How Well Do Public Evangelicals Represent Their Faith?

What do evangelical Christian public figures have to offer the world that is unique to them?

Is it modesty? No. Carrie Prejean (the former Ms. California) posed nude years ago.

Is it family values? A look at Mark Sanford and Jon & Kate Gosselin suggests otherwise. Divorce occurs more often in “born-again” Christian families than in the general population.

Is it honesty? Sarah Palin has told lie after lie after lie.

Mark Galli of Christianity Today is disturbed by this:

This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle. Something noticeable, something that causes the unbeliever to pause and wonder, “What does that person have?” Because it is such an integral part of our evangelistic method, we spend enormous amounts of psychic energy trying exude that something.

But we find, more days than not, that there’s not much to that something. We drop our coffee and blurt out a four-letter word, or we drink too much at the office party, or we fail to enquire about the welfare of a neighbor who just discovered she has cancer. Most days, we seem to be no different from the rest of humanity.

He goes on to say that while he may be a better person himself for being a Christian, “I’m always running into non-Christians who appear to be as patient, caring, kind, and compassionate as I am.”

Which I gather is not surprising to most atheists. No religion has a monopoly on morality. Belief in God doesn’t make you behave any better than a rational person who opts not to believe. There’s nothing special about Christians in that regard.

Instead of coming to that conclusion, though, Galli ends on a platitude:

… What we [Christians] offer the world is our broken lives, saying, “We are sinners saved by grace.” What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Which isn’t saying much to non-Christians who don’t buy into that story, anyway.

What do atheists have to offer the world that is unique to us?

The first thing that came to my mind: A rational outlook on life that is based on evidence and not thinking we know all the answers to the big questions in life.

  • http://none anonymous

    Every evangelical I’ve ever met at college is an outstanding example of honesty, kindness, and “Christian Values”. As long as you arent gay. I think these celebrities do not represent the evangelical community well.

  • http://none anonymous

    To add on that, they represent the christian lifestyle in almost every way in their lifestyle. They earn the nickname “God Squad” kids, but they certainly represent Christianity much better than any other sects, even if they are fundies. ANd I respect them for that. Why follow a religion if you ignore all of its teachings and never pray or go to church? Afterlife insurance?

  • Cypress Green

    “they certainly represent Christianity much better than any other sects, even if they are fundies”

    In all seriousness, do they actually? They proclaim their faith to those around them. Those who don’t, of other sects (or none) won’t be noticed. I mean, like when I was catholic neither I nor any other catholic I knew (or know now) advertized their faith. If they were do-gooders, church go-ers, dogma believers etc. they just blended into the do-gooder etc crowd with the rest.
    The easy way to pick out a catholic co worker is to wait for Ash Wednesday!

  • GreyTheory

    What, you didn’t get your membership package when you joined the Great Atheist Conspiracy? The “God Sux” coffee mug was worth the $50 by itself!

  • Todd

    The first thing that came to my mind: A rational outlook on life that is based on evidence and not thinking we know all the answers to the big questions in life.

    No, that assumes all atheists have a rational outlook on life. It also assumes, that atheists have a monopoly on looking at life rationally. I’ve known quite a few theists of varying stripes who were as rational, if not more so, than myself in their daily life, excepting for one glaring blind spot.

    I think it is better to say that atheists are excellent advocates for reason based thinking and leave it at that. Don’t get sucked into the “we’re special because we’re unique” game. Like Mark Galli, no one wins that game.

  • phil

    What do atheists have to offer the world that is unique to us?

    results you can believe in

  • Paul

    What is unique to atheists is that we don’t have the get out of jail free card of “I know I did something wrong but Jesus forgives me so I’m good” that christians do. We do something wrong we try to make it right without platitudes to some myth.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    The honesty of being able to say “I don’t know” when asked questions (like why are we here, what is the purpose of life) that nobody actually knows the answer to.

  • Takma’rierah

    The ability to look at the world and see something amazing without having to coerce ourselves to see something that isn’t there.

  • Peter

    What does this post prove anyway? Are you implying Christianity is false because the followers of Christ lead shameful lives? Throughout history religious people have committed many act of horror does that mean that God does not exist? Do you think God ceases to exist because Sarah Palin lied?

    If an atheist cheated on his wife will you atheists claim now that all atheists are no better than theists?
    This is an easy case of logical fallacy known as “guilty by association”. Carrie Prejean, Mark Sanford and Jon & Kate Gosselin, and Sarah Palin do not represent or speak for every Christian. You are taking an isolated instances and placing a guilt on an entire religion just because these people were also Christians.

  • David D.G.

    The first thing that came to my mind: A rational outlook on life that is based on evidence and not thinking we know all the answers to the big questions in life.

    In short: “REALITY.”

    By the way, Hemant, I just want to say that I think you do a stellar job of coming up with fascinating questions and discussion topics day after day for this blog, and this entry is a particularly good example. Keep up the great work!

    ~David D.G.

  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    I like how the writer almost gets to the point of seeing the blindingly obvious (that being Christian is no different from being anything else) and runs back from the brink as fast as he could.

    It’s almost like he could see atheism over the edge of that cliff . . .

  • Lifer

    “What we [Christians] offer the world is our broken lives, saying, “We are sinners saved by grace.” What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

    Worst. Offering. Ever.

    At least immolate your first-born for us.. come on!

  • http://randomcanyon.blogspot.com/ unbeliever

    …than a rational person who opts not to believe.

    Opts? I didn’t opt not to believe any more than I opted not to believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus – or any more than I could opt to believe that there’s an invisible pink unicorn living under my house.

    Belief or non-belief, at least in my case, is not a choice. I never chose atheism; I merely realized, over time, that I found the Judeo-Christian myths and legends about as credible as the Easter Bunny.

    I could opt to pretend; I could opt to profess that which I cannot bring myself to believe. But I cannot choose whether or not, in my heart of hearts, to believe. I simply don’t.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    What does this post prove anyway? Are you implying Christianity is false because the followers of Christ lead shameful lives? Throughout history religious people have committed many act of horror does that mean that God does not exist? Do you think God ceases to exist because Sarah Palin lied?

    If an atheist cheated on his wife will you atheists claim now that all atheists are no better than theists?
    This is an easy case of logical fallacy known as “guilty by association”. Carrie Prejean, Mark Sanford and Jon & Kate Gosselin, and Sarah Palin do not represent or speak for every Christian. You are taking an isolated instances and placing a guilt on an entire religion just because these people were also Christians.

    Hi Peter — This post doesn’t prove Christianity is false. The point that I’m making (and that the author of the article makes) is that we often hear Christians claiming to be more moral thans others because of their faith. In fact, their actions show otherwise.

    That doesn’t mean their faith is false. It means that their faith doesn’t guide their actions, at least in the case of the public figures that many Christians seem to embrace.

    I see a lot of politicians go out of their way to show they’re Christians — because that supposedly means they can be trusted to be a moral standard-bearer and they can bring honesty to the government. In fact, examples like Sanford and Palin — both people who continue to tout their faith — show that there is a severe disconnect.

    I don’t doubt that atheists have done things that many would consider immoral. However, I don’t hear many atheists claiming that we’re more “moral” than anyone else because of our non-religious outlook. We’re no different than others in that regard.

  • stephanie

    I’m not sure what I have to offer the world except a lot of bad puns. But I have to say it’s hard not to feel morally superior just for NOT offering up Jesus or anybody else crucified like they’re an hors d’oeuvre at a party. Anyone else igged out by that?

  • Nick Wallin

    The ability to look at the world and see something amazing without having to coerce ourselves to see something that isn’t there.

    I like this :)

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    As a former evangelical (mostly during college) I can attest to the fact that the evangelical community is really no different than any other. You still get your rigidly defined social strata, your smugly superior holier-than-thous, and everything else. People are just better at hiding their humanity behind the Bible.

  • Karen

    What does this post prove anyway? Are you implying Christianity is false because the followers of Christ lead shameful lives?

    Followers of Christ claim to have divine guidance in the form of the Holy Spirit living inside of them. What the CT article says, in surprisingly candid fashion, is that the “supernatural intervention” is surprisingly ineffective – or perhaps nonexistent.

    Most Christians won’t admit that, so I applaud the author of that article.

    In fact, the supposed shining difference in the lives of “true Christians” is constantly touted, particularly in evangelical churches. That the reality doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny is almost never mentioned.

    But if it doesn’t work, the appeal of Christianity – or the proof that it’s true – is definitely diminished.

    Every evangelical I’ve ever met at college is an outstanding example of honesty, kindness, and “Christian Values”. As long as you arent gay.

    Um, you haven’t met enough evangelicals – or you don’t know them well enough. Spend a few dozen years in churches and you’ll find out that the outward kindness, honesty, etc. doesn’t always relate to the inward attitudes.

    This is why hypocrisy is so often complained about when it comes to religious people and religion.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    I like Hemant’s reply to Peter in the comments above. The hypocrisy point is one that I get and one that the public figures of our society today tout every chance they can get to build themselves up.

    I would even go further by saying that any human being, regardless of belief or non-belief, has the same failings as anyone else. The downfall is when a person tries to make themselves look better by telling everyone else that they are squeaky clean, when in reality, they have enough skeletons in their closet to populate a Halloween party.

  • David D.G.

    martymankins wrote:

    I would even go further by saying that any human being, regardless of belief or non-belief, has the same failings as anyone else. The downfall is when a person tries to make themselves look better by telling everyone else that they are squeaky clean, when in reality, they have enough skeletons in their closet to populate a Halloween party.

    I heartily agree to the latter part of that, Marty, but I strongly disagree with the former part, that “any human being, regardless of belief or non-belief, has the same failings as anyone else.” This is poppycock.

    I agree that hypocrisy on top of other moral failings only makes them worse — but it is absolutely not true that any given individual is just as moral, or as immoral, as the next person, even setting hypocrisy aside.

    Perhaps you meant to say that we all have the same potential for failing — and if so, you might have a valid point. But I strenuously protest if you want to claim that I’m no better a person than, for example, a philandering absentee governor (even without his hypocrisy factored in).

    ~David D.G.

  • Infinitemonkey

    I’d like to just lay this out there, do with it what you will.

    Too many times “just human” is given as an excuse. Sometimes, “just human” can be given as an excuse. Spilling your coffee and shouting something. Ok, I’ll let that slide. I’ll even give you getting too drunk, on a business trip, and end up sleeping with someone. I’ll let that slide. But, when you habitually, and nonchalantly break your “moral code”, that stops being “just human” and starts being hypocracy. When you have an affair, and are actively seeing/sleeping with someone who is not your wife, when you hire a prostitute, when you knowingly and consciously lie to cover up the truth, time and again, you aren’t just being human, you are making premediditated deviations from what you claim to believe in. This is hypocracy, and I feel it is a cardinal sin (term used loosely). I have no reason to trust you, no reason to respect you, and no reason to listen to you. So, in these cases, I cordially invite you to shut the hell up.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    The evangelicals offer the concept of Heaven and Hell and the supposed one and only way to get to Heaven and avoid Hell. The rest is just human smugness and superiority that any bigoted group could espouse.

    Atheists offer that there is no evidence of a Heaven or Hell or of the supposed one way to get to said Heaven and avoid said Hell… In this, the atheists are the humble ones…

  • Lexi

    How are Palin’s lies different than Obamessiah’s?

    They both believe in god.

    I read the link. I could see myself making the same mistake as Mr. Palin. If my three choices were “Republican”, “Democrat”, “Alaska Independent Party”. If it was a lie, it is not nearly as bad as some of the things that have come forth from our more liberal politicians.

    And, what’s with making fun of a kid with down syndrome? What the hell is wrong with people?

  • Heidi

    They’re offering me a dead body? Setting aside the fact that they don’t have one, and that they’re talking about a zombie… ew.

  • kmb1223

    What I offer as an atheist is the ability to understand that each person is entitled to their basic human rights intrinsically and not at the pleasure of of an imaginary god.

  • Country Crock

    Speaking of Carrie Prejean, Mark Sanford and Jon & Kate Gosselin, and Sarah Palin, if Christianity and Christians are to be distinguished from all others as subscribing to the truth, as operating under the aegis of the one true God with all the benefits which ought to be accruing from such a state of affairs, then we should have the right to demand of them a standard of conduct and enlightenment that would set them apart.

    Either the non-Christian actions and words of Christians reflect adversely on the disposition of the Deity himself, or they indicate that having a pipeline to the true God does not prevent one from holding as bigoted and inhuman attitudes towards one’s fellow man as anyone else. If the representatives of that Deity, whether priest, televangelist, beauty queen or faith healer, can regularly be found guilty of child abuse, avarice or fraud, then one can hardly tout Christianity as the one effective guide and guarantor of proper moral behavior. Any philosophy, no matter what it may claim for itself in principle, is only as good as it works in practice. Christianity’s track record gives us no reason to regard it as occupying a privileged position in regard to divine benefaction.

    Let me repeat that any philosophy, no matter what it may claim for itself in principle, is only as good as it works in practice. Christianity’s track record gives us no reason to regard it as occupying a privileged position in regard to divine benefaction.

  • http://atheistgravy.blogspot.com revatheist

    I would say that the one big thing that atheists bring to the table is the necessity to admit and rectify one’s own failings. If a Christian hurts another person or makes an immoral decision, they need simply ask Gawd for forgiveness and guilt and shame are relieved in their mind, and the actual consequences of their actions are never really addressed. For an atheist, making immoral decisions or hurting others carries with it the price of shame and guilt that might only be relieved through reconciliation with those harmed; even then, the shame might not ever be completely thrown off as the atheist must live personally with the fact that they commited immoral acts. It is this sense of left over guilt and remorse that inform future decisions of the atheist and act as a prod to try to not make the same mistake again. “Forgiven” Christians however can repeatedly make the same mistakes and feel fine each time by asking Gawd for forgiveness again. To sum, atheism requires more personal responsibility, Christianity does not.

  • http://www.lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com Lyvvie

    What they have to offer is a dead man nailed to a wooden cross? Nice. Grim buggers.

  • Zahada

    Revatheist – I agree 100%


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