Recently, a reader reached out to me for a one-on-one exchange on social media. He wished to convince me all the God stuff I believe was false superstition. We engaged in a very civil conversation as to why I, a practicing Catholic, ought to abandon my current belief system for his atheistic one. He asked me the basic questions as to why I believe God exists, and I answered him. As the conversation continued, he remarked that he intended to show me the lies and deceptions professional apologists used to “fool” me. In fact, he asserted that the argument I gave for the existence of God was a “trick” used to manipulate me. Furthermore, as a “very caring” atheist, my new dialogue partner sought to save me from continued manipulation.
When pressed as to why he believes such things, he listed three main reasons:
- An altruistic desire to free people from theistic deception.
- A desire to live in a more rational society.
- And, related to #1, save people from authoritarians who use “gods” as an excuse for power, influence, and the accumulation of wealth.
Now, while I appreciate the sentiments, the reasons behind them seem flawed, as they originate from an unnecessary hermeneutic of theist suspicion (HTS).
In this article, I address each reason for HTS and show why such an approach need not apply to most theists. In fact, when it comes to Christian theists, care and concern for others resides at the center of evangelization.
An Altruistic Desire to Free Others from Theistic Deception
On the surface, the desire to free others from deception seems truly altruistic. The person freeing others appears to gain nothing, except the peace of mind knowing they rescued yet another from deception and trickery. However, the savior in this “altruistic” scenario assumes that theists cannot identify deception or trickery. Theists simply do not possess the mental compacity to recognize obvious deceptions without assistance from altruistic atheists. In other words, theists are dupes.
Now imagine if I, as a theist, approached all my interactions with non-theists in the same way? Not as fellow seekers of truth and honest dialogue partners doing their best with the current information at hand, but as dupes. Furthermore, I wager no matter how much I try to convince them that I am on their side, they would accurately see my alleged altruism as offensive.
Why not assume the best in those we disagree with, at least initially. Let them prove themselves ungracious and not interested in truth. Let’s not assume that our opponents lack understanding and the ability to think rationally because they disagree with us.
A Desire to Live in a More Rational Society
As equally insulting is the notion that theists make a society less “rational” on account of their theism. What of all the theists who shaped our understanding of the universe? What of those who enhanced our appreciation of the written word, of art, of music? We owe our intellectual theistic forbearers a debt of gratitude, not insults to their legacy and those that follow in their footsteps. Click here for list of Christian Nobel laureates. And click here for a list of Christians that influenced science and technology. Moreover, click on this list for all Catholic clergy/scientists. Finally, click here for lay Catholic scientists.
The influence of the people on those lists, theists all, persists to this day. Some atheists may scoff and claim that theism had very little to do with their accomplishments. Absurd. Their accomplishments give credence to their theism. Therefore, an HTS need not apply here.
Rescuing People from Authoritarians Who Use “Gods” as an Excuse for Power, Influence, the Accumulation of Wealth
The final and most crucial (and telling) manipulation my new atheist dialogue partner sought to rescue me from are authoritarians who use “god” as an excuse for power, influence, and the accumulation of wealth. In short, the Church uses my belief in God to tell me how to live, vote, and spend my money. Belief in God, according to him, also teaches some theists to hate “gays” and some of the “crazier” theists also despise “the Science.” Theists (like me) give up their individual rational autonomy and replace it with an irrational, imaginary “father figure” to give them black and white answers to complex questions.
Of all the reasons given for wanting to “save me,” this one rings the truest, not so much for us theists, but for the atheist critics themselves. Furthermore, if I were to apply the same level of contempt for theists as my new atheist dialogue partner, I’d venture that the reason for such aversion to theism stems from hedonistic desires than an actual understanding of theism and theists. My new atheist dialogue partner simply wants to live however he wants to live and does not want some “god” or anyone claiming to speak for “god,” to tell him what to do.
His desire for my rescue really comes down to a validation of his worldview, not my wellbeing.
Of course, I do not hold such contempt for my new atheist dialogue partner. I will continue to appeal to atheists and other non-theists to resist a hermeneutic of theistic suspicion. I promise to continue to do my best to likewise resist a hermeneutic of atheistic suspicion.
Finally, speaking as a Catholic Christian, I hold no desire to tell people how to live their lives. I do desire to share with others the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to share with them that God loves them and wants the best for their lives. God saved my life. He provides me with hope and a purpose. My faith, in no way, reflects the “authoritarianism” my dialogue partner envisions theists fall under in surrendering their autonomy.
I wish for all people to experience God’s love because I care.
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