Christian theology professor Randal Rauser messed up his characterization of atheists last week.
He tried again this week. Once again, he failed.
So here are my top three pet peeves when it comes to atheist assumptions about Christian beliefs.
First, atheists often assume that Christians are committed to one specific concept of biblical inspiration and inerrancy, namely the kind that can be summarized as follows: “the Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it”.
We know better than that.
The fundamentalists who treat the Bible as inerrant are the biggest problem. They’re usually the ones who ruin science education and end up getting elected to public office.
Some of those Christians may not believe in a 6,000-year-old Earth or a literal Adam and Eve, but they’re just as guilty when it comes to pushing pro-Christian government policies.
But our anger is also directed at liberal Christians who may not subscribe to conservatives policies either. They promote prayer and the idea of Heaven and the notion that Jesus died for others’ sins.
It’s all superstition and it’s all nonsense, regardless of what form it comes in. We’ll go after irrationality however Christians want to offer it.
Second, atheists commonly assume that Christians are committed to the most restricted conception of salvation, namely that only those who verbally assent to the proposition “Jesus is Lord” will be saved.
But the reality is that some Christians are inclusivists, accepting that many who never hear let alone assent to the proposition “Jesus is Lord” will be saved. And one Christian trajectory (which has existed since at least the third century) is universalistic, affirming that all will be saved.
That’s a pet peeve? What the heck does it matter? No one’s getting saved, anyway.
That’s like me saying you lump all of us as “atheists” when we’re really atheists, humanists, Brights, and skeptics.
It might be a big deal within our own ranks, but no one who believes in God gives two shits what we call ourselves.
Finally, atheists assume that Christians are committed to one particular conception of God’s action in the world, namely one in which God occasionally overrides (and thereby violates) natural law to actualize a miracle. Again, that is but one view. There are literally dozens of conceptions of God’s divine action that range from the view that God causes everything to the view that God causes nothing.
And most of those are just from the past week.
God does all sorts of stuff… that he doesn’t actually do.
All this is common knowledge among academic theologians, but is rare knowledge indeed among atheists. How should we explain this? In some cases that I know personally this is explained by the fact that certain atheists had a bad experience at church when a youngster or teenager, and never progressed beyond the level of Sunday school theology.
I’d love to hear something a theologian has to say about a god that is different from “Sunday school theology” that would actually change how atheists think about god.
They know no more about god that any random churchgoer. They just know how to phrase their thoughts using bigger words.
And finally, we get the most ironic comment of them all:
Be that as it may, my earnest appeal to atheists would be this: if you care enough about Christianity to refute it as thoroughly as you purport to do, then don’t be content with a mere caricature based on a faded memory of bad Sunday school experiences. Read the full range of academic and popular theology first so as to understand what Christians really believe. And leave the straw man to the Wizard of Oz.
Right back at you, buddy.
I’ll add one additional thought: The reason atheists attack Rauser’s “primitive” form of Christianity is because that is indeed what most Christians believe.
Most Christians aren’t as “sophisticated” as Rauser seems to think he is.
Most, if not all, Christians believe in a god who listens to prayers, watches over us, created the world and the creatures inside of it, loves us all, and who we will meet in Heaven.
I’m certain they’re wrong about every one of those beliefs.
Do the theologians discredit all of those ideas? Then, I might be interested in what they have to say.