[The following is crossposted from here: http://letreasonreign.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/open-letter-to-chris...]
Yes there they go again. Some atheist (well, actually many times it’s not an atheist,but rather a Christian who understands that the separation of church and state protects him too) is complaining about a creche scene in front of a court house, or a prayer at a public high school graduation or football game or even a government meeting. Or maybe it’s some sort of display or sign that’s pretty explicitly Christian or otherwise religious, on government property.
“Can’t they just get a life,” you might ask yourself. Or maybe, “what’s wrong with that?” or some variation thereof.
Well, some other time, maybe, I can try to explain that to you. (Hint: it isn’t an attack on your freedom to worship, but it does has to do with the fact that these are happening on government property, with government sponsorship.)
Right now I am more interested in your reaction to these sorts of things. Or actually, your reaction to some other people’s reactions. What do I mean by that?
There are all too many Christians whose response to church/state complaints is threatening and abusive. People are ostracized. Lives are threatened. Violence is promised. In one recent case, a young man had to move out of state after his own family kicked him out of the house. In another, death threats were made against a young woman and she now requires a police escort to go to school. And the threats keep coming; she’s on notice that they will come after her once the police escort is withdrawn.
Anyhow, it happens. And it’s not hard to find such instances, especially in the age of the internet.
Let’s call this guy Job Lowe. You probably have met a Job Lowe, or have seen one’s antics, or heard one on talk radio. (His little brother is fond of telling atheists and other non-Christians to move out of the country.)
So–assuming you, dear Christian reader, are not a Job Lowe, what is your reaction to this?
Do you have the urge to go to those atheist sites, and tell everyone that Job Lowe isn’t a real Christian? Well then, this letter is for you.
You come to an atheist site and tell us that Job Lowe who wished a gang rape and/or hellfire on Jessica Ahlquist, is not a real Christian. But you see that presents us atheists with an epistemic problem–a situation where we cannot figure out what’s factually correct. A Christian, we are repeatedly told, is anyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
Now let us leave aside the fact that while some atheists believe Jesus never even existed, and others think there was such a man and a legend got built up around him, all atheists, by definition, hold that Jesus was not divine, and that a lot of the other ancillary tenets of Christianity (like the existence of Hell) are also untrue.
What is at issue here is that it is also a fact that the Christian does believe it and has accepted that divine being as his personal “boss” and believes that that being will spare him from an eternity of hellfire. And what this means is that being a Christian is purely a matter of what someone believes.
If someone professes a belief that there is no God but Allah and Mohamed is His Prophet, we know that person is not a Christian–because he has stated a belief that contradicts the “Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” thing. We can work in reverse, look at something about the person (his stated beliefs), and say “this contradicts the definition of a Christian” and conclude “this person is not a Christian.”
But “Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” does not tell us anything about how a Christian will actually behave. Since it doesn’t do so, we have no way of working in reverse and telling from someone’s behavior whether they are Christian or not. Someone could be an axe murderer, yet still think Jesus is his Lord and Savior. In point of fact, there is some good evidence that Hitler thought so; at least it is certain that he said so in Mein Kampf, which he wrote less than a decade before coming to power. It’s possible that Hitler and the axe murderer were lying through their teeth; that they believe none of it. But again how can we atheists, or for that matter anyone, tell? You need a foolproof lie detector to read Job Lowe’s, or Adolph Hitler’s, or the Axe Murderer’s minds and decide whether they really believe what they claim to believe.
“But,” you say, “that isn’t the whole story. If someone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they are accepting him as their Lord and should be doing their best to follow his commandments. An axe murderer doesn’t. And neither did Hitler. So they weren’t really Christians.” And perhaps you will regale us atheists with all the wonderful teachings of Jesus where he admonished his followers to be kind, empathetic, and tolerant. And remind us that Christianity teaches us to be “Christlike.” But for all of these places in the Gospels, you can find others where Jesus threatens godly destruction of those who disbelieve. It is true that he is not commanding his followers to visit that destruction on the unbelievers (though perhaps someone can point me to an example where he is), but one cannot knowledgeably claim that having these hateful attitudes towards unbelievers is “unChristlike.” And certainly wishing hellfire on an unbeliever is not “unChristlike” in the slightest.
So as far as we atheists can tell, a case can be made that the Job Lowes of the world are in fact quite Christian and in fact their intolerant attitudes could be construed as entirely consistent with Christianity. The case for someone who is making threats and following through on them is admittedly a bit thinner, but an argument could be made here too.
If you still wish to insist that such attitudes and/or actions are “unChristlike,” I will respond by again pointing out that Job Lowe’s actions do not demonstrate that Job has not “accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.” Maybe you can argue that Job is doing a poor job of following Jesus’ teachings–and much quote mining can ensue on both sides of that question. But I don’t see how you can argue that he’s necessarily “not a Christian.”
I doubt that it’s possible for you to convince us atheists that Job Lowe is not a Christian at all, given what we know of the bible. (Many surveys have shown that the average atheist knows the bible better than the average Christian. But of course expertise and ignorance of the bible exist in both camps.) You could certainly convince us that you think Job Lowe isn’t a Christian, but that’s not the same thing.
But I will be honest with you. We truly don’t care whether Job Lowe is a Christian by your lights. To us it’s purely a side issue relative to the fact that he is threatening and abusing an atheist for standing up for religious freedom.
As I said before, you can’t convince us that Job Lowe isn’t a Christian. We don’t see real evidence that he isn’t, we don’t care, and your efforts to tell us this often look like you have another agenda. So why do you do it? Do you imagine that we will respond to him, “your mean behavior isn’t Christian, in fact you don’t look like a Christian to me!” We won’t. Such would be a waste of our time.
You see, Job Lowe won’t listen to us. He wants us to burn in hell or be gang raped or at the very best, to leave America. Why would he listen to a damn thing we have to say? (Pun most assuredly intended!) Plus, we are atheists! Job Lowe would simply say we don’t know a thing about Christianity. How can we possibly have anything to say about this, that Job Lowe would think matters? And besides that, for all the reasons I just went through, we can’t be sure he isn’t being perfectly Christian! And it’s really hard (not to say dishonest) to convince someone of something you yourself don’t believe.
So I put it to you: If Job Lowe isn’t a Christian, why tell us? Tell him. He needs to hear it and he will only listen if it’s from you. You should get in his face and tell him. Leaving a comment on our blogs addressed to us simply won’t do it; he probably doesn’t read anything but his own hateful drivel.
Now if you have been doing precisely this, I want to thank you for your efforts. But it must be said, you are a rare individual. I’ll address the far more common case–the Christian who only speaks out against Job Lowe to us atheists–from here on out.
Most Christians remain quiet in the face of such things. They only bestir themselves when an outsider, say an atheist, calls Job Lowe on his antics, and then as often as not they pile onto not Job Lowe, but the outsider! How dare he associate Job Lowe with Christianity in general!? (Well maybe because the rest of you by and large stand by silently while this sort of thing happens?) When they don’t pile on the outsider, they engage in another form of defensive behavior, which is to simply disclaim association with Job Lowe: “He’s not a real Christian.”
You’re embarrassed by Job Lowe. But only embarrassed enough to do something when he gets publicized. And this won’t cut it any more, for all you’ve done is shown you can be shamed post facto, not that you are willing to engage in some prevention. Are you sick and tired of us finding Job Lowe’s spew and highlighting it? Well then do something about it. Make it harder for filth like this to rear its ugly head and not be instantly, loudly, and publicly condemned by his co-religionists, before we even have a chance to respond.
I keep hearing–as an excuse–that the Job Lowes of the world are a small, even a fringe, minority. Insignificant. Well if this is so, then it should be both safe and easy to oppose these people; a no-brainer. It should be as easy to criticize them as it is to criticize a mass murderer. (And please don’t quote me that “judge not that ye be judged” line; you have no compunction about criticizing criminals.) So where are the condemnations, one Christian to another, in the Christian realm? Where are the pastors telling their congregations that this sort of behavior in “defense” of Christianity is unacceptable? Where are the individual Christians speaking up about it in church?
I also hear as an excuse that many Christians do not like to “make waves” so they won’t take on the Job Lowes of the world. Make waves? How would this be making waves? How would criticizing such thuggery be at all controversial, if it’s so unChristian, if Job Lowe is a fringe minority?
Maybe those who refuse to “make waves” are implicitly conceding that this sort of thing is entirely common, is supported by many Christians, and that criticizing it makes waves because it is Christian behavior!
You can’t have it both ways. Either Job Lowe is no big deal, and you can speak out against him safely. Or he is a big deal, big enough that you don’t dare make waves. If it’s the first, you are a coward for coming to our sites and denouncing him there, instead of denouncing him to him. If it’s the second, we atheists are right to highlight him as a not-all-that-uncommon sort of Christian.
Or maybe it’s something else.
Maybe this is a game of good cop / bad cop. The “good cop” pretends to be sympathetic to the victim, and will pretend that talking to him is the only way to keep the bad cop out of the picture. But in reality the cops are working together, and the good cop will never actually restrain the bad cop.
Well I’ve seen some atheists suggest this is your motivation, but I don’t agree with them–even if it accidentally might work out that way sometimes.
Instead, I have another theory. I’d like to think I am wrong about this, but I can’t see any way around it. By remaining silent about Job Lowe until an atheist has the temerity to denounce him, you show that it’s more important to you that Christianity not be criticized, than that Christians behave themselves.
(By the way, this is precisely the sort of behavior many of you complain about when you see Muslims engaging in it. “They never condemn the terrorists, but if you criticize Islam, watch out!”)
When you strip all the rhetoric away, you are no better than Job Lowe. You let himm run loose. You try to distract us by telling us he isn’t a real Christian. Or sometimes you even tell us that their behavior is “understandable” given how we have “provoked” them (which is itself an odious blame-the-victim poly). But in no way do you actually do something to restrain or even to shame the thugs. You don’t want to make waves, after all. So you won’t–until someone does something truly awful and says something bad about Christianity. That gets your attention.
You are no better than they are. As long as you are more worried about the reputation of Christianity than you are about the evil done by some Christians, you are an accomplice.
Oh, you say this isn’t you? Well then, prove I am wrong. Stand up to these people. Make it clear to them that their churches will condemn their actions. Question their Christianity to their faces, and in their churches. Stand up and tell your fellow Christians this is abhorrent. Especially if you are clergy. Having to stand up to the brunt of the hate from these people is what many of us atheists have to do every day. Compared to this, what we ask of you–what we insist you do if we are to believe your protestations of innocence, both for yourself and your religion–is chump change. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.
[The following is crossposted from here: http://letreasonreign.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/open-letter-to-chris...]