Discussion – How moderate Christians can help atheism.

I’d just like to highlight a really great discussion that’s going on across several blogs.

I think it started here with a comment from a “moderate Christian” on a post over at Almost Diamonds . This comment got several responses including this letter (via Crowded Head Cozy Bed), which I think is appropriate, and this more low-key discussion at Lousy Canuck, which I think is also appropriate. [Edit: Now also discussed at Relatively unrelated.]

Sometimes it’s hard being an atheist. I think anger is a healthy and appropriate response and can be used as motivation, but I also think there is room for reasoned discussion of the issues. I’ll post here a response I made on Lousy Canuck in response to a Christian’s question about what he could do to be considered “innocent” in the matters of the mistreatment of atheists and distance himself from fundies:

@ Thomas: “For most of the posters there, the only thing that would allow me to suitably distance myself, is to become an agnostic or atheist (perhaps a deist). Is this your solution?”

For me the solution is not for you to necessarily change your beliefs, but your actions. Many moderate Christians sit idly by and let discrimination against non-theists happen and do not understand that “separation of church and state” is not the same as “forcing everyone not to believe in god”. If believing in god floats your boat, fine. If you get social/community and emotional benefit from being part of a church, fine.

Rather my suggestion for a “solution” would be for the moderate Christians to stand up for us and fight for our mutual rights. We also have the right to congregate. We have the right not to be indoctrinated in our public schools and government buildings. We have the right to run for office. We have the right not to be discriminated against. But we’re not treated that way and the more we fight on our own, the more we’re seen as upstart “new atheists” making war. Moderate Christians could help us fight to be seen as the decent moral human being that we generally are, but they often don’t — and that for me is why they are guilty. It’s not anything particular that their doing, it’s what they fail to do.

I would add to that the following: I think from the Christian perspective, this is the problem. We see Christian teachings in public schools (or the ten commandments on government buildings) as indoctrination and they see it as perfectly normal. But that is only because they already believe it. When we try to get religion out of public schools, they see it as an attack on god and us forcing people to be atheists. I just wish they could see this from our perspective, and that is what they are failing to do.

Many don’t understand, or won’t, that when we try to get Christianity out of school, we’re not attacking Christianity. If they want to believe that Jesus was awesome, great. But they should do it at home or in church where it belongs — they should not force kids in public school to have to sit through revised science and history classes for the sake of Christianity. This isn’t only about atheists — it’s about every single other religion that’s marginalized by this practice. And I don’t for one second believe that if they were in our position, they wouldn’t fight buildings being adorned with Muslim scriptures or Greek/Roman mythology being taught as literal interpretations of creation.

Public school is not the arena to have this fight. I hate to be one of those “think of the children” people, but honestly it’s they that have everything to lose by getting a shitty education because so much time, money, and effort was wasted on fighting to keep science in science class instead of teaching them science. They can go to church another time and if they can’t reconcile the information between the two places, it’s up to you (moderate Christians) to explain it to them. I know it seems like science is the enemy, but it’s not. Science is objective and has nothing to do with atheism. Science is a tool that must be used responsibly and revising it to fit a particular religious doctrine is not responsible.

It’s not appropriate to silence science and history in order to “protect” kids from actually having an independent thought and protect parents from having to have an intellectual theological conversation with their own kids. No one is asking that the government buildings say “atheists are awesome” or that kids have to be taught not to believe in god at school, we’re saying leave all that out of it. It’s not appropriate. In fact, when we see something like the ten commandments on a government building, that says to us “Christianity is awesome and the fact that we bothered to put this here suggests that we think we’re more important and awesomer than you”. Is that appropriate?

Can we just please agree, for once, that we are all mutually affected by this? When we allow one group to be marginalized and discriminated against just because we don’t happen to agree with them, we lose our right to call ourselves human. One of our most defining characteristics is the ability to rise above this animal tribalist nonsense. We’re better than this. Act like it.

UPDATE: More discussion.

15 responses to “Discussion – How moderate Christians can help atheism.

  1. Excellent post, Kimbo. In your closing, you say, “When we allow one group to be marginalized and discriminated against just because we don’t happen to agree with them, we lose our right to call ourselves human. One of our most defining characteristics is the ability to rise above this animal tribalist nonsense. We’re better than this. Act like it.

    Religions have been marginalizing, demonizing, persecuting, murdering, etc., anyone who doesn’t believe the same as they do for many centuries. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to change overnight. Yes, many more people are much more rational now than was the case only a hundred years ago, but I’m personally still very afraid of the fundamentalist religions and the power they hold.

    Yes, we’re better than this. Yes, we need to act like it. Can we count on biblical literalists to be better than this, and to act like it? Even for the moderates in religion, I think it’s asking too much from them.

    • We know we can’t count on the literalists. I think that’s pretty much a hopeless battle. But the moderates might be where we can make some gains, which is why we need to pester them like we do so they realize they aren’t living up to their humanity.

      I know that sounds condescending, but I am so sick of reading these stories where, for example, people’s kids are bullied and harassed by family and teachers — the very people who are supposed to protect them — simply because of their beliefs (or lack thereof). And even though the moderates aren’t the ones doing it, they still sit back and do nothing. For that I think we can take them to task and demand change by appealing to their humanity.

      I have to hope that things will get better, otherwise I might as well just crawl up into a ball and give up. :)

  2. For that I think we can take them to task and demand change by appealing to their humanity.

    If appealing to their humanity doesn’t seem to be working on some people, I always enjoy public ridicule, scorn, and embarrassment. It works wonders on some of them.

    Yes, things will get better. In a lot of areas, I think we’re already seeing that.

  3. Kimbo, I believe I said something similar (in regards to separation of church and state and why I think it’s obviously a good thing) over at the Lousy Canuck, so on that we’re definitely in agreement.

    My only quibble is this comment: I know it seems like science is the enemy, but it’s not.

    Are you talking the moderate Christians with this comment? If so, I think it’s misplaced. This needs to be directed to the fundamentalists. And why would it seem like science is the enemy in the first place? I’ve never viewed it as such, and I don’t know anyone personally, that views it as such either. That is, of course, an entirely different post, and I think certain individuals, a few who happen to be atheists, are as much to blame for this as anyone else.

    • Nope, I was talking about literalists. Pretty much my only “issue” (if you wanna call it that) with moderates is silence. But as they were saying over on the other blog, sometimes quickness of speaking/typing and economy of language sounds like we’re painting everyone with the same brush.

  4. Having been the punching bag in several of those blogs, I’d like to wade in here and say a few words.

    First, as a moderate Christian I am more then happy to stand with you in the fight. But I spent most of yesterday being abused because I differ with some of the fighters over tactics. Not the best way to motivate me.

    Second, I would say that many omderate Christians (who probably make up the vast majority of believers in the US) are unaware of the issues. The reason I wieghed in in Almost Diamonds initially was that I was starting to see a world picture that, frankly was new to me. Call it whatever you want, but I have been viewing Crackergate as an abherrent, over teh top response to an isolated incident. That view is beacuse I have not, until very recently encourntered any atheists who are part of the shouting match.

    Third, there seems to be a part of the atheist world that does, indeed, want me to got sit quietly in the corner and such my thumb because I am christian, no matter what my education or life actions have been to that point. I know alot of atheists feel attacked for a lot of very good reasons, but when atheists start paointing Christians with the same type of broad brush that fundies use, those of us in the middle are going to be prone to dismiss BOTH arguements, and that will hurt the atheists in the long run. That’s what I mean about tactics needing to be appropriate and focused. Or, to put it another way – there seems to be a number of atheists who want to toss nuclear warheads into Christians, when a few well placed hand grenades will actually be more effective.

    That said, I promised on my own blog to tkae up this issue in more depth, and that is a promise I intend to keep. I hope, as time goes by, I’ll be judged by my actions, and not my labels, especially since that is what atheists are asking me to do for them.

    • Re: Tactics. You don’t have to agree, but I hope you can at least understand the point that these tactics 1) won’t always be necessary and 2) are irrelevant to the point being argued and are only used to get people’s attention. Comparisons have already been made to the black and women’s civil rights movements, so I won’t repeat them here.

      Also, if people are unaware, spectacles such as Crackergate that are widely reported in the media are more likely to draw awareness than sitting by politely. Many atheists also agree that it was over the top, but you did hear about it.

      To your third point, many of us have flatly said that we do not want you to be quiet. I can’t speak for all atheists, but for the ones I know the main issue is fundamentalist thinking about anything — whether that be religion, conspiracy thinking, etc. Fundamentalist, totalitarian thinking is dangerous. Period. If you are not one of those people — good! That’s awesome. But when you sit back knowing now what goes on and do nothing to defend us, that’s the opposite of awesome. Obviously we can’t be mad at people who are ignorant of the issues, but we can do what is necessary to make them aware and take them to task for their lack of action once they are aware.

      Edmund Burke said all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

    • I hope you’re not seriously suggesting that you would refuse to help fight for basic human rights on the grounds that you don’t agree with the way SOME members of a group choose to “fight”. You’re free to help in your own way and to criticize the way in which other people choose (we do!), but that still doesn’t prevent you from helping the cause — being treated like we’re fully human.

  5. Phil, there’s one thing you should note about the discussions yesterday. There was a discussion on my blog in which you said MLK didn’t need the Malcolm X and his like. I challenged the statement, quite politely, and asked you to back it up. Instead, you went to Lou’s blog, where you repeated the MLK assertion and hung around getting “beat up.”

    In my polite post, I linked to an article on the bus ads in Iowa. Without reading the article, you commented that you were sure there wasn’t really a discriminatory reason for the decision to take down the ads, making excuses for the discrimination that the article clearly demonstrated had occurred. (The ACLU and DART came to the same decision this morning, btw. The ads are going back up.)

    For someone suggesting that politeness is a good way to reach moderate Christians, you’re doing a very good job of demonstrating that it’s useless. Want to see more politeness? Reward it. Stop worrying about PZ’s behavior while not paying attention to your own.

    Thanks for a great post, Kimbo.

  6. I don’t think I’m going to be nearly as polite as Stephanie or Kimbo have been, but I think I’ll dip my toe into this blood-frothed water for my own post.

  7. We are indeed mutually affected by this crap. Evolution should be taught in science class just for the sake of giving the kids a good education. Life’s not very fun when you have to unlearn things later in your life, it’s like a track star running in the opposite direction when the starter pistol goes off, it’s horribly inefficient, hopefully the kids don’t go too far into religion before they realize it’s all bullshit.

  8. Philip’s complaint above does seem to boil down to “Well, I think everyone should be equal, but some of those field atheists are just so uppity. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are nice…”

    What’s next? Some of your best friends are atheists?

    Again, you continue to demonstrate my point that my civil rights hinge entirely on whether or not you are offended. Why is that, Philip?

    And I’d really like to see you address Steph’s comments. From here, it looks an awful lot like you’re looking to nail yourself up on a cross as an excuse to not do what’s right.

    • Yes. I’m reminded of the southern slave owners who didn’t mistreat their slaves. Ya, that’s a great argument to maintain the status quo. “Well, *I’m* not doing it so there’s no reason for you to be all angry at me.” Um, well yes actually there is because the fact that it is allowed at all is abhorrent and nobody does anything about mistreatment because people have spent so much time convincing each other that the oppressed aren’t human so who cares anyway. And how dare they be rude and angry about that, btw. They should nicely ask everyone to please stop.

      Polite cajoling didn’t end the slave trade in America, a frakking war did. Not to suggest that this is the same situation, but the position that people should be nice to institute major societal change so that no one gets a case of the vapors is naive at best.

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