I hadn’t even had my first coffee yesterday before I stumbled upon this post on Faithwire: 9 Words in the Bible That Every Atheist Should Have No Problem Embracing by Billy Hallowell. I admit I groaned out loud when I read the title, loud enough to drown out the gurgling of my coffee maker. I expected a condescending piece about how atheists are angry little Stalins just looking to steal your Jesus. If you know me, you know I can’t resist the opportunity to brutalize a strawman, so I strapped on my helmet and dove in.
Like McDonald’s decision to put McChicken sauce on retail shelves, boy was I wrong. Billy wrote without a condescending tone at all. In fact, the entire piece was sincere, respectful and kind of sweet. I totally saw where he was coming from and I didn’t find myself struck by the usual urge to flush one of my Bibles afterwards. No, instead, I actually found myself agreeing with Billy… to an extent.
What Billy wanted to impart to us heathens was a Bible verse, particularly Galatians 5:22-23. The verse reads,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The nine words Billy would have atheists embrace are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
With the exception of faithfulness, I would wholeheartedly agree that any human being stands to gain from embracing these ideas. Billy is absolutely right.
The one thing that Billy missed, though, is that we do embrace these things already. Not all atheists, but there are loads of us who already cherish these ideas; who live them, and preach them and use them as cornerstones in our everyday lives. These ideas, believe it or not, Billy, exist outside of the Bible, too. What’s more, I would suggest that exploring these ideas can only honestly be done outside of the Bible, because much of the Bible contradicts them. It’s difficult to learn kindness from a book that tells us we are so broken that only a blood sacrifice could save us. It’s not easy to feel goodness coming from a book that assures us we are fools who will suffer a torment worse than anyone could imagine, for all time.
That’s why atheists like to explore these ideas outside of the Bible. Those of us who do like to call ourselves humanists and while there are certainly Christian humanists, humanism takes nothing at all from the Bible. Billy, these ideas you wish everyone to embrace existed long before the New Testament was ever written. We do not need scripture to understand them. I’d like to suggest that you don’t either.Billy also said,
The reality is simple: Jesus came, died for our sins and changed human history. Accepting this reality and living a life transformed by Christ’s sacrifice and by the Bible’s guidance is key.
Except that it’s not key. Millions of non-believers living good, peaceful, compassionate lives are evidence of that.
But considering where we are right now, it’s essential that everyone — theist and atheist, alike — be willing to at least pay attention to two simple New Testament verses Galatians 5:22-23.
It’s a lovely sentiment, Billy, but you have to see how alienating it is to those who do not share your religious beliefs. A better way to say it would be,
But considering where we are right now, it’s essential that everyone — theist and atheist, alike — be willing to at least pay attention to the ideas put forth in New Testament verses Galatians 5:22-23, whether they do so with the help of the Bible or not.
You see, there are also billions of people across the globe who have religions that are not Christianity. Many of these people have also been able to understand and explore love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Some of them have done so through their own faith, which has nothing to do with the Bible nor Jesus Christ.
In fact, Billy, if we put a group of really amazing, compassionate people representative of the world’s religious demographics in a room, only 31% would have reason to suggest that their goodness comes from their study of the Bible.
So, while I think the message you’re trying to get across with your post is good, it could have been better had you taken the Bible out of it. What you’re saying is that we need more love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in the world. This is a great message and one that I wholeheartedly agree with, although I would argue that faithfulness is not something we need more of. These are things atheists can and do embrace with the exception of faithfulness.
But we do it without the Bible, Billy, because there is no Bible required to embrace any of these ideas.
How would you respond to the idea that atheists need to embrace these verses? Let me know in the comments!
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