Atheists are People…First

A couple of days ago I read a blog post by Fred Clark. I follow his blog, Slacktivist, and find much of what he writes compelling. This particular post was a rant about how many fundamentalist Christians confuse winning an apologetic debate with knowing actual truth. For those who are interested, the post is here. (Note: there are some pretty cool card tricks in this post, too.) Fred cited two blog posts for his inspiration. Both of these were testimonies of people who had been brought up in fairly strict Christian homes. They were both taught propositional truth about what the Bible “says.” And, they both walked away from the Church and have embraced atheism. Fred challenges those who think they know what God’s will is for everyone, in all places and at all times. He shows that winning the apologetic argument does not mean the same thing as knowing the truth. People that get these things confused raise children who grow up like Libby Anne and Rachael.

I read both posts. (Libby Anne’s is here. Rachael’s is here.) I shared them both on Facebook because I thought they might get some interesting responses from my friends. I was right. The responses, though, troubled me. You see, unlike Fred, I did not see these two people as evidence of how the fundamentalist right misrepresents Christ in American culture. I saw them as victims. These are two very intelligent young women who were injured by those who should have protected and nurtured them. I can relate to this, because I was part of that same culture. I have seen the fruit of this kind of one sided, us-against-them mentality that both of these people experienced. I thank God that my wife and I did not embrace the “Christian” school or home school paradigms. We allowed our children to be exposed to the culture that they would ultimately need to navigate as adults. However, in our zeal to promote evangelical orthodoxy I think we missed opportunities to embrace and train our children to live openly and honestly as Christ followers in the wider culture.

The responses I received on Facebook were indicative of the mindset that I’ve seen in the conservative evangelical culture. One person responded that Rachael had simply not had a true conversion experience. She would, one day, realize the error of her ways and the Holy Spirit would fix her. Ok, to him this woman is defective and in need of ‘fixing.’ This person, who I know and love like a brother, thinks that the environment in which the woman was raised was good. It gave her a solid foundation on which God the Holy Spirit can one day build. Maybe, maybe not. From the story she told, I learned that she is a person with fairly good critical thinking skills. She took the information that she had been taught at home and considered it in the light of knowledge she gained outside of the home. She found that her parents had been mistaken on many levels. Trust was damaged. Her worldview crumbled. She rebuilt herself in, what she feels, is a better way.

Another response I received stated that since the blog was an atheist one, of course atheists are going to read and respond to it. There wouldn’t be any contrasting view. Well, Christians will go to Christian sites. Conservatives and liberals will visit their own sites. It’s what we do. People tend to hang out with others who hold similar beliefs and interests. As we do, we reinforce our own beliefs against those of others. I think we can develop a kind of intellectual in-breeding. After time, defects can enter into our thinking and morph and mutate until we actually believe that ours is the only way to know truth. That’s one of the reasons I try to branch out into uncharted areas. Yeah, I’ll find a lot of junk, but I will also mine rich nuggets that I would not have found otherwise.

All of the responses I received contained a tone of dismissal. Not of me, so much. But, certainly of these women. Their stories were simply not taken seriously. Either they were a problem to be solved, or their particular worldview was not worth the time to listen to. To these I say “Shame!” Where is our empathy? Where is our affirmation of them as human beings cast in the image of God? I commented on Rachael’s story how I felt that my respondents just did not “seem to get that people are more important than propositions. Relationships are more important than religion.” Not only had those who responded to me, but the parents of these women and other leaders missed that point. Jesus was not like this. Jesus looked at people compassionately. Jesus was empathetic. Jesus embraced others as daughters and sons of God. If we truly desire to see the reign of God break out in this world, we must begin to see others through the eyes of Jesus. We must maintain a ‘human’ perspective rather than a proposition-based perspective.

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