From time to time I get commenters who accuse me of hating Christians and, no matter how sincerely I implore them to show me where in my writings I demonstrate hatred for them, they always seem to just keep repeating the assertion without offering anything specific. This both fascinates me and annoys me.
Granted, this accusation tends to come from people who haven’t read much at all of what I’ve written. In fact, I usually get the sense that commenters like these didn’t read past the title of the article—or even the title of the blog—before they felt informed enough to level a criticism toward whatever it is that I am almost certainly saying.
But lots of people take it very personally that I don’t believe the same stories they believe, and they consider it rude for me to talk about why I stopped believing in them myself. It’s taken as a personal insult. I am hating them.
To put this in perspective, let’s look at something analogous.
Do Evangelicals Hate Gays?
When evangelical Christians say they love gay people but that they simply cannot approve of their “lifestyle,” someone inevitably shows up to accuse them of hating gay people. The accused evangelical always responds the same way: They insist that they can hate behavior without hating the people who engage in it. Evidently they believe that it is possible for them to differentiate between beliefs and the people who hold to them.
I wish they could credit the rest of us with that same capacity.
Whenever I express my contentions toward the religious beliefs they were raised to believe, I am told I am showing them hate. I always reassure them that I do not hate them personally…I only disagree with the beliefs that were drilled into them from birth by their parents and grandparents. This never seems to help, unfortunately, and I am eventually told that finding fault with their religion means I am disrespecting them personally.
But beliefs don’t deserve respect. People deserve respect. Beliefs deserve scrutiny. There is a difference. I think it was Greta Christina who said that beliefs are ideas and ideas have consequences. And since bad ideas have bad consequences, it behooves us to critically evaluate our ideas because the way we see the world impacts the way we live in it.
It would seem that religious belief is so central to a person’s identity that they feel questioning their religion is tantamount to disrespecting…no, hating the person who draws their identity from that religion.
I wonder why that can’t also be true for same-sex attraction? How well do you think people attracted to their own sex can differentiate between themselves and their own sexuality? Would you fault them for feeling that this aspect of who they are lies at the core of their identity? Even after insisting you cannot distinguish between your religion and yourself? Can you not see the hypocrisy there?
I’ve written a great deal about why I no longer subscribe to the Christian religion (more precisely it’s a cluster of competing religions unwilling to worship under the same roof), and I’ve been quite conscientious about making sure I’m clear that I don’t think people who believe these things are either stupid or evil. On the contrary, some of the smartest people I know are devoutly religious.
Intelligence is often equated with plasticity of thought, and I can think of no one better at bending their own minds around an idea than the devout. Honestly, I’m in awe of the mental gymnastics it takes to preserve religious dogma across a lifespan. Personally, I didn’t make it past my mid-thirties. But the point is that the smartest people are often the best among us at rationalizing the things they were raised to believe.
I love too many people still in the Church to hate it. I strongly disagree with the things they are being taught from week to week, but that doesn’t mean I hate them. My own four daughters still attend Southern Baptist churches because I share them with their mother, who still feels quite contented with that belief system. When they are grown, our conversations may turn more direct and transparent, but even then you won’t find me viewing them with condescension or disdain.
Remember, I’m one of the ones who made it well into adulthood still thinking those beliefs were totally legit. I’m all too aware of my own ability to be wrong.
Why I Write
As a side note, I feel compelled to address a refrain I hear from those most offended by an atheist openly writing and speaking about his loss of faith. They feel it’s inappropriate for someone to openly discuss unbelief even as they applaud those who publicly profess their faith. They feel this double standard is justified because from their perspective they are the only ones whose beliefs are truly valid.
But the reality is that there would be nothing wrong with me openly trying to dissuade people from believing things they still believe. If it’s okay for them to evangelize then why is it not okay for me to do the same? Is it because they believe they have the moral high ground since they’re advocating for positive beliefs cherished by billions while I’m only talking about what I don’t believe?
It’s more complicated than that. People like me didn’t leave our faith for negative reasons only. On the contrary, it was a heightened sense of self-honesty and a stronger commitment to using critical thinking—questioning everything we believe—that beckoned us forward until we realized that no one else was following us “where the evidence leads.” It took a lot of bravery to follow that evidence before the terrifying specter of our looming expulsion from our own lives.
But I’m not really trying to deconvert people. Yes, I talk about my own deconstruction of my faith in an open forum, but I do it because I know others are struggling with the same internal turmoil as I went through when I found myself outgrowing my faith. I want them to know they are not alone, and that they’re not crazy for thinking all the things that they think.
I want them to know it’s not a moral failure to need to pursue answers to your questions. On the contrary, a strong argument could be made that it’s immoral to suppress questions since curiosity is what propelled us out of our primordial past into the species we are today. You would think a religion which views intelligence as a divine gift would harbor less distrust toward critical thinking, higher education, and the sciences, but large pockets of this faith exhibit precisely that condescension toward the life of the mind.
I write to explain what I see wrong with my former religion because I feel like people need to know that others have wrestled with the same things they wrestle with on a daily basis. If that’s upsetting to those who don’t struggle with doubt at all, then so be it. They have plenty of places to find validation. But where does a person go for validation if those doubts energize them because they push them to keep growing and asking harder and harder questions of themselves and of the rest of the world?
Those are the people for whom I write, not the people who view the whole world as a threat to their belief system. The way I see it, I can critique their understanding of the world at least as thoroughly and as openly as they do mine, right? I feel that’s only fair.
In the meantime, if you do find places where I genuinely show disrespect toward believers, I would encourage you to point those places out to me so that I can work on them. But don’t be vague like the guy in the comments earlier this week. Show me where I demonstrate hate and I will sincerely examine myself to see if I have crossed a line.
My mind is always open to change. That’s how I got to be where I am in the first place.
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