“Why Won’t Some Atheists Leave Christians Alone?” [Review]

http://anatheistviewpoint.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/why-wont-some-atheists-leave-christians-alone/

I chanced upon this WordPress blog post apparently about religion and American politics – explaining why atheists, according to the writer, get so angry with Christians.  Now as a preliminary note, I should like to make clear that I have theological reasons for not lobbying Christian ethics in the political arena, although I accept that the demographic of Christians to non-Christians is not the same here in Britain as it is over the author’s side of the pond, and that nor is the political climate – and that this could be a potential influence too.  The author of this article criticizes religious conservatives for “forcing their beliefs into law”, but I cannot consider this an unhypocritical criticism as the liberals I know  tend to hark on about ‘fighting for political progress’.   The author likewise criticizes conservatives for trying to make a ‘Theocracy’, whilst anything except a secular government operating by humanistic atheist principles would appear abhorrent to her.  It’s all the same difference, as far as I’m concerned – what’s one woman’s “progress” is another woman’s “belief”, and both are being forced into government from either side in the hope of annihilating the other.  The difference is that what the conservatives are doing is given a more pejorative phrasing here.

It seems that anyone with strong convictions about how the world should be will try to garner as much support for them as possible – whether these convictions involve a God or not.  You believe that abortion is abhorrent?  You’ll want it to be made illegal.  You believe it’s abhorrent that abortion is illegal?  You’ll want it legalized.  As I said before, my reasons for not choosing to lobby for pro-life politics is bound up in my theological persuasion – and perhaps some environmental factors too.  But for those who do choose to do so, it would appear that both sides have their reasons; that both sides have their underlying presuppositions and justifications, and that these are mutually exclusive.  Let’s break down the facades here.  When two conflicting ideologies share the same space, then provided both have adequate ammunition and sufficient means to defend themselves, it’s not going to be a one-sided battle.  If they were not fighting to obtain the same prize they would not be fighting at all.

The author’s conclusion is this: “Stop preaching and stop trying to force your beliefs into law.”  A more neutral rephrasing of the author’s conclusion would be the following: don’t hold convictions.  Because anyone who tries to garner political support for their cause is essentially doing that.  Well spoke Christ when he said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” and “Whoever does not pick up his cross is not worthy of me.”  If we hold strong convictions, we should not expect peace from the rest of the world, and if we would remain Christians with strong convictions, we have to take all the flack we get for it.

The more pressing question for me is why atheists in Britain won’t leave Christians alone, where regular churchgoers account for 6% or 7% of the population, where 70% of the population put down ‘Christian’ on their census forms, where Richard Dawkins is widely revered for his ‘God Delusion’ book and believed by many to have swept the ‘God’ issue under the carpet along with his two remaining horsemen, where two thirds of the population don’t know the name of the first book of the New Testament, and where a thinly-veiled derision is poured on conservative Christians from all political sides – including the Conservative Party.  There doesn’t seem to be much left over here for an atheist to feel threatened by.  We Christians still trust in the words of Christ, of course:  “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  No-one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs, says St Paul.  Fight the good fight of the faith, be prepared to give a reason for your hope, and keep running the race in such a way as to win the prize.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to ““Why Won’t Some Atheists Leave Christians Alone?” [Review]

  1. Alex

    Two points –

    1. I’m British

    2. I’m male

    • Thanks for enlightening me. From your article I wouldn’t have guessed you were talking about Britain. To read posts on the Facebook walls of my favourite American preachers, I can envisage how the political scene and the culture over there could potentially support a theocracy, and how non-Christians in that country could get aggravated at those who are “relentlessly pushing their religiously informed agenda on the public at large”. I can even bring to mind some examples. But a right-wing Christian theocracy in Britain? The very thought is laughable. The European Union would excommunicate us. In my experience, the political clout of conservative Christianity in this country extends to ‘holy huddles’ of evangelicals who hold genteel tea parties and are a bit scared to air their views in public in case it makes the church any more unpopular than it already is – or upsets Muslims. For the sake of the Bible verses I quoted above, I think it’s a crying shame; not that we’re not a theocracy, but that we let ourselves be intimidated by a sanction-imposing opposition. I’m British and female, by the way. Peace out.

  2. The majority of the Christians I write about on the blog are crazed American creationist fundies. Liars for Jesus like Bob Sorensen, Eric Hovind, Sye Ten Bruggencate etc.

    I’m actually married to an American, and will be living there in the next few years, so I feel that the actions of the religious Right in the US is a subject that needs to be covered. Also remember that the US affects the rest of the world, so if the religious nutcases get into real power there, they will change the rest of the world.

  3. Tom

    Out of interest, what are these reasons?

    “Now as a preliminary note, I should like to make clear that I have theological reasons for not lobbying Christian ethics in the political arena”

    • Hi Tom :). Nice to hear from you. I believe that Christian ethical decisions are ultimately based on different sets of criteria than ethical decisions of non-Christians – and that non-Christians, being hardened in their hearts towards Christ, would hard-pressed to appreciate these criteria and would be likely to consider them foolishness. For a start, we do everything because of Christ and to Christ, and we hold the belief that the universe and all that is in it exists, not because of some random accident, but because God designed it and willed it into existence. We are not primarily humano-centric in our attitude towards the world, but theocentric, with love of neighbours and enemies being a corollary. The Kingdom of God functions very differently from the secular world: we are called to rejoice because of our sufferings (because through our endurance they refine us and make us more like Christ); we are called to be the least that we might be the greatest (because Christ was); we are called to give our wealth away that we might be rich (because God despises idolatry, exalts the humble and meek and sends the rich away empty), and we are called to see God in an executed convict (i.e. Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ). These sets of principles by which we live have an impact on how we form our views on things like suffering and are liable to be considered stupid by much of the secular world. Now as you know, I am theologically conservative. I hold the views that I hold, for instance, about abortion being wrong, as a result of this conservative reading of the Bible – the theology behind which would require whole blog posts to explain, but nonetheless, these are views that I hold. A liberal-minded Christian like yourself will have the same ultimate aims in mind – love of God, love of neighbour, and will be familiar with the apparently paradoxical principles by which we have been taught to live. But an atheist will be lacking at least in the first of the two main tenets. If the views that I hold on abortion are divergent from the secular majority view anyway, then I cannot bank on the secular world giving my reasoning for these views any credit: the cross is foolishness to them, so my reasoning is disqualified before I’ve even begun. However, typical liberal Christian conclusions on these issues (e.g. pro-choice) are likely to invite the approval of the secular majority, and the difference in reasoning behind the shared conclusions won’t invite their scrutiny, because they already agree with said conclusions. Many of them believe that God is a myth, and any view that is aberrant to their own, and that purports to be resultant from observance of a text deemed to be the ‘Word of God’, is likely to be seen as controlling and tyrannical if it is given secular political weight with a view to legal enforcement. If we want people to know and enjoy the Lord, why force them to accept what will only be a burden and a yoke to them while they cannot delight in doing what God blesses? Forcing people to obey statutes for the sake of a God they don’t believe in will be likely to put them off the gospel completely, and if that rejection of the gospel continues, they face God’s judgement. For instance, I’m pro-life, but to put it bluntly, logic requires that it will be better on the last day for any number of aborted fetuses than for non-believing women rejected the gospel in anger, knowing exactly what they were doing. Making non-believers obey rules might bring about some formal semblance of obedience, but it will not necessarily bring about a change of heart towards God, which is what God really wants after all. If atheists do not even believe in God, then it is asking a lot to expect them to appreciate the motives behind conservative Christian principles with which they disagree. So I confine my Christian ethics to Christian circles, where Christians will share and/or empathise with the underlying motives, even if they do not agree with the stance itself :).

  4. Tom

    Thanks Charlotte – that’s certainly a very different perspective. As a preliminary point though, I have to protest being labelled ‘liberal-minded’. I am neither theologically or politically liberal – and I rarely hear anyone as critical as I am of both. And as a further point – if you’re an Jacques Ellul-type anarchist, you should probably declare it now, because we’d end up having a completely different conversation. This comment won’t respond as closely with yours as I have on the gender question – I’ve instead tried to briefly (!) sketch out my view for you.

    My starting point is in our mission as Christians. I do not believe that we can draw any distinction between loving God and loving our neighbour – Jesus himself is explicit on this point (Matthew 26: 34-40). Loving God means we have to engage in the world and we are sent, as Jesus was, ‘to release the oppressed’ (Luke 4: 18). We are also told that we are to act justly (Micah 6:8), and the prophetic literature is full of condemnation for unjust political structures (e.g. Isaiah 10).

    None of this takes away from your point – there are things that political structures cannot do. They cannot change the heart. But our mission isn’t just to change hearts, it is to live a life of love – and the Bible is clear that this means being especially concerned for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised.

    Politics certainly provides a way to do such things. The Old Testament has numerous examples of laws designed to protect the poor (as just one example, Leviticus 19:9). Equally, Jesus spoke against the authorities in his time when they disregarded human suffering (e.g. Luke 13:10-17). In following his example, why would we not do the same? (As the churches have done so here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21625446.) It seems to me that if we’re in the business of criticising governments when they do things badly, surely we must be able to suggest better ways of doing ideas/policies – in which case we’re doing politics.

    Equally, there seem to be certain situations when we cannot protect God’s world, and the most vulnerable in it, without politics. Take, for example, the issue of climate change. We in the West, with our decadent lifestyles, are already murdering 300,000 of the world’s poorest people every year (http://www.eird.org/publicaciones/humanimpactreport.pdf), and seriously blighting the lives of millions of others. This is only set to increase, and cannot be changed without focussed, co-ordinated and enforceable international action. We have a biblical mandate to protect human (and other animal) life, health and dignity, and so we clearly cannot allow this to happen. We therefore urgently need to engage in political action to make the requisite changes. It is our duty to do so.

    So my basic reply to your view is simply this – that christians do have concrete material objectives to achieve in the world, and politics forms part of that. The fact that politics can’t do everything is important – it means we cannot use political machinery for all our ends, which leads us to develop some kind of principles of secular government. So we can’t try to compel faith, but we can institute laws to protect the vulnerable (which can include pre-partum babies). And in many cases, we must.

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