In God’s Name 2.0: The Explicit Version

I want to offer an explanation for my last post a few days ago, “In God’s Name.” It was an experiment to see if an implicit message can be more powerful than an explicit one, if it works at all. Clearly it didn’t and it was completely misunderstood. Oh well, that’s how experiments often go.

Most of the atheist readers missed the point. That’s not their fault because the story was not intended for them. The target audience was those Christians who resemble the second Christian in the story. Several of them comment on this blog and I’m sure that more lurk here. I was hoping to start a productive dialogue with them.

But up to the time of this writing none of them have commented so I’m obviously fishing with the wrong bait. So for the benefit of those who read it and were perplexed, annoyed or disappointed here is the explicit version of what I was trying to do, which probably won’t be any more effective but at least I’ll be understood:

Firstly, It wasn’t about God or the afterlife or atheists getting into heaven through good works or anything scriptural. No, this is what I was trying to say:

To liberal and mainstream Christians: Bigots are co-opting and hijacking your religion. They’re promoting their hatred, abuse and domination of gays, atheists, the followers of other religions and anybody else who doesn’t exactly agree with them including you, all under the guise of God’s word, the one that you say you value so much. They’re doing despicable things in your God’s name. Your response to this is so small, so weak and so quiet that you will have no effect in stopping them. If you let them keep going they’ll bring back all the vehicles of hate they used to enjoy: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and despotic authoritarianism. To them, Jesus is just a source of credibility and power. Following his example is not even considered.

If all that you do is to pray about this, forgive me but I don’t think that is going to be enough. I know you don’t rely entirely on prayer to respond to crises; I’ve watched you. You may pray for God’s help with many things, but when the river overflows you also fill sandbags. When your kid is sick you also take her to the doctor. When your neighbors are hungry you also give them food. When someone is being beaten you also drive off the attacker. When your house is on fire you also fight the fire.

Christians, your house is on fire.

This is a living example of Edmund Burke’s maxim, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Ask yourself which is the greater sin: to commit an injustice against others because you believe it is what God wants, or to see what you know is an injustice and stand by doing nothing to stop it.

I have written about this before and invariably get the following five responses from Christians:

  1. Arguing that those bigots are not real Christians. Are you saying that means it’s none of your business? If you aren’t willing to take action to stop these “counterfeit” Christians from inflicting their cruelty in the name of God, of what value is your “genuine” faith?
  2. Nice sounding slogans like “The power of love is greater than the love of power.” Wake up. That’s a lullaby to put yourself back to sleep. That’s the sloth of the heart.
  3. Whining about how they outnumber you. That is a cop-out and probably not true anyway. They’re just louder. Besides, the Bible is full of stories about the hopelessly outnumbered triumphing.
  4. Apologizing for your lack of effective action. The apology was acceptable years ago, but after the umpteenth time, it’s worn out.
  5. Talking about the little things you are doing. Why not big things? Why do we only hear about them from you, rather than in the papers? For instance, why aren’t you picketing outside The Christian Action League of North Carolina and other institutions of faith-based hate in every city? When atheists protest such things they’re dismissed as, well, atheists. If six Christian churches did the same protesting wherever it occurs it would be big news. You say they have a bigot’s radio show? Pool your money and get a louder show. Show boldly that they don’t speak for you or for the God you believe in. Make it big, loud, joyful but most importantly, effective.

Don’t leave it up to non-believers to get in the bigots’ faces and slow them down, showing more courage and compassion than people who claim to follow Christ. Are you going to let atheists better you in the love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself department? Love is measured by what you do, not by what nice thoughts you think as you sit there letting people get victimized in God’s name. There aren’t enough atheists, humanists and otherwise secular folks to continue to be the spearhead of this fight. You far outnumber us. We need you. Everyone needs you. Now, not later.

Let’s work together. We can all enjoy arguing about the existence of God after we’ve put out the fire.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

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  • Kate

    DUH…editing my earlier comment. I thought this was from Hemant.

    Richard – AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • llewelly

    Richard Wade, you need to read Fighting Words by Hector Avalos. Christianity does not have its origins in some lovey-dovey sweet kind liberal religion mysteriously co-opted by bigots. On the contrary, it originated as a bigoted religion, and has since been largely co-opted by people who are either not bigoted, or at least, much less bigoted. The right-wing religious reactionaries have managed to reverse that co-option somewhat in the last 15-30 years, but their efforts are more properly described as a restoration, not a co-option.

  • http://notreallyalice.blogspot.com Alice

    Back when I was a Christian, I was proud to be part of that new progressive Christianity that prefered to love our neighbors rather than take away their civil rights. Being an atheist changes this a little, however… okay it changes it a lot.

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

    Thank you for this, Richard.

    One of the main criticisms atheists have about progressive Christians is that they don’t speak out loudly enough, or do enough to fight against, the bigoted and hateful religious right. Hopefully, some progressive Christians will read this and be inspired to speak and act.

  • Erik

    So what are some REAL things we can be doing to make a difference? I have thought more about this lately with Kate, and we have some ideas. Please add to these:

    1) Write a letter to the editor of your local news paper when you see a news story of Christians behaving badly

    2) Picket (which I can actually do right now as I’m unemployed…hmm…need to gather some students off for the summer to do that one)

    3) Write a letter to your government officials (governor, congressman, etc)

    4) Try to get on the local news (may work in tandem with #2)

    But please…I need other ideas. I’m not a social activist…I don’t know how that kind of thing works. So…help!

  • Gabriel

    Well, heck, I completly missed the point of the first post. This one is much clearer. Good luck. It would be great if this had a positive effect.

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

    Richard, good thoughts. I have so much to say in response to this. Be back later when I can organize those thoughts.

  • David D.G.

    A-freakin’-MEN! That is an awesome post! I just hope that it has some effect on the people at whom it is aimed.

    ~David D.G.

  • Jeff Satterley

    I think we should make sure some of our Christian friends see this post. I know some Christians visit the site, but many others don’t. I will definitely direct my friends and family to the post. Well done, Richard.

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  • http://agersomnia.blogspot.com Agersomnia

    Bright, clear and loud.

    Richard, if you don’t have a problem with that, I’ll translate your words for spanish-only population. Most of Latinamerica is not well-versed in english, and is too deep into Catholicism or Christianism.

    I’ll await for express permision before publishing any translation.

  • Ron in Houston

    In Christianity’s defense, most of the emerging church (McLaren, Bell, etc.) folks are doing a lot to counter Christian bigots.

    I think it’s a good thing that you continue to remind them and keep calling them to action.

  • Richard Wade

    Agersomnia, thank you for your offer to translate. I am honored and grateful. Please proceed. I know that translations can change the nuance of the tone, so please make an effort to keep the tone positive and respectful while still challenging, as I hope it is here.

    If it makes more sense for your forum, you can leave off the introductory part that refers to the earlier post and start with the message directed to the Christians. Your call.

  • Kate

    In Christianity’s defense, most of the emerging church (McLaren, Bell, etc.) folks are doing a lot to counter Christian bigots.

    They’re not doing enough. Say “emergent church” or “Brian McLaren” to any regular person and they’ll give you a blank stare. But everyone knows the big conservative figures.

  • http://mypantstheatre.blogspot.com bullet

    I’ve come to realize that, at least in my community, Catholics and moderate Protestants don’t understand that there really ARE people who want to bring about the end of the world, that they ACTUALLY think the universe was created exactly as it looks today in six days 6000 years ago, that they REALLY believe that Revelations and the Rapture, etc. are real. It’s too crazy for them to consider. I have to show them the books and the blogs and the newsletters to get them to understand.

    They’re just riding the bus, unaware that the brakes have been cut and the driver replaced with a monkey.

  • Jeff Satterley

    They’re just riding the bus, unaware that the brakes have been cut and the driver replaced with a monkey.

    Well if you believe in evolution, then the monkey should evolve the ability to drive! ;-)

    DAMN YOU DARWIN!!!

  • Karen

    It seems to me that there’s some kind of stand that could be made (don’t know what, exactly) in the case of the deranged right-winger who opened fire in a UU church last weekend because he hates liberals and gay people.

    I’m sure that church is quite an anomaly in Tennessee and probably has attracted some nasty words over the years from the fundys in town, some of whom will tell you that Unitarians are worse than atheists. (I know, because I heard things like that from the pulpit in my Christian years.)

    If the mainstream Christians in that area embraced and adopted the UU congregation (which may very well include some atheists and agnostics) that would be a great statement to the more conservative religious folks locally.

  • Siamang

    They’re just riding the bus, unaware that the brakes have been cut and the driver replaced with a monkey.

    I think that’s the next movie out from DreamWorks.

  • Ron in Houston

    Kate

    I agree. However, I do believe that part of the problem is that those who shout the loudest garner the most attention.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    Very well stated. I do hope some of them take it to heart and act on it.

  • Erp

    Not necessarily shout the loudest but shout the nastiest get the press.

    The liberal Christians seem to lack current well-known speakers; at least in this country, in South Africa Desmond Tutu has spoken up not just on apartheid but also LGBT rights, etc. The US does not have a Martin Luther King or a William Sloane Coffin right now. There are some leaders but they tend to be local and more associated with their organization than individually (e.g., Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco).

    I will note the Evolution Weekend (formerly Evolution Sunday) where creationism and its sibling anti-sciences get denounced. I will also note Barry Lynn head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

  • Pseudonym

    OK, now that I know that this was (almost) directed at people like me, here’s my response.

    First off, I don’t live in the US, hence the “almost” qualification. (I’ve also never read Sam Harris’ book, because I don’t live in a “Christian Nation”.) So you’ll pardon me if I don’t picket The Christian Action League of North Carolina.

    These “institutions of faith-based hate” that you mention do exist in Australia, they’re small and largely ignored by the mainstream press here unless there’s some specific controversy. (OK, there’s some of it in Sydney. I don’t live anywhere near there.)

    Second point: We talk about the big things we do, but rarely do people listen. The church that I belong to is the second largest provider of social welfare in the country. We’re only beaten by the government. We’re out there campaigning for the betterment of people as much as we can.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t make news. Erp is right: Everywhere in the developed world, the rule of news is that if it bleeds, it leads. You have to say something outlandish, bigoted and stupid if you want to make the news.

    Which brings me to my third point: As noted, we run the largest charity around these parts. We very much need your donations to help feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. If you thought for a moment that some of those donations would go into picketing other religious institutions, would you still donate?

    OK, Richard might. But J. Random Average may not. Most people don’t want to fund inter-denominational fighting, and who can blame them? Engaging in action against another group would severely hurt what we consider our core focus.

    Note that this isn’t just about religion. The right-wing has spent 30+ years sinking billions into think tanks, white papers and the pockets of people like Frank Luntz, working out how to manipulate government and public opinion. If the left-wing ever got that much money, it’d be shocked at the mere thought of wasting it on something so seemingly trivial when there’s mouths to feed and global warming to combat.

    Fourth point: OK, the apologetic attitude. No, we don’t like it either, but we honestly don’t know what to do about it.

    That requires some explanation.

    Unlike fundies, mainline and liberal Christians know their history. People have died in conflicts over whose religion is more “right”. We have long memories, and some of those memories are very painful. This has given us a deep-seated fear of confrontation that we don’t often realise or admit. We therefore tend to run and hide from anything that may look like conflict with another religion, unless we can convince ourselves that there’s a secular cause involved (e.g. as a social justice issue or something to do with separation of church and state).

    I, personally, would love to find a solution to this problem. If you have any suggestions more specific than “get over it”, I’m all ears.

    Fifth point: bullet is 100% correct. Most of us don’t even know what fundie whackjobs believe. It doesn’t help that they are not interested in talking to us, and even if they did, they have nothing of interest to say. They seem to occupy their own universe. You and I, both the moderate religious and the non-religious, occupy a different universe. (The real one.)

    This is not because we don’t want to talk. There are plenty of mainstream religions (e.g. Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc) who are happy to talk with us. We like this. It helps to break down the barriers, and we all learn to get along. By the way, if any Atheist/Humanist groups want to be in on that, we’d love it. We call it “dialogue”. Please remember to use that word when writing your invitation, so we know what you mean.

    Perhaps, in the end, this is the first step. We need to show the world that the sane non-religionists and sane religionists are actually on the same sides on most issues except for one point of metaphysics.

    Officially joining forces. Now that’d make the news, wouldn’t it?

  • Desert Son

    Trying to delete double post . . .

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Desert Son

    Pseudonym wrote:

    Officially joining forces. Now that’d make the news, wouldn’t it?

    Doubt it.

    From your own post:

    the rule of news is that if it bleeds, it leads

    Part of the issue is that much of the mainstream media, in the United States at least (don’t know about Australia), seems to be less in the business of broadcasting the diversity of news, and more in the business of broadcasting that which generates business (attention = revenue). That includes many, if not all, local television media news sources, especially because they are competing for, ironically, such small market shares.

    From this TED presentation: http://youtube.com/watch?v=6Ly7Btx0Stg

    At time mark approximately 1:50 seconds, the devoted U.S. media allotment for world news events minus a single, particular news story:

    “The Death of Anna Nicole Smith” which “received 10 times the coverage of the release of the IPCC report” on the global warming crisis.

    Sorry, but I don’t think joining forces would make the news. That’s not necessarily a reason not to join forces. I just don’t think it would make the news.

    Somewhere in the world, a celebrity is dying right now. Somewhere in the world, the rest of the world is happening. And the silence is deafening.

    No kings,

    Robert

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

    I have one question. If we are the ones who are not doing enough, then what are the atheists doing hiding out here, behind the coat tail of Hemant? What is the percentage of the “friendly” atheists who are actually out there trying to change the perception given to the general public by the outspoken “new” atheists?

    Richard, this is a great post. Very clear and well said. But with all due respect, I want to challenge the “friendlies” here on this very blog who are too afraid to even identify themselves.

    I speak of who you are to everyone I know. I tell them how real and honest you are. I tell them how smart and passionate you are. I tell them how you would not hesitate to reach out to a fellow human being in need. But it’s all fairy tales and hearsay to the ones who’ve never met you or seen you in action.

    Pointing out the wrongs in others with finger-pointing and picket signs does not change anything, IMHO. I think the more effective way would be to reveal ourselves and show them who we are, warts and all. And they will know (and we will know) that we are all part of the whole.

  • Maria

    well said Richard. let’s hope people read it, and let’s hope if it does happen people in the secular community will take advantage of it

  • Pseudonym

    Linda:

    If we are the ones who are not doing enough, then what are the atheists doing hiding out here, behind the coat tail of Hemant? What is the percentage of the “friendly” atheists who are actually out there trying to change the perception given to the general public by the outspoken “new” atheists?

    Ah, you have the courage to say what I wanted to say but didn’t. :-)

    The main reason why I didn’t is that you have to add so many qualifications.

    The main problem is that the “new atheists” are more different than they are similar. As I’ve mentioned previously, for example, there’s very little in Breaking the Spell that a modern thinking Christian could disagree with. On the other hand, everyone can find lots to disagree with in God Is Not Great.

    But there are certainly some “new atheist” claims that everyone can disagree with, such as Sam Harris’ unfounded claim that fundamentalism is the most honest form of Christanity. That’s an argument that only a fundamentalist could make.

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

    Desert Son,

    And the silence is deafening.

    I agree with what you say about the media. But I also think that what we see is not indicative of the whole truth nor is it a good representative of the ones who are making a difference.

    You all have to realize that the majority of the things that are actually going on all over the world are not being broadcast. There definitely is more of what you don’t see than the things that you do see on TV.

    The Christian body is writhing in pain. I feel it in my church and in my community… in our country. I feel a change coming. When? Who knows? Perhaps it’s just me.

  • Adrian

    Richard,

    Great post. I’m surprised at the positive reaction here especially since it appears to be very “unfriendly”, very much the sort of thing that Hemant has decried in the past.

    Linda,

    I have one question. If we are the ones who are not doing enough, then what are the atheists doing hiding out here, behind the coat tail of Hemant? What is the percentage of the “friendly” atheists who are actually out there trying to change the perception given to the general public by the outspoken “new” atheists?

    I’ve read almost all of the books of the “new” atheists and listened to a lot of their speeches and with the exception of Hitchens, they’re all calm, decent, considerate, polite, compassionate and articulate. The reaction to them seems to stem entirely from their message and frankly, I think the best way to change their perception is to repeat their message as much and as loudly as possible. Show that it’s not some lunatic fringe. At the same time, be open with my/your own atheism to demonstrate that people can lead a good, moral life without a belief in a god.

    That said, I think it’s great that Hemant is here to take that even further. He shows a strong concern for individuals and feelings where I care more about truth and liberty.

  • cipher

    In Christianity’s defense, most of the emerging church (McLaren, Bell, etc.) folks are doing a lot to counter Christian bigots.

    Ron, my take on this has been that they still have a sentimental attachment to that world. They see these people as their “brothers and sisters in Christ”. My observation has been that they’ll criticize policies, but are reluctant to aggressively criticize individuals. I agree with Richard: “Your response to this is so small, so weak and so quiet that you will have no effect in stopping them.”

  • cipher

    Pseudonym, by the way:

    But there are certainly some “new atheist” claims that everyone can disagree with, such as Sam Harris’ unfounded claim that fundamentalism is the most honest form of Christanity. That’s an argument that only a fundamentalist could make.

    I would actually agree with Harris on this. I think the text means what it appears to mean on the surface. Attempts at “interpretation” are, in my view, attempts to make it more palatable for later generations with evolving sensibilities. For the record, I make the same argument about the Jewish oral tradition.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    I’m not sure pooling resources to make bigger and louder statements against bigotry would solve any problems.

    But I’m all about Christians being more active in places where the Truth and religion have been pimped out for personal gain or a distorted view of Christianity. This offers to be a good reminder.

  • Adrian

    Pseudonym,

    But there are certainly some “new atheist” claims that everyone can disagree with, such as Sam Harris’ unfounded claim that fundamentalism is the most honest form of Christanity. That’s an argument that only a fundamentalist could make.

    Just want to toss my lot in with cipher. While I would rather there were more liberal theists and I think it’s a better way of life, I find liberal apologetics to be intellectually dishonest. The literal interpretation is at least internally consistent and seems to honestly follow the consequences of its claims. My problem is that it rejects reality and seems actively hostile to building a safe, secure life but I agree with Harris that it is the most honest form of Christianity.

  • Jacob Dink

    I stand by what I said originally:

    The problem here is that, statistically, #2 probably gives more to charity than #3.

    And I think pseudonym backs this up, while making some good points.

    Which brings me to my third point: As noted, we run the largest charity around these parts. We very much need your donations to help feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. If you thought for a moment that some of those donations would go into picketing other religious institutions, would you still donate?

    OK, Richard might. But J. Random Average may not. Most people don’t want to fund inter-denominational fighting, and who can blame them? Engaging in action against another group would severely hurt what we consider our core focus.

    Note that this isn’t just about religion. The right-wing has spent 30+ years sinking billions into think tanks, white papers and the pockets of people like Frank Luntz, working out how to manipulate government and public opinion. If the left-wing ever got that much money, it’d be shocked at the mere thought of wasting it on something so seemingly trivial when there’s mouths to feed and global warming to combat.

    I think this last point is essential. I don’t think “New Atheist” movements, or books like “The God Delusion” are doing much to combat fundamentalism, or help the world in general. They’re just creating more ingroup/outgroup, “us and them” problems. RichardDawkins.net scrapes up every story about faith-healing or bigotry it can find, and I’m sure some of the faithful followers of that site forget (or never knew) that there are other sides to religion. I enjoy that website, and there are a great deal of great posters there (and the comments section is often full of erudition and insights), but I worry sometimes about the people for whom these books and their bandwagons are their only source.

    I think combating fundamentalism is important, especially in the way you describe, I just think I see little of that sort of thing, from both atheists and liberal Christians, and from the atheists, I see a lot of things we should be careful about.

  • Desert Son

    Pseudonym wrote:

    The main problem is that the “new atheists” are more different than they are similar.

    Linda wrote:

    Pointing out the wrongs in others with finger-pointing and picket signs does not change anything, IMHO

    and Jacob Dink wrote:

    and from the atheists, I see a lot of things we should be careful about.

    An initial post by Richard Wade has turned from a question about what are Christians doing to counter fundamentalism in Christianity into a discussion about what are the atheists doing about fundamentalism in Christianity. Interesting.

    Linda wrote:

    But I also think that what we see is not indicative of the whole truth nor is it a good representative of the ones who are making a difference.

    You all have to realize that . . . .

    Which is exactly what my post said. My post was an attempt to illustrate how Pseudonym’s query about some sort of Christian/atheist entente making the news seemed unlikely, given that “what we see is not indicative of the whole truth” because the news, in large part, doesn’t convey the “whole truth” since, for now, “the whole truth” doesn’t sell. At which point your post went on to say that I, along with all the others in “You all have to realize,” need to understand that the media isn’t showing everything. Which is exactly what I had said previously.

    Now that we both agree that neither Christians nor atheists, variously or in combination, are going to make the news trying to counter fundamentalisms, a quick follow up on something somewhat different, though related:

    Pseudonym wrote:

    Sam Harris’ unfounded claim that fundamentalism is the most honest form of Christanity. That’s an argument that only a fundamentalist could make.

    If new, more liberal, progressive, and compassionate versions of Christianity (or any religious affiliation, for that matter), are just as honest a version as the older, bloodier, more repressive versions, then why haven’t there been any new holy books, or new words from on high, or new signs codified and agreed upon by the larger populace that encompass these progressive designs and validate such an approach, in the same way that fundamentalists believe the original Bible validates their view? Perhaps Joseph Smith qualifies, though just how progressive he was remains up for debate.

    I think Harris’ point is, in part, that progressive Christianity claims insight into a playbook from the old “blood and wrath” days, a text that fundamentalists and progressives alike claim is (even if they can’t agree on part or whole, or to what extent) the word of god.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • PuckishOne

    To say “why aren’t the atheists speaking up?” is to miss Richard’s point entirely. When we speak, we are dismissed because we are atheists. Any atheist, no matter how friendly, is going to be lumped into the “militant” camp merely for speaking up – this has been shown over and over again to be the case. The “new atheist” movement will never succeed at this sort of large-scale social change, in part because we know that we are, at best, a vocal minority. Thus Richard asks the same question I’ve been asking for some time now: Where are the moderate Christians?

    Simply put, the moderate Christians have not, in any cohesive group or with any common voice, spoken out against the extremes of the fundamentalists. Perhaps the social misunderstanding of atheists is still great enough that even otherwise reasonable moderate Christians are unwilling to support secular causes for fear of being tainted by that same brush…I can’t say that I know the reasons why, so I can only guess. What I do know is that the numbers are against us atheists and probably will be for a long time: the only way to make progress against the Endarkenment is for the moderate Christian congregations to take action to reclaim their churches, their gospels, their Bible, and their religion.

    We (the atheists) have already begun to speak up, even though we know we can’t do this without the explicit support of the moderates. For those who don’t feel there is support in the atheist community for you, please know that there most certainly is – the comments of cipher and others here are just a small part of that. But make no mistake: we can’t do it without you.

  • cipher

    Hear hear!

    (Which, I believe, was originally a Biblical expression.)

  • Adrian

    I think Harris’ point is, in part, that progressive Christianity claims insight into a playbook from the old “blood and wrath” days, a text that fundamentalists and progressives alike claim is (even if they can’t agree on part or whole, or to what extent) the word of god.

    As I understand it, fundamentalists say that the bible is the word of God and God is all-powerful and all-knowing, so even if something seems unpleasant or they think it’s wrong, they will choose God. Liberals seem to say that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but they (the liberals) know better than God does.

    Penn (of Penn & Teller) said that he splits the world like this: imagine that you came to know that God wanted you to kill someone. If you reject that, you don’t really believe in a God and are an atheist; if you accept it and obey, then you’re a theist but a scary person that no one should associate with. Personally I think a lot of harm is done by people who claim to believe in a god yet substitute their own thoughts for God’s (imagining themselves to be divine) yet wouldn’t actually kill anyone, but it does illustrate a point. If you really believe in God, then killing on command would be a no-brainer, and if you say you believe in God but wouldn’t do that, you’re being dishonest.

  • http://butchbailey.com/ Butch

    Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve been needing to read something like this for along time. If only the moderates would actually do it.

  • Desert Son

    Adrian,

    Thanks for your post and the observation from Penn. You (and Penn) said better what I was trying to elaborate.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Richard Wade

    HALFTIME UPDATE

    Ok, here are the highlights of the game so far. The chronological order is sometimes mixed:

    Several atheists have complimented the post (thank you) and nothing has changed.

    Several atheists have expressed hope that liberal Christians will be inspired to take effective action and nothing has changed.

    One atheist has observed that Christianity has always been bigoted and it’s the liberals who have co-opted the religion, and nothing has changed.

    One atheist said that liberal Christians “are doing a lot” and nothing has changed.

    Some atheists have agreed that most Christians are unaware how insane and destructive the bigots are, and nothing has changed.

    One atheist has asked for specific suggestions for making a real difference and offered some of his own, but everyone else has so far ignored him, and nothing has changed.

    One atheist suggested that a recent church shooting could be used as a rallying point for liberal Christians to say enough is enough, (good idea) and nothing has changed.

    A Christian (at last!) has offered a list of reasons why nothing will change and nothing has changed.

    An atheist has agreed with that Christian’s reasons and added to them and nothing has changed.

    A second Christian (wow, we’ve got two!) has pointed out that atheists are not doing enough either and that some atheists have bigoted views against Christians and should clean up their own act, and nothing has changed.

    The first Christian has agreed with the second Christian, expanding on the tangent that atheists have their problems and nothing has changed.

    A couple of atheists have taken issue with the first Christian’s remark about atheist authors and nothing has changed.

    Several atheists and both Christians have agreed that the media is in great part to blame for only covering outrageous things, and nothing has changed.

    A couple of other atheists have very adroitly pointed out that we’re on more than one tangent (much appreciated) and nothing has changed.

    Another atheist has expanded on a new tangent mentioned earlier about the intellectual honesty of liberal Christians vs. fundamentalist Christians and nothing has changed.

    So the score so far is:
    Atheists 0
    Liberal Christians 0
    Bigots 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
    World 0

    Now let’s get back to the exciting action and see if anything has changed.

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

    It’s so frustrating not to be able to articulate the thoughts in my head in an understandable way.

    Please don’t get me wrong. I have great respect for Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, and the like. I agree with many (but not all) of their points. They are thinkers. Whether I agree with them or not is not the point anyway. I am more concerned about the atheists who jump on their bandwagon and unwilling to think for themselves.

    Isn’t that the problem with any religious group? The problems lie within the followers who blindly follow. They are too lazy to do their own brain work.

    I was not turning around Richard’s post to direct it at the atheists. I was just trying to point to the fact that we are not all that different. The division is not between Christians and atheists. The division is between knowledge and ignorance. It is between freedom and oppression… thinking freely for ourselves vs. allowing others to think for us.

    Richard, I agree completely that we need to work together. I just wish we could do it as one people who are on the same team rather than reluctant participants who are just temporarily working together out of necessity.

    Do you think that’s a possibility, or do I have unrealistic ideals? But it doesn’t really matter to me what others think about my ideals. I will continue to behave according to my abilities and gifts and do my small little insignificant part the best I know how.

    So tell me… when and how do we start this “working together” that you think we should be doing more of? I’m all in and all ears.

  • http://szelidolajfa.blog.hu teri

    We have started a blog against those phenomena that are listed above:
    “racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and despotic authoritarianism”.
    It is a christian blog. And we started it before reading this post ( :

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

    Richard,

    I just read your “nothing has changed” comment, and I disagree. I, for one, have changed as a result of the discussions here. I hope others who are regulars and visitors of this and other places like this have changed from the honest dialogue that is ongoing.

    Don’t you think the perspectives of many have changed?

    Don’t you think what seems to be nothing can actually be something?

    We can take this changed (or broadened) perspective and share it with as many people as we can… one person at a time. Isn’t that the whole concept of Dawkins’ “memes”?

  • Loren Petrich

    I’ve run into that problem myself, of “liberal” and “moderate” Xians who refuse to do anything that would seriously challenge the fundies — it’s almost as if they are running interference for the fundies.

    I remember arguing with someone whom I shall not name about why he refused to criticize fundie creationist theology despite defending evolution. He claimed that the evolution question was a matter of science and not theology, and he refused to take seriously my pointing out that fundie creation “science” does not exist in isolation but is a consequence of fundie theology. I found his attitude perplexing, since he had the credentials to confront fundies about their theology, yet he insisted on acting like someone who wants to rid his lawn of dandelions by plucking the dandelion flowers rather than uprooting or poisoning the dandelion plants. Without the latter, the dandelion flowers will continue to return.

  • cipher

    Loren,

    Very good. Precisely. They don’t want to be associated with the fundies, they’d be appalled if you thought of them as such – but they don’t actually want to confront them. There’s always a line they don’t want to cross.

  • Desert Son

    Linda wrote:

    I just read your “nothing has changed” comment, and I disagree.

    I agree with Linda. That is to say, I agree with Linda and thereby disagree with Richard’s comment about nothing has changed. In agreement I am in disagreement. I am in agreement with the disagreement.

    Richard Wade, if by nothing has changed you mean in the 24 hours since you first posted the challenge, then you may be right. Maybe not much has changed, or maybe in that time the bigots are way, way out in front on the “game score.”
    But overall? I’m not sure the bigots are as far ahead as the numbers you posted suggest. They may well be ahead. I’m just not sure that it’s that much of a blowout.

    Enlightenment has to count for some points on the Atheist/Liberal Christian score. Development of the U.N. charter on civil rights, the end of slavery in this nation and many others around the world (granted, didn’t happen in 24 hours), things like the Equal Opportunity Employement act, Brown v. Board of Education, a war that eventually ended the Holocaust (sadly, 6 million Jewish lives, and more than 50 million total lives too late), increasing popularity of atheist books and lectures, Margaret Sanger, women’s suffrage (way, way late, for sure, as was the slavery issue).

    I’m thinking all of these things mean we got a few more points on the board. All of which to say is that, 1) much remains to be done, 2) the game’s not over yet (although I confess to reluctance in thinking of it in “game” terms), and 3) collective effort kicks ass.

    Also, kudos to Linda for her point about working in her own small way. Seems to me that all that ever happens happens because one person, or many people contribute in their own small way, and it adds up to something big. Rock on, Linda. I’m trying to do the same on this side of the metaphysical division.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • Pseudonym

    OK, my comment on Sam Harris has got some disagreement, so let me settle my take on this for the record.

    Here’s what I wrote on the topic last time it came up, and my opinion hasn’t changed:

    Harris’ “observation” completely ignores the way that religions, and interpretations of their sacred texts, change over time. There’s a simple thought experiment to demonstrate this: Would a 1st century Christian would recognise modern US evangelicalism as being in any way “Christian”?

    Harris’ unquestioned assumption is that literal interpretations of sacred texts are the only consistent way to interpret them, as opposed to figurative interpretations. In this sense, he really does seem to think that fundamentalist religion is “more correct”.

    Just looking at Christianity for the moment, it’s very easy to find examples of the New Testament using the Hebrew sacred texts figuratively. Indeed, it’s arguably far more common for a New Testament use to be figurative rather than literal. So in that sense, a literalist interpretation of the Christian sacred texts is not even close to being “consistent”.

    cipher brings up another point:

    Attempts at “interpretation” are, in my view, attempts to make it more palatable for later generations with evolving sensibilities.

    I agree in part. I don’t think that’s the only reason, though.

    However, my point is that you can also flip that argument around. All the violent, barbaric crap in the Old Testament (say) could equally be understood as attempts to make the Divine palatable in a violent, barbaric time and place. In that sense, later interpretation is no different than what the original authors were doing.

    Having said all that, I think it’s critical to separate interpretation from application. As an example, the phrase “the people” appears quite a few times in the Constitution of the United States. The most accurate interpretation of this term is that it refers to adult male landowners. This is not how the phrase is applied.

    OK, that’s my last word on that unless someone says something I think needs clarification. Back to the main topic…

  • Pseudonym

    OK, main topic.

    I have an idea, and I’d like to do a quick straw poll to see if anyone else (no matter what religion or non-religion they identify with) thinks it’s a good idea.

    I propose something like the “clergy letter” project, which I think has been an excellent project in defusing the pseudo-conflict between Christianity and evolution. The idea is that it would defuse the pseudo-conflict between Atheism and (at first) Christianity by providing a position statement that the sorts of people around here and on friendlychristian.com (both religious and non-religious alike) could agree with.

    The sorts of things that we could cover include:

    - People are worthy of respect, no matter what their beliefs.

    - Liberal secular democracy is not evil, and is no threat to any reasonable religion.

    - Atheism is not evil.

    - Theocracy is bad.

    - Science is good.

    - Separation of church and state is very important.

    - Fundamentalism in all its forms should be condemned. (Probably we wouldn’t say this specifically, because of the difficulty of defining “fundamentalism”, but rather focus on condemning certain fundamentalist positions.)

    You get the idea. So my questions are:

    1. Would you like to see such a thing?

    2. Would you be interested in contributing ideas for such a document?

    3. Would you be willing to take the document, when a draft is complete, to prominent atheists and/or clergy and try to persuade them to sign it?

  • Adrian

    Would a 1st century Christian would recognise modern US evangelicalism as being in any way “Christian”?

    The question should be whether a 1st Century Christian would recognize more with fundamentalist than with liberal theology? We are talking about what’s more honest, after all.

    While I do think that Paul didn’t think that Jesus existed, there’s still a harsh an uncompromising streak, a stick-to-the-letter preaching which goes to extreme obey-or-die stuff in the OT.

    Harris’ unquestioned assumption is that literal interpretations of sacred texts are the only consistent way to interpret them, as opposed to figurative interpretations.

    If you think it’s unquestioned or an assumption then you have not bothered to understand or consider Harris’s position, or those of others here. If you have a legitimate point (and you may), then this critically undermines it. The first step towards rebutting a position is understanding it, and here you act as if you haven’t bothered.

  • Pseudonym

    I know I said I wouldn’t say any more on this, but I can’t help myself.

    Adrian:

    The question should be whether a 1st Century Christian would recognize more with fundamentalist than with liberal theology? We are talking about what’s more honest, after all.

    On the contrary, my point is precisely that there’s very little around today which resembles the 1st Century Christian church in any way. There is no historical or linguistic support for the position that there is only one way to interpret the Hebrew and Christian sacred texts, and pretty much none for the position that the “right” way is literal.

    In particular, taking a text literally when it doesn’t take itself literally is in no way “honest”.

    If you think it’s unquestioned or an assumption then you have not bothered to understand or consider Harris’s position, or those of others here.

    OK, you have a point. When I first wrote that I used the phrase “unquestioned assumption”, which in retrospect was inaccurate.

    What I wrote yesterday used the phrase “unfounded claim”. What Harris said was indeed a claim, and it was indeed unfounded.

  • Jacob Dink

    To say “why aren’t the atheists speaking up?” is to miss Richard’s point entirely. When we speak, we are dismissed because we are atheists.

    This is an excellent point.

  • Pseudonym

    Oh, one more thing, since Sam Harris came up again. I would insist that the proposed position statement would include an agreement that moderate and liberal theists do not “provide cover for” fundamentalism.

  • Jacob Dink

    So the score so far is:
    Atheists 0
    Liberal Christians 0
    Bigots 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
    World 0

    This is inane. If you actually want immediate action directly after arguing for it on a website, then you’re being unrealistic. Actually, if you want any sort of call to arms, perhaps the cacophonous blog-o-sphere is not the best place to air such a demand. And if you want to air this to demand to liberal Christians, while this isn’t the worst forum to do it, it’s certainly not the best.

  • Adrian

    On the contrary, my point is precisely that there’s very little around today which resembles the 1st Century Christian church in any way. There is no historical or linguistic support for the position that there is only one way to interpret the Hebrew and Christian sacred texts, and pretty much none for the position that the “right” way is literal.

    You could be right on the first point, certainly much has changed over the years. I can’t agree with the second point, though. Certainly some of it is figurative, but certainly not all. We end up at the point where we’re left with two unpleasant choices: trusting in God to steer the writers to the right path and following a literal interpretation, or putting ourselves above those who wrote the bible, in effect writing our own while pretending to follow another. I’m not saying either is good and I have much negative to say about literalism, but I’ve never seen any honest way around it. If you can offer a compelling justification for non-literal interpretations or liberalism, I’m all ears/eyes.

    I would insist that the proposed position statement would include an agreement that moderate and liberal theists do not “provide cover for” fundamentalism.

    Heh, I’m going to have to disagree with you again :)

    I think we see moderate and liberal theologians of all stripes trying to defend faith and to integrate it more in our lives. They plead for respect and because they’re nice, decent people they often get this respect in policy and law. Riding their tails are the fundamentalists who launch lawsuits and harassment campaigns against newspapers, police departments, school teachers and anyone else that dares to question their brand of wishful thinking. If the only defenders of religion were the fundamentalist zealots, then people would properly group them with other zealots and ignore them.

    I do think that Harris was right on the money with that point.

  • Darryl

    I know this is a tangent (sorry, Richard), but I can’t resist.

    But there are certainly some “new atheist” claims that everyone can disagree with, such as Sam Harris’ unfounded claim that fundamentalism is the most honest form of Christanity. That’s an argument that only a fundamentalist could make.

    I’m with Cipher and Adrian about the more literal interpretation, but I differ with Adrian about the “dishonesty” of liberal Christians. From what I know, the move toward a liberal theology (in its various forms) was the outcome of a more-or-less natural dialectical process acting on and within a religion that was challenged by, and engaged with, progressive culture. In some cases the challenge of modernity and science was so great that without a rethinking of Christianity, and a reshaping of it, it might have been abandoned altogether.

    Now, to quote Pseudo quoting himself:

    Harris’ unquestioned assumption is that literal interpretations of sacred texts are the only consistent way to interpret them, as opposed to figurative interpretations. In this sense, he really does seem to think that fundamentalist religion is “more correct”.

    Just looking at Christianity for the moment, it’s very easy to find examples of the New Testament using the Hebrew sacred texts figuratively. Indeed, it’s arguably far more common for a New Testament use to be figurative rather than literal. So in that sense, a literalist interpretation of the Christian sacred texts is not even close to being “consistent”.

    There are two points addressed here; one about interpretation, and one about which kind of Christianity is “more correct.” But, the two are related since what is really at issue is Church doctrine–what the Church believes; what it confesses as its proper doctrine.

    Scripture, if you are not a fundamentalist, is only one source of belief, and not the main one. It is the Church itself, and the tradition that it purports to have kept, that is the source of orthodoxy. It is the Church that decides what is right doctrine. This of course begs a huge question about which Church is “the Church,” nevertheless, it is the Church–whatever you decide that is–that passes judgment upon any interpretation, whether it be true to the tradition or not. Since the Church believes itself led by the Holy Spirit it ought to be able “to rightly divide the word of truth.”

    Furthermore, whether a kind of Christianity is “more correct” is a matter of history and ecclesiology. If you don’t subscribe to the view stated above about the Church as the place of orthodoxy then tradition is out, and, like the fundamentalists (if they believe what they preach), it’s up to you and your Bible to decide.

    If your doctrine of the Church allows for ongoing revelation and new interpretations of the Bible that entail figurative interpretations that you think you can reconcile with literal interpretations that contradict them (or, perhaps you believe that the Church can have erred, and that it is in a process of becoming), then any kind of Christianity is possible, and no one can stand in judgment upon you. In that case, it doesn’t matter what kind of interpretation you use.

    If, however, you seek some kind of authority in the history, that is, the tradition of the Church, then you are limited by what the tradition has claimed to be orthodox belief. This is where the argument stated above about the NT writers using figurative interpretation becomes irrelevant. It is not what method of interpretation one uses but what doctrine results from its use. If the tradition has been silent on some point of contention, then it’s up to you and your Bible, or the theologians of your kind of Christianity. But, if the tradition has spoken on a matter of doctrine, and your interpretation differs–however you arrived at it–then you have a problem.

    I know I’m getting verbose here, but one last thing: I think if one wants to understand what the bible is saying, a literal interpretation is necessary because it’s an historical document. If, however, one is seeking new discoveries, new interpretations, then it may be treated like poetry and non-literal modes used. If you’re after an understanding of what the Bible writers meant, then you have to treat it like history. I wish the fundamentalists would do that, but they don’t. They may take a literal approach, but they misunderstand so much; that’s the irony.

  • Darryl

    Now, to get closer to the real subject here:

    I don’t fault moderate and liberal Christians for not being in-your-face Christians like the big-mouthed liars we see parading themselves across the media. The good ones still believe in the Christian virtues like humility and kindness. No one likes confrontation, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to avoid that.

    Yes, the popular media is lousy and chases the controversial, and solid Christianity is not sexy, but what can you do? Since the fundies are all talk when it comes to living Christianity, and since real Christians prefer to work in communities to do good works, I think we only need to encourage and participate in those works. As long as we take a principled stand against fundamentalism in our work and in the voting booth, I think that’s the best course for now. Fundies are over-playing their hand, and they will lose big time. You just can’t be persistently stupid and make it in this country (I hope).

    Having said that, I’m thinking that just about anything is possible these days, and if I were to see some coup coming from the Judeo/Christo-Fascists, I’m just enough of a redneck to raise a ruckus. I don’t mind a good fight.

  • cipher

    Pseudonym,

    Briefly:

    1. I realize everything evolves. I realize scripture is inconsistent. However, I don’t think the early Christians understood the texts figuratively,and I think that what the fundies of today believe is pretty much what most Christians have believed for most of the past 2,000 years. Mike Clawson keeps telling me that I’m wrong. I don’t think I am.

    2. I don’t see liberal to moderate Christians as providing “cover” for fundies. I am dismayed by what I perceive to be their lack of backbone in confronting them.

    This problem isn’t confined to the Christian world, btw. In Jewish Orthodoxy, there are the Modern Orthodox, who dress conventionally, engage the wider culture and stress secular education (many have kids in Ivy League schools) – and the Ultra-Orthodox, the black hat and coat crowd, who tend to eschew the wider culture and provide their kids with only a religious education. Over the past few decades, the Ultra-Orthodox, because their rate of reproduction is greater and due to a laissez-fiare attitude on the part of the Modern Orthodox, have commandeered Orthodoxy. As a result, Orthodox as a whole has moved decidedly to the right. Yet, many Modern Orthodox people, even though they disapprove and are sometimes dismayed, shy away from criticizing them directly. For Conservative, Reform and completely secular Jews, this isn’t a problem – we’re very willing to criticize them, but we tend not to confront them directly only because we don’t, as a rule, interact with them. For each group, the other is largely irrelevant. The Modern Orthodox are caught in the middle, and they are dwindling in both number and influence.

    I’d bet there are parallels in the Islamic world as well.

  • Pseudonym

    I realize everything evolves. I realize scripture is inconsistent. However, I don’t think the early Christians understood the texts figuratively,and I think that what the fundies of today believe is pretty much what most Christians have believed for most of the past 2,000 years. Mike Clawson keeps telling me that I’m wrong. I don’t think I am.

    Well, I agree with Mike. Apart from the first two and last two sentences, you’re wrong. Completely wrong.

    That’s very interesting what you wrote about Judaism. I take it you’re Jewish yourself, presumably secular?

    Yes, there are parallels in the Islamic world, but as I understand it, part of the problem is economic. By an accident of history, the richest oilfields in the world happened to be under an artificial country run by those whom my officemate (who is an Iraqi refugee) as “Wahhabi bastards”. So part of the problem is that the more moderate and liberal Muslims aren’t as rich or powerful as the fundamentalists.

    (Islam has a great tradition of scholarship, jurisprudence and scientific enquiry. By comparison, Wahhabism was founded by, in the words of said officemate “some guy who climbed off the back of a camel”. I nearly did a spit take when he used that phrase. Apparently in the Middle East they have no turnip trucks.)

  • cipher

    I take it you’re Jewish yourself, presumably secular?

    Yes, I’m an atheist.

    some guy who climbed off the back of a camel… Apparently in the Middle East they have no turnip trucks.

    Very good! Yeah, I’m aware of the connection between Wahhabism and oil. And I’m aware of Islam’s history of scholarship. It probably reached its zenith in Spain under the Caliphate (it was a “Golden Age” for Jewish culture as well), but, you know – pressure from the Christians, competing Muslim groups, etc. Everything comes to an end.

    Urban/rural competition – it’s as old as civilization. The urbanites, generally better educated, more sophisticated, always look down on the country folk. Farmers/herders/small town people view urbanites with suspicion.

    I used to manage a Buddhist center – the Tibetans told me they have it in Tibet as well. The lama and his nephew, also a monk, came from a family of prosperous nomads. The young monk told me the view is that city people speak well, use flowery language, have elegant manners – but they can be deceitful. Farmers and nomads, on the other hand, are coarse – but you can trust them.

  • Stephan

    Richard, I agree with a great deal of what you said, but I think you are looking at things rather pessimistically and not acknowledging things that really have changed. There have been countless articles written recently on how the right wing Christian leaders (Dobson, et al) have lost much of their voice and power, particularly among young Christians. I believe this is a direct result of people like Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren who have pointed fingers not at “them”, but at “us” as a church and group of believers.

    Yes, there are still religious bigots, and there always will be. Yes, they will always get plenty of press because that kind of thing sells. But things are definitely changing.

    It is the quiet work of a growing number of loving and tolerant Christians that will change things, not loud rantings and finger pointing. We won’t defeat the jerks by being bigger jerks (which appears to be the tactic of Dawkins, Harris, et al). We will do it by attracting people by our actions to a better way of living.

  • Richard Wade

    My friends, I am so fond of all of you. In your comments you all have brought to bear the full weight of your intellect, your passion, your caring, and from every single one of you so far, your respect and dignity. With such companions I can never lose my way or spend any time in despair.

    Please don’t be offended, confused or discouraged by my “nothing has changed” comment. I was being ironic with that phrase in the short term, (of course nothing will have actually changed in only 24 hours from a post on an atheist blog) and thinking of the phrase in the long term I was respectfully admonishing you to remember that these habits we all practice are what stop or slow down the changes I’m hoping for. They are:

    • Getting distracted onto side issues. When a house is on fire it’s not the time to argue about good fire prevention methods or whose interpretation of the fire code is the most sensible or who has been more remiss in fire safety. Focus!

    • Coming up with “reasons” why it won’t work. Almost invariably these are untested predictions or at best one-time anecdotes. They’re actually arguments to not even make an attempt rather than reasons why the attempt will fail. Question your self-defeating assumptions so you won’t lose by default. We don’t learn the best way by doing nothing; we learn the best way by trying the less-than-perfect way we have at the moment.

    • Blaming something or someone else over whom you have no control, such as powerful opponents, apathetic bystanders, disunited allies or biased and self-serving observers. Acknowledge your responsibility. Responsibility does not mean blame or fault. It means response-ability. Once we are aware of a situation we immediately become able to respond, or responsible. We cannot avoid responding. Even if we choose to do nothing that’s our response and we will get whatever are the consequences of that choice just as surely as if we choose to do something. We all have the ability to respond to situations often in small, sometimes in large ways. When we combine and coordinate our small responses they add up to a large response.

    Linda, thank you for saying:

    Richard, I agree completely that we need to work together. I just wish we could do it as one people who are on the same team rather than reluctant participants who are just temporarily working together out of necessity.

    Strong alliances often start out as truces of convenience. In our combined struggle to stop the intolerance of the bigots we will hopefully rid ourselves of our own.

    Teri, I am very happy to hear that you have already started a Christian blog against bigotry. It is in a language I cannot read. Please tell us more about it.

    Desert Son, yes we should acknowledge history’s progress against bigotry and continue to build on it. One important way is what you just did with Linda, to form an alliance of encouragement across your metaphysical differences. Thank you.

    Pseudonym, a letter of unified assertions against bigotry and for respect is a terrific idea. It reminds me of the recent statement “James Dobson doesn’t Speak for Me” signed by many Christian clergy and over 12,000 people.

    Jacob Dink, you correctly observed:

    Actually, if you want any sort of call to arms, perhaps the cacophonous blog-o-sphere is not the best place to air such a demand. And if you want to air this to demand to liberal Christians, while this isn’t the worst forum to do it, it’s certainly not the best.

    You’re right, I’m no longer fishing with the wrong bait but I’m still fishing in the wrong lake. I’m hoping a Christian or two will pick this up and post it on their own blog. It’s a seed. It can die from neglect or it can, with nurturing grow into a forest. There are other such seeds blowing in the wind lately and I wish them all success.

    Darryl, I agree that most people including myself don’t like confrontation and because of that I have hesitated for a long time to call on the liberal and moderate Christians to step boldly into the fray. But I think most of the world is somehow aware that we as a species are at a crossroads. Things will either get a little better or a lot worse very soon. It is not up to forces beyond our control, it is us, right here right now. The time for timid pleading and biding time is gone. If the meek inherit the Earth, it will be bacteria. We will have brought the third great extinction upon ourselves because our efforts to stop the forces of intolerance were inadequate.

    Stephan, I agree with you that progress has been made and I am grateful and heartened by the efforts of liberal Christians. I’m just getting impatient with the slow pace because I have a strong sense that a pivotal moment is upon us. Yes, the bigots are backing up but they are not yet routed. They will try to regroup. Quiet work is the backbone of the liberal Christians’ way; I’m simply saying that a loud and righteous roar of defiance and warning is also an important part of any epic struggle. They do not have to stoop to “being bigger jerks” when they publicly denounce injustice done in the name of their God.

    To any Christians out there, If you can without conflict or embarrassment use the services of an atheist with a knack for words and a passion for peace to help you in your cause for social justice, please let me know.

    To all, I am convinced that the end of religiously justified bigotry and oppression is an idea whose time has finally come. It is not an open ended opportunity, but a window that will remain open for a limited time. Thank you for your encouraging thoughts, ideas and suggestions, and please continue to look for unity rather than division, for bridges rather than walls, and for possibilities rather than impossibilities. And stay focused. The fire threatens all of us. We will see great change in our lifetimes. What that change will be is up to us.

  • http://www.matsonwaggs.wordpress.com Kelly

    Just wanted to jump in here and say that I saw this while on Beliefnet the other day:

    Religious Liberals Have a New Home
    Introducing our Progressive Revival blog, the new online home for the rising religious left. Thirty of the movement’s most influential figures weigh in as Election ’08 nears and Obama fever builds.
    Read the Blog

    Brian McLaren: Why Christians Scare People
    Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on Protesting Clergy
    Welton Gaddy: Risks, Rewards of Muslim Outreach

    Here is the link:

    Granted, it seems to basically be geared toward politically liberal religious folks, but I’m assuming most of those are religiously liberal as well.

  • Esther

    Let’s see if I got this right. You are saying that many Christians treat others with hatred and bigotry when those others refuse to agree with Christian ideas. Check. You do realize that many Christians (i.e. “liberal Christians”) disagree with the harm that the religious right justifies in the name of their God. Check. Your solution is for liberal Christians to “speak against” the religious right. Check. Question: Would this speaking against be considered hating their neighbors or are the religious right not also human beings? You know, your solution sounds like backlash — bigotry against the bigoted — to me.

    I don’t remember Jesus doing any picketing or writing letters in the gospel. I do remember him showing love to a lot of people and helping them out. I somehow suspect he would have helped them whether they were bigots or those harmed by bigots.

  • Richard Wade

    Esther, thank you for considering my appeal to Christians to actually live according to their professed principles. To answer your question for which you have offered your own answer:

    Would this speaking against be considered hating their neighbors or are the religious right not also human beings? You know, your solution sounds like backlash — bigotry against the bigoted — to me.

    No, I would not consider speaking up against injustice an act of hate. I would consider doing nothing to stand against injustice a tacit endorsement of hate. You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. Christians who passively watch their religion be used to justify bigotry are abdicating their responsibility to their fellow man and are twisting their doctrine of “love” to rationalize a cowardly betrayal of their savior’s principles.

    Yes, the religious right are human beings too and are entitled to respectful treatment, but no one gets carte blanche to do whatever they wish to others. Human beings tend to become ruthless and extremist when no one has the courage to bring them down a notch once in a while. Unchallenged bullies grow into tyrants. Those who stood idly by have only themselves to blame when the tyranny finally comes their way.

    As for Jesus, I remember Mark, Matthew, Luke and John telling us about how when He found that the Temple had become a “den of thieves” filled with moneychangers, livestock and all sorts of unsavory shenanigans he made a whip out of cords, knocked over their tables and kicked their asses out. He was not above taking strong measures for what was just. Jesus challenged the corrupt status quo that misused the power of the clergy to oppress and exploit people. That’s why the status quo got rid of him. Christians who fail to follow his example of standing up to the corruption of their religion have no right to claim that they follow Him.

    Esther, if you’re afraid to take a real stand against those who use religion to promote abuse and justify hate, just honestly say so. I can respect someone who is straight forward about their fear. Some of these villains are genuinely scary. But don’t hide behind a lovey-dovey, nicey-nicey characterization of Jesus, the guy who wouldn’t dream of confronting anyone. That’s simply false.

  • Darryl

    God, Esther, did you ever step in it! Try reading a Bible some time. The parallels between the fundies and the hypocrites that Jesus railed against (he said some pretty hurtful things, I must say) are stunning, giving honest Christians a fine model for how to speak to them.

  • Pseudonym

    Esther,

    I actually quite agree with what Richard said here:

    As for Jesus, I remember Mark, Matthew, Luke and John telling us about how when He found that the Temple had become a “den of thieves” filled with moneychangers, livestock and all sorts of unsavory shenanigans he made a whip out of cords, knocked over their tables and kicked their asses out. He was not above taking strong measures for what was just. Jesus challenged the corrupt status quo that misused the power of the clergy to oppress and exploit people. That’s why the status quo got rid of him. Christians who fail to follow his example of standing up to the corruption of their religion have no right to claim that they follow Him.

    Jesus’ strongest language, and most forceful actions, were always targeted squarely at the religious “hypocrites” (that’s the word he used, which means something slightly different that it does today) of his day. It’s not exact, but the closest modern-day equivalent is the Christian conservative.

  • Loren Petrich

    I’m rather disappointed at those here who seem to be claiming that they are too good to be activists.

    But activism works — even theatrical activism. Consider the numerous activist movements over the decades — abolitionism, feminism 1.0, labor unionism, civil rights, feminism 2.0, gay rights, both sides of the abortion issue, etc.

    In the late 1960′s, Religious-Right leader noticed how badly they lost the civil-rights culture war. They don’t like to talk about it nowadays, but they had been big on racial segregation back then. They had not been very activist, but they recognized that they’d have to fight activism with activism.

    It has to be significant that feminism 2.0, gay rights, and pro-choice have been almost entirely secular movements, being unwilling to make religious arguments. And even the civil-rights movement was largely secular, it must be said. The only religious pro-choice argument I know about is “Only God may judge.” Not something like “God has given us sovereignty over our bodies.”


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