Editor’s Note: This post deserves wide attention, as atheism becomes more mainstream, because of the increasing number of “nones”. I’ve noticed that my own attitude has changed from “Religion is way too powerful” to “Religion is dying on its own – no need to try to hurry it along.” But this post makes me realize the importance of continued vigilance and that complacency could lead to more religious influences in our lives. /Linda LaScola, Editor
Making the world a better place
By David Madison
Christianity has been in our faces for centuries, thanks to confident, aggressive missionaries. Their obsession was celebrated in a hymn published in 1896: We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations.
“We’ve a song to sing to the nations…we’ve a message to give to the nations…we’ve a Savior to show to the nations.” This enthusiasm is grounded in words attributed to Jesus himself: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.’” (Mark 16:16)That’s a bit of a sour note at the end, which perhaps accounts for missionaries being motivated to save people around the globe. But, alas, it’s not so simple. If only these zealots could agree on the message of salvation. This hasn’t happened because there are so many different Christian brands. Catholics, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Mormons—to name but a few—have developed significant variations on the message. Nor does their preaching encourage due diligence, i.e., it’s usually,
“Please come to the alter and say YES. Please take it on faith that our message comes from God himself.”
John Loftus has pointed out the lack of candor:
“New converts in different social contexts have no initial way of investigating the proffered faith. Which evangelists will objectively tell the ugly side of the Bible and of the church while preaching the good news? None that I know of. Which evangelists will tell a prospect about the innumerable problems Christian scholars must solve? None that I know of.” (The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails)
The most fundamental defect in the missionary enterprise is the failure to specify exactly where the God-information comes from and why it should be trusted. Christians forever have been taught to believe what the priest or preacher says; surely the aura of holiness possessed by the clergy guarantees that the message comes from God.
But that really doesn’t work. The most rigorously pious Christian clergy know for sure that Jesus Christ is the key to salvation, while the most rigorously pious Jewish and Muslim clergy know for sure that he isn’t; who’s to say that Jewish and Muslim piety isn’t as genuine? And we all know that among the Christian clergy themselves there is substantial disagreement about God, how he wants us to behave, and how he wants to be worshipped.
Just a few days ago The Wall Street Journal had this headline: “Catholic Priests in Germany Bless Gay Couples, Defying Pope.” So who is right, the holy priests in the Vatican, or the holy priests in Germany? Surely they both claim to be guided by their prayer experiences: so somebody is wrong about what God wants. The misogynistic syndicate at the Vatican is also confident that women must not be ordained, e.g., Pope Francis confirms finality of ban on ordaining women priests, while there are rigorously pious Catholic women who feel God’s sacred call, and are organized, Roman Catholic Women Priests.
What a chore it is to figure out what God wants. In December 2019 Neil Carter wrote on his Godless in Dixie blog:
“So many theologians love to meet at pubs. They need the alcohol to dampen their critical thinking skills so they can forget about all the angst they live with as professional theologians.”
This brings us back to the “failure to specify exactly where the God-information comes from and why it should be trusted.” This week on Godless in Dixie, Carter listed some of the reasons Christians offer to explain why people leave the faith, e.g.,
“You went to the wrong church, the devil has blinded you, etc.”
“…but for most of us it boils down to the same thing: We don’t see enough credible evidence to believe that gods are real things at all. In the end it comes down to lack of evidence. We see evidence for the natural world, and the natural explanations we have for what happens in the world keep outperforming the supernatural ones because the latter never seem to withstand direct scrutiny.”
Christianity has tried to overcome the lack-of-evidence problem. In the Book of Acts, for example, the Holy Spirit is the guarantor of direct connection with God. In chapter 19, once Paul had baptized a few people, “…the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—altogether there were about twelve of them” (vv. 6-7). And you’re in big trouble if you say bad things about the Holy Spirit, according to Jesus script in Mark 3:29: “…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
The Vatican positions the pope as Vicar of Christ on earth, tracing his authority back to Peter. Even so, its esteemed theologians felt the need to give this a boost in 1870 with the dogma of papal infallibility. They were careful to state its strict limits—the pope is not infallible in ordinary decisions of daily life—but this was an attempt to secure the pope’s hotline to God for essential truths.
This is why atheist activism is important.
Enough is enough. We represent the opposite point of view: gods don’t exist, especially those who tell human beings what to do. So much damage has been caused by theists claiming to know what God wants, and the Christian varieties of theism are especially alarming. What an incoherent mess Christian theology is, beginning with belief that God engineered a human-sacrifice scheme to achieve forgiveness of sins; more specifically, those who believe that this sacrificed human rose from the dead—and eat his flesh and drink his blood—win the prize. These grotesque ideas have been sold so smoothly by the church that, even today, church folks fail to recognize how hideous they are. How can we take this concept of God seriously? Why would anyone listen to a God represented by this theology?
It should be a fundamental principle never to accept anybody’s word that they’ve heard from God, that they are God’s prophets. That has been one of the most common religious scams. Every time a pious somebody claims knowledge of God’s wishes—and tells the rest of us—there are other pious somebodies who disagree: no, God doesn’t want that. Yet, Christians seem reluctant to put these claims to a test, as I pointed out in a Debunking Christianity article in 2017.
Chances are, moreover, most or many of these folks so tuned into God have never cracked a science book or studied the history of science. Or studied epistemology: how do you verify what you think you know?
Being oh-so-confident about what God wants can cause so much damage. Last week on the Religion Dispatches blog, Chrissy Stroop wrote:
“… according to [Public Religion Research Institute] data gathered in April, a full 26% of white evangelicals maintain that they will not, under any circumstances, agree to be vaccinated against Covid (another 28% are hesitant). This figure tops even that for the GOP, as 23% of Republicans are refusers (while 32% are hesitant).
“Although the majority of predominantly white evangelical churches have behaved responsibly during the pandemic, shifting to online services to protect public health, an obstreperous minority have refused to comply, making churches a frequent site of outbreaks. Similarly, while white evangelical vaccine refusers represent a minority of white evangelicals, they have sufficient numbers and visibility to cause serious problems.”
Well, things could be worse. Doctors in India are now pleading with devout Hindus not to smear their bodies with cow dung as a cure for Covid. We’re lucky the Hindu gods didn’t share this wisdom with the Yahweh.
We’re Making the World a Better Place
Our atheist activism helps to wear down those who base their destructive behavior on their messages from God. The German priests should be praised for their courage in defying the Vatican, but we can’t credit that to “hearing God better.” It’s more likely that they paid close enough attention to the quality of same-sex relationships and were willing to be affirming. In fact I was startled that it was German priests, since the German pope, Benedict XVI, was so virulently homophobic, like his predecessor, John Paul II. What a disaster those two were! Their intransigent bigotries damaged so many lives.
Our atheist activism makes the world a better place if we can help expose such holy posturing. Fédéric Martel did a superb job of this, by the way, with his book, In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.
It is ironic that Christians tell us to back off.
“Why don’t you atheists just shut up about it? Keep your opinion to yourselves.” Christians are specialists in being “in your face.” Christian PR has helped maintain the façade of truth—despite substantial Christian disagreement about what the truth is. In an article in July 2019, I offered many examples of the ubiquitous Christian presence in our lives.
Even so, I am cautious in my atheist activism. Yes, I wrote a book on the falsification of Christianity—presenting ten ways to do it!—I’ll soon publish another; I’ve written articles on the Debunking Christianity Blog every week since 2016, which I post on Facebook and Twitter. So yes, in that way I’m “in your face” too.
But when Christian friends on Facebook post about their faith, I refrain from comment. Not too long ago there were photos of a girl’s first communion; she was dressed very much like a bride, and there was the white cake with a cross on top. How can we not cringe when we observe this rite of passage?
“Now, kiddies, you’re old enough to eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood.”
I don’t comment because I respect the personal space of the parents who made the post. But things like this fuel my activism. The world will be a better place when kids are no longer taught these leftover superstitions of the ancient Jesus mystery cult.
The body of work built by atheist activists continues to grow: blogs, podcasts, websites, YouTube videos, articles, books. Despite the high profile of the “world’s biggest religion,” Christians still fail to deliver the evidence—reliable, verifiable, objective evidence—that their faith is true. And now there is so much data from the real world, the real cosmos, that have enabled us to figure out that the space available for gods has reached the vanishing point.
**Editor’s Questions** What is your current stance on spreading the word of atheism or being an atheist activist? If religious, what do you think of atheist activists?
Bio: David Madison, a Clergy Project member, was raised in a conservative Christian home in northern Indiana. He served as a pastor in the Methodist church during his work on two graduate degrees in theology. By the time he finished his PhD in Biblical Studies (Boston University) he had become an atheist, a story he shares in the Prologue of his book, published by Tellectual Press in 2016: 10 Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus. This post is reposted with permission from the Debunking Christianity Blog.
>>>>>>Photo Credits: By George Baxter – National Library of New Zealand, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32936862 ; https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DT7V4YZ/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 ; by Andrea Reese