So you’re an atheist.
Great. I’m a Christian.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have an issue with you. Some of my best friends are atheists, and over the course of the last few years, I’ve been purposeful about building bridges with the atheist community– because you know what? There’s a lot we actually have in common when you move past the question of the existence of a divine being.
Now, I get it. My tribe makes bridge building hard because we’ve got a pretty decent sample size of obnoxious people. Trust me, they bug the daylights out of me too. In fact, I make my living by writing about all the things they’re wrong about (which means I never have a slow day).
But here’s the deal: While I’ve focused near-exclusively on trying to clean house on my side of the fence, I have to be honest– your team has rabid fundamentalists, too. And those folks? Well, they make it hard even for a liberal Christian like myself to find common ground to work from.
So for any of my atheist friends out there who’d like to do what I do– change your own culture from the inside out, here’s a few things I wish you’d get your folks to stop saying (or doing).
Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.
I’m not arrogant, but I have a hard time engaging in dialogue with an atheist who begins the conversation by stating or acting like we’re uneducated, unenlightened idiots simply because we believe in God, in some form or another. Do we have idiots in my camp? Sure thing– but it’s not a belief in God that makes them that way, just like it’s not a lack of belief in God that makes some of your folks ignorant or obnoxious.
Let me give an example: when you paint us all with this broad brush and assume negative qualities about us simply because we are theists of some sort, it feels the way I imagine you feel when you hear a theist explain that you have no morals because you’re an atheist and thus have no foundation for morality.
It’s just dumb to make such sweeping assumptions about an individual human being based upon where they stand on the God vs. no God question. You don’t like it when we do it to you, and it is equally as off-putting when your peeps do it to us.
Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.
I get it– there’s some weird stories in the Bible. Plenty of verses to make fun of. But I just want to bang my head into the table when I see some of my atheist friends quote some of these Bible passages as if the only way to read them is the way a fundamentalist would read them. It is amazing to me the way both conservative fundamentalists and many atheists insist on reading and interpreting the Bible with the same rigid literalism that takes into account almost nothing regarding literary genre, authorial intent, context, original languages, etc.
If you want to bring up issues with the Bible, have at it– but at least read a bit of scholarship on a passage before quoting it as if you understand exactly what it meant, what it means, and how a good Christian should apply it. That’s the type of unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible, and I know you’d hate to be associated with them.
Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.
I’m not sure the best way to break this down, but here’s my beef: following the religious/ethical views written by Moses (Torah), or the teachings of Jesus (love your neighbor, love your enemies), is not the same thing as going to Disneyland and believing that Mickey is actually a real-life talking mouse. It’s not the same thing as believing that there actually was an old woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children that she didn’t know what to do.
Religious/ethical beliefs and fairy tales are not same thing. Every time I hear this “fairy tale” insult my inner Samuel L. Jackson voice kicks in and screams, “It’s not in the same ballpark. It’s not even the same $&#@ game!” (Pulp Fiction reference for you.)
Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.
I get it, we religious people have done a lot of douchey things in the course of history, but that’s not all we’ve done– and to make a broad and obnoxious statement as if we have never contributed to the good of society as a result of our religious beliefs is just ignorant nonsense. In fact, in many eras it’s been religious people leading the way.
Put a list of names of charitable organizations into a hat and pull one out– there’s a pretty good chance that organization is actually a religious one, because religious people are among the most financially charitable from all categories. Modern hospitals? Those were largely Christian endeavors. Orphan care? That’s largely a Christian-led movement. Relief work in countries affected by famine and natural disasters? Throw a dart and you’ll land on a religious organization leading the way in places others don’t go.
I’m not even going to list all the good that’s done in the name of religion, because you have google and a brain. But suffice to say, the idea that religion makes or has made no positive impact on society is ignorant and lazy thinking.
So, back to the beginning: you’re an atheist and I’m a theist. That doesn’t mean we have to be natural born enemies. In fact, I would argue that both sides have reasonable arguments for why they believe what they believe.
When we move past that, there’s a world of commonality just waiting to be discovered– because a human being is infinitely more than what they believe or don’t believe about God. People are complex and cannot be reduced to assumptions or stereotypes without completely dehumanizing them.
But to discover that– to get to that place where we can see the humanity in one another, and begin finding areas of common ground, we need to stop viewing the other as if they represent the worst their tribe has to offer. Both sides have their fundamentalists and antagonists, but they don’t represent the whole of either of us.
Not every Christian is Ken Ham building a modern ark to transport dinosaurs. Not every atheist is Richard Dawkins or the anonymous internet troll who dehumanizes people of religion while acting as if they are morally superior.
I’ll keep working with my tribe to try to reform it from the inside, but these are just a few things I wish we could dial-back within your tribe.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.