I’m so sorry about this. I like Hemant and his blog Friendly Atheist, but sometimes things can go off the rails a bit. I don’t know if he just had a bad day, maybe he didn’t express himself clearly, or if he really does feel that way, but the post about Anne Rice today was uncharacteristically unfair.
Some background: Anne Rice has denounced the Catholic church for its bigotry, publicly leaving the church for it’s anti-gay, anti-feminist, etc. sentiments. She has indicated that she’s a “follower of Christ”, but she abhors the corruption and bigotry of organized religion. (In a nutshell – her actual statements can be found here and here.)
Hemant’s response was one of praising this move, given that she’s a public figure with a close following so her message has the potential to impact some people’s views on organized religion, though he hopes that one day she’ll take the next step and give up all supernatural and spiritual safety blankets.
No, I’m kidding. What he actually said was this:
In other words, she’s not a “Christian.” She’s a “follower of Christ.” Don’t you feel better now…?
This isn’t really news to me.
I’m thrilled she’s not anti-gay/feminist/science/etc. But educated people like her don’t get bonus points for being tolerant and rational. That’s just to be expected.
When she tells me she’s stopped believing in God, the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, and the existence of Heaven and Hell, I’ll pay more attention.
He’s already been criticized a bit in the comments (and supported too – there’s lively debate), so I don’t really want to pick on him more here. But what can Christians do to please us? Are we demanding too much?
She never said she did believe in any of those things in the last sentence there – and even if she did, what difference does it make as long as she’s not using those beliefs to be a bigot, harass people with the church’s “values”, or to mess with the public education system?
Also, as I commented, the sentiment is more important than the literal interpretation of her words. She’s a public figure who came out against the church for it’s bigotry and others should be encouraged to do the same, not berated for not going “full atheist”. It can be a big deal for someone with ties to a church to come out against their beliefs – it can mean the loss of an entire social circle, maybe even family. Perhaps her message will give some people the strength to leave the church despite these social consequences because now they know there are other people like them out there. While still being a “follower of Christ” is a bit of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, it’s something.
People should be given some positive reinforcement and compassion for making such a gesture, and perhaps some “Hey, hello there. We’re atheists and here’s what we’re about. Maybe you’d like us”. That seems like the “tolerant and rational” thing to do…
UPDATE: Hemant has commented:
“You said in another post:
For example, with the recent post about Christian apologies to the GLBT community, I like those Christians. I don’t care if they’re Christian. I don’t even care if they think homosexuality is immoral if they agree with me that homosexuals deserve equal rights, including the right to marry.
Your statement here seems to contradict that. Did I misunderstand?”
I think this is different. In the previous post, those Christians are still “Christians” — they don’t try to hide it — but they’re specifically fighting for equal rights for GLBT people. Good for them.
I think what got to me when I read these posts from Rice is how she’s trying to distance herself from certain elements of evangelical Christianity (which is great) but also trying to distance herself from Christianity altogether while still admitting to being a Christian. I find that to de dishonest and deceptive. She accepts Christian doctrine. Admit it.
That’s like me saying:
“I quit being an atheist. I refuse to be a dick. I refuse to treat religion with complete contempt. I refuse to be anti-clergy. I refuse to be anti-Republican. I am done with atheism!
Oh, and by the way, I don’t believe in god.”
Well, imho, this is largely an objection based on semantics. I think it’s unfair to characterize her comments as deceptive and dishonest. She apparently plans to follow the fluffy version of Christ, but not the organization that uses his name and the name of Christianity to promote bigotry. The important thing, I still think, is that she publicly denounced the more bigoted beliefs of the church. Maybe more people will be encouraged to examine their church’s beliefs and how they reconcile (or not) with their own beliefs.
Hemant’s atheist example at the end is hard to parse, but I don’t think it applies. Atheism isn’t a religion and doesn’t have a belief system (though, yes, many atheists – especially within the online community – do tend to share many similar views). As long as people don’t believe in a god, they can believe in whatever the heck they want and still call themselves an atheist – for example, Bill Maher believes in all sorts of nonsense, but he doesn’t believe in god so he’s still an atheist. So one might argue that as long as she’s following the lovey-dovey message of Christ, we can call her a Christian even if she’s no longer part of the institution of the “Christian” church (i.e., the public, organized Christian identity that she’s rejecting). Does that eliminate the semantic objection?
I think this is much ado about very little.