Last week, CNN posted a column I wrote on how atheists are helping drive young people away from the church.
Christian apologist Robin Schumacher took issue with it and has started to respond at the Christian Post.
Here’s the statement he appears to be most frustrated with:
Articles and books about why millennials are leaving Christianity often focus on what churches are doing “wrong.”
They’re anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science, anti-sex-education and anti-doubt, to name a few of the most common criticisms.
Schumacher doesn’t buy that at all:
In today’s culture, to be anti-anything is bad so we see Mehta employ the typical paint-your-opponent-against-something-rather-than-for-something technique right out of the chute. But that aside, the question is, are the claims true? Let’s look at just a couple of them.
This should be fun… especially since I can back up what I wrote:
1) Is the church anti-gay?
Schumacher ignores this point altogether, maybe because the church is so obviously anti-gay.
At worst, there are large, loud factions in the Christian world who believe homosexuality is a disorder or sexual perversion. They believe homosexuality is a choice. They want to fix gay people.
At best, both the Catholic Church hierarchy (including the Pope) and evangelical leaders still believe people who act on their homosexuality (even within the confines of a loving, monogamous relationship) are doing something wrong. They don’t believe a gay couple is as inherently worthy as a straight couple, even when it comes to raising children. They have fought against federal recognition of same-sex marriage and they certainly won’t allow it in their own churches. They have started to proclaim how much they “love” gay people, but treating them with respect while still working to deny them equal rights makes absolutely no sense to most millennials.
2) Is the church anti-women?
Evidently Mr. Mehta is unaware of how Christianity elevated womanhood in the first century… He also must not know that the Bible specifically states that men and women are equal in their nature…, from a life/value perspective…, redemptive status…, and in their abilities… Contrast that with other faiths such as Islam.
His argument to support Christianity’s treatment of women is that “we’re better than Islam”? Talk about setting the bar low…
If Mehta is referring to the normal critique of a woman submitting to a man, then he’s incorrect on at least two fronts. First,the Biblical passage usually referenced is speaking about men/women in marriage only. Second, that submission goes both ways — a fact conveniently omitted by Christian opponents who never read the beginning of the famous ‘submission section’ in Ephesians, which starts with Paul saying: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21, my emphasis). Only after that does Paul go on in detail, telling both men and women how to submit to each other (with the man getting most of the lecture).
To summarize, men and women are totally equal, but in the context of marriage, a woman must submit to her husband.
That doesn’t make it any better.
There are well-defined gender roles within the Christian church and we all know it. The man works, the woman takes care of the children, and you will upset God if you do it any differently.
But I wasn’t just talking about the submission thing. Evangelical church leaders are overwhelmingly male, even though they say women are perfectly capable of taking on those roles. (The Catholic Church, of course, doesn’t believe women should be in leadership positions at all.)
There’s reproductive rights, too. The Catholic Church and evangelical-owned businesses are fighting to make sure they don’t have to cover their employees’ contraception. That’s anti-woman (though it also affects men).
What about forcing women to go through with a pregnancy no matter her circumstances? That’s anti-woman.
And when a Christian bookstore won’t sell a book written by a woman because it includes the word “vagina” (in a harmless context) but sells a book written by a man that includes references to oral and anal sex? That’s anti-woman.
Oh! Can’t forget the whole “purity” thing where women are taught to be chaste and modest in a way that Christian boys never experience, in part because men can’t help their desires. Never the other way around.
The church can talk about how much it supports gender equality all it wants, but its actions and positions scream otherwise.
3) Is the church anti-science?
… in short, good science and good religion walk hand in hand just fine. Further, if anything, science is bolstering the arguments for God, not eliminating them.
The evidence showing that our universe most certainly had a beginning and is not eternal…, the proof of intelligence and specified complexity running through life itself…, and the fine tuning of our cosmos… all make for excellent scientific data points favoring a Creator…
Moreover, the legion of brilliant scientists who are Christians that exist today as well as those in the past demonstrates the false dichotomy that Mr. Mehta offers millennials of either science or Christianity.
Look, there’s definitely no shortage of brilliant scientists who happen to be Christian. But even they take off their God Helmets when they walk into a lab. Francis Collins will be the first to tell you that his faith is emotional, not scientific.
Intelligent Design, irreducible complexity, and the fine-tuning argument are the sorts of things they teach you in Jesus Camp, but no real scientist takes them seriously. They’ve been debunked repeatedly.
And I would still argue that “good science” and “good religion” are just not compatible. Religion relies on faith and emotion. Science relies on observable facts. They’re two different worlds. Yes, some Christians accept evolution while believing that God started the process, but they have nothing to back up that claim other than their ignorance of other possibilities. And what about climate change? Evangelicals (and their friends in the GOP) have denied what the majority of scientists understand as truth. Only recently is that starting to change (PDF).
It’s not just me saying that Christianity is anti-science either. When Christian researcher David Kinnaman wrote his book You Lost Me, he said that the opposition to science was one of the key factors young Christians cited when talking about why they were put off by the church. Kinnaman wrote, “What’s more, science seems accessible in a way that the church does not; science appears to welcome questions and skepticism, while matters of faith seem impenetrable.” Kinnaman also quoted a scientist he met who said, “Every week, I am contacted by young Christians who tell me that their faith cannot survive their interest in science. They feel the church has forced them into an either-or decision — they can either stay true to the Christian faith or become an intellectually honest scientist.”
Even if that’s an anecdote, there’s no doubt that what science classes teach often contradicts what you learn in Sunday school. Rather than reconciling the differences — which may be impossible — the evangelical church has pretty much said science is wrong.
Also: Creation Museum. (Need I say more?)
4) Is the church anti-sex-education?
Schumacher doesn’t address this bit. But we know the Catholic Church doesn’t promote birth control or condoms while evangelical leaders are almost entirely in the “abstinence-only” camp. They don’t want kids educated about anything involving healthy, safe sex.
They encourage sex only after marriage, which means you have to find a partner without ever considering your sexual compatibility. The requirement to wait also pushes a lot of Christians to get married when they’re very young (and not necessarily ready or mature enough for marriage).
The Christian Post cited a study that said “88 percent of those who pledge to be abstinent reported having had sexual intercourse before they married.” So not only does abstinence-only sex education not work, it throws kids into a world where they’re completely unprepared for dealing with sex and its physical and emotional consequences.
Young Catholics know that, too. The Barna Group noted that 40% of millennial Catholics “said the church’s ‘teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.'”
On a side note, it seems like churches don’t even mention pornography without following it with the word “addiction,” as if it’s never okay to watch it. There are some valid arguments against porn, sure, but it’s unrealistic to pretend that young Christians aren’t among the viewers, and it’s damaging to call them sinners (or worse) because of it.
5) Is the church anti-doubt?
Anti-doubt? If by this he means the Church at large discourages asking hard questions about God, he couldn’t be more wrong. The entire discipline of apologetics is specifically designed for tackling difficult issues and questions about the existence of God. Christian websites such as gotquestions see over 3 million unique visitors a month…, with special sister sites having been set up by the gotquestions team just for answering the questions children and teens have about Christianity. If millennials want to have their doubts and questions about God answered, they have many places to turn.
Let me rewrite his response: “The church isn’t anti-doubt! Lee Strobel wrote books to clear up everybody’s questions! So there!”
Yeah… turns out that doesn’t really work. Maybe because the arguments of Christian apologists are so easily rejected and rebutted.
We know more millennials than ever before doubt the existence of God. The question is: Do they feel comfortable talking to their pastors about their doubts?
Nope. Back to the Barna Group:
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense.
Schumacher can stay in his apologetic bubble and pretend the church welcomes questions, but the fact is that most churches discourage doubt and encourage people to just accept things on faith.
Meanwhile, atheists (and the entire Internet) are just itching to answer the questions young Christians have.
Schumacher also takes a dismissive tone with some of my other statistics about how atheist groups are growing and raising more for charity because he argues that it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what churches have done.
Well, it is. I don’t doubt that, when you look at the raw numbers, Christians outnumber us and give more to charity as a result.
I mentioned those numbers to point out that our once-tiny movement is growing quickly and that we’re starting to replace the things you used to be able to find only in church — things like community, opportunities for charitable-giving, and inspirational “sermons.” As we replace more of the church’s offerings (minus the superstitious nonsense), I suspect the numbers are only going to increase in our direction.
(image via Shutterstock)