Why Christians Should Stand Up for Atheists

Why Christians Should Stand Up for Atheists November 5, 2014

Freedom3I have just spent several hours talking with atheists on one of the blogs here at Patheos. This wasn’t my first time talking with atheists, but this conversation was particularly illuminating and, for the most part, respectful. Several members of this community welcomed me, despite the fact that they disagree profoundly with me. I am grateful for this. This community shared experiences and raised some very thought-provoking questions.

I came away from this conversation challenged that I need to do more to stand up for the rights of atheists (and those of other religions) here in the United States. Not because I agree with them on God and theology, but because they are human beings who deserve respect. Because when we stand up for someone else’s rights, we are appropriately loving our neighbor and treating them as we would want to be treated.

One thing that atheists (and those of other religions) rightly criticize in America is that there is a profound Christian religious privilege that is present here. If you are a Christian, this might not seem like a problem. Or you may be so steeped in religious privilege that you think the predominant mood of America toward Christians is one of persecution. You may even view attempts to level the playing field as being such persecution.

I don’t mind that there are a lot of Christians here in America. If they act like Christians, I think it’s great! In fact, I wish everybody was a Christian. But what I do object to is the wielding of power and dominance over others. I object to the confusion of the two kingdoms–the kingdoms of God’s left and right hand. I object to the idea that we can force everybody out there to conform to our beliefs.

I have argued previously that the Christian worldview as taught by the New Testament is not built on power, but on servanthood. While Christians are free to seek political power in order to serve their neighbor, they are not to seek it to benefit and serve themselves. Not only are attempts to wield power and dominance over others fundamentally unlike the Christ we serve, but they are also a terrible stumbling block to those who are not Christians. Do we want to witness to the saving power of Christ who is strong in our weakness? Then why have we bought into a model that claims earthly power a la James and John (Mark 10)? Why have we begun to believe the lie that our struggle is against flesh and blood, after all (see Ephesians 6)?

And why do we make atheists and those of other religions actually afraid for their lives when they ask for the same freedoms we want for ourselves and our families? I am told that the joke in the atheist community when they challenge our bastions of Christian political power and privilege is, “Cue the death threats.” Now, I understand that most Christians would not make death threats against atheists, but do we enable those who do by failing to call them out? Do we contribute to a hostile, snide, unloving atmosphere of discourse in our country when we tell them their issues with us are merely their perception of Christians rather than acknowledging that we have some serious problems in our community? Do we value those loud, obnoxious voices who are more interested in “sticking it to” somebody they disagree with than treating them with love and respect (I’m looking at you, Matt Walsh, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter)? Are we willing to listen and learn?

I feel blessed to have met these atheists. I don’t agree with them on faith, but I agree with them on the need to treat each other with respect. I agree with them that we need to make room for people who believe differently. Those differences in belief are crucial and important. I’m not about to give up my wish (and even prayer) that everybody come to faith in Jesus. But I am totally willing to give up my “right” to force everybody to be or act like a Christian.

So, how can we stand up for our atheist friends?

We can defend the child who is serious enough about his beliefs that he won’t “fake it” and stand up for the part of the Pledge of Allegiance that says “one nation under God.” We can stand against any instance when the government tries to establish some form of state religion. We can decry death threats against those who are speaking their beliefs, loving them enough to defend them even if we disagree profoundly with them. We can do this by considering that certain governmental expressions of religious faith may not be the greatest idea.

For example, why is it necessary that children in a secular school pledge allegiance to “one nation, under God”? Why is it necessary that schoolchildren have a time of prayer led by the teacher? If we would be willing to listen to the concerns of non-theists and those of other religions about such matters, perhaps we would find that such practices are not necessary after all and that they hinder freedom of religion for everyone–ourselves included. Perhaps we would have to acknowledge that atheists are actually persecuted in this country.

And perhaps we would discover that Christian witness is not best served by a dead, forced recitation, but by allowing freedom to flourish. Perhaps we would discover that authentic Christianity thrives when its focus is not on dominance but on service to neighbor. Maybe, every once in a while, someone who believes differently than we do would actually stop to listen to our perspective because we were willing to listen to theirs.

But even if they don’t, I ask you, which model better serves our humble Lord who emptied Himself for us (Philippians 2): political dominance or service? And isn’t faithfulness to Him more important than “results” or seeing our “agenda” achieved?

American Christianity is at a crossroads these days. We can either continue with our pursuit of power at all cost, or we can release the idolatry of control, surrender ourselves into the hands of God, and humbly serve our neighbor. Doing so will certainly mean that we share our faith with our neighbor (yes, even in words!), but it will not mean that we force them into submission. Such tactics are as far from New Testament Christianity as East is from West.

EDIT on 11/8/14: Several commenters have brought up the point that it sounded like I was describing atheism as a “religion.” I addressed this a few times in the comments, but I understand not everyone has time to wade through the comments. I think a better term would be “belief system,” although I do understand that the basic belief is non-belief in the sense of “I do not believe there is evidence for the existence of God.” The intent of my statement was not to call atheism a religion, but to recognize that Christians in general sometimes have a hard time recognizing the rights of other belief or non-belief groups.

Hopefully, that is helpful.

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  • Lark62

    This is well said. Our founding fathers got it right. We only have true freedom of religion when the government stays out of it.

    I dream of a time when every child in America can fully participate in their public school – from kindergarten to assemblies to football games to graduation – without ever once being asked to pray to someone else’s god.

    At the same time, I also want a strong understanding of the rights of students to pray by themselves or with other students, to form religious and secular clubs, and to personally express their beliefs without interference from school employees.

  • Thanks and thanks for challenging me to address this.

  • Melissa_PermissionToLive

    Welcome Rebecca! I have long admired your sense of justice and ability to try and engage on difficult topics with people who disagree with you. I think you are a great addition to Patheos. πŸ™‚

  • Thank you for writing this.

    – an Atheist.

  • Thank you, Melissa. I think the same about you. You are always, always fair to people, even when you disagree profoundly. I also admire the huge heart that you have. I’m blessed to know you.

  • Rebecca C

    I have several friends who are atheists… And had I been treated by Christians the way they were, I’d be an atheist, too. It’s horrific the things that are done and said to them in the name of Jesus. Harassment in the work place, you name it. So I love them, respect them and allow them safe space to speak their mind without judgment. I may disagree with their conclusions, but I understand how they got there. And they’re some of my most cherished friends and the people I wind up having the most interesting conversations with.

  • Hans W

    Nicely written, Rebecca. A lot can be learned on both “sides” simply by listening respectfully and withholding condemnation. You may be interested in the work of Chris Stedman. He blogs for HuffPost, served as Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, and wrote the book, Fathiest: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious.

  • Doug Johnson

    It is practically never wrong to treat each person with respect, you know, treat them like we would want to be treated. I, too, share a concern of how we are so drawn to power when we must know that it is corrupting. This burden of holding onto a Christian power in politics is becoming too much and is something I would love to unload.

  • Tichatonga

    Thank you for a fresh perspective and a reminder about the importance of respect & service, the whole world needs a lot more of that. However, last year something happened which shook me to the core; A muslim colleague was run over by a 20 tonne truck on the way home from work on his motorbike. He was killed instantly which was hugely inconvenient because I had been stirring up the courage for several years to chat to him about my faith & salvation, because my faith requires me to do such things if I really love my neighbour. We had developed a good friendship, characterized by mutual respect and good-natured interactions. But, truth be told, all the loving acts and respect I afforded him (priming him, I told myself, because actions speak louder than words) never actually led him to consider Christ, at all. He is the deadest most-served most-respected muslim never to have heard the gospel. Sorry for the crass undertone, I just really regret not having been intentional about making “disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

  • Brian K

    Exhibit A in completely missing the point.

  • Leyla1001nights

    Excellent article. Hope people take this to heart. I belong to the Freedom of Religion Foundation and the “Cue to the death threats” is very real.

  • First of all, I’m so sorry for your loss. These situations are hard to deal with when you believe as you and I do that faith in Jesus as Savior is necessary for salvation. At the end of the day, only God knows the heart, though. Only He knows for sure where this person was at. We can’t lay the burden of any one person’s salvation on our own shoulders. It’s too heavy a burden. It will crush us. It’s God’s job to do converting–which we hope will happen. Even if it doesn’t, we need to keep loving our neighbor.

    Christians are people who do bear witness to their faith. Yes, Matthew 28 tells us we need to do that–in words. But at the same time, we have to remember that we’ve done a whole heck of a lot of talking and not enough listening. Why would anybody even listen to a Christian when so many of us are so full of ourselves? (You don’t sound that way at all; I’m just saying that Christians in general have a lot of that going on.)

    Again, I’m so sorry for your loss and I do agree with you that we have to constantly balance words and actions as we bear witness. For me, I’m so convicted that I’ve blabbed so much and listened so little. And that’s the direction I’m feeling called in…to listen, be in solidarity with, treat with respect and caring.

  • That’s so so sad. Nobody should be threatened with death for what they believe.

  • What do you mean, Brian? Weren’t you the one over on the other blog that said if I didn’t worry about hell for people that that was being flippant? So, if this commenter and I believe in a real heaven and hell, won’t our heart long for people to know Jesus? I don’t hear anything here that is saying, don’t respect people. This commenter is rather saying, do respect people but they are just really sad they didn’t say more about faith to their colleague. I’m not hearing an angry Christian voice here. There are plenty out there, but I’m not hearing that here. I’m more hearing sorrow.

  • A hearty, AMEN!

  • Seconded.
    -another atheist.

  • tmalatesta

    Wow. That is truly inspirational. Has me rethinking my contributions in couple conversations I’m currently in. Thank you for that.

  • ThisMicah

    Thank you. I’m not an atheist, exactly, but close enough to be very upset by the things that Christians and the dominant Christian American culture throws at atheists.

    I also want to add that Christians so very often show themselves to be such astonishing hypocrites when interacting with skeptics. Christianity is the religuon that says to turn the other cheek and to bless those who persecute you. (not that Christians in America are persecuted, but the point stands). So there’s a standard that Christians should be aiming for that, A, they don’t seem to aim for, and B, the skeptics don’t necessarily have any motivation to hold themselves to. And maybe some skeptics say things that hurt you. Well, to be brusque about it, suck it up! According to your religion, it comes with the territory and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate the wellsprings of love that you have special access to!

  • ohnugget001

    As a former fundamentalist/evangelical who reasoned his way to atheism, I want to thank you for your well reasoned arguments. Treating other humans, not just atheists or other minorities, with respect shows a powerful understanding of empathy.

    BTW, I came here from the Patheos blog The Secular Outpost who also commented on your abundance of empathy.

  • Pete Eisenmann

    And a resounding “tripled” – another atheist

  • Brian K

    It does seem like I’m contradicting myself, but I think this is a good illustration of why a traditionalist view of Hell is such a toxic idea. Most Christians I know deal with Hell by not fully thinking it through, trying to live their lives as good people and “leaving it up to God” or something. That way of thinking strikes me as intellectually inconsistent. If you really believe in the threat of eternal torment, an attitude that flip about it just doesn’t follow. But the other option is far worse: It’s where one takes the doctrine of Hell to it’s logical, horrifying conclusion and lives their life in reflection of that, trying to “save” as many people as possible by any means necessary.

    Consider this sentence: “He was killed instantly which was hugely inconvenient because I had
    been stirring up the courage for several years to chat to him about my faith & salvation.” I read that again and I’m just sick to my stomach. It’s so callous. How can the first thought about that poor man’s death be about themselves? How they never got to execute the endgame of their interactions with him? Shouldn’t his death be tragic all by itself? Shouldn’t the reaction be that you’re going to miss a friend, not that you didn’t complete an objective?

    When Christians show “love” to non-Christians as part of a larger strategy, it’s not love anymore. We’re not a friend, we’re a project.

  • Kevin Jackson


    Caring Christians should peruse the comments sections on stories about people who have tried to eliminate religious privilege. Often these people are children-Children. The vitriol, hate, death and rape threats are mind opening. Atheists (and for that matter, any non-Christian) don’t want to have the privileges of Christians, they want to see all privileges for everyone eliminated.

  • Maybe, every once in a while, someone who believes differently than we do would actually stop to listen to our perspective because we were willing to listen to theirs.

    That’s a fine message for believers and nonbelievers alike.

    Congratulations, Rebecca.

  • Neil Carter

    Thank you for writing this, and for reaching across the aisle, as it were, to chat with folks from the Heathen Channel πŸ™‚ Far too few people following the guy who said “take up your cross” will ever perceive their place of privilege in American society the way you have in this piece. Too many believe any loss in power equals persecution, and then protest every step on their way to their imaginary crucifixion. Something tells me that’s not what taking up your cross means.

    My main difference (other than the obvious) is that I wouldn’t have any higher expectation of Christians than I would of any other group. I am one who has received death threats before, of a sort, and it was from Christians who felt I was taking something away from them. That’s a weak faith indeed. It’s time for a major overhaul of this religious tradition.

  • Lark62

    I am an atheist and formerly a very pushy christian who tried to convert everyone. So I’m speaking from both places. — It’s okay. Relax. Other people’s lives are above your pay grade.

    From a christian perspective, grieve with those who grieve. That’s enough.

    From my current perspective, I always find it interesting when a christian wants to convert me with arguments I know well. I’ve heard of jesus. Pretty much everyone in America has. It’s okay. I would rather you be content and happy here and now than worrying about my soul. I would rather you treat everyone with kindness because you want to, not because you think you will change them.

    Your friendship with this man for no other purpose than friendship is something real that has value.

  • Lark62

    I found that sentence jarring also. And very sad. He lost sight of true friendship and true compassion from his focus on “saving souls” rather than being real. I’m not criticizing because I was there once. But this is something that can only be addressed from the inside. I missed out on a lot of life by being more focused on (everyone else’s) eternity than today.

    I can hear tichatonga’s sorrow. Virtual hugs. I just wish he could find comfort in having known this man as a friend rather than focusing on his project to change him.

  • Tim Wicklund

    I concur. Thanks for this article. You have taken the time to understand our point of view, which is very refreshing.

  • Lark62

    I commented recently on a (very!) different patheos blog about atheists receiving death threats when they publicly resist school prayer, etc. The moderator called me a liar then rejected my follow up post with a dozen or so examples. Lovely.

    To be fair, tho, I don’t think this is a “christian” failing as much as human nature. We see it from christians only because it is their long term assumptions currently being challenged. Nobody likes being told that someone doesn’t like what they are doing. It is normal to get one’s back up and fight back rather than looking at the situation from the other side.

    If atheist human beings had been posting anti-religion slogans in schools for 50 years, I’m willing to bet some would respond the same if christians demanded the slogans be removed.

    This is why it is so important to teach and remind each other what “secular” and “neutral” mean. And keep defending our secular constitution.

    Thanks again for your great post.

  • Your point in the second paragraph there is EXACTLY what I have been saying here and in other blog posts. You might want to check out my post on “political idolatry.” Obviously, my audience is going to be primarily Christian so that’s who that post is aimed at, but I think it addresses some of those things you brought up about power/claiming rights.

    At the same time, sure, I think once we Christians have relationships with folks, it’s fair to say, well, let’s try to talk to each other respectfully, and that goes for those who aren’t Christians too. I think when we yell it at people before we get to know them though all they hear is one more angry Christian who is claiming persecution. And…yuck. I mean, I’ve had atheists be mean to me before. It doesn’t feel great. But whatever. They’re probably just trolls anyway.;-)

    But..this idea that we have a RIGHT to be treated a certain way when our Savior walked a path of self-sacrifice and love…why do we think we are above Him?

  • rh1127

    I was once someone who would’ve written the exact same thing about that situation. I did eventually become a nonbeliever for a host of other reasons, but while I was still very much active in Christianity I realized that the going forth and making disciples of all nations has already been done. That was an instruction from Jesus to his disciples to spread the message to all corners of the world at a time when it was known only to a small area. It was not an instruction to each individual modern-day Christian to evangelize every non-Christian in their lives. Your God does not and cannot expect you to bear the weight of every non-believing soul with which you come into contact. That would be an incredibly unreasonable expectation. I don’t presume to know where you live, but you’ve obviously got internet access which leads me to assume that your Muslim friend did also. Chances are he’d heard of Christ. There’s a huge difference in not being led to consider Christ and never having heard the Gospel. Making sure people had access to the Gospel was the charge of Jesus and for the most part that has been accomplished – getting them to believe the Gospel, according to the Bible and Christianity, requires God to move in their hearts and call them. So that’s his job. I’m not saying you should never share your faith – my Christian friends have and do in a respectful way, but they don’t need to feel personally responsible for my eternal fate. I know what Christianity’s message is and I still believe differently, so if it turns out I’m wrong and I die and go to hell, that’s all on me.

  • Marcus_Aurelius5

    thank you for making this bold statement. if by chance you get excommunicated or told you are possessed because of this, dont worry, the secular community will welcome you in a heartbeat.

  • EricWasHere

    Thanks for the article. I see an issue though. Several times you reference “act like a Christian”. What does this mean? I know it means something to you, but it is likely that there are as many ways to act like a Christian as there are Christians. And there are a lot of Christians who would say you are not acting like a Christian.

    I think what you mean is you wish everyone would act like your version of a Christian. I think we’d probably agree on most of what these acts would be like. Similar to the atheists for Jesus campaign.


  • Sqrat

    Our founding fathers got it right. We only have true freedom of religion when the government stays out of it.

    Yes, and that’s why, although I appreciate everything Rebecca has written, I wish she had gone just a little bit further when she said “We can do this by considering that certain governmental expressions of religious faith may not be the greatest idea,” and said something more explicit like, “We can do this by asking our members of Congress to remove the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance.” If those words were removed, no child (or adult) who does not believe in God would have to decide whether to stand or remain seated for the recitation of the Pledge.

  • The_Wretched

    Thanks Ms. Miller; it’s heartening to see a Christian voice who is for not wielding power for its own sake.

  • Trollface McGee

    Thank you. I saw your posts on that blog yesterday and I appreciate that you took the time to write this and listened to what was said.
    Though I know we disagree on the issue of faith, I think that it is possible to come together to a peaceful consensus and these types of dialogues promote this process.

  • abb3w

    Our founding fathers got it right.

    Madison and Jefferson, maybe; John Jay, not so much.

  • BobButtons

    Many violations of church-state separation go unchallenged because it requires a complaint to be filed by a local resident and even those who feel strongly about it are afraid of the repercussions from those “steeped in religious privilege.” They just look at people like Jessica Ahlquist and don’t want it happening to them.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Maybe, every once in a while, someone who believes differently than we
    do would actually stop to listen to our perspective because we were
    willing to listen to theirs.

    While I appreciate your desire for equality, there is never a time that you need to accommodate me somehow in order to hear your perspective. I and most atheists I know love talking Jesus and it’s also interesting that nobody’s Christianity is the same. Some people say that there are 30,000 denominations of Christianity. I think there are a couple billion. Ultimately though, the idea of redemption/salvation via human blood sacrifice is far more interesting* than any of our (atheist) worldviews. I don’t run into nearly enough people remotely interested in saving me.

    *I also happen to find it delusional and amoral but I’m dying for someone to change my mind about that.

  • James Anderson

    Only one thing I’d like to point out: you write several times of ‘atheists and those of other religions.’ The point of being an atheist is that one does not profess a religious faith. Perhaps it’s merely a clumsy construction but as it stands you lump us in with ‘those of other religions.’ I don’t have a religion. I don’t believe in any god; not Odin and not Jahweh. That’s why I call myself an atheist.

  • BobButtons

    This is why it’s difficult for atheists to hear that the reason they don’t follow God is because they’d “rather take the easy way.” Anyone who thinks this is a valid argument should walk around in public wearing a Christian shirt, then the next day do it wearing an Atheist shirt and see if being an atheist is taking the easy way.

  • Guest

    It also brings it back to how it was originally written. Under God wasn’t added until the 1950s during a time of dirress to separate us from the “godless communists.” People don’t see the harm in it but it doesn’t represent everyone. I see it the same as if the Pledge said “one straight white nation under God.” While it applies to the majority, it’s in direct conflict with the very next word, indivisible, by doing just that.

  • Max Doubt

    Tichatonga is saying he missed a chance he wanted to do something he thought was important. And that important thing? He made the judgement that someone else’s life would be better if they were to believe the way he believed. Sure he‘s sorry… sorry that he didn’t get a shot at converting someone. Sorry only in the loosest and most perversely selfish sense of the word. Tichatonga’s comment was a great example of the kind of better-than-you judgmental attitude that we non-Christians find repulsive.

  • The Starship Maxima

    I can vouch for this. The folks at Friendly Atheist know of my conservative Christian views and treat me more or less like family.

    The folks at Charisma’s boards on the other hand…..

  • The Starship Maxima

    I am the Federation Starship Maxima and I approve this message.

  • This is a nice sentiment, as an atheist and a Jew, I appreciate it. However, I have to wonder if the writer understands that what she is proposing is tantamount to founding a new branch of Christianity because, historically, Christians have never behaved the way she is suggesting they should. They have always been about power, and always about abusing the minorities among them.

    As a Jew, I must add that using Luther as some sort of justification for anything supposedly positive is a false start.

  • Johann

    I don’t know Rebecca and don’t have a clue about her intended meaning here, but “atheists and those of religions other than Christianity” seems a more natural reading than “atheists and those of religions other than atheism” to me.

    Rebecca – thank you. I’m quite used to Christians in the US treating atheists as enemies (see Gordon Klingenschmitt), or at best with a wary neutrality. Seeing one actually take the time to come to us to learn what matters to us and why, and come away with a compassionate understanding, is rare enough that I can go for years without seeing it. You’re the first one to make 2014 a little better for me this way. =)

  • I’m not expecting much. Just today I posted this question over at Jesus Creed. I’m banned. What is up with that kind of anti-intellectual behavior?

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Too many religious (and others, at times) would rather silence the questioner than answer the question.
    Incidentally, do you possess a canticle?

  • CanuckAmuck

    The folks at Friendly Atheist […] treat me more or less like family.

    Does that mean I can show up unannounced at dinnertime? πŸ™‚

  • JTEberhard

    You’re pretty rad, Rebecca.

  • ahermit

    Yes, but be sure to bring beer or wine or a tasty treat.

  • Tom Engstrom

    First let me state that I am a Christian…and what angers me is NOT the people that may look down on me or see me as “delusional’ for my beliefs….NO, what really hurts is that throughout history so many of my “brothers and sisters” in faith have used this as their platform to “educate” others from their own beliefs or non-beliefs. Our mission, given from Christ himself was just to go and make disciples as HE did…in HUMILITY and with GRACE…we are so busy in this country screaming at each other about rights of faith, rights of sex, rights of nationality…Or any other form of “right” we think we are entitled to…But (for those of us that believe in this Christ) lets not forget that he brought this revolutionary new gospel (good news) in an era when Rome had the world under its foot, and spoke it to a religion (Judaism) that had the people under theirs. And the only people he really spoke out against was the religiously pious sect that was trying to kill him…But he never organized a committee against them or advocated bearing arms against Rome… Nope…He simply sat with the very people we are putting down in this country, (who the Jewish leaders called sinners) and talked to them. So my point I guess is. WHo should we be outspoken against? And who should we be sitting down and talking to…Remember it was us that came up with the slogan, “what would Jesus do”…So “GO AND DO LIKEWISE!!”

  • Donalbain

    He was killed instantly which was hugely inconvenient

    Wow. Just wow. I really hope you are a troll

  • Lark62

    Yes. And we would no longer have to hear “it’s okay for me to put 100 religious pictures in the school because it says ‘in god we trust’ on our money.”

    But acknowledgement that non-christians have views that should be respected isn’t a bad starting point.

  • Yes! You’ve familiar with the diluvium ignis, I see. πŸ™‚

    Yep, Christianity is way too much about “shut up when I’m talking to you.” (Linkin Park, 2000) They burned libraries, they burned heretics, they have the top selling story only by centuries of brutal violence. When the coercion ends, the story starts to fall apart quickly, as we’ve seen in Europe, and is happening now here.

    I’m not even an atheist, just a “none.”

  • Lex Lata

    I guess I’ll get in line with these folks.

    -yet another grateful atheist

  • The Starship Maxima

    As long as you bring a beverage.

  • Tom Engstrom

    Your right James…We sometimes foolishly lump all those “outside” our faith together…But the Lord who we are suppose to be following Lumped us ALL together as dear people, with souls needing to hear the good news he brought to us.

  • I hear you and I do think that we Christians sometimes view people as projects rather than people who we care about. But I guess I read the whole comment of this person, and I heard a genuine heart of caring in the entire story. I don’t know that it’s totally fair to take one sentence and judge a person’s intent based on that alone. I also feel like when someone is expressing sadness and a sense of broken-heartedness, maybe even if you don’t agree with their belief, some sensitivity to that is warranted. I felt like this commenter offered a useful perspective for those of us who really do believe this stuff. St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” And sometimes words are necessary. What this person is wrestling with is, “Hey, I care about this person so much that I’m worried that maybe they are forever separated from God because I was too scared to talk about my faith. And that breaks my heart.” I think as you reply to this commenter, please be gentle, even if you disagree.

  • Again, I would ask for a spirit of gentleness to this commenter who is wrestling with something really tough in the context of our mutual belief in a real God and a real heaven and hell. Disagreement is fair, but please be gentle in the context of this tragedy. Thank you.

  • Lark62

    Yes. If a few prominent christians in each community would step back and publicly support the person speaking out, other christians would likely join in. This would leave the haters alone and exposed. It just has to begin with a few brave voices.

    I have the desire to send Rebecca’s post to every church in certain towns.

  • Please fill me in on Jessica Ahlquist. Thank you.

    And actually for me as a Christian, I have some similar fears. Which is something I will just deal with cus I understand I do have religious privilege in this country. But just to make you aware, that may be a teeny bit of why Christians who are more moderate don’t speak up. We fail to have moral courage because we know some nasty voices are going to speak against us. Maybe they will say we abandoned the faith, even if we haven’t. Maybe they will ostracize us. Maybe they will say we don’t care about this country, when it is the exact opposite. But at least we generally won’t have to worry about death threats.

  • CanuckAmuck

    How do you feel about a nice single malt for after dinner? Strictly medicinal, of course.

  • SgtAthiest

    Thank you. All we want is to considered euqual and to have a secualer world. Where others can live there lives and not be scared of death threats or worst. Athiest are looked down upon do to the idea of not being a believe makes us terriable horriable people. We are humans and want to be treated as such while not being forced to accept world views that are contrairy to our’s, just like thiest dont want to be forced to do another sect’s prayer.

    Thank you for posting this.

  • Brian Westley

    If those words were removed, no child (or adult) who does not believe in God would have to decide whether to stand or remain seated for the recitation of the Pledge.

    No, people still object for religious (or political) reasons. In Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940), before “under god” was added, Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to pledge. Gobitis said public schools could require it — then, after a few beatings, tar & featherings, burned Kingdom Halls and one castration later, the court reversed itself in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).

    The whole idea of a “voluntary” pledge being recited by children too young to understand the words is ridiculous in any case. It should be tossed entirely.

  • Thank you for the courage, integrity, and loving heart it took to write this, Rebecca.

    As an atheist, Christians have treated me like dirt, threatened my life, and told me how they look forward to laughing at me as I writhe and scream in hideous agony for eternity in hell.

    But I will not treat them that way in return.

    I write an advice column on Friendly Atheist for people who are facing conflicts with their family, friends, or co-workers because of their atheism. Sometimes the treatment they describe is appalling, but I always try to suggest things that will hopefully permit the love and respect to flow again between all of them, but without anyone having to betray their principles. The solutions are never perfect, the outcomes are seldom pain-free, but I keep trying to reduce the unnecessary suffering for everyone involved.

    I sometimes get the opportunity to speak at churches as a “guest atheist.” The first thing I say to the congregation is that I’m not there to try to change their beliefs about God; I only hope to change their beliefs about atheists. If I can dispel the misconceptions, false stereotypes, and outright lies that most people believe about atheists, then so much suffering of good, decent people, the atheists and their religious loved ones, can be avoided.

    Non-belief is steadily growing in America, and as it does, the tension between atheists and Christians is increasing. We must all adopt and practice the principles that you have so articulately expressed here, or this nation will become a ghastly nightmare. Even as Christianity’s majority and privilege wanes, I will still stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious people to fight for their right to believe as their conscience dictates, and their right to be treated with fairness and decency.

    As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

  • Hey–I like your name there. I frequently refer to myself as a weirdo.

    I don’t see especially early Church Christianity that way at all. I do think the more powerful the Church got, the more they bought into the lie of power and dominance and there were some horrible things done in the name of God. But there has always been a remnant of folks who see the path of the cross and seek to follow it.

    And let me say that I completely and utterly repudiate and reject Luther’s words about Jews! As much as I admire much of his theology and have found it so helpful to my life, there is zero call for the hate speech that he had toward them later in his life. Some have attributed this to his health deteriorating in old age and that making him take a nasty turn. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I do find those statements disgraceful. I guess I have often found that leaders I admire have disappointed me in one way or another. I try to throw out the bad and keep the good.

  • Haha. Intergalactic approval!:-)

  • The Starship Maxima

    You’re my kind of Canadian, mon ami. πŸ™‚

  • Lark62

    I think this is nitpicking. I think she knows this, it’s just hard to speak about religion and non religion in the same sentence without about 20 extra words to make it clear that although freedom of religion applies to atheism, atheism is not a religion. I often find it hard to express this in a way that is clear and concise at the sane time. Check my earlier sentence as an example. πŸ™‚

  • I think that’s an important distinction. What I was trying to do there was recognize that everybody needs to have freedom to believe or not believe in God. It was an attempt to recognize our common human freedom, not an attempt to lump the irreligious with the religious.

  • gimpi1

    Thank you for this. Far too many people don’t understand that their own rights are safe only when everyone’s rights are respected. If atheists can be pressured into silence through threats, anyone can. If atheists can be prevented from running for office, required to swear oaths that they don’t believe in or discriminated against in employment, anyone can.

    Most people used to know this. That seemed to have changed. The whole idea of dominating others, using force to compel them to live according to your beliefs rather than convincing them that your beliefs are right or beneficial, became a strong aspect of many religions. It’s mistaken, it’s dangerous, and it drives people away.

  • Brian K

    You’re right, I shuld have lead with something more constructive than “exhibit A”. Given, however, that’s it’s a comment made in a public forum about Christians’ relationship with non-Christians, this is exactly the kind of thing we wish you were aware of. I wasn’t taking one sentence out of context, there isn’t a single indication in that whole post that Tichatonga is expressing remorse for anything other than the deceased’s non-Christian status. It is incredibly hurtful when Christians talk about us like our value to them as people is dependant on us accepting Jesus.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Sorry, Christian AND a Trekkie. Don’t know how Gene Roddenberry, noted secular humanist would feel about that, but anyway.
    Live long and prosper.

  • Ha! I do worry about criticism and rejection. It’s a real concern.

    Not planning on abandoning the faith though. πŸ˜‰

  • Hi Neil. Your piece on how Christians should love atheists was super thought-provoking and impactual to me too.

  • There is a Twitter account called something like “Don’t read the comments.” this person just tweets out every so often the reminder not to read the comment section. Comment sections on news stories and stuff tend to attract unhealthy people who do not know how to respectfully disagree.

    That said, death threats are flippin’ ridiculous. Most Christians I know would never, ever do this. But maybe we’re too silent when others do it.

  • Kaci K.

    Thank you, thank you. A thousand times thank you for “getting it.” We really just want to be able to live our lives without having to participate in someone else’s religion at every school function or government meeting. Without being told we’re going to burn in hell or forced to live our lives according to someone else’s religion being used to base secular laws to govern us all. Don’t tell me it’s not possible to be moral if I don’t believe in God. Having grown up in a majorly religious part of the country, I witnessed first hand all the believers who did “immoral” acts all week, according to their own standards, but went to church on Sunday as though they were the most pious creatures on earth. Then they’d tell me — a major goody-two-shoes kind of kid — that I was going to Hell because I wasn’t a member of a church. I could go on, but I really just want to say thank you and I hope that others take your words to heart.

  • What a great insight. No, it isn’t easy to be an atheist. This is what I’ve come to understand.

    We Christians can make other arguments for the reality and importance of faith. But not that being an atheist is the easy way.

    Of course, taking up the cross and following Christ…like for real being willing to suffer without claiming our rights, that isn’t easy either.

  • Lark62

    The pain tichatonga expressed in his post is real, even if we don’t agree with the underlying thought process that brought him there. There is much to be said for compassion.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “I’m not about to give up my wish (and even prayer) that everybody come to faith in Jesus. But I am totally willing to give up my β€œright” to force everybody to be or act like a Christian.”

    Kudos Rebecca for acknowledging us with dignity and treating atheists as equals. However, I felt it necessary to point out what is likely a small but important detail. Specifically the sentiment of acting like a Christian. I point this out, not because I believe anything “bad” was meant by the statement, but because the qualities that are largely attributed to “being Christian” are not unique to Christianity. By that I mean, the qualities and character of individuals which collectively categorize people as “good” would still exist, regardless of denomination, faith, or absence of belief.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been complimented on my wholesome Christian values, meanwhile I’m an Atheist.

  • Sqrat

    Oh, sure, someone might refuse to stand to say the Pledge for one political reason or another, though the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ reasons for not pledging allegiance are religious rather than political. That’s not why I object to it in its present form.

    The Pledge is written in such a way as to be clearly understandable as a statement, not of what the country necessarily is, but what it ought to aspire to be, “one nation, indivisible” (those words surely resonated much more strongly with a generation for whom the Civil War was still a living memory than they do today), and, especially, a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” What I find most objectionable about standing to say the Pledge is the implication that, by doing so, I am saying that I think that the United States ought to aspire to be a nation “under God” (whatever that means).

    I think that atheists should “stand up and be counted” on this issue — by sitting down.

  • Stevie D

    Rebecca, with these words of yours:

    “I don’t agree with them on faith, but I agree with them on the need to
    treat each other with respect. I agree with them that we need to make
    room for people who believe differently. Those differences in belief are
    crucial and important.”

    You have earned my respect; and also the respect of many from other faiths and of no faith.

    Thank you.

  • A heartfelt “thank you”.
    You’ve shown your inner commitment is strong enough to live and thrive without “deleting” your neighbours’.

  • EricWasHere

    Starting a new branch of Christianity wouldn’t be anything unusual though. It happens all the time. There are a purported 41,000 denominations of Christianity already.

  • Lark62

    Moral question of the week. I will be attending the Veteran’s Day ceremony at munchkin’s school next Tuesday. Lots of military parents at this school. Do I out myself (and Munchkin) as atheists by sitting for the Pledge? Or do I take the coward’s way out and go shopping with my day off instead?

  • edb3803

    As an atheist, I appreciate all the support we can get.

    Thank You!

  • Ugh. “Deleting my neighbor.” Man, we do that sometimes, don’t we? Devastating phrase.

  • Say more about that?

    What I meant by it was acting in concert with what the Bible actually says, particularly in the New Testament: love your neighbor, love even your enemy, take up your cross and follow Christ, etc. Some may not define it that way…but…are they getting their definition from Scripture? I wonder…

  • But maybe we’re too silent when others do it.

    Liberal Christianity has allowed others to dominate its own voice to the point where it now has no voice. Sometimes, as I read the comments and the death threats, and how not a single voice in that particular community will speak up against it, not even the priests, it’s kind of hard to hear liberal Christianity’s later pleas of “Please, can’t we all just get along?”

  • Max Doubt

    This exchange actually supports what you’ve been saying about Christians all too often making judgements from their own narrow perspective rather than trying to understand things objectively. You see…

    I would expect gentleness from someone who is talking about a deceased acquaintance β€” if they actually cared about the deceased. What we saw above was an expression of self interest from a person whose greatest loss was a potential conquest for Christian conversion. He’s not mourning a deceased friend. He’s mourning the loss of an opportunity to advance his agenda. I’m sorry, Rebecca, but when the “tragedy” is missing a chance to convince someone that their beliefs are wrong, I find it difficult to muster much sympathy. And unless your Christianity teaches you to be that self centered, you should find it difficult, too.

  • Those aren’t branches, they are minority subcults of the larger cults. Ironically, they are in at least as much danger from a different Christian power block as the atheists would be, if not more.

  • Sqrat

    Yes, standing up for your beliefs by sitting down does not necessarily come without social costs. I don’t presume to advise someone else what to do in such cases.

    We atheists are at a bit of a psychological disadvantage here. We do not believe that by standing to say the Pledge, we would be putting the immortal souls which we do not have in imminent peril, so it’s actually easier for us to get along by going along than it is for many Christians. Suppose the words in the Pledge were actually “under no God”. Would there not be some Christians who would believe that standing to say such a Pledge, they would be consigning themselves to the pit of Hell for all eternity, and others who would tremble that God would surely smite the United States a most mighty smite for such blasphemy?

  • I have the desire to send Rebecca’s post to every church in certain towns.

    Don’t. You’d probably expose her to the death threats. Traditionally, Christians have had more to fear from each other than from any outside group.

  • Warren

    Jessica Ahlquist is famous for requesting that her high school remove a banner bearing a Christian prayer from its gymnasium. In response, she experienced death threats and ostracism. She actually needed a police escort to get to classes. Local florists refused to deliver flowers from her supporters. Her state representative called her an “evil little thing.”

  • EricWasHere

    Branch, Cult, Denominations, Segment, Flavor, Change, whatever…

  • Warren

    …but is it your favorite post on the Citadel?

  • Stevie D

    Is that cue for a new board on Patheos – which regularly encourages RESPECTFUL interaction between atheists and people from your (or multiple) faiths?

    I realise that we can all visit each other’s boards, but a place where we were all expected to “play nice” might be very positive.

    It might also need active moderation

  • jennifer braz

    “I came away from this conversation challenged that I need to do more to stand up for the rights of atheists (and those of other religions)” Is Atheism a religion?

  • The Starship Maxima

    Mass Effect reference?

  • Sorry if that was inelegantly phrased. If religion means belief in something transcendent, then, no, obviously atheism is not a religion. It is a basic belief system, but not a religion. Probably “belief system” would have been a better phrase to use here.

  • Yes, you have correctly understood me, Lark62. Should have used the phrase “belief system.” Is that better?

  • fnostro

    Hi Rebecca, I do appreciate your words. However, I don’t want Christians to stand up for me as I’m not doing anything that requires defending.

    All I would ask is for the religious minded to keep their faith to their community.
    And if that entails some of them to go into politics then I would ask they make unbiased, objective decisions.
    If you have to make a decision that your faith requires, then abstain from the vote.
    If your faith dictates you must vote to “do what’s right” then you are biased and do not belong in that position.

    Religion has no place in politics when it causes politicians to push a faith based agenda that has repercussions on those that do not believe as they do. Politicians are there to protect the rights of the minority, not to push the will of the majority. We have special words for when one group forces another to submit to their will, and they still apply even when will is masked as democracy in action.

    As you say, you want everyone to be Christian. So it goes for most religions. Well, that’s not what I want, I don’t want to be converted any more than you want to lose your religion. And that matters. The concept of free will matters.

    Until your Christian friends do as you did and open their minds to the possibility that “the other side” may have something to say worth a listen, no amount of talking on our behalf, even from one of their own, is going to help.

  • Lausten North

    Beautiful. I was thinking, do I have any friendship that is not based on respect and allowing my friend the freedom to be themselves? I’m not a very good friend if I don’t. And the most important people in my life? Sure, the ones who like what I like and do what I do, but more important, the elders, the mentors, the ones who I sometimes disagree with but who stick by me anyway.

  • Warren


  • Yeah, it would be nice to have a place to talk and ask each other questions. Everybody is always welcome here. I’m not looking to change my most central beliefs, but always open to learning new things about each other, listening, asking questions, and trying to answer questions…as long as everyone can be respectful of each other.

  • Lausten North

    I’d say they are getting it from the culture, which might be one that has been influenced by the better half of Christians as well as other traditions. But they are making those judgments based on more than a few lines of the Bible, just as Christians knew what “good” was before Christ was born.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Ah, lol. Actually my favorite post is Stargate Command. πŸ™‚

  • I don’t know what you guys are talking about, but I’m glad you found each other.;-)

  • fnostro

    One could say Democracy is a belief system yet I would not call it a religion. Atheism is simply the rejection of the supernatural. Can the denial of something be considered a belief?

    One should certainly be more tolerant of other religions. How can you live on this earth and not accept your neighbors?

    But regarding we atheists, exactly what rights are you defending?

  • Lark62

    That’s fine. I often use “religious viewpoint” but sentences can get really long and weird. What would be easiest is if we could resist the temptation to get our undies in a twist just because someone didn’t say something perfectly. Your post was beautiful, welcome and clear. The quibbling over using absolute perfect terminology totally misses the point. Maybe next year the world will be perfect. πŸ™‚

  • Lausten North

    You got right again. What we need today is more Christians stating categorically that X Christian behavior from the past was definitely wrong. I don’t think we’ll find some perfect version of Christianity in the 1st century like you seem to believe, but at least we’ll be done dancing around the errors of the past.

  • BobButtons

    In a nutshell, Jessica Ahlquist was a student at a public high school that had a religious prayer hanging in the school’s auditorium. She felt it showed illegal endorsement by the school of that belief system and outcasted those of other and no religious belief. She filed a suit with the aid of the ACLU to have it removed and won. During the case and afterwards “she received death threats, and required police escorts to and from classes.” (wikipedia) I initially brought this up because it’s an example of why many are afraid to challenge the Christian privilege even when it’s in favor of religious freedom as a whole. Those “steeped in religious privilege” don’t understand that removal of privilege is not persecution. It’s an act FOR religious freedom, not against it. You can’t have true freedom of religion of your choosing without the freedom FROM the religious views of others.

  • Stevie D

    Thanks for reply.

    Yes, I think neutral territory and respectful behaviour are key.

  • BobButtons

    I’m glad you acknowledge this. Just as not all theists agree with the acts/attitude/outlook of all other theists, the same goes for atheists. The internet allows for anonymity so you see a lot of unfavorable dialogue (even calling it that is being generous) and there are countless times when those on the same side as me make me cringe. I think ‘shut up, you’re making us all look like a’holes’. Atheists can be very nice welcoming people as you mentioned, but many are disliked by other atheists as much as they are by theists.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Patheos. Bringing nerds together since 1996.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Well yes, but we’re not talkinb about PZ Myers right now. πŸ™‚

  • Thank you for sharing this perspective.

    I think that government decisions and policies that can be reasoned from without religious assumptions are helpful in our attempt to create a pluralistic, free society. I think that each of our views on politics are influenced by our basic beliefs. For some, this may be a worldview influenced by a belief that there is no God. For some of us, this may be influenced by a belief in fundamental human dignity because of God. However, in making laws, it is extremely helpful to be able to make reasoned arguments outside the confines of our own personal belief structures.

    Also, I am willing to come so, so far to meet the atheist community and support their rights in this free society. I want to listen and know y’all and care about you and not see you as agendas, but as real people who are a blessing to know irrespective of whether you ever see things the way I do. But just not willing to give up the longing and prayer that everybody come to know Jesus. I don’t know that this is so weird if you believe as I do. I mean, I get the impression that atheists feel their worldview is a better one than a religious one because otherwise why hold it? You’d probably like it if more folks felt the same way, right? Well, it’s the same for me. I feel the truths of the Bible which hold onto me are better truths and important and wonderful. I have no desire to force them on anybody or legislate them or anything like that. But to ask me to give up wanting others to hold them too…that would be like breaking my heart. I can’t do that. I know you guys wish I didn’t feel that. But that’s just where I’m at…Thanks for listening…

  • Defending your right to not believe in God and not be forced to pretend you do in a free society.

  • Lark62

    She actually didn’t begin with the law suit. It began when she innocently commented at a school board meeting thinking it was obvious that the banner didn’t belong.

    The most appalling part was the way the entire community ganged up against her. The Mayor spoke at a school assembly about his struggles for acceptance as an Asian American and still managed to condemn Jessica in front of the entire student body for her “attack on christianity”. An elected representative called her “an evil little thing” in a radio interview.

    She eventually had to leave school and be home schooled because of rape and death threats.

    When it was all over, the FFRF sent her roses. Except no florist in Rhode Island would deliver them. Finally a florist in Connecticut brought them to her.

  • This breaks my heart that this is rare!

    Who is Gordon K.?

  • Why do you call yourself Trollface? You are the opposite of a troll!:-)

  • I answered this elsewhere, but I mean basically New Testament Christianity: love your neighbor, love your enemy, take up the cross and follow Christ, when you share your faith do it with gentleness and respect.

  • Potluck!

  • Thomas E. Jacobson

    Well said, Rebecca. This is an important contribution to any discussion that tries to focus on “free exercise” of religion.

  • Trollface McGee

    My friend and I were thinking up silly names and after a while it just stuck and now I’m far too lazy to change it.

  • Krali

    It’s not a belief system. It’s a LACK of belief. Calling atheism a belief system is like calling your lack of belief in unicorns a belief system.

  • Rebecca C

    “Ultimately though, the idea of redemption/salvation via human blood sacrifice is far more interesting* than any of our (atheist) worldviews. I don’t run into nearly enough people remotely interested in saving me. *I also happen to find it delusional and amoral but I’m dying for someone to change my mind about that.”

    Could you explain that further?

  • Lausten North

    As a former liberal Christian, I suggest you check your history. Before Constantine, most Christians were egalitarian, meeting peacefully and supporting their community, and throughout their history, there have always been voices of descent to the ones who sought power over love.

  • The Starship Maxima

    I do have to take issue with the concept of “making people look bad”. I find there is a trend of blaming the victim of bigotry for the bigotry. It manifests as “Well if I don’t see Christians speaking out, then clearly they agree with the lunatics like the WBC,” or conflating Richard Dawkins’ opinion with the rest of atheism.
    Such simplemindedness is destructive on many levels. It allows bigots to feel comfortable in their bigotry, it places undue burdened on those who already suffer bigotry, and worst of all it allows people to be comfortable in their narrow and obvious views and doesn’t encourage them to think more incisively and critically.
    To my understanding, an atheist, like a Christian, doesn’t get to pick and choose who joins the club. And as such they are not obligated to regulate their behavior. Should people speak up when they see someone being a dick? Yes of course, but this thought that that responsibility increases or decreases depending on if the offender is a member of your ‘tribe’ or not, is lazy and distasteful.
    Atheists have a right to come in different styles and flavors and be judged on their merits rather than on the merits of others.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Sure. Why I find substitutionary atonement amoral or why I’d like for someone to convince me that Christianity is true?

    For the former, I just think that it deflects moral accountability. It looks like nothing more than scapegoating. I don’t want to be forgiven for my transgressions by a third party. I want to atone for them myself and learn from them. I also find child blood sacrifice barbaric and unnecessary.

    For the latter, I simply care about what is true…not what I want to be true. If someone were able to convince me that their religion is true and that I get to be immortal simply by following the mandates of their deity, I’d do it in a heartbeat. From what it looks like though, I’m just a guy that won the DNA lottery and I’m very lucky to be here so all I can do is try to leave the world a better place than it was before I got here. I think clinging to the ideas of ancient Palestinians is counterproductive to progress.

  • Isn’t it the belief that there is no God? Would you disagree with that statement?

  • It was so funny. When I first saw you the other day on the atheist board, I totally thought you were gonna be a troll. But not at all! You were super respectful and kind. πŸ™‚

  • TheatreVirgin

    The problem I have is that there are many, many atheists (who happen to comment frequently on FA) who are obsessed with the “extinction” of religion (in particular Christianity) and would love nothing more than to see every church or mosque or synagogue torn down. There are atheists who are so volatile in their non-belief that they consider teaching children about God to be “child abuse”. The fact of the matter is, there are atheists just as bigoted and crazy as the religious fundies who want nothing more than to strip away people’s religions.

    When moderate atheists can stand up to these types instead of sitting silent or even encouraging them, then we will better get along.

  • No, I don’t think is a “perfect” version of Christianity. Do you think there is a perfect version of atheism? But I do think there could be a much healthier one that would hearken back to the original vision of the New Testament church.

  • Trollface McGee

    As long as I collect my bridge fees for the day, I am quite tame πŸ™‚

  • I can both groups can do a better job of policing their communities. But I’m only responsible for mine. If you read the comments below, I believe you will only find like two commenters who think religion is so flawed that I need to leave it in order to have any integrity. The rest simply want the freedom to live in a pluralistic society.

    The other thing is that sometimes really angry people have been really, really hurt by Christians’ actions. I feel like we should be willing to own that part of it. And even when we are unfairly attacked on occasion, the path of the cross means being willing to accept that and not respond in kind.

  • TheatreVirgin

    “I feel like we should be willing to own that part of it.”

    We should not be held responsible for someone being hurt by the actions of another. Sure, we can help them in the aftermath, but we should never have to share the responsibility for something we had nothing to do with. That is why it bothers me when people bring up the Crusades, Inquisition, OR for a modern example, when atheists claim every churchgoer supports pedophiles.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    I’m not going to lie. I think that a world without religion would be a much better place for everyone, and I will, for that reason, work towards that goal.
    But it will only happen when people are convinced to make that choice for themselves. We can’t force our disbelief on others – that would be immoral, insane, and wouldn’t work.
    I want to see every church, mosque, and synagogue torn down because no one uses them any more. And I want to get there through reasoned discourse and the power of human choice. Does that make me an extremist?

  • I understand. It hurts to be accused of something you personally didn’t do. But I know that I personally HAVE done things wrong sometimes: like treating those who are not Christians like a conquest or like failing to listen to the pain that is out there. Or by speaking to my in-group at the expense of fairness or or out of worry about making someone mad. Or by being selfish.

    And even when I personally have not done some of these actions, I think there is a Biblical precedent for confessing your community’s sins. Some of the prophets did that.

    I also am responsible to the extent that I need to speak up and help my community know that some things we say or do are not ok.

  • TheatreVirgin

    The fact that you honestly think a world without religion (or is it just the Abrahamic ones?) would somehow make it any better is extremist and, I’m sorry, quite delusional. Do you honestly think that without religion, all of our biggest problems would go away?

    Greed, world hunger, violence, war, racism, sexism aren’t going to up and disappear just because religion is gone.

  • fnostro

    Full disclosure…I was raised Roman Catholic. It took a LONG time to gain the courage of my convictions. Those convictions grew slowly. I fully understand what it means to have a religion. I grew up with Jesus and religion. I just don’t need them. They offer only empty, false, cold promises. I don’t say this lightly. In the end, I’m just not wired for belief. I require proof and I’m willing to wait generations if not eons, literally eons, to have the truth of a matter.

    Now, as for the atheist view that the world would be better without religion, I would say that most Atheists do hold to that, but only because in most religions a prime purpose is to grow the congregation. Religions, or more specifically, religious leaders, do not know how to stay out of peoples lives. Horrible, horrible things have been done in the name of one religion or another over the centuries. I cannot abide any religion knowing what it’s capable of in the worst hands. It’s still happening today.

    Also, atheists don’t wish anything of the sort for you. In fact we don’t wish at all. What we want for you is to find peace in this life and live this life to the fullest.

    If religion makes you happy, that’s great, I’m glad you found something that has meaning for you. Just don’t stomp on the things in my life that have brought meaning to me.

  • I always do what random people on the InterWebz tell me to do. So, I checked out this Constantine who, as it turns out, reigned as Emperor of the Roman Empire between 306 and 337 AD. So, for the few hundred years before him, Christians were egalitarian, meeting peacefully and supporting their community, mostly because to do otherwise would draw undue attention to themselves. After Constantine, for the next 1600 years, not really so much. So, we can honestly say that Christians were good during the ~15% of their history that they had no power.

    Saying that there were voices of descent against power in Christendom is like saying that there were Ukrainians who gave up their lives to protect Jews during Nazi occupation during WWII. Both are true, and recognized and commended, but the reason they stand out is that they were so unusual. The vast majority was not like them.

  • No, I don’t think it makes you an extremist. If you wanted to blow them up, it would!:-)

    I think it makes you committed to your worldview. I feel like it’s easier to talk to someone who is honest about this. Like, I’d love for you to be a Christian. You’d love for me to be an atheist. There. We were just honest.:-)

    But like you, I don’t want to get there by coercion or taking away people’s rights in a pluralistic society.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    No, they won’t. But a major factor that has supported racism, sexism, violence and war will be, and I think that will help.
    The elimination of one cause of human suffering will not solve all of our problems, but it will be one less problem in itself.
    And while I am most familiar with the Abrahamic religions, no I’m not singling them out specifically.

  • I think the view that the world would be better without religion is wrong, but not extremist.

    I’m curious what some of the atheist folks who are over here would say to the argument that a lot of evil has been done in the name of atheism, through communism and such…


  • TheatreVirgin

    They’ll tell you that communism essentially has nothing to do with atheism and that Stalin was training to be a priest… that seems to be the argument I see most often when we mention that.

    However, every communist state (and every failed atheist state) is the PERFECT example of what the world would be like without religion. Just goes to show you don’t need religion to do bad things when some other non-belief will take its place.

  • THIS.–>”I always do what random people on the InterWebz tell me to do.” πŸ™‚

    And this–> “So, we can honestly say that Christians were good during the ~15% of their history that they had no power.”

    Yep. That’s why I’m actually excited about Christians maybe being a little less powerful. It would be good for the health of our community.

  • TheatreVirgin

    You do realize that, despite what atheists claims, religion has helped more people than it has harmed? I mean, religion has been a corner stone for multiple civilizations since the dawn of man!

    What has atheism as a whole done?

  • Lex Lata

    Well, it depends on which of us you’re talking to. My flavor of atheism (fairly common, I think) consists simply of finding that supernatural claims lack sufficient evidence. It’s not that I believe there are no gods; it’s that I see no compelling justification to believe there is one.

    I would agree this might be semantic quibbling to some, so referring loosely to atheism as a belief system doesn’t trouble me. But I certainly would say atheism ain’t a religion in the usual sense. We have no modes or places of worship, no scriptures, no beliefs in supernatural beings, events, places, forces, etc.

  • Rebecca C

    Ok, I was trying to figure out if there were two parts to that statement/question and there were. πŸ™‚

    I’ll take those points/questions at face value and that you are actually curious about these topics – hence why I am going to engage the questions. This is not an attempt to convince you of anything – simply to say “here’s how some Christians view this.”

    In regards to the first… “child blood sacrifice” – Christianity as a whole has not reached a consensus on “atonement theory.” There are many Christians who believe the sacrifice actually is NOT necessary – after all Jesus went around forgiving people all the time without the need for a sacrifice, and that Jesus died because humans, not God, demanded there be a sacrifice of some sort. This gets into a very long discussion about the point and purpose of how the entire sacrificial system got started to begin with and who actually needed it – God or humans? Gerhard Forde has a very interesting article on this called “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ” if you’re at all interested in further reading on Christian views of atonement theory.

    Though atoning of course means you have to atone TO someone for something… and who are you atoning to? Another individual? Ok – but who decides when you have atoned “enough”? You – or the person who you want to forgive you? And what is it, exactly, that will be the magic work that will get them to go “Ok, you’ve done what you needed to be forgiven finally”? That’s the problem with forgiveness/atonement. It ultimately relies on the person doing the forgiving – not on the person doing the atoning.

    As for caring about what is true – I think you’ll find there are many Christians (and other religious people as well) who are seeking the same answer you are – “What is true?” (The question pilate asks Jesus – “Que es veritas?” – “What is truth?”) I think if more of us on both sides of these issues approached matters of faith and science as being quests for the same ultimate answer, we’d understand each other a lot better. I think we’re all interested in the big questions of why the universe exists and what does that mean? If there is a God, why would he/she/it care about me and what is my relationship to that God? Philosophical, parabolic and narrative truths are, in my view, deeper truths than 2+2=4. (And the next question of course is… does a story have to be historically accurate in order to be “true” – or is there truth behind the meaning of the account that is true, even if it never actually happened historically speaking)? I hear so many atheists call the Bible a bunch of fairy tales. Well, ok… but… do fairy tales contain truth? What’s the point of a fairy tale? Just a fabricated story that has no point, or is there a lesson to be learned? And if there is a lesson to be learned – does it not have at least some inherent value in how we understand our world?

    Anyway – probably more of a response than you were looking for. πŸ™‚

  • Krali

    No, it’s the lack of belief in a god(s). It’s the same as saying you don’t believe in unicorns, Santa Claus, Harry Potter or any other fictional character.

    Generally speaking, an atheists takes the null hypothesis. There is no evidence for god, so therefore I don’t believe in any such being.

    What you describe is a person who claims to “know” that there is no god. Most atheists I know would think that to be equally if not more irrational to us than someone who claims that there is a god, simply because it is impossible to prove a negative.

  • James Stevenson

    Personal view, but I think perfection is something to be avoided at all costs. Just as religions in power will gravitate towards extremes and preservation of that power, so it is with anything taken in absolutes. It will marginalise and punish everything else.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m an atheist, I could elaborate on all the ways religion just makes no logical sense to me but in the interests of keeping this (relatively) brief I’ll stop short of that. I think you put it well in your post, you were challenged by atheists and brought new information that made you re-evaluate your position. Without exposure to that different perspective how do you think you’d feel?

    Diversity has a moderating impact but we will never reach a point of purity. For instance, take a religious person who devotes their life, abandoning livelihoods and much in the way of material comfort to help others. Their reasoning for this is ‘because this is what God commands me to do’.

    Now to my perspective, that thought process is concerning, call me a materialist but I think we should help each other based on empathy and shared experiences. Not because some entity commands you to. But in such a case that person, through their religious motivations, certainly has sacrificed more than I have which I can respect.

    This makes me think, and pulls me back from the brink of extremes should I choose be lingering there, if I closed myself off and flat out said ‘supernaturalism must be stamped out!’ On an instinctual level I do think that it does more harm than good and doesn’t make sense, but examples which open me up to other peoples views give me pause. Even if I don’t come around to their way of thinking, they challenge me to JUSTIFY my own to myself. Which I think is the problem with the views of the Christians who you take issue with in your main article, they are too insular.

    You have no idea how much longer I could have gone on and what I did to narrow that down to what it is… hope my point is understandable! I really could have gone full essay style on that I realise now…

  • Kevin R. Cross

    I cannot agree that the communist state represents in any way a world without religion. For one thing, both Stalinist and Maoist communism was no such thing – it was a nation SUPPRESSING religion. In fact, religions seem to grow and thrive under such regimes – when it is clear the government wants to keep you away from a concept, that concept becomes desirable, especially if otherwise the government way is the only way.
    And no, communism was indeed an atheistic worldview in it’s applied forms ( I think they misunderstood what Marx was trying to say, incidentally). But the atrocities it committed were not because it was atheist, but because it was authoritarian. Just as we shouldn’t blame Christianity for the actions of a christian king acting for non-christian reasons, neither should we blame atheism for actions taken for non-atheistic reasons the extermination of the Kulaks under Stalin, for instance, was conducted for reasons of both communist ideology and realpolitik power base control.

  • Yep.–>”Just as we shouldn’t blame Christianity for the actions of a christian
    king acting for non-christian reasons, neither should we blame atheism
    for actions taken for non-atheistic reason.”

  • Interesting. My understand had been that your definition was the definition for agnosticism. No?

  • Yeah, I don’t see any reason to describe it as a religion either. That wouldn’t make sense. Religion can be more than the belief in God, because some religions are less about that. But they ARE about belief in the transcendent, that which we cannot see.

  • Jackson

    This is meant as a light-hearted aside and not an accusation, but I was tickled that you, as a christian, find substitutional atonement so abhorrent.

  • As an atheist, I just want to thank you. Thank you for your willingness to have a conversation with atheists. I haven’t looked at your past articles nor do I know how much if any your thinking on our rights has changed, but I have to admire your courage in standing up for us in this way, and I really appreciate it. You have made some atheists in Maine smile and feel hopeful today! πŸ™‚

  • Agnosticism is lack of knowledge. Atheism is lack of belief. More or less.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Actually, I do question the whole “helped more than it harmed” point. Does the good Christianity has done (as an obvious example we are both familiar with) stack up beside the crusades, the pogroms, the support of institutionalized slavery, the divine right of kings, the various inquisitions? At best I’d call it a wash.
    Atheism has had it’s bad points too, of course. But when we can point to the Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (the bases of all modern Physics and Biology), I think we come out slightly ahead.

  • You know, I had the same thought about substitionary atonement. Not that we Christians are anything like Jesus, because He is amazing, and we are not…but I think there’s something at the core of the Christian faith that is all about being willing to bear the offenses of others. Again, the cross.

  • fnostro

    I don’t want to sound condescending, but that’s just being a good American and the defense of that right is already provided for by our Constitution and our military.

    In every instance that I can conceive where living without God is considered an offense, an affront, evil, or worth killing for, or, in this case, require defending I can show you religion and religious leaders on a soap box. The problem is not with Atheism, it’s with religious intolerance and within the ranks of the religious minded and they need to clean house.

    But realize you’re not coming to the defense of Atheists, but Christians. So to that end thanks for helping out.

  • I think it would be fruitless to try to draw columns and win for our sides. Can we at least agree that religion has done some positive things due the to religious motivations of its people? That seems like a modest agreement we could make.

  • I also am responsible to the extent that I need to speak up and help my community know that some things we say or do are not ok. THIS… THIS is what we would ask of any of you.. just as we are willing to do the same. ALSO, the other stuff you said in the whole article. πŸ™‚

  • Go tell that to the Jews, whom the Christians have blamed for everything from poisoned wells to Jesus.

  • A lot of atheists consider themselves to be Secular Humanists/Humanists – which are apparently religions for legal purposes now.

  • TheatreVirgin

    I have to disagree. Atheists do not have the monopoly on sciences. In fact, many religious people played a pivotal role creating the sciences we have today. Most atheists have just expanded upon those theories.

    Atheism still has a few thousand more years ahead of itself before it can come out ahead of religion.

  • Lark62

    Atrocities and genocide happen when humans use torture and death to control thoughts and words.

    Communist Russia worshiped communism like a religion. Disagreement or dissent resulted in prison or death. The nazi SS swore that they were not atheists and hitler came to power by inflaming centuries of christian prejudice against Jews. Tales from the East German police state are beyond comprehension. There are thousands of years of examples of religion forcing conversion at the point of a sword and punishing blasphemy with death. The single common thread is not religion but a state sponsored attempt to control thoughts, speech and dissent.

    Secular democracies that value and defend freedom of thought for everyone do not commit genocide or establish dictatorships.

  • Lex Lata

    Incidentally, atheism has occasionally been treated as a “religion” in the courts for various constitutional and statutory purposes. So I don’t want to argue TOO hard against the label. πŸ™‚

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Oh, most assuredly. Figures of great glory and superlative wisdom appear in the histories of religion, doing great good and inspiring magnificence in man.And they pale into insignificance compared to the power of the everyday good conducted by the followers of religions who have been moved by their belief to charity, mercy and righteousness in deed and thought everyday. Religion has done great good. That is undoubtable.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Give any group a certain amount of power and it will surely corrupt them, history has shown this to be true. It does not take long before the extremists take control, so I doubt it would be long before we started seeing religious groups being persecuted by an atheist majority.

    I have certainly seen enough atheists claim “I can’t wait until we’re in the majority and Christians know what it is like to be persecuted.”

  • Kevin R. Cross

    I didn’t actually mean ahead of religion, but ahead as in “greater good than harm”. And I chose those three items because their primary creators were noted Atheists.

  • TheatreVirgin

    “Secular democracies that value and defend freedom of thought for everyone do not commit genocide or establish dictatorships”

    No, but they have no problem trying to police the world and spying on its own citizens in the name of security.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Yes, I believe that. I would not be one of them.

  • Lark62

    I am not doubting you, but most atheists I listen to say “I’m going to defend your freedom of religion because I know how much it means to me. “

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Erm…I wouldn’t go that far, given the history of the native American peoples.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Einstein was not an atheist. Darwin himself was religious up until his own discoveries (and he struggled with his faith afterwards).

  • TheatreVirgin

    Hello. I would just like to ask, in your opinion, what are the things “not ok” in the atheist community, because I rarely see any atheists admitting fault for anything, and they surely never share the blame for any wrongdoing that is committed by other atheists.

  • Lark62

    Thank you. I am embarrassed at how easily and conveniently I forget. The genocide our nation committed against the Indians was again thought police – think like white men or be exterminated.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Einstein was an Atheist. He stated more than once that he did not believe in a god or supreme being – his “God does not play dice with the universe” statement was him being flowery about his dislike for randomness and chance.
    Darwin would not have described himself as an Atheist, because the term was somewhat differently regarded then as today. However, after a long struggle with faith, his final position (during the period he published all of his major works) was that of a non-believer. His supposed “deathbed conversion” was a hoax – the woman who claimed it was not even present.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Einstein said,

    “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the
    crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due
    to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious
    indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility
    corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of
    nature and of our own being.”

  • Lark62

    Yes. Which is why we have to be vigilant in the defense of civil liberties and human rights. No matter how much we fear a scary disease we cannot quarantine people when facts and science says it is unnecessary. No matter how much we fear terrorism, torture is wrong.

  • TheatreVirgin

    I wasn’t talking specifically about ebola. But I think the NSA was pretty revealing about the government’s opinion on though control.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Okay, say “non-believer” then. Which is really the same thing – an a-theist. (I do accept his desire to avoid the term, given the times – Madelyn Murray O’Hair was the poster child for Atheism at the time, and among her titles was “the most hated woman in America”.)

  • TheatreVirgin

    You cannot project your own labels onto someone else just because you think it wins numbers to “your” side. Einstein certainly believed in “something”, but as he says, he was open to the idea that there could be something beyond our understanding of nature and ourselves.

    Why is it so hard to accept that there may be a “higher power” we cannot fathom?

  • Lex Lata

    Former Navy chaplain, recently elected to the Colorado legislature. You’ve gotta Google him. There’s not enough space here to do him justice.

  • Danielle A. S. Barr

    Rebecca, Its a lot easier to listen to a point of view when yours isn’t being disregarded. Thanks for posting this.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Well, part of that is because we’re not much of a community.
    Atheism doesn’t bring people together the way religion does. We’re united only in our NON-belief of something – the lack of something, if you will. That’s not a good basis for community building or structured ideals.
    It’s why many of us gravitate towards philosophies like Humanism. I’m not a humanist, so I won’t speak for them, but they do have their own ideals regarding what is and is not acceptable behaviour. I tend towards a more ethicist position.

  • Lark62

    Atheism is not a thing. You could just as well ask what has non belief in unicorns done for the world.

    We could argue for days about the relative benefits of religion and never agree, because I see very few.

    Today religion brings us televangelists stealing people’s rent money tax free, anti science and discrimination.

    I’m not going to say religion is pure evil because many religious people are good. But I believe those good and caring people would be just as good and just as kind without religion.

  • Jackson

    I think the gum ball example (i think made by Tracy Harris?) nicely illustrates this.

    If you show me a machine holding millions of gum balls, and ask me if I have a positive belief that the number of gum balls is odd, I will say no. This is not the same as having a positive belief that the number of gum balls is even.

    Agnostisisism is not mutually exclusive with atheism or theism; you can be (and most atheists are) an agnostic atheist, or an agnostic theist.

  • TheatreVirgin

    I’m of the opinion that humanism has essentially taken the positive things from religion and society and applied them to a non-religious philosophy. Religion has certainly been around longer than any notion of humanism.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    It isn’t hard at all, the concept is perfectly sound. But I see no reason to invoke it, lacking evidence pointing in that direction. Give me just one piece of clear, solid, and unimpeachable evidence, and I would have to change my position. I believe Einstein was in a similar situation, given what I have read of the man.

  • TheatreVirgin

    What kind of evidence?

    EDIT: I should add, if you had evidence of God’s existence, then you would certainly believe in Him, yes? However, we were granted free will, which allows us to choose to believe in Him, other gods, or none at all. The ability to choose should be considered a gift, so why would you want that to be taken away?

    Let me ask you something. Would you be as happy KNOWING there was a God as you are not believing (or at least doubting) in one?

  • Jackson

    There are non-authoritarian atheist majority countries in existence today. Is that what is happening in them?

  • Lark62

    Yes. And thousands of years of global history teaches us that suppressing belief never works. A secular society where each is free to believe what he believes without coercion from the state works better, even if it means lots of people will have beliefs that differ from mine.

    As Winston Churchill said “Democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all others that have been tried.”

  • BobButtons

    I understand and agree completely. The only reason I said what I did is because ‘atheist’ is already a sensitive term that many people are afraid to use openly. It doesn’t help when those who do use it play right into the prejudices about it. I’m not saying it increases the responsibility of other people under that label, just trying to make it aware that it’s the same as when people make the argument for other labels. Not all agree with everyone else that call themselves the same thing.

  • Tichatonga

    Most people would have gotten that that was tongue-in-cheek. I apologise if I offended you,

  • TheatreVirgin

    And perhaps some atheists or other non-believers would be better people if they were religious, no?

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Perhaps, but not so much longer as you might think. A good deal of Humanism calls upon ideals generally first ascribed to Epicurus, a Greek philosopher of about the third century BC. Little of his direct work has survived, so we are unsure whether he was himself stimulated by still earlier thinkers, but it seems likely he was. Much of his work also forms part of the basis of modern ethical thought.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Examples please.

  • TheatreVirgin

    The problem though with secularism is that it DOES favor atheism, since atheists seem content with not wanting religion to be expressed in public. Well, religious people have the right to express themselves and should have the right to base their decisions on what they believe.

  • Lark62

    Yes. And I will gladly stand with you to defend our civil liberties.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Well, there were certainly many a religious civilizations long before Epicurus (Egyptians, Sumerians, and “Atlanteans” for Conan fans)

  • The Starship Maxima

    True statement is true.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    I am not fussy. Just show me one thing that I cannot reason away, or explain, something clear and understandable and not “interpretive”. Give me something my intellect can grip and hold on to without my feeling like an idiot for doing so. I suppose it is a big ask, but it needs to be something REAL.

  • I don’t know if it would be satisfying evidence to you, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it before, but the very nature of order and design in the universe seems more unlikely than likely to be the result of chance. Like why do I have two matching hands? How can I form thoughts and talk to you? Everything in creation seems unlikely, but it’s there. For me, this has been compelling. Although I have often struggled with doubts in the faith, it’s been hard for me to doubt God’s existence.

  • Lark62

    What I’ve found is that pretty much people are what they are. Religion or non religion doesn’t stop pedophiles, or gossips or greedy jerks. Christians and athiests give to charity and help those in need. It only changes the excuses and justifications and outward motivations.

    The only difference between christian me and atheist me is that now I am a bit less judgmental, I hope.

  • Phasespace

    Atheists don’t have a problem with public expressions of religion. If you want to put a nativity scene in your yard or in front of your church at Christmas time, I say have at it. However, if you want to have exclusive access to the public square (on public property, in public schools, in the seats of government) to proclaim your religion, i will fight you on that. You do not have exclusive right to these spaces, and in many cases it’s simply better for everyone to refrain from doing so and just keep it in your yard or your church grounds than in public spaces.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    But under secular rules, they can do all of that. In the US, we have a specific rule that GOVERNMENT cannot favour or denigrate any religion, but must be strictly secular – which includes government employees when they are on the clock, and government buildings all the time. Outside of that, express yourself however you like.

  • Already noticing quite the variety in the atheist community.

    I will say that some folks’ manner of discourse on both sides is probably less helpful, and it’d be nice if both of us could try harder.

  • Art_Vandelay

    See that’s really interesting to me that there are Christians that don’t believe Jesus died for their sins. I used to think that was a deal breaker but since I started getting more curious about why people believe what they do, I’ve found Christians that don’t even think he was divine. They just kind of think he was a cool guy. I don’t understand this at all.

    I don’t accept the idea of sin due solely to the fact that I’m unconvinced that a deity exists. So the most objective formula I have to guide my moral behaviors is some sort of standard like “don’t infringe on someone else’s autonomy.” From there you have to factor in the circumstances of course. So I atone to the person whose autonomy I feel that I infringed upon and if I don’t gain forgiveness, so be it. I’ll gain a lesson learned and do better next time. There are no existential ramifications for not obtaining forgiveness from another human. I don’t view humanity as something wretched, depraved, full of sin, and in need of salvation. That’s something that the church has to convince humans of so that they can sell their religion. It’s like creating a disease so that you can sell the cure.

    Of course there is virtue in allegories and the moral lessons that we can learn from them but I assure you that those can come from anywhere and there are much better pieces of fiction that provide moral lessons than the bible. I’m all about the Golden Rule but Confucius wrote about that 500 years before Jesus came along. If that book isn’t historically accurate and divinely inspired, I don’t see what the big deal is.

    I honestly don’t mind you or anyone trying to convince me. I appreciate it, really. I never understood atheists that get pissed off about people preaching to them. If i thought someone was subject to eternal torture simply for not thinking as I do, I’d be a giant pain in the ass trying to convince them otherwise. It seems like the moral thing to do.

  • TheatreVirgin

    So even if there were no religion in the world, I guess it wouldn’t have that big of an impact, since people are just going to do what they want to do then.

    Funny though, what a lot of atheists argue is, “I’m worried about the people who need God NOT to do bad things.” Now imagine a world without religion again.

  • It has to do with the imbalance of power, right? So if a teacher in public school posts Bible verses, is she being coercive and abusing her power (perhaps unwittingly) simply because she is in a position of power and authority over her students? Would she make them feel that they would get better grades if they shared her faith? This is implicit, not explicit, but when powerful positions are involved, I think it’s dicey. But if she wants to exercise her faith outside of her job and share about it, that seems right and fair.

    There are probably some gray areas here, but I think the position of power and authority is the main principle and to be mindful of it.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Oh, without doubt. I don’t think you’d find too much in the Greco-Roman Pantheon about much of modern religion’s bigger ideologies, like forgiveness, charity or submission to a god, though. The Greco-Roman deities were ones you avoided more than courted.

  • Jackson

    Norway, Sweeden and Finland are around what, 20% theist?

  • Yes, while religion can sometimes be a tool by which people do evil, it is certainly true that it also helps people to keep their baser instincts in check and to seek a common good. It gives people something positive to strive for.

    Understand, I am not arguing that those who don’t believe in God cannot do good also. Simply making an observation about some of the positive ways religion can impact a person.

    I feel I would be a more selfish person without my faith to keep me in check.

  • Lark62

    There is a difference between words and actions. I believe the world would be better without religion but I will actively defend your right to practice your religion. I do not have a right to interfere with your beliefs.

    Likewise, you have a right to beliefs about drinking or abortion or gays, but you do not have a right to use our legal system to make me comply with your religious rules.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Are you saying that all three of those countries encompass only 20% of religious folks? In Norway alone census claims 29% people said “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    I think you have the heart of it. Where a person has power over another, religion needs to be, not excluded, but muted, so as to allow maximum freedom of choice.

  • Phasespace

    I’ll just say this: As long as you look to communist states as the face of atheism, you will continue to not understand atheism. A better example is Scandinavia. I won’t even go into the problems of the communists because it is a complete non-issue. Where are the failed states in Scandinavia? Because the way those are more closely in line with atheist thinking than communist Russia ever was.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Religion sets rules and boundaries. There is order and authority. Which is exactly what so many humans seem to have a problem with. We hate being told what to do and what is “right” or “moral”, especially if it goes against something we enjoy.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    To be fair, we also dislike someone or something set above us as an example of morality when we, personally do not recognize that it has any authority to do so.

  • Lark62

    Yes. The teacher can attend church, go on mission trips, talk about her faith on a personal Facebook account, and decorate her lawn with 500 crosses. But at school and on school email, she is Mrs. Teacher and her personal beliefs are private.

    The exact same rules apply to atheist teachers. They cannot encourage or discourage reigious belief.

  • Jackson

    Ok, from Eurobarometer poll 2010, to the statement “I believe there is a god,” Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland are all under 50%.

  • TheatreVirgin

    But I’m sure they do. I’ve seen atheists on FA self-admit they do such a thing.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    And they should be stopped, just as a teacher expressing Christian/Islamic/Jewish/Daoist/Hindu/Whatever belief should be. Two wrongs, and all that.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Laws are dictated by society, which is created by the people. So if an overwhelming majority of religious citizens wanted to vote on a law that complied with their beliefs, and it passed, what would you say?

  • Lark62

    I’ve never heard it. The FA himself was until recently a high school math teacher. He more than one discussed how he never discussed atheism or religion in school.

    But I agree with Kevin. An atheist teacher had no business discussing it at school.

  • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

    Hi Rebecca,

    When I talk to most of my atheist friends, I generally find that they’ve had the same experience as I. Namely, as soon as we heard that there was a such thing as an “atheist community”, we realized that we weren’t a part of it.

    There isn’t a great deal of “unification” that can be underwritten by the trivial fact that two or more people are alike in what they DON’T believe. When you browse through an atheist forum, the only “agreement” you tend to find is over relatively insignificant issues like “look at that strange religious thing…we all agree it’s strange right?”

    When we dare to engage eachother on topics of any depth (ethics, ontology, the ideal structure of the state…etc) we disagree quite substantially. The apparent presence of a unified atheist “value set” is deceptive. We’re at eachother’s throats constantly, and then (after explaining to eachother why we’re wrong about everything) we go out for dinner, grab a movie, and plan to do it it again in a week.

    …it’s the same tacit arrangement I have with my theist friends (with whom I often have more agreements with than my atheist friends). We don’t have a “statement of faith” or a book with which to source our beliefs. In so far as there’s a position called “S”, we’re a diverse group of 25 letters who somehow agreed to define themselves under a category called “NOT S” πŸ™‚

    This is a fantastic article, and (if you’ll permit my use of the ‘F’ word) it restored my faith in the possibility of genuine, honest, and charitable dialogue with the evangelical Christian community.

  • TheatreVirgin

    What are the exact numbers? Because it could be 48%, 49% etc. Just saying/

  • TheatreVirgin

    But if we’re talking about something like God… something that is apparently responsible for everything in existence, how can it not hold authority over us?

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Just as it is hard for me to doubt his non-existence, I suppose. To me, everything you just brought up is part of the wonderment and amazement of the natural world – a world arrived at through natural processes and time.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Sure, we evolved that way, but why? Why is there any reason for anything to ever exist in the first place, especially if there is no point to it? How can there be no point to the existence of the universe, or multiple universes?

  • Jackson

    Switzerland is 44, Iceland is 31, Norway is 22. Linky to the wiki page if you feel like doing some browsing.


  • Lark62

    I would say it was wrong. Our constitution protects everyone. Sandra Day O’Conner said something like “we don’t take role before deciding to enforce the first amendment.”

    Let’s say we get our wish and the majority of America is atheist. Could we then pass a law forbidding adults to teach children about hell? Of course not. You have a right to your beliefs no matter how many people disagree.

  • Phasespace

    I don’t know if it would be satisfying evidence to you, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it before, but the very nature of order and design in the universe seems more unlikely than likely to be the result of chance.

    As someone with a physics degree, I can tell you right now, that I can see no reason to think that the order in the universe is somehow less likely without some sort of intelligent creator.

    There are a good many open questions about why the laws of the universe are what they are, but none of those questions side particularly strongly on the side of requiring an intelligent creator for them to come out the way we see them. In fact, gravity, electricity, magnetism, and the strong and weak atomic forces all impose a kind of order on the universe that arises spontaneously, by their pure nature.

    Now, of course, you’re going to want to say that some intelligent entity must have designed these laws for them to come out this way… However, you really can’t show this to be the case. We have no idea what the possible ranges or variations in the laws of the universe might be, and as such you can not automatically assume that the creator explanation is more likely.

  • TheatreVirgin

    Other atheists have often dismissed and insulted us theists for using wikipedia as a reliable source. However, I would now like to ask what are the numbers of admitted atheists who do NOT believe in any God or higher force. Does it outweigh the God believers and those who be in “something”?

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Well, I would actually point to a Greek Patriarch of the Byzantine era (whose name, I’m afraid, escapes me) – “I am god’s servant, not god’s creature.” Even in the face of overwhelming, irresistable power, a person can still make the choice – to submit, or to refuse.
    If I were to be convinced of the reality of a god, I would not automatically worship him. As he would claim the right to judge me, so would I have the right to judge him – and to submit, or to refuse.

  • TheatreVirgin

    But there are atheists trying to do that because they view it as a form of child abuse. How long before atheists are trying to label every teaching of religion as child abuse?

  • Jackson

    You’re asking this question to an atheist. I find it hard to believe that you honestly don’t get why an atheist doesn’t think God has authority over us.

  • Lausten North

    Nice. Thanks for correcting yourself from “never” to “majority”. The important question is, who was right? I don’t care who got the original message of the gospels right, or if Jesus really lived. I care about who lived by the right values like equality and freedom and respect. And how did they pass those values on, how did they fight against powers that didn’t. Even knowing how those good values were corrupted is important. More important that labeling people.

  • Phasespace

    Does the universe need to have a point for your life to have value? Since that is really what you’re getting at. Can you even explain what the ultimate purpose of something is? Is such a concept even coherent?

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Why does there need to be a point?

  • Matt Thornton

    “How can there be no point to the existence of the universe…”?
    Why can/should there be a point. What’s the point of any collision of atomic particles. It happened because it happened. period.

  • Rebecca C

    “there are Christians that don’t believe Jesus died for their sins” – I wouldn’t quite make that leap. πŸ™‚ Those who don’t believe God demanded the death still believe Jesus died for our sins – or at the very least on account of our sins. The basic idea being – because we’re sinful, we need a sacrifice in order to accept that God has forgiven us because we can’t and won’t accept God’s forgiveness freely or any other way. Thus Christ’s death on the cross still serves a function in relation to forgiveness of sins – it creates faith that our sins have been forgiven – and thus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross actualizes the will of God to have mercy unconditionally. But as humans we cannot and will not accept this forgiveness unconditionally – so we move to kill him – thus there is nothing for Jesus to do then but to die “for our sins,” “on our behalf,” etc. He had to bear our sins in his body – not theoretically, but actually. His death is our death – to be made new. Faith is created, new beings created on account of the fact that Christ has died once, for all. Either we kill this message by our endless qualifications and conditions, or it kills us and makes us new in faith.

    “If that book isn’t historically accurate and divinely inspired…” – ah, but historically accurate and divinely inspired are not the same thing. Something can be divinely inspired but not historically accurate. Many Christians believe the Bible is both a divine and a human work. It’s not dictation, however. God did not just sit down and tell someone to write things down word for word. Therefore it possesses both human expression as well as divine expression. It is a recording of the human encounter with the divine – which gets expressed in a multitude of ways. The Bible is not a book – it’s a library – filled with many different types of writings and literature. The confusion even within Christianity on this matter is when we try to make the entire thing a “historical document” of some sort. But it’s not. Some are historical accounts, yes. (ie: 1 Kings) Some are allegorical (ie: Hosea), some are poetic (Lamentations, Psalms, etc) Most of all – it is the human interpretation of the divine encounter. You and I could watch the same event and our description of it will probably be vastly different because we will pick out very different things we found important. If we choose to write it as a narrative, we may write it in first person or third person. Maybe we write a poem about it instead of a narrative. Perhaps one of us uses a lot of metaphor and allegory to make our point better. The point being – there are many ways to express that which is “divinely inspired.” I’m a painter – I love to paint spiritual images. I specialize in surrealism. My paintings I feel are “inspired” – but they certainly are not photographic images and I rarely intend them to be taken “literally.” They are an artistic expression of an inspired message. (You and I would probably just disagree on the source of the inspiration) The real trick then is what did I mean when I painted it – and what meaning do you get when you look at it? Those two things can be vastly different. You very likely will see something I, as the artist, never intended – but nevertheless – that is how you interpret and understand it. Scripture operates in much the same way. The original authors had an intent and purpose for writing what they did, how they did – but how we read and interpret it can be VERY different than what was intended. Doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, though.

  • Why do we long for there to be a point to life?

  • TheatreVirgin

    I understand a lot of atheists choose not to believe in God, but sometimes, little bits of their lingering faith still show. It is interesting to me how some atheists will reach a certain breaking point where they seem to lash out at the same being they claim they don’t believe in. Interesting.

  • TheatreVirgin

    But why?

  • Matt Thornton

    Actions by Adam and Eve affect me, as the story goes. Is that OK?

  • TheatreVirgin

    Every action has a reaction. So what caused the first action and why?

  • It seems like there may be a subset of atheists who want to impose their view? Seems like the majority we’re talking with here don’t feel that is necessary and are instead for freedom of belief/unbelief.

  • TheatreVirgin

    The value of my life is personal and infinitely pales in comparison to the point of the universe and existence. No reason why it can’t have a point of its own that encompasses the rest of us in our own special way.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Because we need structure, and direction, in our lives. We all feel this, I think – a need to strive, to move towards something more.
    But that doesn’t mean the universe is going to provide one. To me, my goals are my own, to set, to strive for, and to succeed, or fail, by my own powers.

  • Why do we need this?

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Actually, at the quantum level, which is where it all began according to the physicists, action and reaction become unworkable concepts.

  • And God forgive us for the times we have done that…

    Why do some anti-Semites forget that JESUS was Jewish? Honestly…

  • TheatreVirgin

    Can you explain why that is?

  • TheatreVirgin

    But you don’t believe in Adam and Eve, no?

  • I said “vast” majority, not just a simple majority. Vast to the point of the other side being meaningless. The last 2000 years are, after all, not the history of those who you think got it right, but of those who you think got it wrong. Sure, maybe “never” is an overstatement, but not much of one. If it were otherwise, we European Jews wouldn’t have words for dealing with the wider Christian culture.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    I would say it is inherent in our psychology, likely a survival trait for our species. Those who strove for more, who sought out the good things in life, were our ancestors. Those who stayed behind…were not.

  • Why do we want to survive?

  • Jackson

    Maybe, but plenty of atheists here having a fun conversation, and not a one lashing out at anyone. Lots of allusions to other un-named atheists doing things you disapprove of though.

  • TheatreVirgin

    That’s good. Probably because those looking to impose their view are too cowardly too reveal themselves on here. But it wouldn’t take long browsing Patheos to find some of those…

  • Kevin R. Cross

    In all honesty, I barely have a grasp on the concepts, and nothing at all of the math. We’ve reached the limits of my knowledge. I’d recommend a book on quantum mechanics – along with some eye-drops and headache tablets.

  • TheatreVirgin

    I just wish they would come over from FA and join the conversation, is all.