Pod people: Are Christians crazy, or just stupid?

There is little new under the sun when it comes to anti-theistic arguments. Whether it be high minded philosophical critique or rabble rousing anti-clericalism, what was old is now new.

Richard Ostling observed in his Get Religion post “Is the ‘New Atheism’ any different from old atheism?” the content of the criticism remains the same, but the tone has changed. The new atheism has taken a:

[A] tactical lurch toward emotion-laden partisanship and take-no-prisoners rhetoric that might make a Fundamentalist blush.

In this week’s Crossroads, aGet Religion podcast, Issues, Etc., host Todd Wilken and I discussed two posts that touched on anti-theism — but approached the subject from different perspectives: French media disdain for religious believers and a “heretical” Episcopal bishop.

While there have been other non-theistic Episcopal bishops, Jack  Spong of Newark was the media  darling of the ’90s. A fixture on talk shows and op-ed pages in his day, Bishop Spong was the subject of a profile written by the Religion News Service that was released in advance of his next book.

Pressed by Todd whether my dislike of the story was motivated more by my theological disagreements with Bishop Spong than journalistic concerns, I responded that I had no quarrel with Bishop Spong being Bishop Spong. What stoked my ire was the the lack of balance, hard questions of context in the RNS piece. It was more of a People magazine puff piece than journalism.

The second half of the story was a review of my criticism of two different accounts of the trial of four French West Indian immigrants in Paris, accused with kidnapping and torturing a fellow immigrant. They have denied the charge, and in their defense have claimed they were exorcising demons from their victim. The journalistic issue I saw was the discrepancy between AFP’s English and French language stories — released at the same time. The English language version noted the defendants said they were motivated to act by the tenets of their Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. But it included the information the four had been expelled from the church some time ago — and that their actions were contrary to that church’s doctrine and discipline.

The French version omitted this disclaimer. Todd asked me why the two versions differed. I said it could have been two different teams at work in the AFP office (French and English language) or it could be an example of writing to the audience’s interests. In the culture of the Anglosphere, religious beliefs and religions have always had a place in the public square. This is not the case in France, where faith is regarded by the elites as a private matter that should not intrude into public life. The French-language AFP article represented a secular worldview that saw no utility in reporting on the religion details. The attitude of the article was that these benighted immigrants were motivated by their weird (Seventh-day Adventist) faith and these odd “Evangelical Christians” need no further discussion.

The attitude is one I have encountered more and more in recent years — one cited by Richard Ostling in his Get Religion piece — that traditional Christian believers are crazy or stupid. The attitude is not new — see Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799), but the tone of disbelief is no longer cultured, more aggressive, and oblivious to the ideas of others. This is the attitude one encounters in the mainstream media, such as AFP. And it runs through Jack Spong’s books. (And this aspect of his work was studiously avoided by RNS in its puff piece.)

Perhaps Todd was correct in surmising that my animus towards the RNS piece was personal. I have been an object of pity from some of my clerical brethren for my beliefs. One bishop asked me how I could believe in such things as the Virgin Birth, bodily resurrection, even though I was well educated.  I was a traitor to my class — “one of us” who had gone over to the other side. I was not stupid, therefore there must be something wrong with me — or I was playing a deep game.

A recent exchange between New York Magazine and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia aptly illustrates the contempt religious believers receive at the hands of the media.

Scalia: I even believe in the Devil.

NYM: You do?

Scalia: Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.

NYM: Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …

Scalia: If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.

NYM: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?

Scalia: You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

NYM: Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

Scalia: You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

NYM: I hope you weren’t sensing contempt from me. It wasn’t your belief that surprised me so much as how boldly you expressed it.

Scalia: I was offended by that. I really was.

Are Christians crazy or stupid? Or are people of faith merely viewed with contempt?

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About geoconger
  • http://crudeideas.blogspot.com/ Crude
  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    I wish Scalia had mentioned that one of the Devil’s biggest coups is that so many people do not believe in him anymore.

  • Nils

    Augh! That reporter is so clueless!

  • RayIngles

    I’ve seen religious people claim that atheists are more aggressive or ruder these days. But note that even just taking out a billboard with the basic message ‘Atheists exist’ is considered controversial and aggressive.

    Just see the ‘New Atheists’ themselves noting that pretty much no matter what they say, they are regarded as rude. They’re real fire-breathers there!

    I pointed out at the time that Ostling’s piece about “New Atheism” was… weakly substantiated. So far as I can tell, he was being at least as dismissive of atheists as you claim ‘elites’ are of the religious.

    • wlinden

      Huh? I have found that just leaving the room to avoid anti-Christian chitchat in the workplace is considered aggressive (and probably “controversial”)

      • RayIngles

        I haven’t. I suppose we’ll have to keep trading anecdotes forever?

  • JCNow

    The reality is that non-believers are sick and tired of sanctimonious (and usually hypocritical) prudes pontificating at large about how everyone else is going to hell for not believing and acting exactly as they do. For a group who has been commanded by their savior not to judge, they spend an inordinate amount of time doing just that. And one more thing. If you think you (and other christians) can incessantly work towards limiting the reproductive choices of women in this country and then think we’re just going to sit back and take it, you’ve got another thing coming. As long as you continue in those efforts, you can expect some virulent hatred and nastiness to come your way.

  • Allen

    Of course religious people are stupid. that’s the point of religion. Believing in something to feel better .Something that is not there that u really want to be there. Come on talking bushes, people living inside of whales, and zombies. Of course religious people are stupid. They aren’t totally stupid but they do have issues….

  • DewWahDeity

    All religious people may not be stupid but they all lack good
    judgment, because they believe in superstitious nonsense and religious lies. None
    of which has any empirical or verifiable or tangible evidence that supports it.
    But then again the reason spiritual matters are not under any rules of evidence
    is the same reason why fantasy and fiction isn’t under and rules of evidence either.


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