unChristian

One of the nice perks of teaching high school is getting the two-week break over the holidays. It gives me a chance to catch up on the 238932 books I’ve been meaning to read but had to put off.

One of the books I’ve already devoured is UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.

The book is aimed at Christians eager to change the perceptions people have about them. Kinnaman is very blunt when he tells Christians exactly how they appear (as a whole) to the outside world.

Homophobic.

Hypocritical.

Too political.

Judgmental.

Having a “must-save-you-or-else” mentality.

Sheltered.

The list is long. And true. It’s all backed up by research with young Christians and non-Christians. Of course, you were probably already thinking all these things to begin with.

No, not all Christians fall into the stereotype, but this is the image they have to deal with, whether they like it or not.

And I’ll be the first to admit that atheists (as a whole) have our own image problems.

That said, reading the book was kind of… fun. It’s almost entertaining to see one Christian telling other Christians that they act these ways. And then imploring them to change. The implication is that they’re unaware of how they come across to others when it’s so damn obvious to everyone else. In other words, this book didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But the purpose was to inform Christians who might be ignorant of all this that they do more harm to the faith when they act… well… Christian. (Or unChristian, in the authors’ words.)

Kinnaman isn’t saying that Christians should embrace homosexuality, but he does say they should show compassion to all people, regardless of their sexual preference. He isn’t telling Christians to abandon converting everyone they know, but he does tell them to “cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.”

Of course, sugar-coating your true beliefs isn’t going to make it all better. I think most atheists would prefer all this to stop altogether. Being gay isn’t a sin, watching porn isn’t a sin, women should have the right to control their own bodies, and we’d prefer if Christians just accepted the fact that we’re not going to convert even if you’re genuinely nice to us.

Christian beliefs aren’t going to change anytime soon, though. And this is a good start to make Christianity more palatable to the rest of the world. Atheists have to deal with Christians everywhere we go; it’d be nice if we could have positive interactions with them without their religion getting in the way. This book encourages Christians to seek out those positive relationships.

So I like it. And I’d encourage you to read it and share it with religious people you know.

When I read Sam HarrisThe End of Faith, I remember constantly thinking to myself, “Yes! He gets it! That’s what I’ve been wanting to say for so long; I just couldn’t express it as well!” Ironically, this book had me thinking those same thoughts.

And since it’s written by “one of them,” it has more of a chance of being heard by the Christian audience.

It also raises a dilemma for me.

I’ve spent a lot of the past year talking about how churches that try to reach out to non-believers did just the opposite in so many cases. My book gave churches advice on how to form positive relationships with atheists who will most likely never convert to Christianity.

The question is whether it helps atheists (and non-Christians) when Christians embrace their fundamental, by-the-Book views.

I would love to see churches become a safer, more accepting place for my gay friends. And a place where tolerance was taught. And science education was appreciated.

At the same time, I know as long as churches maintain anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-all-things-right views, the more people will see religion for what it is and want nothing to do with it.

That’s a tempting alternative.

What makes me lean toward the first side — that wants churches to reform instead of continually digging themselves into a deeper hole — is that I don’t see them going away anytime soon regardless of what atheists do. Christians will be a force to reckon with for years to come regardless of their beliefs. We might as well help mold them into something more “Christ-like” (to use their own term).

Anyway, that all sets me up for a project I’m hoping to embark on in the next year. It’d have a similar goal to the eBay book, but with a dramatically different methodology. More on that in the coming weeks.

For those who celebrate, Merry Christmas.

For those who don’t, Merry ChriFSMas and have a great Tuesday.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com Bjorn Watland

    Ah, the paradox. Let religion destroy itself? Is that possible? What is different in Europe where traditions of Christianity remain, but true faith does not? Would it simply be better if people behaved as if there is no God, that is recognize the material world and reject supernatural possibilities as solutions to problems? If religion is something which will be with humanity for sometime, then how could it be better? Making people better Christians, Muslims, etc, means making people behave the way I find acceptable, which no one can agree on. How can the pacifist, liberal Christians motivate and tempt those who find comfort in literal Biblical theology?

    Two of the most powerful motivators are greed and fear. I behave the way I do out of selfishness, a type of greed. I help those around me, because I know that quality will be recognized, and when I need help, I will be a trusted recipient. That may not be how things play out, and not all of my generosity is recognized, but should be a noticed behavior pattern of those around me. How could the motivation of greed or fear be used to guide toleration?

  • http://flowerdust.net anne jackson

    I love it that we share some of the same thoughts about the church! :) Happy Festivus!

  • Arlen

    But the purpose was to inform Christians who might be ignorant of all this that they do more harm to the faith when they act… well… Christian.

    Ouch, dude. That seems like a fairly mean-spirited thing to say, especially on this blog, and especially on Christmas! You can’t honestly believe that for 2000 years, the sole purpose of Christianity has been to sit around in groups and be homophobic, hypocritical, political, judgmental, etc, so I’m pretty miffed that you would choose to snidely call those qualities Christian. Your beef is not with the Christianity itself, but with some teachings and some practices by some Christians.
    The really annoying part of this whole thing is that this is actually a pretty good post; you’ve made me curious enough to want to check out the book. I just don’t know why you’ve chosen to blow a good deal of the post’s credibility to take some ridiculous cheap-shot. I’m really disappointed in you right now, Hemant.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    Hemant, your next book should be called unAtheist to get atheists to stop acting like arrogant jerks, stop having irrational beliefs in other areas (like conspiracy theories…), and stop beating up on agnostics all the time. (Oh, and encourage daily showering too.)

    Of course I am referring only to that stinky jerky minority of atheists. And I am certainly not talking about most of the find folks that attend our local meetup group (if any of you happen to be reading this…)

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    Arlen — It’s not a cheap shot. And of course the purpose of Christianity has not been to be hypocritical, arrogant, etc.

    However, most of the largest churches in the country, the loudest and most respected mouthpieces for the faith, have very strong things to say against homosexuality and the right to choose, among other issues. It’s not just “some Christians.” It’s a lot of them.

    Not every Christian agrees with them, though, and I pointed that out in the post.

    The qualities mentioned are the exact ones mentioned by the (Christian) author as what people think of when they think of “Christians.” I think many of them are valid, though the Christians I most associate with would break the mold of the majority of those traits.

    The issue here is that a lot of Christians feel they must convert you, or vote Republican, or have a conservative worldview in order to be a good practitioner of the faith. The author makes a point that these things are not necessarily the best ways to follow Jesus, which is really what he’s after.

    The blockquoted excerpt of my post you used means just that. The author says that these negative traits are taken by many people to be qualities of Christians. In fact, they’re “unChristian,” he says.

    Hope that makes sense.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    All the gifts are opened, all the bellies are full (for the time being), and the dinner’s in the oven, so I thought I’d stop in to see if anything’s going on…

    Homophobic.

    Hypocritical.

    Too political.

    Judgmental.

    Having a “must-save-you-or-else” mentality.

    Sheltered.

    Yep. I agree. And I don’t know if people can completely get rid of the deep seeded beliefs that are ingrained into their minds, no matter how friendly the friendly non-Christians become. I live and play among them, and I know the mentality all too well. They (we) are a very stubborn bunch, and I’m afraid it will be an excruciatingly slow process. We can always hope for the future generations, though.

    A new project, you say? Hmmm… I can’t wait for you to tell us all about it!!

    Merry Christmas!

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    NYCathiest,

    Nice atheists like you make up for all the “arrogant jerks” that we may encounter. And, again, there are those types in every group. It may also have something to do with the fact that you are in NYC. But that’s one of the reasons why I love NYC… because no one really seems to care about what others look like (or smell like). ;-)

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Homophobic.

    Hypocritical.

    Too political.

    Judgmental.

    Having a “must-save-you-or-else” mentality.

    Sheltered.’

    Really? That is hardly the perception I have of Christians in Britain.

    Perhaps it is just me, but that is just not the general image non-believers in the UK have of Christians in Britain.

  • Maria

    You make a lot of good points Hemant. I’m looking forward to your next book.

    Hemant, your next book should be called unAtheist to get atheists to stop acting like arrogant jerks, stop having irrational beliefs in other areas (like conspiracy theories…), and stop beating up on agnostics all the time. (Oh, and encourage daily showering too.)

    Of course I am referring only to that stinky jerky minority of atheists. And I am certainly not talking about most of the find folks that attend our local meetup group (if any of you happen to be reading this…)

    I agree. You can start with the Unrational response squad.

    ‘Homophobic.

    Hypocritical.

    Too political.

    Judgmental.

    Having a “must-save-you-or-else” mentality.

    Sheltered.’

    Really? That is hardly the perception I have of Christians in Britain.

    Perhaps it is just me, but that is just not the general image non-believers in the UK have of Christians in Britain.

    probably b/c religion isn’t as big a deal in Europe and they’re aren’t nearly as many fundies. it would be good if it was that way here too

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    As a liberal protestant, I’m pretty keen on the first strategy: have churches as welcoming of gay people, women, science, religious pluralism, and the like. It’s certainly what I aim to strive for in the church.

    The problem with Harris and company is that folks like me are considered the enemy, no different than fundamentalists. I think it might get more folks to join a cause to have an either/or proposition like that.

    But it fails to develop the necessary alliances which should already exist in support of values that we all can get behind from the separation of church and state to teaching actual science in the classrooms.

    I remember the easter challenge from the Rational Response Squad. One person was so excited that they found a Methodist church to place a “The God Who Wasn’t There” video in their pews.

    Problem was: this church was liberal. One that fully and openly accepted gay and lesbians, bucking their national denomination. And the poor sod who placed the video didn’t know that.

    Because there aren’t many contexts in the culture wars to talk to each other. Maybe Harris and others serve a purpose but I appreciate sites like this where conversation can happen.

    I’m adding this site to my links, because I do think it’s important to begin that conversation, to find areas of common work to be done and to hash out those areas we may disagree.

  • Arlen

    Hemant Mehta:

    The blockquoted excerpt of my post you used means just that. The author says that these negative traits are taken by many people to be qualities of Christians. In fact, they’re “unChristian,” he says.

    Thanks for the clarification. It wasn’t clear (to me) in the original post that you were quoting the opinion of the author rather than making a general statement. Glad we’re on the same page.

  • Maria

    As a liberal protestant, I’m pretty keen on the first strategy: have churches as welcoming of gay people, women, science, religious pluralism, and the like. It’s certainly what I aim to strive for in the church.

    The problem with Harris and company is that folks like me are considered the enemy, no different than fundamentalists. I think it might get more folks to join a cause to have an either/or proposition like that.

    But it fails to develop the necessary alliances which should already exist in support of values that we all can get behind from the separation of church and state to teaching actual science in the classrooms.

    I remember the easter challenge from the Rational Response Squad. One person was so excited that they found a Methodist church to place a “The God Who Wasn’t There” video in their pews.

    Problem was: this church was liberal. One that fully and openly accepted gay and lesbians, bucking their national denomination. And the poor sod who placed the video didn’t know that.

    Because there aren’t many contexts in the culture wars to talk to each other. Maybe Harris and others serve a purpose but I appreciate sites like this where conversation can happen.

    I’m adding this site to my links, because I do think it’s important to begin that conversation, to find areas of common work to be done and to hash out those areas we may disagree.

    I agree. That’s one of my main beefs with certain organizations in the “new atheist” movement-that they don’t bother to differeniate. Like it or not, secualrists of ALL types-whether theist or not-need to band together against fundies of all types. Creating further division isn’t going to accomplish much.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I agree. That’s one of my main beefs with certain organizations in the “new atheist” movement-that they don’t bother to differeniate. Like it or not, secualrists of ALL types-whether theist or not-need to band together against fundies of all types. Creating further division isn’t going to accomplish much.

    I agree too Maria, though what I’m coming to realize here is that many of those non-differentiating “new atheists” you mention don’t really share our same goals anyway. While some of us believe that fundamentalism is the “enemy” and the goal is to promote a more progressive society in general – regardless of whichever religious or non-religious worldview motivates those progressive values – others apparently see “faith”, period, as the “enemy” and therefore shared progressive values are irrelevant. A progressive Christian is just as bad a fundamentalist, in their opinion, because, it is the epistemology (or the metaphysics) that is considered most important, not the ethics.

  • Steven Carr

    MIKE C
    ‘A progressive Christian is just as bad a fundamentalist, in their opinion, because, it is the epistemology (or the metaphysics) that is considered most important, not the ethics.’

    CARR
    Indeed Mike is correct. Dawkins is driven by a desire for truth. If somebody teaches fables as facts, he doesn’t really care if that person is nice or not. Dawkins will still point out that he is teaching fables as facts.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Many evangelists churches (since this is the mission of evangelism) try to reach-out to the unchurched. They try to tailor their sermons to be palatable and meaningful to those that did not grow-up in a church (or those who have strayed from the flock). Although, what they really want is to get you into a position to believe the core message that we are all “fallen” and sinful (and Hell bound) and the ONLY way to redemption (and heaven) is through belief in Jesus Christ. This message is the goal and single objective among the evangelical churches. They just sometimes preach a tolerant message as a way to get to that outcome. That has been my experience in attending evangelical churches. At least fundamentalist churches say what they believe from the outset.

    Food for thought.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    Jeff
    There is a wide difference between liberal protestant churches and “seeker friendly” evangelical churches. One actually does believe in gay inclusion, science, pluralism, and the like.

    An example, the Episcopal Church is risking it’s membership in the Anglican Communion because of its committment to gay and lesbian inclusion and it’s ordaining of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson.

    Stephen
    It’s not an issue of being nice (though being nice is good). It’s a matter of reforming one’s understanding of religion, something the enlightenment and the scientific revolution helped to instigate in some churches.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Jeff said,

    This message is the goal and single objective among the evangelical churches. They just sometimes preach a tolerant message as a way to get to that outcome. That has been my experience in attending evangelical churches. At least fundamentalist churches say what they believe from the outset.

    Dwight said,

    There is a wide difference between liberal protestant churches and “seeker friendly” evangelical churches. One actually does believe in gay inclusion, science, pluralism, and the like.

    Why does everyone still put people into boxes? I often find myself doing the same thing, but I think generalizing groups of people is what gets us in trouble and into conflicts. We are all individuals, arent we? In my own church, for instance, there are only a handful of people who actually voice what they think. There are more who have opinions, but they don’t ever speak up about them. The fear of being wrong and/or being judged by fellow Christians keeps them silent.

    When you get to know people as individuals, though, you will find that your perceptions about them are oftentimes very wrong. When you make them feel safe and allow them to speak their minds, you will see many differing views.

    Let’s not look at people as Group A, B or C, but look at them as Jeff, Dwight, Linda, Hemant, Sam, George, Richard, Mriana, Greg, Am-pawn, Hassan, Kyung-Ja, etc. It has been my experience that when you treat people as individuals and not as a label (whatever that may be), they respond.

    And Mike C.,
    I agree with you.(Again! :-) ) Sometimes I feel like I get ‘punished’ for the mere fact that I have ‘faith,’ regardless of how much we think alike.

  • Vincent

    CARR
    Indeed Mike is correct. Dawkins is driven by a desire for truth. If somebody teaches fables as facts, he doesn’t really care if that person is nice or not. Dawkins will still point out that he is teaching fables as facts.

    But from his point of view, that’s like saying if someone is kicking puppies, he doesn’t care if that person is nice or not, he will still point out that he is kicking puppies. The implication of course, how can someone who kicks puppies be considered nice. How can someone be nice if he spends so much energy teaching people that not using critical thinking skills is a good thing?

    HEMANT
    we’d prefer if Christians just accepted the fact that we’re not going to convert even if you’re genuinely nice to us.

    Actually, I’d be happy if they thought being genuinely nice would work. That would be far better than being patronizingly nice or superficially nice, which is mostly what we get.

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Actually, I’d be happy if they thought being genuinely nice would work. That would be far better than being patronizingly nice or superficially nice, which is mostly what we get.

    What do you use as an indicator of what’s genuine, patronizing, or superficial? Just curious. Because I’ve found that even when I am being genuine, people accuse me of being otherwise. I get skeptical looks as if I’m trying to prey on their young. So you tell me, who gets to decide what’s genuine? The one offering or the one receiving (or refusing)?

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    This is an excellent book. The one ironic thing I noticed, however, was that the author exhibits some of the same problems in his own writing that he criticizes.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    I think the problem is that Harris and others try to argue that there is no difference between this or that religious person. It is an argument made of straw. To say that Osama Bin Ladin or Pat Robertson and Gene Robinson share much at all in common other than the statement God exists is simply an absurdity.

    And then to say that a religious liberal or progressive validates and perpetuates fundamentalism is to fail to look in the mirror to see that any perspective on the world that does not fit within this or that fundamentalist paradigm simply reinforces the us versus them mentality that prompted the fundamentalism in the first place!

    It is not religious liberals that perpetuate the problem, it is difference that perpetuates it. By lumping all religious perspectives under the same umbrella, the argument washes out the fundamental cause of the problems of religion and that is how a given religion deals with the Other.

    My reading of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitches is that they simply ignore the social aspect of religious behavior that shares itself with numerous other forms of human interaction outside of a purely religious context. The problems with religion they discuss are human problems that are catalyzed by dogma, but not created by dogma. That causal connection is something they simply do not make and when asked to make it, they simply state that their view is quite obvious and we should not have to demonstrate it.

    The good thing is that they are forcing us to talk. The bad thing is that they are also forcing us to deal with so many straw men arguments which is quite counter productive when there are many Christians I know who would love to engage the serious questions of atheists in order to reform problems the church creates for itself.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    How can someone be nice if he spends so much energy teaching people that not using critical thinking skills is a good thing?

    And that of course is just where many of the “new atheists” go wrong – in their assumption progressive Christians are not teaching people to not use their critical thinking skills. Ironically, quite the opposite was true in my experience – and that was even before I was a progressive Christian! Even within my conservative evangelical upbringing there was a high value placed on thinking for oneself and, as we put it, “making your faith your own” – in other words, thinking critically about Christianity and deciding for oneself if you believed or not. I did as they advised and where it lead me was not away from from faith altogether but towards a more progressive expression of faith. And within progressive Christianity an even higher value has been placed on “critical thinking” about the world and about religion.

    What Dawkins, et al. cannot fathom is that “critical thinking” will not always lead all people everywhere at all time to exactly the same conclusions. They cannot accept that reasonable people could possibly disagree about matters of religion. They act as if all questions about matters of religion function exactly like a mathematical equation that can only lead to one possible right answer (forgetting that even in math there are often equations with many possible right answers), therefore assuming that anyone who does not automatically agree with their answer could not possibly have been thinking critically.

  • Ben

    And that of course is just where many of the “new atheists” go wrong – in their assumption progressive Christians are not teaching people to not use their critical thinking skills.

    Ummm….too many negatives? I can’t parse that.

    What Dawkins, et al. cannot fathom is that “critical thinking” will not always lead all people everywhere at all time to exactly the same conclusions.

    Yes, they can fathom it quite well. Where do they say otherwise? As evolved, imperfectly rational human animals different conclusions are to be expected.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    “And that of course is just where many of the “new atheists” go wrong – in their assumption progressive Christians are not teaching people to not use their critical thinking skills.”

    Ummm….too many negatives? I can’t parse that.

    Sorry, I think I may have put in one negative too many actually. Basically I’m saying that progressive Christians do encourage critical thinking and that “new atheists” are wrong if they suggest otherwise.

    “What Dawkins, et al. cannot fathom is that “critical thinking” will not always lead all people everywhere at all time to exactly the same conclusions.”

    Yes, they can fathom it quite well. Where do they say otherwise?

    In the implication that if one believes in God, one cannot, therefore, be engaged in critical thinking. Such an implication appears to be based on the assumption that “critical thinking” only ever points to one possible answer to the question of God.

    I’m not pointing fingers at any particular “new atheist” specifically, simply responding to the argument Vincent suggested Dawkins would use. You’d have to ask Vincent where exactly Dawkins might actually suggest such a thing.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    It’s not that they are arguing about critical thinking, but rationality in general. The issue is that in order to engage in rational thinking one must ground that thinking in a purely naturalistic sense. That is to say, anything that cannot ultimately be grounded in in terms of naturalism or physicalism is fundamentally irrational.

    Now there are problems with this line of reasoning because it is difficult to assert that all knowing is grounded in what can be empirically tested. For it’s not enough to say that God appeared to someone unless that event can be empirically verified by an external observer. For instance, Paul’s experience with the risen Christ can be a fairy tale unless that event can be verified by an uninterested observer. But to say that all of our values and presuppositions about reality, culture, identity, etc. are up to an external test of sorts to determine their rational grounding seems to be an absurd and unnecessary claim as well.

  • Vincent

    I should be reprimanded for presuming what RD would think.
    That is the impression I take from his writing. That is his message as I understand it. I’m not able to quote book passages to point to exactly how I came to that conclusion, but no one has told me my conclusion is wrong.

    The phrase “critical thinking” was mine. Rationality works too.
    Basically, religion teaches that there is value to believing something you cannot prove, or for which there is no evidence. The easiest example to point to is Jesus telling Thomas “blessed are those who have not seen but believe.”
    Your church may have taught you more. I had a very Catholic upbringing, and Catholics are proud of their stand on science and logic and the great historical thinkers who were Catholic. Nevertheless, I was not taught that the non-existence of a god was even a possibility. I was not given any reason to believe there is a god other than because everyone sort of knew that there was. (and of course the flawed proofs of Acquinas, Anselm et al.)
    I was taught that when one person accuses another of something, I must look at the evidence to see if the claim was true, but I was not taught to look at the story of the nativity, examine the evidence to determine if it was true. I was just supposed to accept it.

    Now based on my experience and reading, this is the norm in religions. No matter what critical/logical skills you are taught, you are not supposed to point them at your own stories.
    I did, and found there is no compelling evidence of the nativity, the resurrection, the immaculate conception, the flood, the conquest of Jericho etc. etc.

    Teaching people to believe these things because they are in a holy book, or that said book is somehow different from any other book of stories, is harmful in that it creates people who are willing to accept stories from a certain source as true, even though they would find them completely ridiculous from any other source.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    Drew

    Though to say that Paul had an experience in space and time, means he experienced a natural event.That is, naturalism does not necessarily tie into specific views concerning verifiability.

    For untold years peasants in China had reported seeing pandas. But it took some time before western biologists could “verify” the existence of pandas. What happened in nature preceded verification.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    Vincent

    Though when I turned a critical eye to such stories I didn’t become an atheist. Instead I discovered something about stories and myths. And I found a different way of embracing things unseen (like imagining a world that was humane where we treated each other well,)

  • Vincent

    Linda said,

    What do you use as an indicator of what’s genuine, patronizing, or superficial? Just curious.

    Good point. I can only say it’s follow through. I’ve seen too many people act kind and friendly, invite you to functions etc., then when they realize they can’t convert you they just drop you completely. (My wife actually had someone she shared an apartment with stop talking to her when she realized she could not convert her to her form of evangelical christian.) If they were genuine then the friendship would not be dependent upon bringing you round.

    It’s not a good measure because you can only use it retrospectively.

  • Vincent

    Dwight said,
    Though when I turned a critical eye to such stories I didn’t become an atheist. Instead I discovered something about stories and myths. And I found a different way of embracing things unseen (like imagining a world that was humane where we treated each other well,)

    So you believe the stories are all myths, but that there’s a god or gods behind myth? Why? Where does your belief in god or gods come from?

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    Vincent

    I think myths don’t contain but can point to God (though sometimes they are more potent than other kinds of descriptions).

    If we can talk about those processes that make for life, for good, for human community, for transformation, I believe it’s possible to speak of God or God’s work.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Dwight,

    This assumes that it was an objective event in space and time for which there is no confirmed corroboration that it happened other than in Acts. That is to say, there is equal probability that the event on the road to Tarsus could have been completely in the mind of Paul and Paul was a convincing enough rhetorician that Luke bought it hook, line and sinker. It therefore assumes faith in the reality of the resurrection. This is why such a story is problematic for a naturalist. Naturalism is not just an understanding that reality is in nature, but an understanding of nature that is externally verifiable.

  • http://religiousliberal.blogspot.com Dwight

    Drew

    I’m not sure that works for a definition of naturalism. Before scientists discovered pandas what was their status of? Where they unnatural, supernatural, or unreal?

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Before something is discovered it cannot, by definition, be said to exist. The Yeti and the monster at Loch Ness are in this category today. Until we can substantiate their respective existence, they are simply mythological figures. The New Jersey Devil is also this kind of legend. Hitchens and others call upon the Flying Spaghetti Monster frequently to make this point.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Vincent

    Though when I turned a critical eye to such stories I didn’t become an atheist. Instead I discovered something about stories and myths.

    Yes, my experience was similar to Dwight’s. I can understand your experience Vincent, as I know there are many forms of faith that do not encourage critical thinking about one’s own beliefs. However that was not my experience. As I said, even as a conservative evangelical I was encouraged to think critically about my own beliefs – including the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, the birth, life, death & resurrection of Jesus, etc. And I firmly believe that rational people can come to differing conclusions about all of these things and yet still be considered “rational”. For instance, I’m not going to accuse atheists of being “irrational” simply because they don’t agree with the conclusions my own rational inquiry has led me to.

  • Karen

    Even within my conservative evangelical upbringing there was a high value placed on thinking for oneself and, as we put it, “making your faith your own” – in other words, thinking critically about Christianity and deciding for oneself if you believed or not.

    In my conservative evangelical background, true critical and independent thinking was blatantly discouraged. The couple people I knew who did it were called backsliders and doubters and it was assumed they’d succumbed to temptation from Satan and needed desperately to get back on the right path. Eventually, some did. Others did not.

    I also heard the phrase “making your faith your own,” which sounds nice, but in actuality it meant having a transcendent experience that equalled “accepting Jesus into your heart” or “being baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

    It absolutely did NOT mean going outside of Christianity to objectively explore other religious traditions or critically examining the claims of Christianity. Indeed, those things were considered dangerous temptations to be avoided at all costs. Your experience may have been completely different, of course.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Yes, I’ve known others whose experience was more similar to your own Karen. I guess I was fortunate to come from a background where “doubt” was not a dirty word and where “making your faith your own” was both intellectual and experiential.

    However, I should add that one of the things that pushed me out of even that version of evangelicalism was their insistence on a narrow view of rationality. Similar to some atheists, the pastor at my former church (the one I got resigned from) was insistent that not only should Christians think rationally about their beliefs, but also that this rational thinking would only ever possibly lead to one conclusion – i.e. the truth of (his particular brand of) Christianity. He could not accept my more “postmodern” insistence sometimes there are multiple possible answers that rationality can point us to and that therefore it should be okay for us to agree to disagree.

    I guess since encountering that narrow view of rationality within Christianity, I’m more reactive when it crops up among atheists too.

  • http://off-center.tatuskofam.com Drew

    Karen and Mike,

    Something to keep in mind that you have kind of touched upon is that thinking critically requires one to make a judgment and decide between alternatives. This literally means that upon an analysis you cut out alternatives that do not conform to the standards you are bringing to bear.

    Doubting an alternative is one way to approach this. What it requires is that the point of view, argument, what have you in question is justified by assumptions that are rationally explainable. Often in evangelical circles the doctrines are presented as “It is what it is and no other option exists”. The judgment and the decisions have been literally rendered already and therefore critical judgment on our part in a sense places us in the same position as the one who made those judgments namely God. Ironically, it is human beings who have rendered the judgments of doctrinal statements (for an inerrantist more so than for a progressive) and the only way to get out of accepting this assertion is to accept that God literally spoke to people and the simply recorded the language as it is asserted Muhammad did for the Qu’Ran. But even this does not get around the issue that people still interpret this language for each given socio-historical condition in which it is presented.

    The point here is that no matter what people assert, they are making critical judgments based on an accepted foundation of norms. The problem is then when we question those norms. The issue that Dawkins and others truly have is that many religions do not and, as you have noted, look down upon any activity that questions the norms that are given. So my analysis is that this is sociological behavior and not necessarily religious behavior. The religious dimension simply catalyzes this tendency that so many social groups need to maintain in order to identify themselves as a distinct organization among alternatives.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    So my analysis is that this is sociological behavior and not necessarily religious behavior. The religious dimension simply catalyzes this tendency that so many social groups need to maintain in order to identify themselves as a distinct organization among alternatives.

    Yes, I think you’re probably right about that.

  • http://www.battleforgod.blogspot.com Dwight Moss

    I’m getting ready to read this book for the first time, and after mulling around google I bumped into you. So here is my take on this. The reason why people think we are hypocritical and not accepting isn’t really because of me. Do I believe it’s ok to be gay? No. Am I judgemental? Sometimes. The reason why most people don’t think I’m accepting is this: I Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

    I’ll tell you now that if I have a friend, and he has sin in his life that I don’t agree with, they know for a fact that I’ll call them out on the carpet. Whether they lied to me, or cursed at someone, it’s a sin. You can debate all day whether you think being homosexual is not sin. I believe that God created man and woman to be together. Not man and man, or woman and woman. Some people will never believe me, and this is why… because it is foolishness to them. I hate the sin they are doing… not the person.

    If anyone is interested you can drop by my blog…
    http://www.battleforgod.blogspot.com and I have some information on what God’s story is, and how you have a part to play in that story.

    Battle for God!

    DJ