We Don’t Have To Be Enemies: Partnering With Atheists To Build The Kingdom

We Don’t Have To Be Enemies: Partnering With Atheists To Build The Kingdom February 8, 2014

As a Jesus follower, I want to be a part of the culture Jesus came to bring– the culture he so often calls “The Kingdom”. I want to be a part of a counter-cultural movement that radically changes the world– one that sees the will of God done here on earth, as it already is in heaven.

One of the things that we often completely miss about scripture, is that the “next world” or “afterlife” is a pretty small blimp on the radar of the Bible. All things considered, it’s not discussed much. I believe this is in part because God doesn’t want us to be so caught up into “then” that we miss “now”.

We’ve often been hyper-fixated on heaven and hell being places you go instead of things that you bring— when in reality, you and I both have the opportunity to bring elements of heaven, or elements of hell, to this world– right here, right now.

There are times in history when we’ve done a good job at bringing heaven to earth, and even more times when we’ve done a good job at bringing hell to earth. Often we choose the later simply out of being fixated on the next world without giving much, if any, regard to the world we’re in today.

One of the things I love about being an Anabaptist is the focus on rejecting the rules of living in earthly kingdoms (such as the participation in violence) in favor of bringing the principles of God’s Kingdom to the here and now. As I’ve said before, building a culture that looks like the nonviolent Jesus is an all-hands-on-deck proposition, and requires creativity in how we contribute to reforming culture. Often when it comes to social or cultural change, we band together with other “like minded” people in our own Christian tribes and make our contributions in complete isolation from people who seem different than us.

My question becomes: what if the potential partnerships out there are greater than we ever imagined? What if we’re not doing as much good as we could accomplish because we’re only working within our own tribes?

I think this is the case, and this week reminded me of that.

My friend Terry is an atheist. And, not just an atheist but he actually writes for one of the biggest atheists blogs around– Friendly Atheist. This week he wrote a beautiful Open Letter to a four-year-old terrorist in training half a world away, (read the piece, it’s great) who you can meet in this heartbreaking video:



Terry’s response reminded me how much we (all of us) often have in common, and how much good we could do in the world if we found creative ways to work together. In the piece, Terry writes:

“Imagine this beautiful four-year-old kid, but unsoiled by adult hatred and indoctrination, on a playground in Beirut or Amsterdam or New York. Imagine him drenched in late-afternoon sunlight, and in the easy, near-inexhaustible love of parents and siblings whose thoughts are free of revenge, rancor, and rage. Think of what he could accomplish, down the line, with his friendly demeanor, his engaging smile, and his bright mind.

Now picture what he may become instead, surrounded by believers who teach him savagery and murder; who poison his mind with images of a vengeful god demanding blood; who show him kindness on the condition that he’ll be their pliable, gun-toting automaton.

What a cute, delightful little boy.

And, if neither he nor his minders come their senses, what a loss.”

My heart laments along side the heart of my atheist friend… what a loss.

Both sides know this isn’t the way things should be– hatred, war and violence are all elements of hell on earth. I believe that if we can choose to stop seeing each other as enemies we will realize how much our common humanity binds us together. We might even realize we want a lot of the same things for the world.

Some of my atheist readers have often said that we actually have a lot of goals and social ethics in common, and this is true. Unfortunately I think we often miss this truth when we see each other as enemies.

We don’t have to be– because as far as I’m concerned, we’re not.

One of my favorite moments in blogging was becoming friends with an atheist reader who had previously described us as “enemies”. We’ve since come to realize just how much we share in common– and I think if more of us will become willing to step over the barriers and embrace friendship over enmity, we might be shocked at what we could do together.

There are more times than we realize when the values of a Jesus follower completely line up with a “friendly atheist”. When that happens, we must work together with all of our might to make this world a little less broken and a little more beautiful.

Today, I share the sentiments of my atheist friend. We jointly mourn the fact that this young child is bring raised to hate and not to love, and we jointly commit to working together whenever and wherever possible, to make the world a little less broken.

"Why would need too we were perfect to beginning with and Jesus would't be subject ..."

If God Is The Cause Of ..."
"I Know instead of doing the smart thing locking Satan away he choose to kick ..."

If God Is The Cause Of ..."
"What helps me maintain an active prayer life is journaling. It is my daily conversation ..."

Rediscovering Prayer When Your Prayer Life ..."
"1. The Nation-State law has nothing to do with population. All it did was put ..."

Yes, What Israel Is Doing To ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Terry Firma

    Very nice piece, and of course I agree with it. Thank you for giving my post some lovin.’

    But also, a quibble. If you really want to build bridges and coalitions, you can’t successfully do that by inviting atheists to join you under your Jesus umbrella.

    If your headline had been “We Don’t Have To Be Enemies: Partnering With Atheists For a Peaceful World,” no one would bat an eye. Humanists would join you. Atheists would think you’re a Christian they can break bread with. Good feelings all around. But “Partnering With Atheists to Build the Kingdom” elicits easy rejection. You’re practically asking for it. No doubt, ‘Kingdom’ refers to God and Jesus, for whom we have zero use. That’s ’cause we’re (drum roll) atheists!

    Let’s say you’re a cat person. Now imagine you’re trying to get people who love dogs to make a common bond with cat lovers by inviting the dog nuts to join your Happy Feline Society. See the problem?

    By contrast, if you let the canine aficionados know that you’re starting the Awesome Pets Club, you might be getting somewhere.

    Yours in Dog,


  • Scott_In_OH

    I’ve only recently found your blog and look forward to learning more about you.

    I agree that atheists and theists can work together to achieve common goals. Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism said it well when she said she would be more likely to make common cause with a progressive Christian than a conservative atheist.

    It’s actually caused me to think a little differently about God and religion, particularly Christianity, since that’s the religion I was raised in. What I think I’ve noticed is that Christianity and Christians are at their best when they are focusing on how Jesus instructed Christians to treat others–love your neighbor as yourself; help the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned; if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, walk two; etc. They are at their worst when they are focusing on how they think God wants other people to live: when/how to have sex; how to worship; how to speak or dress; what role to play in society; how to structure a family; etc.

    What I think I’m coming to is that what’s good in Christianity is simply humanism, or maybe progressivism. I used to believe people needed God’s help to act in that humanist, progressive way, but I’m not so sure anymore.

  • Skeptics of supernatural claims, e.g. atheists, are accepted in the Bible. /wiki/Doubting_Thomas

    To reject skeptics is to reject Jesus’ acceptance of skeptical inquiry and Thomas’ demand of “publicly verifiable evidence” (Dawkins, below) before believing something.

  • Not just conservatives—Progressive Christians are also at their worst when they are focusing on how they think God wants other people to live.

    Sometimes I think Progressives never read Mark 10:42-43, when Jesus says, “Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.”

    Progressives seem to imagine that Jesus’ main ministry was sailing to Rome to beg the Empire to control those pesky Jews, much like the Philistines attempted to do in 1 Samuel 13:19.

  • The Homeschool Apostate

    I’d absolutely love to live and let live with Christians. Unfortunately, there’s a majority of Christians that don’t want that. Its their world and we’re living in it as far as they’re concerned. This is less true in other countries, as the American brand of Christianity tends to be one of the most obnoxious and intrusive.

    When Christians stop viewing their privilege being taken away as persecution. When Christians stop chaining themselves to toxic conservative ideologies because one party is willing to give your agenda a special place. When churches actually take sexual abuse in their midst half as seriously as a frat house does…. Then, maybe then we can have a serious chance at co-existing in harmony.

    Context: I’m a former Christian of 20 years. I’ve been verbally berated by a boss person at work before for being a godless atheist. My parents have had to endure lies and gossip about me and my life because the church is more vicious than a high school when it comes to cliques.

  • R Vogel

    Isn’t everyone at their worst when they focus on how they think other people should live?

  • True, bro. It’s why I like this satirical definition so well; it fits liberal progressives just as well as fundamentalist conservatives:

    CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper2/Bierce/bierce.html


    I’m tired of Christian busybodies and bigots. The two main camps of By-Gods! (bi-gots) are (1) bigotry against Gays (or anything sexual) and ACLU card carrying members, and (2) bigotry against Gun owners and NRA card carrying members.

    I’ve got both cards. Weird how supporting the whole Bill of Rights is such a damned sin to every church I know of. Maybe Jefferson was correct:

    In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

    So my wife and I are completely dechurched these last 20+ years, and we welcome lesbians (we know quite a few RNs who are gay) and concealed carry permit holders (sometimes all in the same person) and don’t call them vile names and denounce them. We’ve got a nice little group, 20 folks last time, who get together for Sunday morning breakfast. All the music, all the food, all the fellowship, none of the preaching of church. Suits us.

  • Being against violence doesn’t make someone a bigot.

  • Terry Firma

    I don’t believe that’s what Brian said.

  • Scott_In_OH

    Not just conservatives—Progressive Christians are also at their worst when they are focusing on how they think God wants other people to live.

    I agree. I was a little tired when I wrote that and may not have expressed myself well.

  • Every neighbor I know is against violence. Who are you suggesting is violent? My neighbors who own guns and conceal carry?

    I can try (I’m dechurched because I don’t believe in hell) to arrange a meeting at a Mennonite Church; there are 3 of them within 5 miles of my house. I know who carries and who owns guns, and one Mennonite church member even owns a gun shop and sells quite a few. And I know who attends but won’t officially join because of progressive bigotry (which they read in the official MC-USA literature in the back of church) against peaceful rural gun owning culture. Care to come make your accusations to their face? Or, even better, come with an open heart and learn?

    And let’s talk violence. First off, let’s discuss the veiled threats (violence includes threats) via the degrading and dehumanizing violent imagery that MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) is making against my neighbors.

    See mcc.org/FearNot/communities/davidgoliath Part V

    “One shot…to the forehead” is what MCC dreams of doing to peaceful rural gun owner culture. I shows several Mennonite church members this, and at least one pretty wealthy fellow stated to me such “liberal bull***t” (his words) is already why he has quit supporting some Mennonite colleges. Several other not so wealthy Mennonite neighbors were annoyed too, one had just got his concealed carry card after an extensive background check and fingerprinting.

    Progressive bigotry can keep tearing apart the MC-USA. (Of course, it isn’t just your bigotry, I don’t bother attending because I’m too damn libhruhl, since I reject that God is going to sadistically torture my lesbian neighbors.) At the current rate, MC-USA is going to disappear in 60 years or so.

    I’m an RN. I’ve taken care of gunshot wounds in ICU. I signed my draft card as a CO. I’ve been a tax protester against military spending. We live simply here by the Mennonite book “Living More with Less” so we don’t need to make so much money.

    Two things in America aren’t going away. Guns. And Gays. May as well dine like Jesus with whichever side you think is Teh Sinnerz. I let both into my house and eat at my table.

    I think it’s time we had a real conversation. You’re invited to call if you wish.

  • With all the snow we have had in Ohio, everybody’s tired! ;) I’m even loosing weight from trudging through the snow with hay to my animals and had to tighten my belt one notch, which usually only happens in the summer if I’m baling a bunch of hay or some other arduous farm task.

  • I’m not a Mennonite so I can’t speak to your experienced with Mennonites. My point is, believing in Christian nonviolence/rejecting the use of guns to kill people, isn’t bigotry. You can disagree with people who hold to the doctrine of nonviolence, but it doesn’t make them bigots.

  • Holding real property and any wealth within agricultural civilization requires the violence of guns, whether yours or if the violence is delegated to the State.

    Therefore, you’re decidedly not non-violent. You’ve just delegated your violence. “Colluding with violence” is the term Anabaptists progressives use, (at least when it suits them.)

    Jesus understood this, with his co-teachings of non-violence AND renunciation of property.

    They can’t be separated, and even paleoanthropology now understands this fact.

    “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” ~Stanley Diamond (1981) In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, p. 1
    “…we chose the latter [agriculture] and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” ~Jared Diamond (May 1987) Agriculture: The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66. discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race
    “The emergence of systematic warfare, fortifications, and weapons of destruction follows the path of agriculture.” ~Violent Origins (Stanford University Press, 1987)

    To claim absolute non-violence requires absolute renunciation of that which takes violence to defend.

    The only person I know of in the US really following Jesus is Daniel Suelo, the man who stopped using money.

    The rest of us with property? We use violence. If somebody trespasses on my property, I’ll call the sheriff, and he’ll treat the trespasser just like the Indians got treated 170 years ago. Again, I didn’t personally use violence, but I did delegate it to the sheriff’s deputy.

    So unless you live like Jesus/Suelo, you are not non-violent. If you don’t perform or threaten violence personally, that’s fine with me, but you do delegate it to the State.

    Furthermore, if you advocate disarming Americans, then the collusion with violence is even worse—you’re a warmonger.

    That’s what it’ll take to disarm your neighbors: a civil war. A bloody one.

    “It will require a domestic civil war against the gun lobby and against interpretations of the First Amendment…It could be as bloody.”

    The Coming Civil War Over Guns and TV Mayhemby Jim Sleeper, Lecturer in Political Science, Yale University

    Do you really want a civil war? My best guess looking at history is that it would conclude like the Finnish Civil War.

    Myself, I’d much rather tolerate my peaceful gun-owning neighbors—which includes many Anabaptist gun owners—than have another civil war.

  • Tlynn

    I just like to add that my bigotry isn’t based on being a progressive Christian, it’s based on watching gun violence ruin the neighborhood that I grew up in. When you live in places where gun violence is prevalent it no longer just about religious ideology. I do agree a real discussion does need to be had in this country, unfortunately, it’s usually the NRA that stops the discussion. Meanwhile, more children die.

  • [ I used to believe people needed God’s help to act in that humanist, progressive way, but I’m not so sure anymore. ]

    I just had the thought that maybe the way to peace in all this is the “third option,” that is, the realization that some people “need God’s help” and some people do not. As annoying as it is when believers say stuff like “you need God to be moral,” it’s annoying to me, as well, when the other side acts like “no one needs God” or “NOBODY needs Jesus.” It’s the same old “my side good / your side bad” that doesn’t take INDIVIDUALS into account.

    Some people don’t need God/a “spiritual path” or anything like that to be good and decent people. They find other constructs – Humanity, The Future, “because I just like being good,” whatever. Some other people, actually *do* need a spiritual construct – and not just “bad” people (I hope). Me, for instance… I haven’t been to church in years, have been wrestling with my own spirituality – still Christian flavored, but not what my former church would recognize… I read around Patheos, and I think about this stuff nearly constantly. Whenever I “stare into the abyss” I always come up with a “need for God.” For me, even if “God” is just a construct of my mind, I still need it (at present) – NOT to keep me from robbing banks or killing people, but to get me out of bed and to keep me from doing suicide.

    And if that just sounded incredibly sad and like something’s wrong with my brain, well, guess what. Something is wrong with my brain and I have a lot of needs that normal, good, sane, strong, superior people do not. If there is any good in me, however, any way I can serve the species (though I’m kind of a misanthrope by nature) – perhaps with my writing, my art, or the fact that most people who meet me seem to put me in the “halfway-decent person” category, I have needs to keep me around that people better than me may not share or even understand. I suspect that there are a lot of people like me, who really think and read and wrestle and whose brains just latch onto a need for transcendence, a higher power, or at least possibilities.

    Maybe we have “bad brains,” but maybe people like us are just the kind of people Jesus is for. Maybe some humans need a little help to walk, while others do not – but maybe we can still walk together?

  • Shall we discuss that violent crime doesn’t ruin neighborhoods where progressives are not in political power and ruining neighborhoods?

    In my own state of Ohio, which collects violent crime and property crime data by law enforcement precinct, “blue” county (voted Democrat last major election) violent crime, murder, and property crime are way higher than “red” county (voted Republican) crime statistics.

    Children aren’t dying out here. Fact is, my 5 county neighborhood of northwest Ohio, the Republican controlled counties have had a zero murder rate, for years. Meanwhile, in the Democrat controlled county, with about the same population, they have 15 or so murders, way higher violent crime rate, and higher property crime rates.

    The NRA doesn’t ruin neighborhoods, progressive politics do. I’d like to discuss that, but unfortunately, it’s usually the progressives that stops the discussion.

  • …an Anabaptist author…syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers…

    I’m not a Mennonite

    I think that dismissive tone is rather disingenuous, and a means of simply waving off my argument without having to actually address anything I had to say.

    The term “Anabaptist” and “Mennonite” are at least roughly equivalent, with Anabaptist casting a slightly larger tent, which is why, for example, the Elkhart Mennonite seminary changed its name to being an Anabaptist Mennonite seminary. ambs.edu

    It’s sort of like right-wing libertarians saying they’re not libertarian, because, dontchaknow, they’re some “anarcho-capitalist” or “voluntaryist” or something else.

    Mennonite is used in your description twice. At least you could clarify, and not just do the brush off.

  • Thanks for noticing. Unfortunately, this sort of behavior is typical of “progressives” in the Anabaptist community, from my personal experience.

    My wife and I dechurched from a Conservative Mennonite church after we were married, when the pastors were upset I no longer believed in hell. We tried going progressive for a little while, but I’ll take the honesty of a hellfire and brimstone fundie any day (even if they’re wrong) over the trite theological games progressives play.

    Mostly, Fundies worship a hierarchical skygod, and Progressives worship a hierarchical State, sort of bouncing back and forth between a few cherrypicked verses of Jesus and Romans 13 (good cop, bad cop routine.) They call it the “Politics of Jesus” (John Yoder) and I call it, since they’re always referring to hierarchical Kingdom stuff, Dein Reich Komme (thy Kingdom come):

    Reich Wing Politics.

    So when I brought up in church that progressives were worshiping the State as Redeemer of Society, they said they’d “pray for me.” In the language of christianity, you know what that means: Gossip and Ostracize.

    If you don’t think Anabaptist/Mennonites love their violent State Politics, see how they behaved in Germany. And I dare say they’re making the same mistake today.

    In a telegram written September 10, 1933, the sentiments of a church council that had just taken place were expressed:

    To Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Berlin:

    The Conference of East and West Prussian Mennonites, assembled today in Tiegenhagen, Free State of Danzig, feels deep gratitude for the powerful revival that God has given our nation through your energy, and promises joyful cooperation in the upbuilding of our Fatherland through the power of the Gospel, faithful to the motto of our forefathers: No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”

    I’m sure Hitler didn’t take time to answer every telegram that he received, but this one he replied to personally:

    For your loyalty and your readiness to cooperate in the upbuilding of the German nation, expressed in your letter to me, I express my sincere thanks. —Adolf Hitler

    Others have noted their making the same mistake too:

    “But the neo-Anabaptists increasingly offer their own fairly aggressive politics aligned with the Democratic Party, in a way that should trouble traditional Mennonites. Although the neo-Anabaptists sort of subscribe to a tradition that rejects or, at most, passively abides state power, they now demand a greatly expanded and more coercive state.”

    ~Mennonite Takeover? | The American Spectator spectator.org/articles/38818/mennonite-takeover‎

    “…the new political fervor that some, tongue-in-cheek, are calling “Mennonite mania.”

    ~A new faith in politics | Chicago Tribune http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-06/features/0805050494_1_student-union-politics-first-time-voters

  • mhelbert

    I agree, Terry, that those of us who follow Christ need to learn how to communicate with others better. It’s not easy trying to rid ourselves of centuries of privilege. But, we’ve gotta do it. Thanx to folks like you and Hemant, we are learning. Slowly, perhaps. But, learning.

  • Fundies worship a hierarchical skygod, and Progressives worship a hierarchical State, sort of bouncing back and forth between a few cherrypicked verses of Jesus and Romans 13 (good cop, bad cop routine.)

    As defined by Brian, the Problem of Suffering is the irreconcilable discrepancy between an all-loving God and the suffering caused by an unfairly high corporate tax burden.

  • Wrong.

    Just like rightwingers, progressives toss off talking point snark, thinking it “intelligent.”

    See “When Corporations Rule the World” (David C. Korten) or “The Story of Stuff” (Annie Leonard) or “The End of Nature” (Bill McKibben) to see what I think of corporations.

    And the exegesis of Jesus message about nonviolence and renunciation of wealth and property, as I referenced above and would make a fundie’s head spin, is informed by:

    Ched Myers (2005) The Fall & Anarcho-Primitivism and the Bible. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor. NY: Continuum. chedmyers.org/articles/ecology-faith/%E2%80%9C-fall%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Canarcho-primitivism-and-bible

    The deductive skills of progressives seem more and more the equivalent to Right Wing Authoritarians.


  • gimpi1

    “There are times in history when we’ve done a good job at bringing heaven to earth, and even more times when we’ve done a good job at bringing hell to earth. Often we choose the later simply out of being fixated on the next world without giving much, if any, regard to the world we’re in today.”

    Another one hit out of the park, Ben!

    Absolutely. I’ve seen Christian parents making life hell for their gay children, “…to keep him out of hell.” If only they could see that they’ve sent their own child to hell already. Some Christians used to burn heretics and suspected witches alive. They thought they were doing God’s will, torturing people to death over what amounts to a difference of opinion. Some Christians today argue against any kind of aid for people, assuming if someone is in poverty or is suffering, they must have angered God, and to help them will prevent them from ‘getting right with God’ and actually damn them.

    This has been a big part of what has kept me on the outside. If most Christians can get past what sometimes looks like an obsession with the afterlife and concentrate on making this life work better, think what they… think what we, as a people united in purpose if not united in belief… could do?

  • Terry Firma

    I don’t have any doubts that you’re in the “halfway-decent person” category, Shadsie. I’d rank you a lot higher than just halfway myself. ;-) Your willingness to read broadly and to self-examine is wonderful. Yes, I think we can walk together, and should.

  • Terry Firma

    FWIW, I’m not a leftwinger/statist either, although my readership is overwhelmingly disappointed by that (to put it mildly), as they didn’t hesitate to let me know in over 800 comments. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/01/13/why-are-atheists-overwhelmingly-left-wingers-in-which-i-out-myself-as-a-libertarian/

  • OK :) So you’re libertarian. That’s cool, I used to call myself one. We’d find much to agree upon, I think, especially if you like anthropologist David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5000 Years.

    Right-wing libertarian property theory is simply not supported by evidence; land ownership requires breaking the N.A.P. (or Jesus’ non-violence,) as it requires some level of State violence to procure and defend real property and unequal wealth.

    I’m better defined as a liberal, that is, a liberty-minded egalitarian. I’m inured to having a State, but would like it to be as egalitarian as possible on a continuum between egalitarian to hierarchical.

    Perfect egalitarianism is a society in which nobody Lords it over another, and individuals are “autonomous and sovereign,” as evolutionary biologists[1] and anthropologists[2] define it in paleolithic Non-State (pre-agricultural civilization) society.

    If we’re going to have this invention of hierarchical violence called the State that is necessary for State society (what anthropologists refer to as agricultural civilization,) I’d rather have an arrangement that tends towards egalitarian power sharing, which the Second Amendment intended to accomplish.

    State society requires weapons to defend real property and wealth. Instead of concentrating weapons to higher, tighter hands up the hierarchy, I say we should rather share.[3]

    Progressives simply don’t like to share.

    Especially progressives in love with “Kingdom” (Dein Reich in German Anabaptist talk) hierarchy and rule from above, banging away at Romans 13 whenever they wish to love dominate thy neighbor.

    Strangely, the Romans-bangers always forget Jesus’ teachings on hierarchy:

    • “Call no man your patre/patron/pastor on the Earth. ~Jesus
    • Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” ~Jesus

    [1] “…remain politically autonomous as individuals … this egalitarian arrangement.”
    ~Christopher Boehm (1999) Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press. p. 194.

    [2] “Historically, people in non-state societies are relatively autonomous and sovereign…They bow to no external political leaders.”
    ~Elman R. Service (1975), Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution. New York: Norton. http://faculty.smu.edu/rkemper/cf_3333/Non_State_and_State_Societies.pdf

    [3] theliberalgunclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Gun_Club_Membership_Card_Preview3.jpg

  • I just realize that you’re Hemant Mehta. I think. :) Much respect to you; I’ve read your column many times. I wish I could write with your aplomb.

    I don’t call myself an atheist; however, I do get called one as often as Thomas Jefferson did. ;)

    But with more evidence rolling in that Jesus is a myth, it’s kind of nice to be the sort of Christian who doesn’t rely on any magic and even if Jesus is a mythical/fictional character, I’m still devoted to the ethical teachings, at least those sorted out in the Jefferson Bible.

  • You’re trying to make the doctrine of nonviolence a hallmark of being a “progressive”, but it’s actually not. You could poll progressive Christians and get a mixed response. The issue of nonviolence is one of an Anabaptist, being one of the key components of the praxis of our faith.

  • Terry Firma

    Thanks. Luckily for Hemant, I’m not him — but he graciously tolerates my writing two or three posts a day for his blog.

  • Ben, I realize there are violence loving political progressives who say things like “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” (Madeleine Albright). When I mentioned “progressives in love with ‘Kingdom’ (Dein Reich in German Anabaptist talk) hierarchy” I meant religious progressives like Anabaptists, or those influenced by or sympathetic to their rhetoric.

    “Neo-Anabaptist rhetoric is especially pervasive at many evangelical schools, suburban megachurches, intellectual and hipster circles.”
    ~Mennonite Takeover? spectator.org/articles/38818/mennonite-takeover

    Again, you are decidedly not nonviolent, other than in your rhetoric. (As Max Weber pointed out 100 years ago, the State is Violence. Anthropologists such as the influential Elman Service agree.)


    1. Just by your owning real property and unequal wealth, one delegates to the State the violence necessary to defend it, for a traditional Anabaptists not involved with voting/courts/politics. But those traditional Anabaptists (such as my long-bearded grandfather, at whose feet I sat while he explained to visitors why he didn’t vote or fight in the military in WWI) are much more consistent than you in their “nonviolence.” At least they realized that the State is violence.

    2. You collude even more so with violence by demanding that the State force your neighbor to behave in the way you want him to. You want the State to bring the “thy Kingdom come” (Dein Reich Komme) to Earth, now, and you probably use Romans 13 as an excuse, as do most State-Violence-accepting Anabaptists (and religious progressives influenced by Anabaptist rhetoric.)

    The second point is what the above article brings out:

    “But the new neo-Anabaptist movement is more aggressive, demanding that all Christians, and society, including the state, bend to pacifism […] the neo-Anabaptists increasingly offer their own fairly aggressive politics aligned with the Democratic Party, in a way that should trouble traditional Mennonites. Although the neo-Anabaptists sort of subscribe to a tradition that rejects or, at most, passively abides state power, they now demand a greatly expanded and more coercive state.”

  • Scott_In_OH

    Nice to meet you, Shadsie. Happy to walk with you!

  • Eli

    Yes, this is what I was thinking too. I understand and agree with the intent and goals, but when it’s phrased in the language of only one of the groups that’s coming together, it suggests they might expect (consciously or not) a privileged position on the inevitable details we’re not going to agree 100% on.

    At the same time though, when something like this is addressed specifically to, say, Christians, it makes some sense to use Christian language, so I don’t know what a good balance would be to not sound insincere.

  • I actually had the same thought but then decided I didn’t have a problem with it. I feel I’m familiar enough with Mr. Corey’s writing by now to understand he didn’t mean the Kingdom of believers, or Christendom, or even his own particular sect. He meant the world we live in, just the world, and all of it, and if he wants to call it ‘The Kingdom’ he can knock himself out as long as he’s out there trying to do some damn good in it. Which he is.

  • R Vogel

    I have attended church services less than a dozen times in the last 20 years, so I am not familiar with any of the issues you are addressing. Although I would describe myself as progressive, I am severely concerned with the institutional focus of much of progressive christianity. I’m pretty skeptical of institutions in general and religious institutions in particular. (Have become interested in William Stringfellow’s theology by way of Richard Beck recently which deals with the topic). I was raised in a house with firearms, maintain several myself, and served for 6 years in the US Marine Corps, so I am no stranger to nor hostile to responsible gun ownership. I think we could do more to promote responisble gun ownership, but that is another discussion for another day. It is interesting to hear your perspective, however. I think it is a mistake to make litmus tests in religion or anywhere. It stifles real dialogue.

  • R Vogel

    Are you sure your getting the causality correct? Are the red counties likely more rural than the blue? Is the progressive politics the cause or result of the rise in violence?

  • Ask Tlynn the same question “guns ruining neighborhoods,” I was just bouncing their language back at them. But I’d say the difference is policy; there are guns galore around my neighborhood, and it definitely isn’t ruined.

  • I’m going to look up William Stringfellow and Richard Beck. Thanks :)

  • R Vogel

    Got it. Thanks for clarifying. Violence (and that is the issue, right? Guns just make violence more effective) is a symptom of bigger problems. I have lived in rural communities and urban, and I have always felt that the issues were more local than most people seems to acknowledge. I am far more concerned about people having guns in the urban and suburban place I live now than I ever was in rural communities. And there were far more guns per capita in the rural community. I think we need to think about the needs of the particular communities and acknowledge that they are different.

    I am a little concerned that you might be conflating democrat with progressive. Although most progressives may vote democratic, I don’t think we really have a progressive political movement in this country. We have two parties bought and paid for by the same corporate interests, they just peddle their wares to a different customer.

  • R Vogel


    His series on Strangefellows’ An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land begins on 1/20 and continues in 6 parts. I find it very interesting, and am currently looking for the book.

  • Pofarmer

    And when you converse with religious people you get the “Well, it’s what I believe, so you just have to respect that.” I’m sorry, if someone is factually incorrect, then no, I don’t have to respect, they need to acknowledge that they are believing things that are provably false, and if they are O.K with that, then fine. But don’t act as if two positions are equal when only one has the weight of evidence behind it.

  • But one could argue the reverse as well– I could argue that the evidence is on our side and that the existence of matter points to a creator, that the ordering of the universe speaks to a designer, etc. So, simply because you see this same evidence and walk away with a different conclusion, doesn’t mean that the other side is “factually incorrect” or that one side is somehow intellectually superior.

  • I’m sorry, if someone is factually incorrect, then no, I don’t have to respect, they need to acknowledge that they are believing things that are provably false,

    If you’re talking about creationism or the 9/11 Inside Job, hey, no one’s going to dispute that point here. But the notion of true beliefs vs. false ones isn’t the most practical way to approach the issue of religion in society, is it? The notion that everyone is just going to have to give up their false beliefs after you point out their lack of evidential support, and then adopt the more justifiable beliefs you tell them to, seems like sort of a fantasy belief itself.

  • Pofarmer

    We are not in disagreement on this point.

  • Pofarmer

    Well, I was specifically thinking about Young Earth Creationism, Astrology, various miracles both in the bible and purported to be happening now, etc. If you want to get into a strict Cosmological argument, then, yes, you have more wiggle room, but you still have to explain how having something create the existence of our universe, for instance, is a better answer than to say “We don’t know” or “The Universe created itself from spacetime.” Adding a diety makes a more complicated answer than you need to have. Occam’s razor applies. We could agree to disagree on that, though, and still be pretty happy, I think.

  • Fallulah

    While I agree that we have many common values, and probably want a non-violent cooperative society, I disagree with the end goal you have illustrated. To say you want a society built on the “will of God” (assuming you mean the God of the bible) is very troublesome. Firstly, the god of the bible is incredibly VIOLENT and SUPER TRIBAL. That just can’t even be denied. As for Jesus…the whole idea of special “Salvation” is incredibly divisive.

    Have you ever thought about fostering a SECULAR society alongside Atheists? You know, one where you are allowed to believe whatever you wish as long as it doesn’t infringe on the freedoms and rights of others.

  • Fallulah

    I was fired because my boss inadvertently found out I was an Atheist. It’s not fun, it’s not fair but it is THEIR world right? The entire concept of Christianity and special “Salvation” is incredibly divisive.

  • Good– that was actually my point. We agree!

  • Pofarmer

    “The notion that everyone is just going to have to give up their false
    beliefs after you point out their lack of evidential support, and then
    adopt the more justifiable beliefs you tell them to, seems like sort of a
    fantasy belief itself.”

    Just one other point though. Folks, both religious and non-religious, need to understand that there IS another side. I may not really feel like the other side is valid, but, I generally know what it is, I did, after all, consider myself a Christian for 42 years. Religious people often act like they just can’t believe that there is another side to a story. Here’s a for instance. Suggest to a Catholic that Mother Theresa caused people to die because she wouldn’t refer treatable cases to local hospitals, preferring to merely “ease their suffering”. This is actually documented, but, man, if you wanna start a fight with a big harruumph, how dare you coming from the other side, man, oh man.

  • Pofarmer

    Wouldn’t that essentially be Unitarian Universalists? I think that’s right.

  • Pofarmer

    Well, I actually had a conversation with a lady yesterday, she has gone from Methodist, to Baptist, and joined the Catholic Church because her Grandkids are going to Catholic School, so, probably not the MOST devoted to a particular religion. And we got to talking and we started talking about proof of this and that and she comes up with, “I believe that God loves us and is everywhere all around us…….” Well, O.K. number one, you aren’t really going to “dissprove” that, and two, what does it really hurt? Now, she was trying to go the “Creationism is true to me route” and I shut that right down. But, there are fights worth having, and fights not worth having, IMHO. On these blogs, I’ll have all the fights, just because I feel like it sharpens me. In real life, there are things you gotta let go, and then, there are things you can’t.

  • I am trying to foster a community where people can believe whatever they believe– I’ve never advocated a theocracy or anything close to that.

    However, I definitely take exception to the violent God– there is a movement of us who don’t believe that God is violence and believe that he looks like Jesus, not the false descriptions in the Old Testament. Just wanted to clarify– there’s a pretty sizable movement of us who, like you, would reject believe in a violent God.

  • Very calmly and rationally, I would have said, “Fuck you, Granny, if people just get to believe anything they damn well please, we’ll be back to burning witches and owning slaves! Is that what you want??”

  • Fallulah

    Jesus said he came not to bring peace but the sword…do you just ignore that part of the bible too?

  • Fallulah


  • No, nothing needs be ignored but simply interpreted via an exegetical process. When Jesus made the above statement, he was clearly using the word “sword” in a metaphorical way to show that his teachings would stir the pot. Jesus frequently teaches radical nonviolence, and even rebukes his disciples for actually using one defensively.

    Bible passages must be considered in their whole context, be given linguistic considerations (the word sword is later used in revelation to refer to Jesus’ words), etc.

  • Folks, both religious and non-religious, need to understand that there IS another side.

    Here’s a nutty idea: how about we understand that there are lots of possibilities, and the entire matter isn’t either a holy war between Good and Evil or a culture war between Reason and Ignorance?

    I mean, black and white thinking is what got us into this mess, after all.

  • Pofarmer

    Well, doesn’t that go for both sides? And what about the 46%(YEC’s) that think that ignorance IS reason?

  • Pofarmer

    Man, you’re feeling feisty today.

  • Well, doesn’t that go for both sides?

    My point exactly.

    And as far as the YECs go, I’m on your side. But has calling them ignorant had a lot of success so far?

  • It’s either I can’t handle antihistamines, or you can’t handle the truth!

  • Pofarmer

    Must be the sudafed. Hey, you set up the Reason vs Ignorance diametric. I just riffed off of it. But, you do gotta remember, there’s a group of Catholics, and Christians, as scary as that is, that DO believe in witchcraft yet. The Catholic School that my kids attend(surprised?) removed the Harry Potter books because there are “real” spells in there. They removed a couple other fantasy series as well, for much the same reason. I just kind of do a facepalm.

  • Pofarmer

    Sick of the cold and snow in MO, as well. Tired of thawing out waterers.

  • Pofarmer

    “No, nothing needs be ignored but simply interpreted via an exegetical process”

    See, that makes me wince. I’d just as soon do a Bart Ehrman or a Randal Helms on the whole thing.

  • The 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America reminded me of the brouhaha when Lennon opined that they were bigger than Jesus. Thanks to the Beatles-memorabilia bonfires that ensued, my original Parlophone pressing of Introducing the Beatles could fetch as much as twenty bucks and change at auction.

    And not for nothing, but Jesus’ disciples were pretty thick and ordinary.

  • Pofarmer

    “And not for nothing, but Jesus’ disciples were pretty thick and ordinary.”

    They didn’t understand much, did they? That Peter fellow though, he was given the keys to Earth AND Heaven. He was a special one.

  • Fallulah

    I know right…you just have to “interpret” it to mean whatever you really, really WANT it to mean. The entire business is highly convenient.

    I want Jesus to be “peaceful and non-violent” so I will interpret all the times he said he will split apart families and towns will get punished worse than Sodom and Gomorah (cuz what god did to them is utterly non-violent) to mean…PEACE!

    War is peace. Freedom is slavery.

  • ahermit

    You’re not suggesting that support for a constitutionally constrained, democratically elected representative government which enacts policies which are actually beneficial to the citizens who elected it is equivalent to supporting Hitler, are you?

  • James

    Excellent piece. As an atheist who has many evangelical friends (my wife and I had a local pastor & his wife over last night), I find it’s usually easier to stay friends by avoiding most types of religious discussion and instead focusing on common ground such as charity or public service.