On Dealings With Christians: Qualified Tolerance

My road to de-conversion was a long one. I spent several years as an anxious theology major, and later as an anxious philosophy major trying to sort through the veracity of Christian truth claims. During the process of coming to reject Christianity, I remained quite agreeable to Christianity. When I made the leap and walked away from Christianity, a combination to the flood of responses (both positive and negative) and my own naiveté led to a most vicious lashing out against institutions of faith. In due time, my anger subsided and I was left with the question, “What next?”

There is a great tension in my life regarding this question. On the one hand, I believe Christianity is just another mythology, if a bit more complex. On the other hand, my time as a Christians contributed a great deal to my formative years as a person. On the other, other hand, I see great amounts of harm come from those who subscribe to what I perceive to be false religious belief. On the other, other, other hand, I see people do great amounts of good as a result of their committed Christian faith.

So what to do?

For a while I was attracted to such groups as the Rational Response Squad. Far be it for me to criticize my fellow atheists, but I cannot bring myself to stomach some of their tactics. Perhaps it is because we have different goals, all atheists are not the same, after all. As a Christian, I watched the Blasphemy Challenge videos with disdain. They seemed to me to be nothing more than a slap in the face to Christians. As an atheist, I still see the Blasphemy Challenge as a slap in the face against Christians. The goal of the project is to allow atheists to proudly dissent from popular culture, and ultimately, I assume, to promote atheism as an alternative to theism. The consequence that I see is to marginalize atheists more by making us look reactionary and angry. I doubt not the RRS’ motives, only their methods.

Likewise, I watch and read Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and am encouraged by the articulate, intelligent and charismatic way that they are able to promote the cause of atheism. At the same time, I am concerned by their blanket statements. Dawkins proposes that religion is the root of all evil. Harris claims that moderate theists are just as responsible for violence and suffering as extremists. Respectfully, I must disagree with both of them. Religion is not the root of all evil, it is simply a vehicle that is convenient for evil. Similarly, I have a hard time blaming the Methodists for Muslim jihadists.

Religious people are not the enemy. War, violence, hatred, paranoia, unchecked self-interest… these things are the enemy to progress. And yes, I believe that Christians, because of their false beliefs, can cause a great amount of harm in the world. But, atheists can cause an equal amount of harm.

Christians (and Muslims, Hindus, etc.), I disagree with you. I think you have poor epistemic justification for your religious belief. I think that you Christian faith clouds your judgment and restrains your intellect. I’m sure you have similar sentiments about my lack of religious belief. But I don’t hate you. I don’t despise you. I hope that my philosophy will one day triumph over yours, but through dialogue and debate, not through coercion or legislation.

Atheists, I implore you not to become extremists. Let us not alienate the 2+ billion Christians in the world, the 1.5+ Muslims in the world, the <1 billion Hindus in the world, the 14 million Jews, the 23 million Sikhs or even the 500 thousand Scientologists. Let us use persuasion and discussion, not angry reaction. Atheism is not a comprehensive worldview. Atheism is the beginning of future progress, not the end.

So on the one end of spectrum, I hope that I can avoid reactionary zeal. At the same time, I don’t want to go to the other end of the spectrum and embrace appeasement. In the name of political correctness, I do not want to hesitate to disagree publicly with the religious majority. Ken Ham stands in the way of scientific progress. Mike Huckabee has dangerous plans for the United States Constitution.

So what is the answer? For me, qualified tolerance. Like most people, I spent a portion of my life as a theist. I understand the psychological drive to believe in something transcendent. I recognize that many of the Christians I know are driven by their faith to be compassionate and socially responsible. Churches run soup kitchens and homeless shelters. And while I can come side by side with my religious friends in these regards, I am not going to back down from challenging the justification for their tightly held beliefs.

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9 Responses to “On Dealings With Christians: Qualified Tolerance”

  1. Wow. Though you and I hold opposing beliefs, I think your post demonstrates the real definition of tolerance. It’s not agreeing with everyone for the sake of political correctness, it’s accepting that someone thinks differently from you without hatefully trashing them for it.

  2. Dawkins does not believe religion is the root of all evil. The title of that documentary was chosen by the BBC and Dawkins has expressed considerable distaste for it.

  3. Tracie, I’m glad we can disagree and still accept each other. 🙂

    Matt, thank you for the correction. To make a clarification, I don’t dislike Dawkins. I own three of his books and frequent videos of him online. Regarding his documentary, though, regardless of the title, it does present religion as an overwhelmingly ‘bad’ entity. I tend to think of it simply as a ‘untrue’ entity, capable of both good and bad. Ultimately, I want to see institutions like religion which are not true to be replaced, but I am uncomfortable with making blanket statements about them. If that makes sense.

  4. Phil Naessens Says:

    Hi,

    I like what you had to say here. So many times my brothers in Christ go on “attack” whenever they meet or debate an atheist…using terms like “stupid” or whatever. This is SO WRONG. I have debated many an atheist during my days in seminary and found those who lack belief to be respectful and highly educated.

    Thank you for allowing me to post.

    Phil

  5. Hey, do you mind if I tag you for a “Favorite Posts” meme?

  6. Phil,

    It is disappointing that those on both sides often present a poor representation of their cause. I disagree with you, and I might argue with you until I am blue in the face, but at the end of the day what is similar about us far overrules what is different.

    M. Wade,

    Sure thing. 🙂

    -CTC

  7. Phil Naessens Says:

    CTC,

    I agree. I hate to give you more ammunition, but as a former theology student you might be interested in my latest post found at;

    http://phillyflash.wordpress.com/2008/02/05/just-google-it

    Phil

  8. Great posting.

    Just to let you know that there is a problem with the rationalresponse link. I think you have put reationalresponse.

  9. What many people do not know is that there is a form of Hinduism called secular — or philosophical — Hinduism. It has more to do with the intellectual traditions Hinduism has to offer, rather than the traditions of bhakti (devotion) or Hindu traditionalism.

    And let us atheists remember that we only recognise the lack a deity existence, that atheism has no worldview, mytholofy, etc. like religions do. We have philosophy for all that other hoolah. 😛

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