their faith, react by trying to protect themselves from the "onslaught" of secularism and the influence of other religions. In this day they seem to be particularly afraid of Moslems (hence classes on how to befriend Moslems offered at some churches). Such reactions of fear speak of a weak faith and ignorance of basic Biblical truths.
That being said, wouldn't you admit that atheists have a lot to do to improve their public image? Still, for a lot of church-going folks the word "atheist" conjures up such names as Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler. I'm sure you would agree that getting insulted and angry doesn't do much for that image either. You might have made a better reconnect with her if you hadn't introduced your new found understanding to her quite so soon.
SKEPTIC: So Christians defame atheists by linking them to Stalin and Hitler, but it's atheists who need to improve their public image? Seems to me that the poor image of atheists was created by the religious community - and it's up to them to stop unfairly demonizing atheists. If atheists were to continually assert that Timothy McVeigh represented Christianity, you would be within your rights to demand that they stop making such an unfair linkage. And it certainly wouldn't be fair for atheists to insist that, because of McVeigh, Christians need to "improve their public image." And for the record, while there is conflicting evidence, it appears that Hitler was much more sympathetic to Christianity than to atheism.
Also, why do you say that "getting insulted and angry doesn't do much for that image, either?" If someone disrespects me, don't I have a right to have those feelings? It's human nature to react that way. It has nothing to do with atheism or religion. And as to your suggestion that I shouldn't have told her my deep dark secret so soon - well, perhaps I might not have if I had known that she wasn't mature enough to handle it - but it's a new day for atheists - we're coming out of the closet, we're speaking out, we're not hiding from the world. "We're here, don't fear, get used to it!" (Hey, that's kind of catchy!)
PREACHER: So, the religious community have made atheists their victims! How pathetic! I heartily encourage and applaud atheists for coming out of the closet and with their "greater enlightenment" getting over and beyond being unfairly demonized by the "unenlightened" religious community.
However, your worldview does present you with some challenges. If indeed we are nothing but the product of natural processes over the eons, how does that process of origin give us any rights or dignity in the first place? Since I believe that you are created in the image of God, I really do believe that entitles you to some kind of dignity and rights. But, as I understand, your worldview doesn't require me to give you any dignity and rights. Neither does it require you to give me dignity and rights. Joseph Stalin consistently lived out that worldview by putting to death millions of people whom he considered problematic. Wouldn't you agree that Timothy McVeigh and Adolph Hitler did not consistently live the Christian worldview?
I appreciate "good" atheists. But, I am quite sure that they are "good" because of the influence of Christian ethics and morality in the society that they grew up in, not their worldview. Is there a new day coming for atheism? Maybe temporarily. From the point of view of eternity, it could never be more than a temporary glitch in time.
SKEPTIC: So dignity and rights are only available or required if they come from God? That's a novel idea.
But you seem to have missed my point regarding the image of atheists. I wasn't claiming victimhood - I was merely pointing out that it's silly to tell atheists that they should "improve their image" when it's the religious community that has created that false image.
I love the way you always put quotes around words like "enlightened." You obviously consider your belief system the only one worthy of consideration. And I'm really happy that you appreciate "good" atheists, as if such a thing is some kind of bizarre anomaly. But then to claim that the only way atheists can achieve goodness is courtesy of Christianity is yet one more example of how Christians view themselves as better than "the others."
Which brings us full circle to my old friend, Kathy. Both her and you demonstrate such arrogance in your worldview. Christians have turned self-righteousness into an art form - to the point where anyone who doesn't agree with you is not just wrong, but headed for eternal damnation in the fiery pits of hell. It's not a very attractive quality, but I suspect that you can't do much about it, since it's kind of built into the theology.
In any event, I'm glad to see that you have apparently moved Hitler from the "atheist" column into the "Christian" column. (Watch the above video for an interesting discussion on Stalin and Hitler.)
PREACHER: As an atheist who considers himself truly superior, wouldn't you consider it your perogative to do all you can to correct that false image created by the religious community? That is what I really welcome, and some of you are trying to do that! Yes, that "superiority" you find in Christians is built into the theology. After all, Christ who is eternal has given us eternal life and significance. By your own admission your opinions, even your very existence, are only extremely temporary and therefore insignificant.
SKEPTIC: So my existence and my opinions only have value if they are eternal, but if they come with an expiration date, then they are completely insignificant. Have I got that part right? Do you know how many times I was taught in my church that this life on earth is "insignificant," and that it was merely a "dress rehearsal" for the afterlife? (Answer: a lot!) So then it would follow, would it not, that anyone who didn't believe in an afterlife would attach considerably more significance to this earthly life. So whose existence is more "significant?"
And, no, I don't consider myself to be superior, while you have just admitted that you, indeed, do. Thinking you have all the answers is what breeds arrogance. Someone once said that "Philosophy is questions that may never be answered, while religion is answers that can never be questioned." Atheists are asking questions, looking for answers, and willing to change their worldview if the evidence merits it. Christians, on the other hand, are given the answers and told not to ask questions. Just accept it. And if you come across contradictory evidence, just ignore it.
So, my old friend Kathy, thanks for the flying ninja stars. If you ever want to have an actual conversation, you've got my email address. I won't bite. Really.