Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Take a Liberal Christian to a Tea Party Rally!

Here I go with the HuffPo articles. I just. Can’t. Stop. I think I have a problem. 

In his article entitled ‘Take an Atheist to Church‘ Karl Giberson, Ph.D. makes some profound observations and valid critiques of about atheists. Just kidding. It’s quite uninformed and is the basic liberal Christian version of ‘atheists suck and they’re mean and I don’t understand the first thing about them’ tripe. I could also have named this post ‘I Am Rolling My Eyes So Hard That It Hurts’ or any number of things, but I thought ‘Tea Party’ was enough to convey pure bullshit and irrational nonsense I’ll get to that later. Moving on...
Atheists often talk about religion like scientists at the Center for Disease Control talk about plagues and epidemics -- unambiguously bad things that we should work to eliminate. There is a difference, however. The scientists at the CDC know what they are talking about because they have studied epidemics. Their comments are based on more than a few documentaries on the Discovery Channel and headlines about the flu in local papers. Atheists, however, speak with great confidence about the evils of a religion that they seem to have encountered only in headlines -- a terrorist incident here, an assault on evolution there, a new survey connecting religiosity to young earth creationism, and so on. Religion as practiced by ordinary people is nothing like these headlines. If the scientists at the CDC were as ill-informed as these atheists, their knowledge of diseases would not extend beyond lethal high-profile plagues that were killing thousands of people. Atheists should go to church and do some research if they want to keep talking about religion.
Oh really? I couldn’t find hard statistical data on the demographics of apostasy, but from an admittedly anecdotal point of view the vast majority of atheists I know, in ‘real life’ and on the Internet, are ex-theists. This makes sense when you consider the low occurrence (again...anecdotal) of purely secular families.
Additionally, it’s not even a well-kept secret that the majority of atheists know more about religion than the majority of believers. There was a study and everything! This is for two reasons. First, again, most atheists are apostates. We were raised on the stuff. We at least knew it as well as most of the people we went to church, mosque, temple, etc. with. So you can say we started out on an even playing field regarding that knowledge. Second, and this is critical...doubt. We doubted it. Some wrestled with this doubt in profoundly existential ways. For many it hurt. In order to ease that pain, fear, and cognitive dissonance many took to study their religion and a lot of different religious concepts in some detail. Most likely more than the average believer who sticks to their religion of birth and indoctrination. Even liberal Christians like Giberson cannot let go of faith long enough to consider it from the other side. Truly, let it go. Freethought. Many atheists have.
In a provocative piece certain (once again) to annoy the atheists, Brian Appleyard -- himself an agnostic -- defines new atheism, which he calls “neo-atheism," as a "tripartite belief system founded on the conviction that science provides the only road to truth and that all religions are deluded, irrational and destructive." The third leg of what he calls this "exotic ideological cocktail" is, of course, denial of the existence of God.
I am underwhelmed. Appleyard recently wrote an article slamming ‘neo-atheism’ and likening it to a cult. I’m not going to change gears and dissect that article, but it is filled with language that attempts to pull the old ‘Fundamentalist Atheism’ canard. I’m tired of writing on that. If you’re interest on my take on that please check out my critique of Frank Furendi’s article ‘How atheism became a religion in all but name.’ At the end of that article I list several critiques of the ‘fundamentalist atheism’ claim.
Although I believe in God, I am actually fine sharing the world with people who do not and I have friends who fit in that category. Belief in God is complicated and every thoughtful Christian I know will admit privately to having doubts about the existence of God from time to time. Even Richard Dawkins charitably -- and honestly -- admitted recently that his atheism was less than 100 percent certain. Foundational beliefs like the existence of God are not simple binary choices that one makes as a child and then never revisits or wrestles with as experiences accumulate.
This is true. I have no problem with it (though Dawkins didn’t state he was agnostic for ‘charitable’ reasons, but I’ll leave that alone since it was for honesty reasons).
What I am not OK with, however, are the mean-spirited caricatures produced by people who have virtually no real experience with religious people, beyond reading about them in headlines. I don't recognize these religious people.
Again, the ‘no real experience with religious people’ is either naivety, deluded, or a lie. Atheists have plenty of experience with religious people. It’s not always good. Actually, much of the time it is not. Things quickly turn unpleasant even when we are being cordial, but honest about our critiques of religion. The ‘mean-spirited’ comment is a generalization and a means to silence criticism of religion.
I would like to invite atheists to join me at St. Chrysostom's Church in Quincy, MA -- or whatever church is convenient -- and spend a year doing research into what real life religious people are like -- the people who are not in the headlines. You may be surprised to discover that we don't all think the same. Some of us are cradle Christians with deeply rooted and unwavering beliefs. Some of us are new believers, wondering about our faith. Some of us are properly called agnostic because we have serious doubts -- but doubts we prefer to explore from within the Christian community, rather than from outside. None of us are overly concerned about this lack of uniformity. All of us are concerned about our mutual need for community and we invest energy in making our communities strong and healthy.
I’ve been to church plenty, thank you. I know what religious people are like. I was one. Barely, but I was one. I was raised in a very active church with liberal Christian parents. My step-father is a minister. He’s a good guy. However we disagree on some stuff. Well...only really about religion and football. My point being is that Giberson’s assertion that spending yet another year in church will give me, or most atheists, a better idea of what church is and religious people are like is patronizingly stupid. The bit where he says ‘...spend a year doing research into what real life religious people are like -- the people who are not in the headlines,’ just kills me. What is he doing? Labeling all atheists based on the people in the headlines! He is unfathomably blind to what he is saying. Amazing.
Some of us donate our time to a tutoring program for local students who need a leg up. Some of us run a weekly job fair to help people find employment. Many of us send money to troubled parts of the world to help people in need. Atheists, of course, also do these things but our city has no tutoring programs, food banks or homeless shelters sponsored by atheist organizations.
What the fuck is this? Religion has had millennia to operate freely and publicly all the while building these networks and institutions. Atheists? Not so much. However, with the rise of open atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism; secular charities and volunteering are springing up all time. Don't be an asshole, Giberson.
None of us have ever bombed an abortion clinic, or held a sign protesting gay marriage. In fact, our fellowship includes openly gay Christians. We are worried about climate change, widespread lack of healthcare, and the excesses of the Tea Party. In these and other ways, we find common cause with many of our fellow citizens, both believers and atheists.
I hereby name this the ‘good for you’ fallacy. You and your congregation may not be this way, but others clearly are and in the name of religion. The denial that religion can motivate very specific behaviors that are destructive to humanity, because your small circle of it isn’t that was is a clearly incomplete picture. Giberson wants it both ways. Atheist generalization of the religious is bad; which is a clear generalization of atheists in and of itself. He also wants to gloss over the specifics that atheists point out.
I don't think a year in our church will transform your atheism into belief in God. You may leave even more convinced that Christians believe odd things. But I think your experience would help you see that our faith -- like our affection for our beloved Red Sox or our love for our glorious fall foliage -- is not an epidemic or a plague. The beliefs we pass on to our children are not harmful and abusive. And the world is a better place because we are here.
Obviously I disagree, but there is an important distinction that needs to be made. I do not hate or even dislike the vast majority of religious people. I reject their beliefs. I reject the entire concept of faith. Very strongly.
Ultimately, Giberson blindly falls into the trap of projection. He is stating that atheists don’t know religion or religious people and we shouldn't generalize about religion and religious people. While he is generalizing about atheists. Hot damn! Didn't see that comin’! People generalize. It is a natural human tendency to categorize quickly and easily. The trick is to be aware of that and try to fight the misapplication of the tendency. Unfortunately, Giberson doesn’t understand this and shoots himself in the foot. Whatever valid points he could have made are muted.  

So why did I title this post Take a Liberal Christian to A Tea Party Rally!? Because what Giberson and liberal Christians seems to forget, or more likely ignore, is that not everyone believes what they believe. How comfortable would they be at a Tea Party rally with people holding (misspelled) signs spewing hate and nonsense? What would this science loving Christian think of his kids attending the Jesus Camp for one year? The entire ‘challenge’ to atheists is nonsense. Now, the liberal Christians are likely the majority (hell I hope so!), but the ones on the Right, the homophobes, the religious bigots, the Creationists, the Global Climate Change deniers, the theocrats, the extremists...the lunatics, are powerful. They get the rest of us into wars. They do bomb abortion clinics (though this has thankfully disappeared in recent years). They kill abortion doctors. They commit ‘honor killings’ (what a disgusting oxymoron). If you want to dial it back on the severity scale: women are denied healthcare due to nebulous and archaic religious beliefs of a few. Climate change deniers are manipulated by corporations via religion. People…I repeat people, discriminated against, harassed, bullied, ostracized, and murdered for who they love. These aren’t isolated pockets of ignorance in this country or the world. The 2012 GOP race for the Presidential nomination is Exhibit A. People actually want to vote for Rick Santorum. Sure you can make the argument that Obama would destroy him in a general election, but isn’t it frightening enough that he could get there? And it’s not like the other options are any better. ALL of them embody this religious need to control, discriminate and dominate. 

I feel like I have stated this so many times on this blog that anyone who reads it religiously on a regular basis is tired of hearing it: liberal Christians just don’t get it. They do not understand that there are huge populations of people that are backward, destructive, and dangerous to themselves and others specifically due to their religion. The defense of religion and the minimizing of this deep seated destructiveness is passive, tacit allowance for it to continue. The problem with being a liberal AND a Christian is relativism. They cannot criticize another religion. They cannot deny the faith of others. This isn’t simply some form cultural relativism. It is self-preservation. If you dig deep enough when picking apart the faith of someone else you may, incidentally, blow a hole through your own. This is because it’s all a Jenga game. Once you pull too many blocks out the towers comes falling down.


Susan Quilty said...

I try to stop myself from reading HuffPo (and other) articles like this, but I can't resist. What bothers me most is that I think people like Karl Giberson are sincere in their efforts to "help" atheists. They generally seem unaware of their own condescension or narrow-mindedness.

Like you, I was raised to be religious--as were almost all of the atheists I know. My Catholic church was rather progressive (I was even one of the first female alter servers) but I still could not make sense of the contradictions I saw in both the Bible and the church teachings. I studied my own religion and others, looking for answers, but I soon realized that religion is manmade and an unnecessary part of being an ethical, compassionate person.

What I don't understand is the need Karl Giberson has to convert atheists. He says that he is fine sharing the world with those who do not believe in god, yet he writes an article advocating for Christians to take atheists to church in an attempt to change their perspective of non-belief. ??

He says, "Foundational beliefs like the existence of God are not simple binary choices that one makes as a child and then never revisits or wrestles with as experiences accumulate." Which makes me wonder if his defensiveness toward atheists has more to do with internal wrestling over his own beliefs.

Steve said...

Not everything at HuffPo is garbage, but a lot of it is. I really don’t know what the process of is to be allowed to have that podium as a guest blogger, but from what I can see it isn’t too difficult. Especially in the Religion section.

I’m not even sure Giberson is overtly trying to convert atheists so much as he has a false impression of why atheists lack belief and our experiences with religion and religious people. I don’t know what vacuum he thinks we all live in.