Enemy of Faith

It seems that the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, which apparently exists, has released a list of the top ten instances of “Christian-bashing” in America in 2008 (HT: PZ). Taking a bold stand, this group has announced, “It is time for… Christians to no longer be treated like second-class citizens”.

Perusing the list, you’ll soon discover that the people who wrote it can’t grasp the difference between being criticized and being persecuted. Forget that at least three-quarters of the U.S. population identifies as Christian, that Christianity enjoys unanimous acclaim and official favoritism by government, or that Christianity controls a vast multibillion-dollar empire of books, magazines, radio stations, TV channels and private universities to spread its message. Never mind all that, some evil atheists said mean things about us on the Internet, which proves what a poor, persecuted minority we Christians are! Boo hoo!

But of all the items on the list, my personal favorite is the claim that President Barack Obama says he’s a Christian, but isn’t a Christian according to this group’s definition of the term, and that his election therefore represents persecution of Christianity. And then there’s this gem of irony:

During and after the November campaign stories flooded in of pro-Prop 8 signs being taken, people verbally and physically assaulted, church property and private automobiles vandalized, and person’s jobs and pastor’s lives threatened simply for exercising their right to campaign and vote in support of traditional marriage.

I don’t condone violence, but come on. It’s pure disingenuousness to say that you’re just “protecting marriage” by taking it away from people whom you don’t think deserve to have it, and then acting shocked and appalled when those people get angry. This is like the way cowboy movies depict white men as the heroes, under assault by those savage Native Americans for no reason whatsoever.

But even if these specific examples are laughable, there remains the overall accusation: that atheists are die-hard enemies of faith, unwilling to live in harmony with theists, seeking to eradicate religion from the earth by any means necessary. Is that a fair characterization?

I can only answer for myself, of course, but I consider this a most unfair and insultingly inaccurate depiction of my views. For the record, here’s what I think:

I have never spoken against freedom of conscience, nor will I ever. You can practice, in the privacy of your own homes and churches, any faith you want. You can even preach it in public and try to persuade others to convert. That’s part of the free flow of ideas that’s an essential part of any democratic society. (By the same token, just as you have the right to proselytize and to argue against other faiths, you should expect to be argued against and criticized by people who believe differently. That too is part of the flow of ideas, protected by the same free speech guarantees that secure your right to preach to others. Free speech covers every idea, not just the ones you happen to agree with.)

But what you do not have the right to do is to import your religion into public policy, to make decisions which affect all of us on the basis of a faith that we do not all share. A government that represents people of diverse religious views must be secular, showing no favoritism toward any sect, and justifying its policy decisions on the basis of facts and reasons which anyone can examine.

There’s one other condition I would add, which is this: You have the right to bring up your children in your own faith, but you should give them a meaningful chance to choose for themselves. You should teach them, at the very least, about the existence of different religions (and atheism), give them the opportunity to learn more if they wish to, and respect their choice if they desire to join one. Any belief system that brainwashes people via physical or emotional abuse, that seeks to deny them the right to make their own choices, or that punishes them if they leave, is an evil that society should not tolerate.

If you can meet these conditions, then I am not an enemy of your faith. Truthfully, I don’t care what other people do in private. It’s only when theists bring their faith into the sphere of public policy and assert that their understanding of God’s will entitles them to special treatment that I feel the need to speak out. If there weren’t so many intolerant, militaristic believers trying to force their will on others – if religious irrationality didn’t pose such a grave and continuing threat to the welfare of the human race – then I doubt I’d have this website at all.

I grant that I’ve expressed the desire to see all forms of religious faith fade away and be replaced by a more rational outlook, but that’s only because I think it’s inherent in the nature of faith to overreach. If I were proven wrong about that, I’d gladly accept it. I’d welcome the arrival of a new kind of faith whose followers were content to live and let live, and I would be happy to grant them the same courtesy in return. In any case, if religion does die out, I expect it will take place gradually through demographic changes and rational persuasion, and I absolutely would never condone any form of coercion.

About Adam Lee

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

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    I’ll second that!

    I think it is worth repeating whenever religious people forget/ignore it.

  • Pi Guy

    I’d have to think that it takes a pretty big dose of insecurity to think that Xians are being persecuted in this country. But I guess if you can overlook the evidence against and muster up unsubstantiated belief in god despite having no compelling evidence for doing so, mustering up outrage over persecution when none (or, perhaps little, I should grant) exists is a piece a cake.

  • TJ

    Unfortunately, I think it is unrealistic to expect that sincere believers of a faith that says unbelievers are damned to eternal hellfire will allow their children to explore other faiths or atheism. It’s one thing to agree that “people” in general have the right to destroy their own chances for (eternal or worldly) happiness, but another entirely to stand by while your children do it.

    To a believer, it’s like saying you should give your children the freedom to experiment with illegal drugs, excessive alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and gross bodily harm, only worse.

    If you really, truly believed that your children doing something would result in their eternal damnation (which is much much worse than torture or even death), wouldn’t you do almost anything to stop it?

    That’s why I think religion will be with us for a long long time. Scary fundamentalism is a very powerful self-reinforcing meme-complex that is tough to crack. The rationalist / skeptical meme-complex can do the job, but requires intelligence, honesty, and bravery from an individual indoctrinated into any of many religions.

  • MS (Quixote)

    If you can meet these conditions, then I am not an enemy of your faith … I’d welcome the arrival of a new kind of faith whose followers were content to live and let live, and I would be happy to grant them the same courtesy in return.

    Thanks for this post EM, and I take you at your word.

    if religious irrationality didn’t pose such a grave and continuing threat to the welfare of the human race

    Agreed, although I can’t shake the feeling that welfare here implies something more. With that in mind, the gravest dangers facing humanity seem to arise from science & technology. Granted, combined with religious irrationality their threat increases, but humans as whole, religious or not, seem irrational to me. Though science provides great benefits and could even save us in some scenarios, overall, even in its neutrality science underlies many of our biggest problems today, and certainly facilitates the evil we do as a race.

    Outgrowing technological adolescence seems unlikely from a historical perspective. I maintain a very guarded optimism we can pull it off.

  • velkyn

    These claims of so-called “persecution” devalue anyone who actually has been persecuted. Of course, that doesn’t matter to Christians who are so content to lie about nearly everything.

  • mikespeir

    …the gravest dangers facing humanity seem to arise from science & technology.

    MS:

    Wouldn’t it be better to say that science and technology can put weapons into the hands of our baser nature? I don’t think they give rise to the problems so much as they allow our already problematic natures greater expression of whatever evils might lie therein.

    Now, as I see it, we have about two choices. First, we can become hyper-Luddites and ban all technology. I doubt any of us here would vote for that. Second, we can, as we’ve been doing, also place science and technology at the disposal of our better natures to counteract the harm done on the flip side. There would be gradations between those two poles, of course; but, actually, I don’t think we’ve done too badly on the whole.

  • MS (Quixote)

    That’s roughly what I had in mind, Mike, you just expressed it better.

  • Jim Baerg

    Actually I would say I am an enemy of faith.

    At least I am when faith boils down to ‘believe despite an absence of evidence or even an abundance of evidence against’, which is all too often.

    I prefer to call myself ‘infidel’ or ‘faithless’ rather than ‘atheist’, because while the latter is true it would indicate my disbelief in a relatively superficial aspect of what is wrong with religion.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Yup.

    I feel that I ought to write a sober and thoughtful comment to this. But I have been overcome with fits of hysterical, unstoppable laughter, rendering me incapable of careful thought, ever since I read this in the first graph:

    “It is time for… Christians to no longer be treated like second-class citizens”.

    Please, please, somebody tell me they’re joking. “No longer be treated like second- class citizens”? Christians in America are the firstiest first class citizens ever. The only way they could be more first would be if the Constitution were re-written to make Christianity the official national religion. And they still think they’re being thrown to the $@#%! lions.

    You said it here, Ebon, we’ve all said it, and we need to say it again and again: Criticism is not persecution. Criticism is simply criticism. If believers want the freedom to express their beliefs in public and to try to persuade others to share them, they should recognize atheists’ right to do the same.

  • ex machina

    The only thing that turned my head was the prevention of Bible printing in Colorado, due to a law that prevents anything discriminatory form being printed in the state. Is that right? Has anyone actually been prevented from printing a bible or is this just a paranoid interpretation?

    http://www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2008A/csl.nsf/fsbillcont3/BD7A295EB6F4460E872573F5005D0148?Open&file=200_enr.pdf

    Based on the wording of the bill, I think one would have to publish a book whose entire premise was the discrimination of some minority group, and that the bible, a historical account of the history of a particular religion, would not constitute this.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Christians have a problem. Their religion tells them they will be persecuted. “”Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” their god said (Matthew 5:11). Their entire worldview is based on being the outsider, fighting against the world and the devil.

    So they have to come up with something to prove they’re really Christians, really worthy of heaven, really persecuted martyrs

    But they run the country. So it’s pretty risible, poor guys.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    So I’m now looking at their list even more closely… and I’m even more appalled.

    Out of the 10 instances of Christian bashing listed:

    Five involved nothing but forms of speech. Talking. Making movies. Making YouTube videos. In other words: criticism.

    One involved a physical act, but against a cracker and not a person. Also a form of expression/ criticism.

    One involves separation of church and state. The Virginia chaplains resigned — they weren’t fired — because they were instructed to make their state- sanctioned prayers at public events non-denominational instead of specifically Christian. Tellingly, the state representative who’s taken up their case said, “It’s a separation of Jesus and state.” Well, yes. That’s exactly what it is.

    One (the Prop 8 protesters one) does involve actual physical acts… but against property, not people. While I don’t condone it, the property damage was minimal, and it was a few isolated incidents in an overwhelming pattern of peaceful protests.

    One is just baffling, and I don’t even know what category to put it in: the Barack Obama one. Even if they were right, and Obama wasn’t really a Christian… how would that be “bashing” Christianity? Do they think Joe Lieberman is “bashing” Christianity by being Jewish?

    One, the Colorado SB200 one, is a misinterpretation of a law. (I believe — I’m not a legal expert, if someone is here is a legal expert please correct me.) SB200 is an anti-discrimination law, barring businesses from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (including transgender status) as well as race, gender, religion, etc. Which is why the Christian right is so bent out of shape about it. (Religious organizations, btw, are specifically excluded.) The language in question doesn’t ban anybody from their protected First Amendment right to publish, distribute, or sell the Bible, or anything else. It says that, in addition to not being allowed to discriminate, businesses etc. can’t distribute literature that “is intended or calculated to discriminate or actually discriminates.” In other words, you can’t discriminate in who rents your apartment… and you can’t put a leaflet in front of your building saying “Queers need not apply.” Here’s a summary; they have a link to a PDF of the actual bill.

    And if you count their bonus one (this list goes to eleven!): One involved an investigation into possible tax law violation on the part of some religious organizations.

    Are these the best examples of Christian bashing that they can come up with? Six cases of people expressing criticism of religion. One case of the law requiring that businesses not discriminate. One case of the law requiring that government representatives not proselytize for their particular beliefs when they’re on the clock. One case of some mild property damage during a flood of otherwise peaceful protests. One case of an important person not sharing their beliefs. And one bonus case of religious organizations being expected to obey the law.

    Please. Give me a break.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    ex machina: The SB200 language you’re talking about has zip squat to do with publishing Bibles or any other material. (I’m pretty sure — I’m going to ask a lawyer friend to confirm.) It’s a prohibition against putting “No Queers” (or “No Coloreds” or “No Jews” or “No Irish”) in your Help Wanted ad, your Apartment for Rent notice, the window of your business, etc.

    And religious organizations are specifically exempted from this legislation.

  • velkyn

    I do love the complaints about tax law enforcement, like Jesus didn’t say “render unto Caesar”? Ah, it’d be just great if Christians actually read their holy book.

  • nfpendleton

    So my zero tolerance stance on xian nonsense makes me a bigot? I guess I have to learn to live with that…

  • ex machina

    “render unto Caesar”

    I always thought of that as Jesus being sarcastic. He tells them to render unto Caesar that which is Caesars, but then turns right around and says to render unto God that which is Gods. And really, what’s not Gods? (if we were to grant that he existed)

  • http://unintentionalatheist.wordpress.com JazzDude

    I find it even more interesting that their description of Colorado HB200 as “Criminaliz(ing) the Bible” is purely disingenuous. Any person reading the bill will immediately see that Section 1 says that no part of the bill says:

    “The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares that nothing in this act is intended to impede or otherwise limit the protections contained in section 4 of article II of the state constitution concerning the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship.”

    Further, Section 8 is within a broader heading regarding “places of Public Accommodation”, and clearly states that “‘PLACE OF PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION’ SHALL NOT INCLUDE A CHURCH, SYNAGOGUE, MOSQUE, OR OTHER PLACE THAT IS PRINCIPALLY USED FOR RELIGIOUS PURPOSES.” The language prohibiting the publishing pf discrimitave matter very specifically refers to promotional or advertizing materials in the context of places of public accommodation. There is no interpretation of this that would allow censoring of the bible.

    The bill additionally contains language throughout protecting religion and creed.

    It’s unfortunate that the christian right can blatantly lie and misrepresent documents like this and not be called on it. Shameful.

  • Leum

    Larry Gonick took the same interpretation in his Cartoon History of the Universe.

  • glenn

    The interesting problem regarding this article and those ‘Christians’ is the fact that the founding fathers were religious men however they saw fit to create the concept of separation of church and state for the benefit of government while guaranteeing religious freedom in the 1st. Amendment. Religion has way too much influence on our government and uses it and media to lash out against any with different viewpoints. I fear I won’t live to see the day when there is an equity of ideas and acceptance of intellectual freedom for all.

  • http://www.brucealderman.info/blog/ BruceA

    As a Christian I am saddened by this list…saddened that some people who call themselves Christians have nothing better to do than to scream persecution at the first sign of disagreement.

    I work in a public library. Earlier this week I returned to my desk after lunch with a stack of books which included both “Life is a Miracle” by Wendell Berry, and “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. A co-worker who is an atheist saw the books, and we had a good conversation about the importance of being exposed to a variety of viewpoints; while we may not agree about the existence of God, we could at least find some common ground that could be the basis of a healthy discussion.

    I’m not alone among Christians in this belief; President-elect Obama is working hard to welcome a variety of (political) viewpoints in his administration. I don’t know much about the religious views of his cabinet members, but I doubt he has a religious test for them. On the other hand, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission doesn’t think Barack Obama should call himself a Christian, so I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want me to claim to be one either. So I think I know just who wants to be an enemy of my faith.

  • Leum

    I feel your pain, Bruce. But look on the bright side, no one thinks Christopher Hitchens is a good representative of your beliefs, they just think Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson…okay, you win.

    The best thing you and your fellow Christians can do is to keep talking, to say that people like the CADC don’t speak for you. Thank you for already doing so.

    Also, checked out your blog, where you continued your thoughts, loved this line:

    So, for those keeping score at home: If the CADC criticizes someone for identifying as a Christian, it’s research. If someone else does it, it’s bashing. I’m glad we could clear that up.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com Cannonball Jones

    I don’t think I’ll ever tire of hearing American Christians desribing themselves as ‘second class citizens’, ‘persecuted’, ‘ignored’, etc. Maybe us atheists should stop being so mean to them and just convert?

    My favourite one has to be how Obama is ‘Christian-bashing’ by claiming to be a Cristian while holding progressive views on certain social issues. I wonder if they’d accuse ol’ JC of Christian-bashing if he was to re-appear and restate the sermon on the mount?

    (Note, I’m not in any way comparing Obama to Jesus! Don’t particularly like him to be honest but he was better than the alternative.)

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    The fact that American Christians gripe about petty crap like this indicates that they enjoy freedoms that many people around the world can’t even imagine.

    American Christians are griping about atheist bus slogans while Christians in India are slaughtered by Hindus. American Christians complain about people protesting in front of their churches while political dissidents in China are tortured by government officials.

    Some American Christians suffer from a serious case of persecution/martyrdom envy. Their holy book teaches that martyrdom is great and they are commanded to suffer for their faith. Since their lives are relatively easy, they have to fabricate instances of suffering to assure themselves that they are fulfilling their calling faithfully. It’s all seriously f**ked up crap.

  • Valhar2000

    So, for those keeping score at home: If the CADC criticizes someone for identifying as a Christian, it’s research. If someone else does it, it’s bashing. I’m glad we could clear that up.

    Wow! Excellent Bruce! That encapsulates the sheer hypocrisy of the CADC so well, and with so much economy of words… Pure artistry!

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    Ha! What a bunch of utter kookery:

    INSTANCE #4: Colorado Law Criminalizes the Bible – SB200, a Colorado state bill recently signed into law, criminalizes the Bible. Section 8 of the bill entitled “Publishing of discriminative matter forbidden” makes publishing the Bible illegal because it contains anti-homosexual passages. This is part of a larger effort to criminalize the expression of certain opinions and beliefs.

    I realize the opinion most people here have of me, and I’m okay with that, but this is a shining example of why I think most of your opinions against mainstream Christians are justified. It’s obvious Cass and his people didn’t take the time to read through the entire bill. I did, and I disagree with the CADC’s slippery slope argument 100%. OTOH, if Bible printing were outlawed, such would be cause for alarm, and imagine the countless other books that would equally have to be pulled or prevented from going to press.

    As a Christian I am saddened by this list…saddened that some people who call themselves Christians have nothing better to do than to scream persecution at the first sign of disagreement. (BruceA)

    While I typically don’t call myself a Christian, I concur. They do sound like a bunch of whiners to me, and IMO, when people actually seek to silence their critics for nothing more than criticising, we can be sure that fear is most definitely a factor.

    Religion has way too much influence on our government and uses it and media to lash out against any with different viewpoints. (glenn)

    I agree.

    The best thing you and your fellow Christians can do is to keep talking, to say that people like the CADC don’t speak for you. Thank you for already doing so. (Leum)

    I agree, and if such is not evident from my comment, they do not speak for me. As you all know too well, I thrive off of cogent criticism.

    The fact that American Christians gripe about petty crap like this indicates that they enjoy freedoms that many people around the world can’t even imagine. (the chaplain)

    I agree, and would add that they do so most ungratefully.

    SB200 is an anti-discrimination law, barring businesses from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (including transgender status) as well as race, gender, religion, etc. (Greta Christina)

    That was the gist I got, too, and those are ideas I support. I agree that gay, atheist or (fill in the blank) people are equally deserving of the same rights as the rest of us. To imply otherwise is tantamount to casting the first stone. To any so-called Christians who support such discrimination on account of the Bible’s stance that homosexuality is a sin, I must ask – do any of you sin? Maybe swear on occasion or harbor hatred for others? Should we prevent people who swear their civil rights? Their argument breaks down to, “Your sin is more offensive than mine,” and such is neither Christ-like nor biblical.

    I am equally, if not more concerned about rebutting absurd dominionist theocracy than any of you, because I’m the one it makes look bad by mere association with my belief that there is a God – not you.

    Live and let live, love and let love.

  • anti-supernaturalist

    ** Sanitize the State, stop all government support of religious institutions **

    Mr. Obama just doesn’t get it. Xians are oppressors in the US. They are not the oppressed. They make jihad against women and their rights not to be dominated by male throwbacks to 19th century hypocritical puritanism. (The pro-birth idiots, male and female.)

    Persecution? Sure, give’em some. Get rid of their unconstitutional special status: tax their property, tax their income, de-fund their so-called faith-based initiatives. Then we’ll see how long their pernicious special interest groups last.

    Some just restitution for 225 years of xians enforcing prig morality and unlawful control, especially at the state, county, and local levels.

    A secular state ought to stop forcing us to support xian con men, liars, pedophiles, politicos . . . who cram their non-existent god and perverted values down our throats.

    “Crush the infamy.” — Voltaire

    anti-supernaturalist

  • Iron Rooster

    The Amish are a group of extreme religious people whom don’t bother anyone else with there religion. If only all Christians kept to themselves that well.

  • Andrew

    You know I must say to say Christians are ‘persecuted’ in US is an insult to all the Christains that have been(and still are being) persecuted throughout the world.

    Yes some people dont like us. And yes there are a lot of (mostly false) sterotypes of Christians throughout the world. But theres also a lot of (mostly false) negetive sterotypes of Muslims, Jews, athiests, gays, blacks, liberals, whites, zombies(they dont really eat brains), pirates, ect. So I guess all these groups are ‘persecuted’ as well.

    Ok I’m dont ranting now.

  • Nathan

    In my experience, self-identifying Christians think of themselves as persecuted primarily from other self-identifying Christians who have the temerity to disagree with them