What Christians Care About

“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

—Matthew 25:34-40

“Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

—Mark 10:18-21

In biblical verses such as the above, Jesus lists the moral duties of Christians, which consist entirely of matters of personal morality and public compassion. Notably absent from these lists are injunctions for Christians to take over the state, to outlaw abortion, or to restrict gay marriage. Yet somehow, those seem to be virtually the only issues of concern for today’s right-wing Christians. Consider the following open letter to James Dobson, by one Dave Daubenmire, encouraging Christians to abandon the Republican party and start their own political movement (HT: Slacktivist):

In an attempt to build a big tent, the Republican Party has become a conglomerate of special interests. Christians are now standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a party that supports homosexual candidates, pro-abortion candidates, and those who support homosexual marriage.

Notice that this author, in an attempt to list the moral duties of Christians, draws a blank and starts repeating himself after only two items. His complaint is not that the GOP has failed to minister to the poor or feed the hungry, but that they have not hated gays and reproductive rights activists with sufficient intensity for his satisfaction. The actual directives from the Bible have, apparently, vanished from his mind in favor of the set of right-wing political talking points that modern evangelicalism has become.

Since this author seems unable to think of anything else modern Christians care about, I will help him out by listing a few other things: blocking or weakening the teaching of evolution; outlawing contraception and pornography; banning Internet gambling; forbidding stem-cell research; denying euthanasia to the terminally ill; placing coercive state-sponsored religious displays in schools and courthouses; supporting the war in Iraq; and cutting taxes for the rich. These items are not just high on the priority list of today’s religious right, but seem to constitute its entire priority list. When it comes to the priorities endorsed by the Bible, the religious right is at best negligent, and worst actively hostile, considering Republican politicians’ frequent votes to cut funding to social programs for the poor and needy (unless, of course, those programs are provided by a church that is legally permitted to discriminate in its hiring decisions, to blend social services with religious messages, and to force applicants to endure the latter as a requirement of receiving the former).

More so, today’s right-wing Christians are not above playing politics with human lives to ensure the passage of laws favoring their beliefs. Take this recent editorial from the New York Times regarding right-wing congressional Republicans delaying passage of the $500 billion defense budget until an amendment allowing military chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus at non-sectarian, secular ceremonies was passed.

There is a detectable thread running through all these demands, and it is not the ideal of quiet virtue promoted by at least the better parts of the Bible. On the contrary, the distinctly noticeable unifying theme of religious right politics is their loud, pushy and aggressive desire to control the lives of others. Even private, individual behavior that harms no one and affects no one’s life but the person doing it, if it clashes with religious right ideas of personal morality, becomes a target of their savage hatred. On the other hand, they are eager for the opportunity to build their opinions about personal morality into the lives of others through the coercive power of government. They have advanced proposals to dictate every stage of everyone’s life: the times and circumstances of your birth, the time and manner of your death, who you can love, who you can marry or have sex with, how you can spend your leisure time, which religion you practice, and others. There is not a single policy item of the religious right that does not, in one way or another, stem from this all-consuming desire, and they are not in the least bit shy about steamrolling other people’s rights and opinions to get what they want, no matter the cost.

In light of these trends, which are glaringly apparent to even a casual follower of the news, the greatest irony is that some Christians now seem puzzled why so many people do not like them. Here is Philip Yancey:

How can people who inhabit the same society have such different perceptions? More ominously, what have we evangelicals done to make Good News – the very meaning of the word evangelical – sound like such a threat?

Or from the April issue of Christianity magazine, whose editor suggests it is time for Christians to cease referring to themselves as “evangelical“:

“Now to the unchurched and people of other faiths – evangelical is increasingly shorthand for: right-wing US politics, an arrogant loud mouth who refuses to listen to other people’s opinions, men in grey suits who attempt to crowbar authorised version scripture verses into every situation, or ‘happy-clappy’ simpletons who gullibly swallow whatever their tub thumping minister tells them to believe.”

…Buckeridge says that he is “tired of being tarred with the identities of men with megaphones who shout ‘hell’, ‘wrath’ and ‘damnation’ at passers-by and fail to say, ‘love’, ‘grace’ or ‘forgiveness’.”

I have some timely advice for Christians such as this: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” People increasingly identify evangelical Christianity with arrogant, bullying, hateful right-wing politics because that is what it now is. For all intents and purposes, the two have become synonymous, and evangelical Christianity in America has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party (or vice versa). Small surprise, then, if people who do not share that narrow-minded and domineering view of the world also want nothing to do with the religious beliefs that stand behind it.

Not all Christians are expressing alarm over this development, naturally. Some seem quite smug about it, viewing it as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that Christians will be hated by the world, and do not seem to realize that this is a completely self-fulfilling prophecy and is due to their own behavior. Some even seem entirely oblivious to its causes, such as apologist Josh McDowell, whose pamphlet More than a Carpenter confidently asks the following:

“Why don’t the names of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius offend people? The reason is that these others didn’t claim to be God, but Jesus did.”

McDowell’s self-congratulatory reasoning fails to explain why people are not similarly offended by the names of Zeus or Osiris or Ahura Mazda, other legendary figures who are also claimed to have been divine. The real reason, which would be obvious to anyone who took the time to think about it, is that Buddhists and Confucians are not loudly lobbying to force their views into the lives of others, the way Christians are now doing in most of the Western world. Most religious people are content to live and let live, and it is small wonder that the ones who are not meet with scorn and hostility from people not of that belief system. Christians like Yancey and Buckridge grasp this, but many others do not.

Regrettably, the Christians who understand how the aggressive drive for secular power is rotting their faith’s foundations from the inside out seem to be outnumbered by those who regard it as an unmitigated good. If liberal and moderate Christians cannot or will not effectively oppose their religion’s accelerating slide into indistinguishability from just one more plank in a political platform, then it is up to the nonbelievers and atheists to stand up and fight back. There can be no question that we have both the facts and the law on our side. Nor do we lack the courage and passion that is needed to defeat the hordes of the Dark Ages. We have all the tools of victory we could possibly ask for, and we have them in abundance. All we need, and all we must create, is the organization and the will to effectively assert ourselves.

You Got Your Ideology in My Atheism!
A Christian vs. an Atheist: On God and Government, Part 11
Atlas Shrugged: The Craft of Not Acting
New on the Guardian: Beyond Debating God’s Existence
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • James

    One can take heart that in Australia at least, secularism is the fastest growing system among todays youth. As an openly atheist youth in a school run by the Uniting Church I find that the most evangelism and hatred I get for my stance comes imported from America. Here, if a parliamentry candidate says something outrageous like “Lesbians are witches and should be burned at the stake” (Ah, Family First party… is there anything they WON’T do?) they are mocked as ruthlessly as they deserve. It seems a healthy level of skepticism and derision when deserved for outrageous claims is the norm for countries outside the US. Evangelism isn’t that much of a problem and you are much more likely to find good, honest christians instead of hate-mongering fundies. The situation isn’t as bad as you think, at least it’s basically confined to only one of the many major westernised countries.

  • O. Wolcott

    I first want to say that I am a frequenter of this website and its predacessor ebonmusings. Your works are a welcome release from the absurdities of religion and politics that have an unfortunate stranglehold on so many things in our great nation. Keep up the wonderful job you are doing; not losing an ounce of your penetrating insight, nor ebbing your formidable prose. That being said, I look forward to what I hope to be many engaging and thoughtful entries on my part that may advance or at least add to the existing wealth of comments and opinions already put forth.

    Until next time I will leave you with this: Have you given much thought to the question of Jesus’ historicity, and if so do you plan on writing about it in the near future? The reason I ask is in the research I’ve done (reading the bible, and writings of Christian apologists past and present) of Christianity, as it pertains to ancient mythological religions, the character of Jesus is remarkably similar to Horus, Vishnu, Buddha, Zoroaster, Mithras, etc. on a great many fronts. My question I know was poorly formulated but hopefully you got the gist of it. I by no means am a historian of religion, though on the face of it the evidence for a historical ‘Jesus’ just doesn’t seem to be there. In fact the evidence that Jesus was simply a rip-off, or better yet an amalgamation of several or many ancient mythological figures is in my opinion where the evidence leads. Your thoughts?

  • Interested Atheist

    Hi, O. Wolcott – Ebon Musings “Choking on the camel” is a very good read.

  • O. Wolcott

    Thanks, I seem to have overlooked that. Much appreciated Interested Atheist.

  • http://corsair.blogspot.com corsair the rational pirate

    Clap clap clap!

    Great read!

  • Christopher

    Even though most of the U.S. population today is christian, they are dwindling in number. At present, less than 5% of people under the age of 21 believe in their nonsense (hellfire preachers have been screaming this little factiod for about 3 years now, hoping to scare parents into sending their kids to bible camps for indoctrination). They are losing the war for their existence and they know it!

    They are a religion of middle-aged couples and old fogies that fear change; their days as a political force to be reckoned with are coming to a close. Let them stare into the abyss that is their future (who knows, it might even stare back and give them a new outlook of themselves).

  • my view

    Does Belief in God Damage Society?

    By Ruth Gledhill,
    The Times UK

    Religious belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

    According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

    The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.

    It compares the social peformance of relatively secular countries, such as Britain, with the US, where the majority believes in a creator rather than the theory of evolution. Many conservative evangelicals in the US consider Darwinism to be a social evil, believing that it inspires atheism and amorality.

    Many liberal Christians and believers of other faiths hold that religious belief is socially beneficial, believing that it helps to lower rates of violent crime, murder, suicide, sexual promiscuity and abortion. The benefits of religious belief to a society have been described as its “spiritual capital”. But the study claims that the devotion of many in the US may actually contribute to its ills.

    The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society, a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

    “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

    “The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

    Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

    He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

    The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

    Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

    He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

    Mr Paul delayed releasing the study until now because of Hurricane Katrina. He said that the evidence accumulated by a number of different studies suggested that religion might actually contribute to social ills. “I suspect that Europeans are increasingly repelled by the poor societal performance of the Christian states,” he added.

    He said that most Western nations would become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven. Likewise, the theory of evolution would not enjoy majority support in the US unless there was a marked decline in religious belief, Mr Paul said.

    “The non-religious, proevolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator.

    “The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted.”

    Source: The Times UK

  • Crazy Non-Believer

    It’s fine that we all agree with the article. But what do we few do about the spread of Islamicism throughout Europe and the rest of the world that will apparently within a decade become the majority? In my opinion, we can’t fight blind faith with blind faith. But then what do we do?

  • Mikidu

    To Crazy Non-believer.
    I think you have identified a valid concern. The more we attack and weaken Christianity, the more fertile ground becomes available for another religion, such as Islam, to move in on their territory . Given a choice of the two, I think Islam is more undesirable than Christianity. Even George Bush’s good buddy Ted Haggard has expressed concern about the Islamification of Europe as the next major threat. I believe we should all concentrate less on attacking specific religious beliefs and direct our attention to the God concept in general as Richard Dawkins does. If through public education we can show the God concept itself is irrational, then we are effectively dealing with all religious beliefs at the same time.

  • lpetrich

    And the really remarkable thing is what sinners they call themselves, how deserving of eternal damnation they claim to be. They then turn around and act like the Gospels’ caricature of Pharisees, absolutely convinced of their moral perfection.

    And guess what recently came out: David Kuo’s book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. It describes how the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was using the Religious Right as a way of mobilizing Republican votes. Not only did it fail to deliver on billions of dollars of promised funding, White House strategists would routinely dismiss RR leaders behind their backs as “ridiculous” and “out of control” and “goofy,” calling them “the nuts.”

    Niccolo Machiavelli would have understood very well — he recommended that political leaders seem religious and virtuous and so forth, even as they shamelessly do whatever crooked things they need to in order to get power and retain it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Mikidu raises a valid point, but it is not, I think, one that applies to us. The people who have to worry about the scenario he describes are evangelical Christians who think they can avert the threat posed by Islam by converting enough people. It’s certainly true that people who are susceptible to one superstition will tend to be susceptible to others, so that war is likely to be an endless stalemate, with people converting between both sides regularly but never shifting the overall balance. But we atheists are not, I hope, just attacking religion piecemeal, one belief system at a time. Instead, we should be teaching people to reason and to think critically, grounding them in rational skepticism that can be applied to every unjustified belief alike. If we succeed at doing that, then when we free one person from a particular religion, we’ll have immunized them against all other religions as well.

  • lpetrich

    So some Xian fundies are trying to pose as the only reasonable alternative to Muslim fundies? A plague on both their houses is my response. They seem too much alike for my taste.

    And that Open Letter to James Dobson got a response on its page to the effect that setting up a “Christian party” would mean electoral doom, because it would take votes away from the Republican Party.

    This is a side effect of the usual voting system used, first-past-the-post or plurality voting. That is, one vote and that’s it. That works OK when there are only two candidates, but is the worst possible system for more than two. This is because it makes a vote for any other than the two biggest candidates very likely a wasted vote, one that helps one’s least favorite of the two major ones. There are lots of rumors of the Republicans supporting the Greens in 2000 in order to deprive the Democratic Party of votes, and given the Rovians’ record of Machiavellianism, I would not be one bit surprised.

    There are lots of alternative systems, several of which have been used in other nations and by various organizations. The main ones for single-seat races are:

    * Approval voting. Like plurality voting, but it’s possible to vote for more than one candidate.

    * Preference voting. One ranks the candidates by preference; these preference rankings are combined to find an overall preference ranking using any of various algorithms (Borda, Condorcet, Instant Runoff).

    For multi-seat races, like for multi-seat House delegations, one can have proportional representation. In the commonly-used party-list system, each party gets votes in proportion to how many votes it had received. The states could adopt this proportional approach in order to select their electors for the Electoral College, thus making the electoral vote closely approximate the popular vote and forcing candidates to concentrate on all states and not just a few “battleground” states.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    There are lots of rumors of the Republicans supporting the Greens in 2000 in order to deprive the Democratic Party of votes, and given the Rovians’ record of Machiavellianism, I would not be one bit surprised.

    Relying on rumors isn’t necessary. They did exactly the same thing this year (or tried to, anyway), funding and supporting the Green Party in Pennsylvania in an attempt to split the Democratic vote for Senate. The Green candidate, Carl Romanelli, got 100% of his campaign donations from Republicans, and staffers working for Rick Santorum went out to collect signatures on his behalf. Fortunately, Romanelli was disqualified when it turned out that many of the signatures collected for him were spurious. (See these posts from Daily Kos chronicling the affair.)