Recently, I made an offhand comment about a blog post by a Christian minister named Joe McKeever. After dismissing his arrogant, unsupported claims in the main, I joked (a little) about the idea of going over his post in more detail later. The more I thought about it, the more I thought such a treatment might not be a bad idea. I know we’ve got a bunch of relative newcomers to the ranks of ex-Christians and sometimes it can be helpful to see how someone else responds to the common accusations and smears raised by their old crowd. It’s kind of old, but I think it covers all the Bingo spots on the card, so to speak.
Plus, I think it’s hilarious.
His post is called “Why I Don’t Believe in Atheism,” and it’s what we’ll be talking about today.
From the Getgo, a Facepalm.
There are certain phrases that a Christian can say that will immediately get me braced for a facepalm. Referring to evolution as “Darwinism,” clutching those pearls about “persecution” in America, accusing someone of not having been a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, and the like are great indicators that the Christian parroting those phrases is going to be completely closed to any kind of genuine communication. I might as well go bang my head against the wall than talk to that person; they’re wrapped in their delusions and very happy to be there. From that comfortable bubble, they smugly survey those outside their tribe and pass judgment upon people they know nothing whatsoever about.
“I don’t believe in atheism” is one of those phrases, and being that this phrase is the very title of Mr. McKeever’s piece, it doesn’t bode especially well.
So who is this guy who is such a grand authority on atheists that he can decide that atheism doesn’t actually exist?
Unsurprisingly, he’s a true-blue die-hard fundagelical with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), some kind of instructor with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (the same outfit that graduated the execrable Kendricks brothers, who made that Kirk Cameron
disaster movie Fireproof that we reviewed last summer), and a retired pastor and Director of Missions with his denomination. In other words, he’s not just some guy who walked in off the street. I hadn’t realized that he was SBC, and certainly hadn’t expected someone with such a background to demonstrate this level of stone-cold ignorance.
And despite talking extensively about atheists in his post (and insulting them left and right), Mr. McKeever says he doesn’t really believe in atheism. He’s apparently going to tell us why he doesn’t in this post here.
Buckle in! Here we go!
“Deal With It, Earthlings.”
He starts off by declaring that the Bible never actually proves that his god exists. Without worrying about why the Bible might not have gone that route, he decides that this means he doesn’t have to do so either. You will look in vain for any such evidence in his post. His goal here will be to silence and negate atheists’ concerns, not to actually address them in any way. Quelle surprise! SHOCKED, yes, shocked, I am!
His problem is, he and his pals are trying to sell something to non-believers. He might have forgotten that his role in this little transaction is that of salesperson and supplicant, not that of the arrogant holder-forth of galactic wisdom. If I don’t see any reason to believe his god even exists, then I’m not buying what he’s selling no matter how certain he sounds about it. He can threaten me all he wants and denigrate skepticism and atheism generally all he likes, but such tactics have only a negative impact on non-believers who know the religion’s supernatural claims aren’t true.
If a sales pitch begins with insults, then very few people will be hanging around for the end of it.
Of course, he’s not really trying to sell his worldview in this post. Not really. He’s talking to the choirloft here–to other fundagelicals, few of whom have the faintest idea what atheists–or atheism–are even like. They don’t generally know any atheists very well, and they’ve been inundated for years with bullshit like he’s saying. So they have no reason to suspect that he’s wrong. He’s got some credibility in their denomination, and he’s not saying anything they are intrinsically going to resist or even question.
That might be why he smugly declares that his god exists and everyone who doesn’t believe that claim just needs to “deal with it.” His kind of Christianity is belligerent and chest-thumping–and he is downright indignant that anybody might want proof that his god actually exists before buying his product.
Many Christians take this position because they take it for granted that nobody “should” have to demonstrate the credibility of a single one of their claims. To them, it’s totally obvious that their god exists, and they think that this evidence is not only overwhelming but also totally unique to their religion–that no other religions possess such evidence. When I was one of them, I regarded people who demanded proof of my claims like I might regard someone today demanding proof that the Earth revolves around the Sun (or that evolution really is a thing that happens). My entire conceptualization of reality was different back then. And so is that of Mr. McKeever and his intended audience.
Atheists Are So Meeeeeean to TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (Like Him).
Mr. McKeever brings up a strawman right away by claiming that “humanistic evangelists and atheistic peddlers are sure that we mindless theists have never considered the superior evidence for the positions they hold.” He’s wrong about every assertion made in his entire smear job, but it’s interesting to note why he’s wrong here.
When I look across the field of atheists and Christians, one of those two groups does indeed constantly trot out talking point after talking point against the other, convinced that if they can just make their counterparts see what they imagine to be all this “superior evidence for the positions they hold,” then the other group will immediately “renounce” its stance and join them. One of those groups does indeed have a reputation for viewing the other as its personal mission field and for holding its members in total contempt–yet clearly desiring those others to get into line with them. One of those groups does indeed have a plethora of evangelists and peddlers who constantly interrupt and bother their sales targets to try to sell their worldview. And one of those groups does indeed tend not to consider the evidence for the other side’s position–ignoring it, negating it with pseudoscience, and generally shouting it down when all else fails.
That group is not atheists.
Not by a longshot.
Nor would I ever characterize Christians as “mindless theists,” as he claims. I sure wasn’t a mindless theist as a Christian, and I know there are some very smart people in Christianity. Are there some real dicks in atheism who’d say such a thing about Christians? Sure, just like there are some real dicks in Christianity who constantly smear and insult atheists (and some of ’em even get blog platforms on Crosswalk.com from which to spew their bile!). But the dicks in atheism tend to be a minority; most of them just want to be left alone by Christians and are happy to live and let live. This fundagelical is trying to paint atheists as extra-mean, but that’s neither credible proof that his god exists, nor an explanation for why he doesn’t believe in atheism. So far, he appears to realize that atheists–and therefore atheism–exist just fine.
I’m left to conjecture that Mr. McKeever doesn’t “believe in atheism” because he thinks atheists are totally mean to him. That’s not much of a good reason to make such a declaration. At least I realize that my own refusal to acknowledge the existence of the awful Conan reboot isn’t terribly mature, and of course I know that it really does actually exist even if I don’t like it and don’t want to admit it to the Conan-verse. But then again, he thinks that atheists only say they don’t believe in his god because they’re mad at him, so I’m not all that surprised. Emotions determine whether or not something exists, in the Christian bubble.
Or is he just suffering a bit of mission drift? (Mr. McKeever, not Conan, though now that I think of it, sure, yeah, okay, Conan too, dammit.)
Of Course He Used to Be an Atheist. Didn’t They All?Despite not believing in atheism, Mr. McKeever then writes that he dabbled in atheism as a college student 50+ years ago. Funny how he doesn’t believe in atheism but claims the oh-so-ultra-trendy background for fundagelicals nowadays, isn’t it? Seems like we can’t throw a rock without hitting a Christian who “totally used to be an atheist too, man, so I totally know where you’re coming from.” He doesn’t try to claim he was a particularly knowledgeable atheist, which is refreshing, but claims that he “read some of the stuff” and “talked to a few of the people,” “thought about the ramifications of it all, and made my choice to take my stand with believers.” And he’s “never regretted it.”
Aww, ain’t he special.
The unfortunate part (for him) is that belief isn’t actually a choice. Nobody can “choose” to believe or disbelieve. Belief sprouts when someone perceives what they think is evidence for a particular claim. It withers when they realize that they don’t have any evidence for that claim. The only people who really talk about belief being a “choice” are, well, Christians like Mr. McKeever, and that’s because it lets them mount their moral high horse and trample underfoot everyone who didn’t make that same oh-so-evolved “choice” that they did.
If Christians can characterize belief as a choice, even though it isn’t, then they can demonize and blame everyone who makes the wrong “choice,” and gloat about the punishment those people will get for having made the wrong one. It’s the same reason they characterize sexual orientation as a choice that is willfully made by recalcitrant, rebellious gay and bisexual people, as well as why they push that idea as hard as they do: because if Christians persecute a group of people for something they have no control over, that makes them the assholes in that equation. And they know it. You’ll notice that these same bigots-for-Jesus made the correct “choice” once again there by “choosing” to be straight.
As to Mr. McKeever’s self-education about atheism, we don’t know what “some of the stuff” he read was. We don’t know who he talked to of “a few of the people” in atheism (and it’s quite unlikely he knew that many atheists in Birmingham in the late 1950s, especially not during the Red Scare!). We don’t know what he thinks “the ramifications of it all” was (though this sounds a lot like an argument from consequences, where someone tries to prove a claim by threatening how awful things would be if the claim weren’t true; as you can guess, it’s always been a favorite of Christians). And we don’t know what he means by this “choice to take my stand with believers.” All we do know is that he’s noticed that claiming atheism in one’s testimony is incredibly trendy nowadays, just like 20 years ago the trendy kids in the Christian lunchroom were all claiming to be ex-Wiccan Satanists. Now he positions himself as an authority on atheists by dint of this knowledge he claims he acquired half a century ago in a tiny town from unknown sources and provenance.
The credibility isn’t very strong in this one.
But then, Christianity is full of “experts” who aren’t really very expert.
Mr. McKeever sounds like he was a typical ultra-sheltered fundagelical kid from a tiny, insular Southern town. He even describes himself as an “Alabama farm boy” later on in the post. He went straight from that tiny town to a college in a particularly conservative and religious part of the Deep South. Whatever he learned about atheism, it seems safe to say he either didn’t retain much of it or else didn’t learn anything accurate.
It’s funny how often that happens with Christians.
So Exactly What Did He Learn About Atheism?
Mr. McKeever’s youthful dabbling 50 years ago taught him to regard atheism exactly and precisely as his denomination views atheism. The accusations flung by this supposed authority on atheism sound exactly the same as the ones flung by people in his tribe who know absolutely nothing about atheism except what their pastors have told them. The talking points he uses to dismiss atheists and insult them are exactly the ones that his tribe’s leaders teach and preach.
As Neil’s pointed out, nothing Mr. McKeever is saying sounds like anything I’ve ever heard an actual current atheist say. Though one couldn’t say much about atheists that is consistently true for the lot of ’em beyond that they don’t believe in any gods, Christians consistently talk about them in exactly the same ways over and over again. If you think that this atheist whisperer will say anything different about them, then I’m sorry to tell you to brace for disappointment!
So for someone who claims he’s read a few atheist books and talked to a few atheists, which is a few more than anyone in his target audience is likely to have accomplished, this Christian seems to know absolutely nothing more about atheism than that audience does.
Further, as we read the post itself and get into his big reasons for “not believing in atheism,” which is coming up next because I want to do full justice to it, we’ll discover that what he’s really written is a rehash of the oldest, most tired apologetics talking points his denomination believes. He’s neither providing evidence for his god nor talking about his non-belief in “atheism.” Instead, he’s just slamming atheists with all the force that his SBC indoctrination can muster–which is considerable, given that they currently view atheism as one of their “most dangerous” enemies. But this kind of mission drift is to be expected among fundagelicals; they can’t keep their focus on any one thing for too long where their enemies are concerned. Atheists get ’em all carbonated!
The worst part is, nothing he says is actually a compelling reason to turn one’s eyes away from the serious shortcomings of his religion’s ideology and dogma. All the slamming in the world of atheism won’t stop a loss of belief if a onetime believer makes one too many mental connections about Christianity’s supernatural claims. I suspect he’s talking about atheists the way he does because he wants to vaccinate his audience against the arguments they are increasingly encountering, in the same way that one often finds Creationists “educating” young people about their mistaken ideas of what evolution involves in order to give those kids the right talking points to parrot when they accidentally encounter real science anywhere. A good talking point can stop unapproved and off-limits thoughts–for a while, and for many people.
Actually, I was wrong. That was just the second worst part.
Here’s the worst:
The only reason his denomination sees atheism as a dread enemy is that the Christian overreach committed by his tribemates has caused a pushback effect among those who would rather not live in a theocracy. If he and his particular gang of abusers, cutthroats, liars, deceivers, and willfully-ignorant, big-ole-Jesus-smilin’-bigots, racists, and misogynists would just leave everyone else alone, there’d be no reason to push back against their overreach and they could just keep merrily wafting through their bubble unfettered by all the troublesome questions and criticism raised by the people they, themselves, have chosen to fight as a way of marking themselves as a distinct tribe.
But they can’t turn away from their various culture wars, not now, not for a variety of reasons.
So what is it that this particular failed ambassador of the Lord of Love and Prince of Peace has to say about his religion’s chosen dread enemies?
We’ll find that out next time. See you then!
I found this picture online and wanted to share it.
Quick note about the title: I was going to call it “The Blind Are Leading the Blind Again,” but I want to get away from ableist terminology like that. It’s from Matthew 15:14: “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”