The Christian and the Atheist Should Be Friends

The Christian and the Atheist Should Be Friends March 26, 2019

A couple weeks ago, a Christian friend and I did something some other Christians might find unusual: We spent an hour and a half mostly agreeing with an atheist.

My friend was Neil Shenvi, the atheist was James Lindsay, the context was Justin Brierley’s show Unbelievable? and the topic was the religious character of critical theory and identity politics. Some readers might recognize James’s name from the Sokal-squared sting he executed in collaboration with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, exposing the academic farce that is grievance studies with a series of critically acclaimed (and completely fake) papers. James has been spending most of his life on Twitter ever since but graciously carved out some time to discuss his big thesis: Social justice is the new religion.

He unpacks this thesis together with co-author and filmmaker Mike Nayna in an essay at Areo here. This formed the focal point of our dialogue. Lindsay makes the case that critical theory has developed its own holy writ, moral code, rituals, rewards and punishments. As an atheist, he is alarmed. He thought the Enlightenment had killed religion dead—or at least, the large-scale embrace thereof by rational societies. But with the entrenchment of post-modernism in the universities, seven more demons have rushed into religion’s empty chapel, to establish something far worse.

During the show, Justin rolled a clip from Nayna’s Netflix-quality documentary on the fall of Evergreen State College. Evergreen was formerly home to evolutionary biology professors Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying, before an anarchic mob of student grievance warriors set off a chain of events ending in their resignation and exile from the academy. Part 1 and Part 2 of the documentary are free to watch on YouTube. They are chilling, essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand the rot setting in from the top down at our institutions of higher learning. In the clip we listened to together, Weinstein tries to make his voice heard above the din, only to be drowned out by the self-consciously Jackson-esque chant “Hey hey, ho ho! Bret Weinstein’s got to go!”

Perhaps even more chilling are the quieter moments from meetings behind closed doors, where students and faculty one by one stand up to renounce their white privilege (and all its works). In one ritual, while a man bangs a drum, they line up as if to board a make-believe “canoe.” They are only “allowed” to board if they reaffirm their white guilt and their commitment to equity, whatever the means and whatever the cost.

Another moment that I can’t shake: In more shaky-cam footage of the Evergreen takeover itself, the white president of the college walks back and forth in front of a room overrun with young anarchists. When he gestures with his hands, voices call out saying he isn’t allowed to point while speaking. He meekly complies to uproarious laughter.

Lindsay himself appears in the documentary along with his Sokal-squared colleagues, interviewing Weinstein and Heying over coffee and pie. Weinstein recalls for them an especially surreal back-room exchange with other faculty and equity activists, where he asked for evidence that the campus was rife with white supremacy as claimed. He was told that to ask such a question was itself an act of white supremacy. He remembers straightening up in his chair and asking, “Are you talking to me?” His interlocutor locked eyes with him: “Yes.” Another said this was not the place for Weinstein to defend himself against accusations of white supremacy. “Fine,” he said. “Then where is that place?” Answer: “You do not get to ask for such a place.”

Neil and I had hopes for a four-way conversation that would have brought in Lindsay’s colleague Peter Boghossian as well. But Boghossian couldn’t spare the time. Understandably so, now that his own position at Portland University is in danger due to his role in Sokal-squared. The charges are blatantly trumped up. Nobody is fooled.

I wish we could have talked to Boghossian though, because his arc is instructive for the purposes of understanding our cultural moment. In the course of the show, Justin Brierley put his finger on the irony that as of a few years ago, Peter’s Manual for Creating Atheists was keeping the New Atheism candle burning, Dawkinsianly dismissing religious faith as a mental illness and offering practical tips for how rational people could take atheistic thinking to the streets. To be blunt, I found the book lacking in substance, more than a little distasteful, and more than a little disingenuous. I say that knowing Boghossian himself may come across this article, but I suspect after what he’s been subjected to this past year, he will scarcely notice the sting.

For today, Boghossian finds himself waging a different war, one in which he has discovered an unexpected alliance with Christians. Even vocal opponents of his “Street Epistemology” like Tim McGrew have offered their good wishes and encouragement. (McGrew and Boghossian debated on Unbelievable? in 2014). His Twitter followers include not just atheists, but names like biblical scholar Peter Williams, evangelical faith and culture writer Nancy Pearcey, and Catholic philosopher Francis Beckwith.

Something has shifted in the dialogue between atheists and people of faith. The more James and Neil and I talked, the more we felt it: In our brave new cultural landscape, this is no longer about faith versus no faith. It is about good faith versus bad faith.

We’re not the only ones. One summer recently, a friend of mine crossed professional paths with British journalist and “Intellectual Dark Web” thinker Douglas Murray. While religion-sympathetic in a cultural sense, Murray still takes some of his cues on how to think about religion from the New Atheists in whose circles he still moves. When visiting the states, he allows Matt Dillahunty to give him the run-down of “Christianity in America” and laughs along, assuming that Matt knows what he’s talking about. As a gay man, Murray has also vocally opposed the Christian view of marriage and sexuality, citing it as a key factor in his own de-conversion. Based on specs alone, it might appear to someone taking a shallow survey of our cultural moment that he might not have much to talk about with my friend, a devoutly conservative, biblically faithful Christian. But in fact, they got along swimmingly, because they were united on the same thing that unites me and Neil Shenvi with James Lindsay: the recognition of that common enemy which would make it impossible even to have open, reasoned disagreement.

As Christians, Neil and I would love to find commonality with other people who profess a commitment to Christ and His word. But increasingly, we have found ourselves drifting apart from other members of the Church—even wings of the Church that are considered more conservative than average. A crack has opened up, and it is widening by the day. It has been created by the substitute gospel of critical theory, encoded in the jargon of “social justice.” One day, we watch Mike Nayna’s documentation of Evergreen’s fall. The next, we open up key evangelical Twitter feeds and start reading. And we see that the same patterns are there, albeit more subtly manifested: the emotional manipulation; the loaded questions; the vision of the anointed.

“Was a wrong committed?” asks one prominent pastor recently, speaking about reparations. “Is it right to address the wrong?”

Or here, a Twitter discussion prompt about formative books prompts Beth Moore to say something is deeply, disturbingly wrong with a Christian whose bookshelf is insufficiently diverse. Another pastor joins in.

Or there was this music video for a worship song, shot with an all-white cast—the only ones who showed up for its open casting call. It triggered a Christian social media mob demanding abject apology. Writer Andrew Peterson gives it, but even this isn’t enough for some, who still demand he re-shoot the entire video.

Many more examples could be given, in many other contexts. Contexts where it is no longer possible to politely disagree and be on your way. Contexts where the slightest hint of a question about a confidently declared “solution” to a particular problem raises immediate suspicion that you must not care about the problem. You must be part of the problem. (For more of my thinking on this tyranny of empathy, see something I wrote shortly after the Kavanaugh drama—a case on which I take no position in the piece, but which provides a springboard for further reflection.)

People like Andrew Peterson are stumbling over tripwires: invisible booby traps that will bring you down while you thought you were just going about your life. Every day, it seems, there’s a new one. You thought you were safe, but you were wrong. You thought you were innocent, but you were wrong. You thought you knew the gospel, but you were wrong. Little did you know you were breaking a new set of commandments, written on a new set of stone tablets. Little did you know just how much of a sinner you were.

Can you wash out the damned spot? That depends. How long are you willing to grovel? How much guilt are you willing to admit? Put your hands up, and then we can talk. Or down. We’ll decide. We’re in charge now.

Some of the people laying down these new ground rules are our brothers and sisters in the faith. But we are forced to conclude, sorrowfully, that they are not in good faith.

We did, eventually, make our way to some points of disagreement with the details of James’s thesis. We shared the gospel, debated the strengths and weaknesses of secularism, and argued that the Christian religion can be rational. James himself generously conceded some of our points, particularly when we pointed to Christianity’s central message of redemption. Somehow, while they were founding their new religion, the diversity warriors left that part out. I wonder why.

We didn’t walk away from our conversation with all the same answers. But the point is that we had a conversationWe sought to understand each other. We sought to communicate in good faith. Such opportunities can no longer be taken for granted. Christians should seize them wherever they can still be found, even if our dialogue partners don’t look like we expect them to.

Reason has left the room. But those who are left should come and reason together.

The Christian and the atheist should be friends.

"Brennan Manning's brokenness and theology is akin to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's commentary on the need for ..."

The Unfortunate Legacy of Brennan Manning
"Really enjoyed your thoughts, and viewing Rich through the lens of passing time. If there ..."

20 Years, 20 Songs: A Rich ..."
"Beluga Bahis Yeni Giriş. Online bahis sitesi, Belugabahis yeni giriş adresinde sanal oyunların ve canlı ..."

Creationism is Bigger Than the Age ..."
"In the post-modern culture where authenticity is most valued, Evangelicals not only have the right ..."

A Place for Outrage Post-Obergefell

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • RonH

    That was a really good conversation, Esther. I enjoyed it.

    I’m all for being friendly… but in the case of atheists like Boghossian, I think suspicion is warranted. In his Manual for Creating Atheists, he says in chapter 9 (ominously named “Containment Protocols”):

    Faith is an unclassified cognitive illness disguised as a moral virtue. I want to add my voice to the growing number of people who argue that we must reconceptualize faith as a virus of the mind (Brodie, 1996), and
    treat faith like other epidemiological crises: contain and eradicate. Once religious delusions are integrated into the DSM, entirely new categories of research and treatment into the problem of faith can be created. These will include removal of existing ethical barriers, changing treatments covered by insurance, including faith-based special education programs in the schools, helping children who have been indoctrinated into a faith tradition, and legitimizing interventions designed to rid subjects of the faith affliction.

    Boghossian might be a co-belligerant against the grievance warrior establishment in academia right now, but do you have any reason to believe he wouldn’t treat you essentially the same way if he and those who agree with him were the ones in power? In the Manual, he calls for political and social action to contain and eradicate religious belief. He may be happy to use Christians to help him fight in a sphere in which he is currently outnumbered; but as far as academia is concerned, I suspect that he stands more to gain from that alliance than Christians do.

    Everybody worships. And all gods demand sacrifice. The only real questions are: who/what must be sacrificed, and is there any way of escape for the victim…

  • @EstherOReilly

    I agree with you. His book is full of unsavory passages like that. I would also be concerned if Boghossian had that kind of power. I also do think there’s an Orwellian quality to his attempted redefinition of “faith.” On matters of religion I’m not convinced that he’s an honest dialogue partner. But, I don’t foresee him ever having that power, fortunately. And I do appreciate his most recent work. Hopefully his attitude will shift as he learns more about who his friends are.

  • RonH

    Well, I admire your optimism and hope you are right!

    BTW, I’ve really enjoyed your writing on JBP. It got you added to my RSS reader (speaking of “fogey”…).

  • @EstherOReilly

    Thanks so much for reading!

  • The interrogations sound like China’s Cultural Revolution.

  • jekylldoc

    I think the point about Bad Faith was well made, but should have been expounded more. Specifically, if I am forced to choose between a religious framework that justifies evil power structures, whether Imperial Visigoths or lords of plantation slavery, or those that demand a renunciation of white privilege, I will take the second. But neither one is True Religion (and I don’t honestly care if someone thinks I am falling for the No True Scotsman fallacy) and thankfully there is such a thing as morality done in good faith.

    The thing is, I am never comfortable with just denunciation. Maybe because I grew up with Log and Beam in the Eye analysis.

  • Dan Dupree

    “Everybody worships. And all gods demand sacrifice”
    Did that blow out of your anus as a noxious gassy expulsion or was it carried out one letter at a time by flying monkeys?

  • @EstherOReilly

    Very much so.

  • jekylldoc

    “Everybody worships. And all gods demand sacrifice.” You should read some of what Rene Girard has to say about that proposition. He makes a reasonable case that what we refer to as sacrifice is normally the sacrifice of the weak, even if just an animal. But it is not true that all gods demand that sort of thing. Jesus put an end to “kill or be killed” rivalry in the religious conception.

  • RonH

    I’ve read some Girard, and I think I have a grasp on the gist of his thought. I don’t think his conception of the Atonement is entirely wrong. However, I think the idea that God doesn’t require sacrifice is pretty hard to justify from the Bible. God spends a lot of pages in the Old Testament telling the Israelites how to conduct proper sacrifices. Folks get in big trouble for not sacrificing properly. In the Gospels, it’s pretty clear that the sacrifice of Jesus was not unplanned or unintended. And in the Epistles, the notion of sacrifice is still present, although with an interesting twist. So, yeah, in Christianity God does require sacrifice, Girard notwithstanding.

    I know I’ve heard Jordan Peterson address the concept of sacrifice as a covenant with God (or the gods), and how it’s archetypal and appears in virtually all human mythology. I can’t lay my finger on it exactly now… Perhaps Esther has something at hand. But it seems to me that this is just self-evidently true, even in our modern world. People sacrifice others all the time to placate their gods of money, fame, sex, power, or what-have-you.

  • Jane Ravenswood

    It’s always most curious to see Christians attacking each other and insisting that only themselves have “good faith” and accusing those they don’t agree with of having “bad faith”. I am an atheist and, in my 50 years, no theist has evidence that they are any better or more believable than the rest.

  • jekylldoc

    I understood your point to be that “People sacrifice others all the time to placate their gods of money, fame, sex, power, or what-have-you.” My point, stolen from Girard and perhaps the book of Hebrews (which I dislike for its literalism) is that Jesus drained the poison from that wound. Sure, there was lots of sacrifice talk in the OT, including some in which God explicitly rejects the practice. But by turning the focus inward, by taking seriously the idea that God wants the law written on our hearts, Jesus called a halt to that kind of transactional thinking. Instead of God being seen as a special trick to use, a cheat for the game of life, he saw God as primarily a source of love, and therefore a source of meaning. Taking that road to its conclusion, he did not sacrifice any “thing” but emptied himself of self-seeking. Not as some kind of transaction (Anselm and the Calvinists notwithstanding) but as a full-on plunge into meaningful living.

  • Jack Wellman

    Totally concur with this. I have met the enemy, and he’s in the mirror, not those who do not believe, because by God’s grace, there go we. We are not better …we are just better off.

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    What happened at Evergreen is obviously an Alt-Right operation. It’s designed to make people look it up online, where they’ll find articles that say the obvious — that the people at Evergreen are crazy — and tie it in to right-wing propaganda.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    Everyone should be friends with everyone else. But reality isnt so simple.

  • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

    I think she meant “good faith/bad faith” as in “honest, genuine interaction/dishonest, inauthentic interaction”.

    That’s what the context seems to suggest anyway.

  • Emptied of self. A strange concept to me. It makes me think of the vast amount of things I’ve identified with/ physically / psychologically / spiritually … in the last years since retirement age/ downsizing I’ve taken a lot of things to the Goodwill or the Saint Vincent de Paul thrift stores!! It’s all going eventually!! Who will inherit this trash? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b40fc7e572f4a04947235c589f556ccbe7f094e92935b45cde8876372a998b05.jpg

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    Apparently they’ve never heard of Godel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem.

  • RonH

    Well, but he did sacrifice… He sacrificed himself. And he wasn’t doing it in a transactional way, but as the means through which God could reconcile the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19). And the sum of Paul’s argument in Romans climaxes in Rom 12:1 (which I linked earlier) where we are called to present ourselves as sacrifices as an act of worship. I’d have to get back into Girard, but I don’t recall him objecting to the notion of sacrifice so much as violent sacrifice.

    I’m probably just being pedantic… sorry! 😉

    You’re right though: the message of the Gospel is precisely that we don’t have to remain enslaved to the bloodthirsty gods many of us choose to worship. But they just promise so much

  • jekylldoc

    I certainly see the point. There are attitudes and actions in my life that I feel the same way about – shaking my head about what point I might ever have seen in them, even while I know that I will accumulate more of this trashiness when I am caught up, sometime in the future, with foolish preoccupations. The shelves and sheds of junk make a nice image for all that, But I have to keep forgiving myself, and having faith that I will be more mindful as time goes on.

  • You will!! You will!!
    Philippians chapter 1:
    6
    being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e3171274c5f1f5b86b9055e1c90ffa227365694f2b209dbf215a0903f32cc0ad.jpg

  • jekylldoc

    Sacrifice is a tricky concept. Both Peterson and Girard have broader, more reflective awareness of it than the Penal Substitutiary Atonement version most of us grew up with. Before hearing about Peterson I had been introduced to the notion that the sacrifice originated with a meal shared together to “sanctify” an agreement between chiefs. I don’t have much idea how it got changed into the abomination of Moloch worship (about which there seems to be some question) and/or Girard’s observation of near universal turning on criminals and other designated victims to deflect emotional intensity, but I have a feeling it was intertwined at least to some extent with the rise of imperial warfare.
    The Gethsemane scene makes clear that the Passion of Jesus was, in some sense, a demand from God. But as with atonement, there are different possibilities as to what was really going on, in the mind either of Jesus or the interpreters within the early church. I find myself repulsed by the idea that a bloodthirsty demand for bloodshed was behind it, as the author of Hebrews implies, with some sense of a penalty to be exacted.

    It makes more sense to me that a particularly harsh destiny followed for Jesus from his willingness to reorient Jewish theology by taking on the role of Messiah within the framework of Suffering Servant prophecy. I don’t think that was a “demand for sacrifice” in the sense that you were proposing, but was rather the same kind of demand implied when each of us is called to let go of our small, false self for the sake of the freedom to be our larger, more inclusive self. And our society has that understanding of “sacrifice” as well, as when we sacrifice pleasures to send a child to college.
    I would argue that Paul’s inspired rhetoric about a “living sacrifice” is in the same pattern, turning hearts toward peace by rejecting the angry, demanding gods and the violent versions of sacrifice.

  • Cult precedes culture so those who see value in Western civilisation cannot seek to defend it without acknowledging that something necessarily positive exists within Christianity in order for it to produce that thing which they value, ie Western culture and its artefacts. The New Atheist project sought to deny that proposition but then encountered attacks upon the civilisational norms which they valued from, in very different ways, the critical theory movement and radical Islam. It therefore perforce has to become either less snarky about Christianity or else abandon the Enlightenment values upon which it bases itself. This does open up something of a basis for dialogue between Christianity and this particular strain of criticism of it. On which subject the lecture that Pope Benedict XVI gave at Regensburg on Reason and its primacy seems like a good text from which to start.
    http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg.html

  • Jane Ravenswood

    well, if so, then how does one decide what is “genuine” and what is “inauthentic”? Theists constantly try to claim that their personal invented god and religion are the only “true” e.g. genuine and authentic ones, and they all fail since they cannot support their claims.

  • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

    Huh? We’re talking about conversation, not theology.

    You don’t know the difference between having an authentic, honest conversation with someone, and a dishonest, inauthentic one?

  • Jane Ravenswood

    nice attempt to cast aspersions, Comrade. Yes, I do know the difference. And I do know that Christians have quite an issue with claiming that those they don’t agree with aren’t “authentic”.

  • Comrade Carrot-Blog Vegetarian

    I’m not casting any aspersions. I’m just really confused by your train of thought and I’m trying to get a handle on it.

    All I’m saying is that I think the OP is advocating for the promotion of good faith conversation between atheists and Christians, rather than bad faith conversation. I think that’s how she was using those phrases. I don’t think she was trying to make value judgements about any person or class of people.

    Yes, I know full well how bad Christians can behave toward people they disagree with. I could tell you stories from my own experience which would turn your stomach. But, I’m saying that the OP is, at the very least, ADVOCATING for better interaction between the two.

  • Robert Conner

    Grievances?!? There are an estimated 40,000 Christian sects based on grievances. Nineteen centuries of schisms, internecine persecutions that have ripped societies apart, caused the religiously motivated murder and torture of countless people, pogroms, crusades, witch hunts, and you’re here to lecture the world about “grievances”?

    Academic corruption and cheapening of discourse? What’s more academically corrupt than a Bible college formed specifically to teach dispensationalism? What is more demeaning to the canons of evidence than Creationism? “New atheists” are hardly the only ones who are looking at Christianity/religion through the lens of psychiatry. In point of fact there happens to be a burgeoning literature on the psychopathology of religious delusion. You should check it out.

  • ilr1950

    Not as long as they keep howling at me that Im going to hell if I dont start believing in their make believe invisible friends

  • swbarnes2
  • Jane Ravenswood

    well, it seems to me that Christians want to claim that Christians who don’t agree with them have “bad faith”, both sides pointing at each other. With this said by the author “the recognition of that common enemy which would make it impossible even to have open, reasoned disagreement.” I think I’m correct in this. In that a Christian wants to talk to an atheist and apparently have them approve of one kind of Christianity over another, it seems rather silly. And when Christians must assume us atheists are damned to eternal torture, or deserve death, or ignore those parts of the bible, there’s not much reason to be friends with someone like that. They either want harm to come to us or they are dishonest enough to think that they can pick and choose their religion and have us not wonder why.

  • John Lombard

    I am a member of The Clergy Project (http://clergyproject.org/), a rather exclusive organization for people who used to be (or still are) in positions of religious leadership, but have rejected their faith and become atheists. I myself was once a missionary to China, evangelizing Chinese and building underground churches…today I am a Secular Humanist. But I’m not here to talk about that.

    I agree 100% with this article, and would like to add the ‘atheist’ perspective to this. First, I actually hate to be identified primarily as an atheist…Christians (or Muslims, or other religious groups) generally don’t identify themselves as ‘theist’, because that label is too general, it means ONLY that they believe in some sort of god or gods. But “Christian” defines which god you believe in…and “Baptist” helps clarify specifically what your Christian beliefs are.

    Same thing with us atheists. There are actually many different kinds and groups of atheists, all with very different beliefs. For example, an atheist could be both a Marxist, or a Secular Humanist…yet the beliefs are the two groups are diametrically opposed.

    That’s why I prefer to identify myself as a Secular Humanist. Which means I believe in values such as equality, human rights, democracy, etc. These are values that are shared in common with a great many religious people.

    One of my criticisms of the ‘atheist community’ is that by using that as their primary identification, they effectively cut themselves off from ANY potential cooperation with religious groups, even if they share common goals. To give one example — extreme African Christian groups who are torturing and even murdering children accused of witchcraft, or suspected of demonic possession. This is abhorrent, disgusting, and absolutely inexcusable!

    The thing is, most Christians that I know share my opinion…they are just as opposed to it, and just as disgusted by it, as I am! But if I seek to address it as part of an overtly ‘atheist’ organization, it is virtually impossible to work in partnership with any religious groups to address this problem. Whereas if I do it as a Secular Humanist, such cooperation becomes possible.

    I can hear some atheists screaming, “Why would we want religious people involved in the first place? Religion is the cause of the problem!”

    I’ll put that argument aside for the time being. I prefer to focus on pragmatic reality. And pragmatic reality is that I don’t care HOW we stop the suffering for those kids…the important thing is that it be stopped! And the vast majority of people in those communities are religious, with a deeply held belief in god…they are NOT going to be terribly predisposed to atheists telling them what to do.

    But Christians going in, and talking to them…THAT is something that they’d be much more likely to listen to.

    And that’s the thing. There are actually a lot of issues where my goals align perfectly with the goals of many religious people. On issues of opposing capital punishment. Of promoting equality. Of eliminating poverty. Of improving education. The list goes on and on and on.

    Perhaps, instead of identifying ourselves by what we disagree about — atheism vs. theism — we should look more at what we share in common with each other. I think that, like the author of this article, we’d find we actually have a great deal in common.

  • John Lombard

    I’m an atheist myself (ex-Christian, to be exact)…and I’d point out that this is not really a fair characterization.

    Yes, there are Christians who act like that. But there is actually quite a significant group of ‘liberal Christians’ who don’t do that at all…and who would be more than ready to engage in friendly discourse, and even cooperate.

    As an atheist, I find it ironic how many atheists complain about Christians making inaccurate generalizations about all atheists…but then we turn around, and do the exact same thing.

  • John Lombard

    RonH — A question for you. Let us assume that I accept your argument as valid (I don’t, but that’s a separate topic).

    Is it not ALSO true that many Christians seek EXACTLY the same thing? To force religious belief on everyone, regardless of whether they share that belief or not? For example, insisting that Creationism must be taught in science classes, despite the fact there’s nothing scientific about it (I’d have no problem teaching it as part of a religious class, but not science). I can point you towards a great many Christians with messages that are FAR more militant than Boghassian’s.

    My point? I have two. First, this happens on BOTH sides. And second, pretty much EVERYONE who believes sincerely in something, is going to seek to convince others of that. It hardly seems fair to complain that atheists seek to convince religious people not to believe…yet it is okay for religious people to seek to push their beliefs on others.

    I think that the FIRST step in dealing with such a situation is to do exactly what was done here — to sit down respectfully, WITHOUT seeking to force our particular beliefs on someone else, and instead look for where there are common issues that we can work on together. By doing that, perhaps those people who are more intolerant or aggressive in pushing their own beliefs, will gain a new more tolerant perspective.

  • RonH

    Hi, John…

    I think it is human nature to want to control the behavior of others, and that the more power one has, the stronger the temptation to exert that control. As both atheists and Christians are human, neither are free of this temptation. I think history makes this pretty undeniable. That is why I tend to prefer social and political systems that make it difficult for that kind of power to be amassed and deployed. Of course, the devil (or whatever) is in the details…

    I agree totally that in a pluralistic society, we should look for common issues and common ground. If I think slavery is wrong because all people are created in the image of God, and you think it’s wrong because of some secular humanist principle, we can both work together from our agreed-upon value to stop slavery (even if both of us regard the others‘ basis for that value as unjustified). I’m a big fan of irenic conversation.

    But not all ways of looking at disagreement are equal. If I think atheists are people whose life experiences and perspectives lead them to a different position than I have, so be it — my Christian perspective requires that I seek to find common ground. But if I think atheists are wicked, God-hating vermin, then I’m likely to take a more extreme approach. Based on what he wrote in his Manual, Peter Boghossian seems to prefer the more extreme approach. He speaks of religion as a disease to be contained and eradicated (his words!), and advocates for political and social action to bring about state policies bent on its eradication. He wants to have me classified as mentally ill. As such, I consider him a threat. He may be under attack now by forces also hostile to Christianity, but I think it would be foolish for Christians to consider him an ally. I know his perspective isn’t shared by all atheists, or possibly even most — I’ve never known an atheist personally who admitted such a view. But I think Christians need to be wary of thinking that Boghossian wouldn’t do to them what is being done to him, given a chance. I didn’t know how much Esther knew of his prior writing, so I thought I’d bring it up here. Sounds like she’s already quite well-informed. I’m not surprised.

    As for Christians being more militant than Boghossian… Well, if you can point me to a professor in a public university who is openly advocating for the containment and eradication of atheism as a public health threat, I’ll be happy to denounce him or her. I don’t like that talk coming from any metaphysical position. The day we start treating ideas as disease is the day we start down a very dark road.

  • ilr1950

    I live in Texas, I’m surrounded by fundamentalist religious fanatics, and yeah, its fair. And Im an ‘ex-xtian’ too – was raised to be a southern Baptist but for what ever reason, it did not take.

  • Turn away

    I think people like to believe their societies become more civilized over time. I think history proves civilizations collapse; likewise, I think history proves that both individuals and general populations do devolve into primitive and barbaric thinking and behaving.
    I agree with your perspective on the author’s point of view.
    I believe Western Civilization is devolving. In The Bible, Jesus Christ reveals a future, near the end of this age of man, when “the great falling away” occurs in nations and cultures that had previously been powerfully influenced by God, Jesus Christ, The Holy Spirit. I believe we are in this era of latter times times of this age.
    I have not idea what this author believes spiritually, religiously; or philosophically, but i agree with your POV on this story.
    It is sad and scary that it is happening, but Jesus said this will happen, and He said it will get ubitquitiously more dangerous.

  • Chorbais Dichault

    White people are evil and need to be stripped of all political power for the good of humanity. /sarc

  • RonH

    Hi, John… I tried replying earlier, but Disqus flagged it as spam for some reason. Trying again…

    I think it is human nature to want to control the behavior of others, and that the more power one has, the stronger the temptation to exert that control. As both atheists and Christians are human, neither are free of this temptation. I think history makes this pretty undeniable. And I agree totally that in a pluralistic society, we should look for common issues and common ground. I’m a big fan of irenic conversation.

    But not all ways of looking at disagreement are equal. If I think atheists are people whose life experiences and perspectives lead them to a different position than I have, so be it — my Christian perspective requires that I seek to find common ground. But if I think atheists are wicked, God-hating vermin, then I’m likely to take a more extreme approach. Based on what he wrote in his Manual, Peter Boghossian seems to prefer the more extreme approach. He speaks of religion as a disease to be contained and eradicated (his words!), and advocates for political and social action to bring about state policies bent on its eradication. He wants to have me classified as mentally ill. As such, I consider him a threat. He may be under attack now by forces also hostile to Christianity, but I think it would be foolish for Christians to consider him an ally. I know his perspective isn’t shared by all atheists, or possibly even most — I’ve never known an atheist personally who admitted such a view. But I think Christians need to be wary of thinking that Boghossian wouldn’t do to them what is being done to him, given a chance. I didn’t know how much Esther knew of his prior writing, so I thought I’d bring it up here. Sounds like she’s already quite well-informed. I’m not surprised.

    As for Christians being more militant than Boghossian… Well, if you can point me to a professor in a public university who is openly advocating for the containment and eradication of atheism as a public health threat, I’ll be happy to denounce him or her. I don’t like that talk coming from any metaphysical position. The day we start treating ideas as disease is the day we start down a very dark road.

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    I stand corrected. He learned it from Gandhi. Doesn’t change my main point.

  • Mr. James Parson

    How nice a friendly.

    How about you agree to never try to convert me ever again?

  • Gil Carroll

    And Gandhi and Thoreau ripped him off 🙂

  • blueberryjuice

    What if – conservative evangelical Christians recognized progressive evangelical Christians (remember “evangelical” means “good news” as family?

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    But is it actually Christianity that gave rise to Western civilization? Or is it Platonism?

    Anyway, the fight isn’t so much about the entire philosophy of Christianity, but specifically about Saving Grace. The doctrine of Saving Grace is directly opposed to Enlightenment values. And Christianity doesn’t need it, but nobody important has the guts to suggest removing it.

  • What Christianity did was, as it were, to democratise Platonism. That is, it took as its starting point that the Absolute was equally accessible to all (on the grounds that He had died for all) and therefore no Academy or secret gnosis or hidden mystery cult was necessary but simply the proclamation, to all, of the Gospel. And this is where we need saving grace. Super clever or super educated people can arrive at an apprehension of the Absolute through years of study or rigorous thought. Hewers of wood and drawers of water not so much. What they can arrive at is an intuitive insight into the great unchanging truths that lie at the root of the cosmos and in the centre of each human heart. And that insight is grace.

  • dave L

    Agreed, but it seems like your logic about fair characterizations also applies to this article, specifically, “But with the entrenchment of post-modernism in the universities, seven more demons have rushed into religion’s empty chapel, to establish something far worse.“. The example provided was Evergreen State College… and its whopping ~3500 students.

    Christians usually are able to identify the flaw in ‘Christians insist that God hates gays’ buttressed by the example of the Phelps family and the small number of hateful Christians who think that, so I’m not sure why we think the flawed ‘groups shall be known by a minority of their worst members’ ‘argument’ should be compelling here.

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    But that’s not how modern civilization was founded. On the contrary, it was the provisional and earthly truths that “hewers and drawers”, i.e., craftsmen, discovered through experimentation that provided the physical and mental structures by which the world gradually advanced to higher truth.

    And it was the moral responsibility between buyers and sellers of crafts that formed the basis of Western ethics. What mattered about Jesus was that he illustrated this, by being an honest carpenter who would rather die than join a corrupt bureaucracy.

    Furthermore, a society that considers it gracious for everyone to intuit the same thing, is not a democracy.

  • Everett Lunday

    Christian’s should be friend atheist. How else will the atheist be evangelized?

  • sg

    In real life, the Christian and atheist are friends. They do reason together. The average atheist or agnostic is not a militant anti theist. He just doesn’t believe. I have lots of very dear atheist friends and relatives. Some conservative some liberal, but none are vicious irrational sjw types. The are not rabid haters looking for the personal destruction of all those they hate. But the media want click bait, and Evergreen state is the sort of outrageous train wreck that draws gawkers.

  • sg

    The 20th century corpses of over 100 million lives lay as the grand testament to the anti human psychopathology of anti theism.

  • sg

    “The only real questions are: who/what must be sacrificed, and is there any way of escape for the victim…”

    This.

    It looks to me that this is really just tribalism. Rather than ethnic tribalism, it is a conflict among competing tribes of thought. It is a conflict rather than a problem to be solved. Our nation claims to embrace diversity, but the diverse tribes of thought continue to seek avenues to oppress their opponents by demanding acceding to certain propositions else they be punished. That is not freedom. It is not freedom for gays, ethnic minorities, religionists, atheists or anyone else. It is not a position of coexistence in a diverse society, rather it seeks a supremacy of one or several groups and oppression of others.

  • sg

    And how about you agree never to make any statement that could be construed as possibly contributing to disabusing anyone of their religious faith?

    How about just prohibiting free speech everywhere?

    We’ll just abolish the whole Bill of Rights and promote the most aggressive to the position of King and Tyrant.

  • sg

    What to you mean by recognize?

  • Dry Loop

    ALL Christians voted for President Trump. On NOV 8 2016 the choice was do you support the murder of Gods unborn children or not. It was that simple. ALL Christians voted Trump. Since then he has exceeded all expectations, 2 SCOTUS judges,stacked lower courts with Conservatives, Embassy to Jerusalem, things of that nature. If you are not happy, you simply do not have the Spirit of Christ within you and are NOT saved.

  • sg

    Bravo.

    I think you are more typical of many atheists than some would have us believe. I agree that your distinction as a secular humanist is very helpful. There was a study that showed religious people of any faith were more likely to trust another person of any religion than they would an atheist. I believe that is due to atheist being a totally broad and undefined term as to what one does believe. Secular humanist on the other hand is far narrower and presumes that the person defining himself thus generally agrees with secular humanist ideals. This greatly reduces the ambiguity inherent in a classification as broad and vague as atheist.

  • sg

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem

    “The is–ought problem, as articulated by the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711–76), states that many writers make claims about what ought to be, based on statements about what is. Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between positive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative
    statements (about what ought to be), and that it is not obvious how one
    can coherently move from descriptive statements to prescriptive ones.
    The is–ought problem is also known as Hume’s law, Hume’s guillotine or fact–value gap.”

  • Robert Conner

    Two world wars and the Holocaust began in the heart of Christendom. Christians invented the machine gun, the tank, poison gas, and germ warfare. What’s your point?

  • Mr. James Parson

    Let me take this piece by piece.

    Q: you agree never to make any statement that could be construed as possibly contributing to disabusing anyone of their religious faith?

    A: Sure. BTW I just converted to believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I request that you treat my new faith with all the respect that you want for your faith.

    Q: How about just prohibiting free speech everywhere?

    A: Free speech is a wonderful thing. As are the consequences of exercising free speech. You don’t get one without the other. For example, I might be free to say a lot of stupid things, but as a consequence might think I am stupid.

    Q: We’ll just abolish the whole Bill of Rights and promote the most aggressive to the position of King and Tyrant.

    A: Also, if you say a lot of stupid things, people will think you are stupid. (It is kind of a universal thing).

    ~~~~~~~~~
    Thank you for your comment

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    Why should the atheist be evangelized?

  • Everett Lunday

    Christ commanded believers to go into the world and make disciples. God supplies the fruit of the evangelist effort. Evangelism is the means by which God calls His own.

  • M. Solange O’Brien

    Seems pretty rude to me, but knock yourself out. Waste of time, I suspect.

  • kyuss

    there is no such thing as “good faith”. it’s all nonsense.