Not Knowing the Enemy

The Christian site Crosswalk.com has published an article by Tony Beam, director of the “Christian Worldview Center” at North Greenville College in South Carolina. Reporting on a talk given by ex-Watergate felon and current prison minister Charles Colson, Beam discusses what in his eyes are the two greatest threats facing Christians today: fundamentalist Islamic radicals who blow up buildings and kidnap and murder innocent bystanders with the intent of establishing a fascist, patriarchal theocracy… and atheists who write books criticizing Christianity.

I won’t comment on Beam’s denunciations of Islam, other than to note that he echoes many right-wing Christians in calling for a war with Iran. This irresponsible, jingoistic militarism is an outgrowth of evangelical Christianity’s long symbiosis with the Republican party, to the point where the two have become almost indistinguishable. It is bizarre to see such belligerence coming from someone whose religion teaches loving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek when provoked.

But, onward. Since Beam claims to be giving his followers a primer on how to deal with atheism, I thought I’d offer some comments:

This new brand of 21st century atheism is much more pervasive and exceedingly more dangerous than any of its earlier manifestations.

Aw, shucks. You’re making me blush here. :)

Neo-atheism goes much farther than the mere denial of God’s existence. It actually calls for the eradication of all forms of Christianity.

Guilty as charged: I do think the world would be a better place if all religious believers, Christians included, gave up their religion; and I do frequently encourage theists to do this. So? What’s so unusual about a person who holds an idea wanting everyone else to share that idea? Doesn’t Beam’s worldview, after all, “call for the eradication of all forms of atheism”? (He’s the director of the Christian Worldview Center; he ought to know.) The only noteworthy thing about this charge is the breathless tone of hysteria in which he phrases it.

One prominent Neo-atheist has gone so far as to suggest that Christian parents should be prohibited by law from passing their religious values down to their children.

In what is rapidly becoming the 21st-century equivalent of the medieval Christian blood libel, Beam repeats the charge that Richard Dawkins wants to ban parents from teaching children about their (the parents’) religion. Shocking! Scandalous! And also completely fictitious. Dawkins has never said or advocated anything of the kind. In fact, he says the opposite: he thinks there should be more comparative religion taught to children, and I agree. When it comes to the indoctrination of children in one religion exclusively, Dawkins does oppose that, as any fair-minded person would, but even here he makes it plain that his opposition is in a moral and not a legal sense. (See also).

They consider the teachings of Jesus Christ to be the moral equivalent of child abuse.

This is a half-truth at best. Atheists certainly do not think that all the teachings attributed to Jesus Christ in the Christian Bible are bad ideas. Some of them, like the idea of having compassion on strangers, are quite good ideas that we should teach and disseminate (although their goodness does not come from the fact that they are found in the Bible; it comes from the fact that they can be defended specifically without reference to the Bible, or to any holy book).

But mixed in with these good ideas are some truly evil ones, and chief among them is the doctrine of Hell: the idea that there exists a pit of eternal suffering where nonbelievers will go after death to be tormented forever, without hope of rest or escape, and that we should fear God because he has the power to consign us to this terrible place. Teaching a child about Hell, I do consider to be emotional child abuse. (Richard Dawkins who relates the story of a former believer who was sexually abused by her priest and who was taught about Hell as a child, which gave her many sleepless nights; she considered the suffering caused by the latter to be worse than the former.) Again, this is not to say that mention of this idea should be legally banned, only that it needs to be criticized so ferociously and so often that any person would be ashamed to defend it.

They believe absolute truth is a myth and objective, fact-based reality is a fairytale told by fools.

For someone who titles his piece “Knowing The Enemy and How We Must Fight”, Beam shows remarkably little knowledge of his enemy. If Tony Beam has any familiarity at all with the “neo-atheists” he decries – people like Richard Dawkins, like Sam Harris, like Christopher Hitchens – then he would know that the statement quoted above is the polar opposite, the total antithesis, of what these people actually believe, say and proclaim. (Perhaps he’d realize this if he stopped calling attention to the motes in atheists’ eyes and started paying attention to the… well, you know the rest.) On the contrary, we atheists believe that there is absolute truth, there is a reality based on objective facts, and that God is not one of these facts. That is the entire basis and foundation of our argument. Through science and reason, we have gained a progressively greater understanding of how our universe operates over the past several centuries, and it has become increasingly clear that we live in a natural cosmos with no evidence of any supernatural, miraculous or magical intervention. That is what we have been saying since the beginning.

Put simply, Beam is completely and flagrantly wrong about what atheists actually believe. His argument displays a basic and pervasive ignorance of his subject. To get Christianity as wrong as he has gotten atheism, I’d have to ask Christians why they believe that Jesus was the only son of God when they readily concede that his teachings were superceded by the far superior teachings of Mohammed.

Beam is not the only one who has made such misleading statements. The more one reads Christian literature, the more inescapable it becomes that the overwhelming majority of attacks on atheism are based on glaring, blatant falsehoods about who atheists are and what we want. When Christian apologists are faced with a nonbeliever who does not conform to their cartoonish, black-and-white stereotypes about what nonbelievers believe and say, too often they ignore the person’s actual position and choose instead to repeat the stereotype. In a way, this is flattering; it is a clear concession that they are unprepared to deal with the position we actually hold. But it is also infuriating to think of the believing masses who will take Beam’s falsehoods as gospel truth and form their impressions of atheists based on lies. I more than strongly suspect that most of the disdain and disapproval of atheists repeatedly found by pollsters comes not from the actual positions of atheists, but from slanderous falsehoods like this spread by religious demagogues.

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About Adam Lee

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


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