How to deal with Christian-baiting

Well-played, San Antonio Christians!  You basically ignored this, making the atheists look bad!

A small group of students at the University of Texas at San Antonio spent two days last week sitting in the middle of campus next to bright red signs covered in large black letters. One said “Free Porn.” The other offered “Smut for Smut.”

The students, all members of Atheist Agenda, hoped to entice their classmates to turn in their Bibles in exchange for pornographic magazines – a provocative offer designed to shock and attract attention.

“The point is not to hand out porn, but rather the primary purpose is to get people to come talk to us so we can get our message out,” Kyle Bush, the group’s president, said. “We want to spread atheism and bring it more to the spotlight. We offer another alternative to people who might not fit in anywhere else.”

The event caused an uproar on campus in 2008 and made headlines around the world. But this year, few students took notice. During the four hours Atheist Agenda members spent next to their signs each day, only about 30 people stopped by to get information about the club or start a debate.

In addition to Bibles, the group offered to collect other religious texts, including the Quran, and any books written by prominent pastors, including Joel Osteen and Rick Warren. During the event, Atheist Agenda collected five Bibles, one Encyclopedia of Islam, and one Quran. The group plans to donate the books to a local library.

Despite the event’s ability in previous years to attract attention for atheism, Bush said the group didn’t have any financial backers outside its student members. The group raised all of the money needed to put on the event themselves, he said. One of the group’s fundraisers included selling popsicles.

“A lot of the money comes from members,” Bush said. “Like if we need posters, somebody will go and buy posters.”

The group purchased 140 pounds of pornographic magazines for $30 from a seller on Craigslist.

via Atheists offer porn in exchange for Bibles | World on Campus: news for college students from a Christian perspective..

In other words, the event fizzled.  The atheists looked pathetic, and the Christians were above the fray.  That’s the way to handle this sort of thing.  The thing is, the general public doesn’t much like it when Christians proselytize, but they don’t like it when atheists do it either!  The atheists are slow to realize that. And there is still shame in pornography, which is why people use it in secret on the internet and why the atheists could buy 140 pounds of pornographic magazines for $30.  Though we can be outraged at the blasphemy, we can note how few takers there were and how the atheists are so clueless about how to get their message across.

Has Castro become a Christian?

George Conger reports stories in the Italian press that Fidel Castro, the communist dictator of Cuba, may have “rediscovered Jesus” and will be reconciled with the church from which he was excommunicated:

Fidel Castro will be received back into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March, the Italian press is reporting. If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic.

On 1 Feb 2012, La Republicca — [Italy’s second largest circulation daily newspaper, La Republicca follows a center-left political line and is strongly anti-clerical; not anti-Catholic per se but a critic of the institutional church] — reported that as death approaches, the octogenarian communist has turned to God for solace.

ABC’s Global Note news blog is the only U.S. general interest publication I have found that has reported this story. It referenced the La Republicca story and said that Castro’s daughter Alina is quoted as saying “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits.” The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

via GetReligion » “The press . . . just doesn’t get religion.” — William Schneider.

If this turns out to be true, it would be arguably a greater miracle than the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union:  the collapse of communism in the heart of one of its most bloodthirsty adherents.  It would also be one of the most dramatic conversions of an atheist in recent memory.  The man put untold numbers of Christians in front of firing squads.  How amazing is a grace that would accept him, forgive him, and accept him as one of those Christians as he faced his own death.

The true contrarian

Aaron Lewis, who hung out a couple of times with Christopher Hitchens, pointed out that the British assessments on the occasion of his death are rather more measured than what the Americans are saying.  Aaron alerted me to this comment from Alexander Cockburn on Hitchens:

He courted the label “contrarian,” but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair. Attacking God? The big battles on that issue were fought one, two, even five hundred years ago when they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in the Campo de’ Fiore. A contrarian these days would be someone who staunchly argued for the existence of a Supreme Being.

via Feature :: Eat The State!.

The death of Christians’ favorite atheist

Christopher Hitchens, one of the “new atheists,” has died of cancer at age 62.  An iconoclast skeptical not only about religion but about conventional liberalism, Hitchens won wide respect, including that of many Christians who debated him.  One of his sparring partners, Doug Wilson, has written a good account of the man and his unbelief for Christianity Today (which also links to their written debates):

Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Hitchens was something of a staple on the Washington, D. C., social scene, and I’ve talked with several people I know who met him at a party or some such and hung out with him.  He was said to be an unusually friendly and likeable person, even to people he disagreed with, as well as a very stimulating conversationalist on virtually any issue.

He is being called Christians’ favorite atheist.  Many had been praying for his conversion, something that did happen to his brother Peter.  It’s hard to imagine so many Christians writing tributes to Richard Dawkins.

Hitchens wrote books condemning God and, what might be worse in some circles, Mother Teresa, and yet lots of Christians, while disagreeing with him, liked him.  What was his secret?  How could he be both so cuttingly negative to what people hold so dear and yet so winsome?  Is there anything that the other side could learn from him?

UPDATE:  The arch-confessional Lutheran journalist Mollie Hemingway knew Hitchens, to the point of co-hosting a baby shower with him and his wife, so her thoughts are especially interesting.

UPDATE:  Ross Douthat may have the definitive answer about why Christians liked him:

Intellectually minded Christians, in particular, had a habit of talking about Hitchens as though he were one of them already — a convert in the making, whose furious broadsides against God were just the prelude to an inevitable reconciliation. (Or as a fellow Catholic once murmured to me: “He just protests a bit too much, don’t you think?”) This is not a sentiment that was often expressed about Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or any other member of the New Atheist tribe. But where Hitchens was concerned, no insult he hurled or blasphemy he uttered could shake the almost-filial connection that many Christians felt for him.

Some of this reflected his immense personal charm, his willingness to debate with Baptists and drink with Catholics and be comradely to anyone who took ideas seriously. But there was something deeper at work as well. American Christian intellectual life is sustained today, to a large extent, by the work of writers very much like Hitchens — by essayists and journalists and novelists and poets, from G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis to W. H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh, who shared his English roots, his gift for argument and his abiding humanism.

Recognizing this affinity, many Christian readers felt that in Hitchens’s case there had somehow been a terrible mix-up, and that a writer who loved the King James Bible and “Brideshead Revisited” surely belonged with them, rather than with the bloodless prophets of a world lit only by Science.

For a sample of Hitchen’s masterful, yea, C. S. Lewis-style of essay writing, click that link to his tribute to the King James Bible.

HT:  Matthew Schmitz

Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

- The Welsh family nativity scene

- A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

- A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

- A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

- A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

- Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?

Party our way into extinction!

People who oppose abortion  like to call themselves “pro-life.”  Proponents of abortion object to that term, which implies that they are “anti-life.”   But one of the most forthright defenders of abortion–also post-birth infanticide, euthanasia both voluntary and involuntary–really is “anti-life,” arguing philosophically that human life may not be not worth living.  Why?  Because we will experience suffering and because all of our desires will not be met.  (OK, he does conclude by saying that life is worth living in the sense of not wanting to shut off evolution, which gives hope that things might get better.)

I am referring to Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, who just over a year ago wrote this for the New York Times, a favorable review of David Benatar’s  Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence:

To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.

Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s  view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.

Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel to guilty about.

So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction! . . . .

Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?

I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

via Should This Be the Last Generation? – NYTimes.com.

What are the weaknesses in this argument?

Do, however, note Singer’s honesty in following the implications of his presuppositions.  (If there is no God, just a meaningless material universe, of course there can be no ultimate hope.  Or reason not to kill unwanted infants.)  But note too our contemporary culture’s UTTER inability to deal with suffering, to the point that it is widely considered better to die than to suffer, or to kill to stop suffering.  And note our contemporary culture’s UTTER orientation to the will, to desire, as if ANYTHING that interferes with our desires must be a great evil that casts doubt on the value of our lives.

HT:  Collin Hansen at Christianity Today


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