Last time we met, we checked out a post by a Southern Baptist minister, Joe McKeever, about why he doesn’t believe in atheism. We noticed immediately that he’s one of those belligerent, chest-thumping, tribal sorts of Christian, but more importantly we discovered that despite his positioning of himself as some kind of authority on atheists and atheism generally, he knows absolutely nothing about either topic except what his denomination’s leaders teach and preach about them.
Not that his ignorance has stopped him from forming all sorts of categorically and demonstrably false opinions about the topics, or kept him from indoctrinating other Christians with his false teachings that interfere with their Great Command to love their neighbors and all that other boring stuff fundagelicals hate doing.* Indeed, as we’ll see, this particular fundagelical’s demeanor toward atheists is fractious, dishonest, hateful, spiteful, and downright nasty.
Today we’ll finish our examination of his post by taking up his actual arguments and considering each one in turn–and reveal why those arguments don’t fly outside of his willfully-ignorant, intentionally-insular fundagelical bubble.
Dat Bait and Switch Tho.
So far, I don’t think any of us are really very impressed with Joe McKeever’s post. Though he claims he’s going to be talking about why he doesn’t believe in atheism itself, he sure seems to understand that atheism exists and is a thing–and he clearly despises it with all his heart. I suspect what he’s actually doing is riffing off of the ever-popular bumper-sticker talking-point beloved of the Religious Right: “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist,” which he’ll actually explicitly parrot later on down the line here. He doesn’t ever once actually provide any reason to think that atheism doesn’t exist.
What he’s actually trying to offer are arguments that he believes (mistakenly, as it happens–and it seems like I must put this parenthetical note into a lot of stuff Christians say, hmm?) demolish atheism and provide a sound reason for rejecting it in favor of Christianity.
The Big Problem With His Approach.
His job, as a Christian, isn’t to demolish atheism. Atheism is what’s called “the null position.” It’s the one that evaluates claims. Atheism is like “zero” to the numbers, or “abstinence” to the list of sex positions. It’s the central position on the stick shift, the “off” position on the thermostat. It’s the one that waits and sees. Joe McKeever can’t demolish atheism any more than he can demolish the number zero. There has to be a zero, just like there has to be abstinence at some point. There has to be a position that waits and sees, that evaluates and considers. Atheism is that position. It is the position of having no position.
I realize that the trendy thing in his denomination is to think of atheism as a religion just like his own, but that’s just another dishonest representation his tribe makes. I’ve never once heard an atheist talk about it like that. It’s the absence of belief, not a different kind of belief. That idea might fly in the face of Christians’ (mistaken) certainty that Everybody believes something, so atheists believe in, well, Darwinism. Or Science. Or Atheism itself. Or Richard Dawkins. Something. But their certainty is based on false teachings. That’s not any atheists’ problem. It’s Mr. McKeever’s problem and that of his denomination and its adherents, because as long as they hew to that party line, they are never, ever, ever going to get anywhere with the people they say they want to reach.
Instead, Joe McKeever’s job, as a Christian, is to sell his worldview to other people by demonstrating that it is a credible worldview that makes credible claims. Well, really, his job is really first and foremost to love other people, but Southern Baptists aren’t the only group of Christians who ignore the Great Command in favor of the Great Commission to convert everyone in sight. As I discuss in “The Great Omission,” the Bible verses covering the Great Commission are generally thought by Bible scholars to be much later additions to the Gospels. But the Command isn’t nearly as fun to follow.
Whatever one thinks of the Gospels in question, the command to love has, as far as I know, always been there, and the Bible spends considerable time outlining exactly how that love is supposed to work and how Christians are to show it to their neighbors–especially to those outside the tribe. So when Christians like Joe McKeever take it upon themselves to smear, demonize, and insult an entire group that his denomination has decided it hates and must oppose at all costs, their behavior stands out in glaring contrast to what other people think of as loving behavior.
So let’s understand here that though the title of his piece is “Why I Don’t Believe in Atheism,” what he’s actually doing is offering up his (and his denomination’s) seven best arguments against what they believe is atheism.
Seven Totally True and Absolutely Compelling Arguments Against Atheism.
1. He thinks atheists are “a pretty miserable lot,” while Christians are the opposite: “put-together, positive, and effective.”
Let’s just ignore that Christians often pretend to be that way because they are 24/7 salespeople and if they act like they really feel, they won’t make as many sales, because Mr. McKeever sure is. It seems strange that so many “put-together, positive, and effective” people seem to be the most concentrated in the worst, most dysfunctional parts of America. But as we discussed last time, he’s using these terms, rather than “happy” and “unhappy,” for a reason. He never defines “miserable,” which I’m sure is because his audience of fellow Christians already think they know what that means. Even when an atheist seems by all outward appearances to be happy, or as Mr. McKeever puts it “put-together, positive, and effective,” Christians like these just relabel that person secretly miserable. “The product of atheism” is not only inaccurate, but it’s not an argument against atheism or for his god’s existence; it’s simply an argument from consequences: “Don’t lose your belief, because ooh, look how awful atheists are!”
I’ll also mention briefly here that Christians have the bad habit of doing stuff that deliberately offends non-believers, then using those non-believers’ reactions as some kind of evidence that they’re angry, bitter, unhappy people. If someone stepped on his foot repeatedly on purpose, I bet Joe McKeever wouldn’t be super-thrilled with it either. It’s not loving to harass, abuse, and persecute others, and then use their reactions against them.
2. Atheists totally have faith in evolution just like Christians have in Creationism.
No, really. He goes there. He even references Ray Comfort’s ridiculous book about not having “enough faith to be an atheist.” It’s hilarious. That’s such an old canard that its children are out buying beer for themselves legally tonight. It’s impossible to think that he talked to very many atheists if he thinks that they have “faith” in science–or in his mistaken understanding of evolution (they often confuse it with theories about the origins of the universe itself). He’s twisting the word “faith” here in a very dishonest way, using it in one way to describe his religious faith but in another way to describe the trust that science-embracers (who include Christians, though he probably thinks they’re not TRUE CHRISTIANS™) put into the long-held and long-established verified findings produced by the scientific method, but his audience won’t care because he’s feeding their own indoctrination with this pandering. This tactic is called “equivocation,” and it’s something Christians love to do. He thinks he’s lending legitimacy to his religious claims by saying “No, look, see? We both believe some goofy shit! But mine is easier for me personally to believe and makes me feel better, so it’s superior!”
It’s okay not to understand science or to have the faintest idea what we’ve discovered about the universe, but it’d be better if he learned about it rather than railed about stuff he doesn’t understand.
3. Christianity has lasted a long time and has amassed a lot of pseudoscience to “prove” its claims.
Now we step along to a quick argument from antiquity because that’s fun, along with an insistence that there’s all this real evidence for Christianity’s claims. His audience lives and moves through a world where Christian pseudoscience is taken as the real thing, so it might be hard for them to understand that anybody who’s ever had more than a half-assed education in the subject knows that all that stuff they’ve gathered to halfway kinda sorta prove their claim (if you ignore a bunch of real science) isn’t compelling at all. Most ex-Christians began their journey clean out of the religion by doing exactly what he says his religion has survived easily: examining the Bible and comparing it to reality. And not to put too fine a point on it, but if his religion is so capable of surviving scrutiny, then maybe he can explain why it’s falling apart at the seams right now.It’s amazing to me that in one post, Mr. McKeever both totally dismisses the sum total of human understanding about science and then leaps onto it to try to demonstrate his claims. Which is it? Does it “require” faith to believe in his god and his religion’s myths, or is there proof of it?
4. Pascal’s Wager is totally compelling! Why can’t atheists understand that?
I’m not being snarky. He actually asks, “What about that can they not see?” Of course, the answer to his plaintive little question is quite easily found with a 10-second online search, but it’s easier to pretend that atheists are just being dense. Because we encounter it so often, most of us have debunked this tired argument six ways from Sunday. To put it briefly, here’s what about the Wager that many non-Christians can’t see: There’s no evidence whatsoever that anything Christians claim about the supernatural is true, so we have to put their claims on the same shelf as every other religion’s claims. The choice isn’t just between Christianity and atheism. There have been thousands of religions in our world since the dawn of recorded history, and probably many before that. The Wager demands that we take into account only two worldviews. And given the general toxicity of Christianity and its hugely negative impact on society, I’m certainly not going to endure the crushing cost of being Christian if I don’t believe in it.
Further, I’d remind Mr. McKeever that even if I wanted to become Christian to avoid the threat of eternal physical torture at the hands of his “loving” god, I don’t think his god would be fooled. I can’t conjure belief out of nothing. And then we’d have to get into the question of why this “loving” god, whose primary command involves loving one’s neighbor, must be sold to the masses with threats at all. I don’t respond to threats, and I don’t negotiate with terrorists.
What about it can I not see? I can’t see why I ought to buy into his sickening and grotesque threats that he can’t prove are valid but claims are issued by a god that he can’t demonstrate even exists, to follow a religion I think is one of the worst expressions of bigotry, racism, and xenophobia ever devised. What I can’t see is why he’s so smug about following such an ideology. Of course he likes that “old line of reasoning.” It confirms his beliefs, so he doesn’t even wonder how valid it is as an argument. But I care about the truth, and if he thinks these threats are a good reason to consider his religion, well, that tells me what I need to know about his own level of care for the truth.
5. Atheists don’t do charity while Christians do blah blah blah.
We covered this already but I’ll sum it up here. First, most charities happen to be run by Christians, though the ones run by non-Christians are quickly gaining ground. Second, most of that generosity is actually just tithes, which go almost entirely to the church itself. I don’t see many atheists suggesting giant statues of their idols along the road when there are hungry people in the world to feed. But Christians think nothing of spending millions on such ridiculous frivolities. WWJD? Apparently he’d say “Let them eat communion wafers!” This entire claim is a non sequitur, meaning that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth of Christianity’s supernatural claims any more than it has to do with atheism itself. It’s meant to distract and make Christians feel more smug about their supposed superiority.
6. Look at all these miracles!
Unfortunately, he’s using circular reasoning here. He’s talking about a bunch of Bible verses as if they were true, but he never demonstrates that the Bible is true. What source is making this claim? The Bible. And how do we know the Bible is telling the truth? Because it’s the Bible! Um, no. Come talk to me about its myths when they’re corroborated in contemporary writings. And “contemporary” means “written at the same time,” not 60 years after the fact, before Christians get all excited. I’d also point out that there has never been a confirmed miracle, ever, in the history of forever. Every time we investigate one, it turns out to be bogus and a swindle by a conjob (or an honest but misguided delusion). Every religion has its miracle claims, but not one has turned out to be a real miracle, not that that’s a bad thing for humanity! All he’s demonstrated here is his gullibility.
7. Anecdotes ARE TOO evidence!
He thinks that Christians’ testimonies are very powerful, but they really aren’t. Memory is unreliable, and Christians have been taught too thoroughly to “sell” their religious claims by use of clever testimonies to ever be trusted to relay their little sales pitches accurately or honestly. So this isn’t evidence for Christianity’s claims either. Even totally honestly-related anecdotes aren’t evidence, unfortunately for him. I sure hope none of his audience members are pinning their eternal hopes on any of these sales pitches.
A Mini-Sermon to End With, And More Claims.
Not having been contented with offering all these talking points, he ends with a little sermon. You can tell he’s done a little time in front of a church lectern! Naturally, he also makes some more claims.
“The fact is we need God.”
Citation needed. Actually, lots of people are doing fine without his god. Millions, in fact. It’s dishonest of him to call this opinion a “fact,” when it is nothing of the sort. He goes on to describe what he thinks he needs from his god, but none of it adds up to any evidence that his god exists. Interestingly, he describes himself as “miserable” near the end of that list, which is weird given that that’s how he described atheists at the beginning with such contempt.
He can declare that his opinions are facts all he wants, but that doesn’t make them so. This is an assertion without any evidence at all, not that his audience will care.
God is his sugar daddy.
He ends by smugly asserting that his god has “done far too much for me to be so ungrateful.” But if this god doesn’t exist, then he hasn’t done anything for anybody because he can’t. It does seem that Mr. McKeever is a Christian because of what he thinks he’s getting out of it (and escaping because of it), but I’m not surprised; prosperity gospel whispers and trickles all through his denomination’s underpinnings. He implies that atheists are “ungrateful,” too, but insulting people isn’t actually evidence for his claims. Nor are threats, though they clearly worked on him.
He also mentions that his belief stops him from being so self-centered and helps him grow as a person. I’d say that this childish display of religious narcissism has amply demonstrated that whatever he thinks is magically stopping him from being that way, isn’t working.
I’m Just Curious.
With so many atheists in the world now, why couldn’t Mr. McKeever find one to talk to before writing that post, before deceiving tons of his fellow Christians by shooting off his mouth about stuff he doesn’t understand and revealing his own ignorance and hateful spirit?
I mean, they aren’t that hard to find. And he even claims he dabbled in it himself, but what he’s written here doesn’t display the faintest amount of accuracy. All he’s got are his denomination’s talking points. No wonder his group hates atheists like they do, if that’s what they really think.
And does he realize that atheists are going to see how he talks about them and know how he really feels? Who’s going to read this post who isn’t already in his tribe and think “Wow, those are really loving, wonderful people who love their neighbors, go the second mile, and turn the other cheek! I should totally check out their religion because they totally walk their talk!”
Do Christians like this guy not realize that this thing is on and we can hear him?
Speaking of questions, we’re going to be tackling the question of happiness next–see you then!
* The Bible talks about false teachers who “cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” by advising that Christians “avoid them”. But who expects a Southern Baptist to care about what the Bible says?