Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Last Night on Facebook

A good friend of mine who is a Christian (and who's not Clayton, FYI) posted this status update on his profile:

Being a Christian with a bunch of atheist friends is a difficult thing. As an atheist, you have to believe that the Bible is a pack of lies, and people who believe it's true are fools.

As a Christian, how do you maintain a friendship with people who hate what you believe, and think your an idiot for believing it? How can there be any kind of mutual respect in a situation like that?

Compelled to respond, I posted a comment which led to an interesting discussion between my friend and me. Much of my conversation with my friend is below. I cut out comments by other people for the sake of length, and because they don't directly affect our conversation (although I chuckled a bit at my friend's mother-in-law, who, rather than actually contributing anything meaningful, trolled the thread by posting random Bible verses and lyrics to old hymns). Enjoy:

Bud Uzoras: I disagree that an atheist *has to* believe that people who believe the Bible are fools. Incorrect, sure, but the atheists I know don't deny that many Christians are rather intelligent (though many think the Bible is ridiculous, but that certainly is not the same thing). Speaking of respect, Christians (generally) believe non-believers are going to hell. How can Christians have any respect at all for someone they believe god (the perfect judge) has deemed worthy of eternal damnation (apart from compartmentalizing or ignoring such a fact, which honestly is disingenuous on the Christians' part). I can respect someone even if I disagree with that person. Of course, I don't think hell awaits that person for not being correct. Respect is earned among friends when a difference of opinion can be tolerated because the greater priorities are to maintain compassion, concern and the mutual bond of friendship, which is more lasting than differences of opinion or belief.

Christian: Bud, you should know better then that. You were a preacher. The doctrine doesn't teach that God declared non-believers were less valuable and deserved damnation. It says we all screwed the pooch, but he gave us a get out of jail free card. Not everyone has accepted. (Calvinism is a separate discussion, and that's not what I'm talking about)

Christian: And the problem here goes a lot deeper then respecting other beliefs. Atheism doesn't have to be a part of your identity. It doesn't have to be a major factor in how you live your life or what decisions you make.

Christian: Christianity is a part of my identity. It's not just a belief, it's who I am. I don't know a single christian anywhere who gets their kicks from talking about how stupid atheists are. We don't sit around actively mocking atheism or talking about how stupid is to believe in nothing. It's not really an issue. The attitude is "they don't understand. Maybe some day they will". There are militant Christians who shove the gospel down your throat, but they are usually the exception to the rule.

Bud Uzoras Sure, according to the "good news," everyone deserves damnation because... god said so. Those who escape such judgment are the ones who managed to figure out what "the truth" is before they died, because after you die it's too late, for reasons that are less than clear. But by faith you have been made righteous. Those of us who lack faith remain in our wickedness. And as the good book says: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" (2 Corinthians 6:14,15). You said I should know better, but I'm just going by what the Bible says.

Christian: I don't know a huge number of atheists, but every one I've ever met, present company included, never passes up and opportunity to take a potshot at the church. Yeah, most of the time it's a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing but a good natured reminder that we think your God is stupid is still an insult.

Bud Uzoras: ‎"I don't know a single christian anywhere who gets their kicks from talking about how stupid atheists are." Maybe you don't know any of these Christians, but they're out there, and there's a lot of them out there. And let's not forget about the multitude of believers who mock, scorn, and even threaten people who have been "outed" as atheists. It's a serious problem, yet Christians keep talking about how they're "persecuted."

Christian: Bud, that's still the fringe. I'm not saying it's okay, but I don't know anyone who is a christian who would support any kind of behavior like that.

Bud Uzoras: We can go back and forth on whether such Christians represent "the fringe," but unless we find some hard numbers, the point is moot. "Fringe" or otherwise, the number of Christians who act with prejudice and hatred toward non-believers is still very, very large. ‎"Atheism doesn't have to be a part of your identity." I disagree. In the context of a world in which most people believe in some sort of god (and where so very many of them judge those who don't believe), the fact that a person doesn't believe has serious implications and ramifications. In fact, the term "atheist" only exists because such people live in a world where theism reigns. The fact that a person doesn't believe in a god naturally has an impact on who one is, and what identity one has.

Christian: I can agree with that, though I still think the number is large because the number of Christians is large. 2 or 3 percent of millions is going to work out to a lot of people. (though I'd doubt the numbers are even that high).

Bud Uzoras Try being an atheist for a while. You might think differently.

Christian: How often do you have to make major life decisions where you have to stop and think, "now, I'm an atheist. How should that belief affect this decision?".

Bud Uzoras: I don't use that exact phrase, but everything that makes up my worldview - including my views on god - influence the decisions I make. For example, if I heard a voice telling me to kill my son, I'd think I needed medical help instead of thinking that god was commanding me to sacrifice my son as part of some divine plan.

Christian: Either way, were navigating away from the point. This isn't about which group has more jerks, it's about whether or not a group of friends composed of atheists and Christians can still respect each other.

Christian: Seriously? You think christians that hear voices are going to automatically assume it's God?

Bud Uzoras: No, I don't think that at all. In such cases, only "the fringe" would think that. To digress even further than we already have, I do find it interesting that most Christians would think hearing such a voice is indicative of a psychological condition, but when they read about Abraham and Isaac, it's commended as virtuous - an act of faith.

Christian: I would assume in Abraham's case, you don't hear the voice of God and not know it's the voice of God. You could argue that Samuel didn't know who was talking to him when he was a child, but there was still someone around to tell him. If God's gonna talk to you, your going to know it. Otherwise, your going crazy.

Bud Uzoras: Yeah, but how would you know? The more convinced a person who hears voices is that the voices are real - the more he "knows" for certain - the more mentally unstable that person turns out to be.

Bud Uzoras: But that begs the question, which lies at the heart of the skeptical movement: *how do you know?* What reason at all, other than emotional attachment or conditioning via cultural context, do you have for accepting the Bible as "the word of god"?

Christian: That doesn't have to be applied to Christians though. Crazy people can blame the voices they hear on anything. It's kind of silly to say that Christians don't know what is or is not rational behavior just because they believe in God.

Bud Uzoras: I didn't say that. In general, how would anyone know whether a voice is from god, satan, a really good ventriloquist, or due to mental illness?

Christian: Again, getting away from the point. This isn't about proving which one is right. It's about respect. Or, if I want to distill it down to the real problem, it's that my atheist friends don't respect what I believe in, and it's hard to deal with.

Bud Uzoras: I can understand that your atheist friends not respecting what you believe is difficult to deal with. That doesn't mean they can't or don't respect you as a person, and as their friend. Imagine how difficult is is to have so many of your Christian friends send you messages like "I see you're an atheist now. I hope you turn back to God before it's too late." Talk about not respecting what you believe! At worst, you have to worry about people thinking you're a fool. Atheists have to worry about people thinking they're going to burn in hell for eternity. No fun.

Christian: The two can't be separated. You can't mock my faith right in front of me, but respect me as a person. If you talk about how ridiculous the scripture is, or how belief is Jesus moronic, your making a direct assault on my character. That's not respect.

Christian: Normally something like that wouldn't bother me. Christianity getting kicked around is pretty much the status quo, but you don't do that to your friends.

Christian: And if you could think of a single time I've tried to ram scripture down any of our friend's throats or told them how they were condemned to burn in hell, I would be absolutely amazed.

Bud Uzoras: That highlights one of the problems with Christianity: a critique of one's belief/faith is equivalent to an attack on one's character/person. That's how it's set up. I, on the other hand, having freed myself from such a shackle, am now free to not worry about being wrong. If something I think or believe is shown to be false, I'm free to simply correct my thinking. I hold my beliefs with an open hand, because I know I'm not all-knowing. My beliefs are not me; therefore, an attack on my beliefs or opinions is not an attack on me.

Bud Uzoras: You've always been great to hang out with, never ramming anything unwanted down anyone's throat. And you've never told any of your hellbound friends that they're condemned to burn in hell. I assume you believe that, and have simply kept it to yourself.

Bud Uzoras: And as far as whether Christianity getting kicked around is the status quo, I beg to differ. Christianity gets its share of criticisms, but we're still a nation dominated by a Christian majority. Call me when we get an atheist president, and then we'll talk.

Christian: Hey, you can't argue the fact that bashing Christians is trendy in popular culture now. When was the last time you saw a TV show or movie that had an openly christian character that wasn't an idiot or a slime ball? Or, when was the last time you saw an atheist character that wasn't a hero?

Bud Uzoras: There are three realms I can think of in which Christianity gets bashed the most: entertainment, the Internet, and among scholars in the upper echelons of science and education. The first two are not exclusively anti-Christian. They could make a Passion of the Christ part two - it doesn't have to make any sense - and it would still make millions of dollars. Concerning the Internet, Jesus gets way more hits on Google than Richard Dawkins (go to googlefight.com and see), and Christianity has nearly three times as many hits as atheism on Google. What you call "trendy" is simply a handful of people - people in the minority - expressing their views. Calling it "trendy" is a bit dismissive.

Christian: I'm talking about the media specficially, because the media either reflects or dictates public opinion, depending on the situation. Passion of the Christ was a bad example. It's one of those exceptions that make the rule. One of the reasons it did so well is that Hollywood hasn't made a serious, respectful, big-budget movie about the bible in nearly an eternity. It was a fluke, and even with all the box office sales (driven pretty much exclusively by Christians), it's still a movie that Hollywood loves to hate.

Christian: As for the internet, of course Jesus gets more hits. Christians are still the majority by a massive margin. Lots of numbers means lots of business. It's a big demographic. But if that's the case, why are we so stinking unpopular in the media?

Bud Uzoras: You're not unpopular. That's my point.

Christian: But we are. We're always the bad guys in every story on TV. Brian is brilliant an intellectual (atheist), Peter's father is an abusive jerk (catholic), House is brilliant (atheist), Wilson is naive and a pervert (vaguely mentions god on occasion) , I could go on forever.

Bud Uzoras: Touched By An Angel, Seventh Heaven, The Prince of Egypt, The Narnia movies (while not explicitly Christian, are the adaptations of one of the most respected Christian thinkers of the 20th century, and the allegory in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is pretty clear). It's not all anti-Christian in the media.

Bud Uzoras: House is at best an anti-hero.

Bud Uzoras: As far as Family Guy goes, everyone in that family is dysfunctional, even Brian (alcoholic who's bad at dating).

Christian: Both are still the popular ones. The script is intentionally written to make you want to be them. It's like that in countless shows and movies. The message isn't even subtle. Atheist characters are smart and make you want to emulate them, christian characters (if there are any) and foolish/week/evil, and should be pitied or despised.

Bud Uzoras: Popular singers, professional athletes, movie stars, et cetera, still thank god when they win something. Justin Beiber is all about being a Christian. Sure, Christianity gets its share of criticism in the media, but it's not as bad as you think. Christian culture tends to exaggerate it because, again, they pass it off as "persecution" when in reality they don't know what persecution is. And I'm not convinced anyone wants to be Brian.

Christian: When Steven Tyler and Ke$ha thank God, it doesn't have the same meaning. When people like Tebow thank God, it starts vicious internet memes that attack his mother. Not really examples of how popular the faith is. Also.... I kinda want to be Brian.

Christian: And honestly, I don't think American Christians face persecution. I'm not going to lose my job, my home, or my life for being a believer. This is more like being in the unpopular crowd in High School. We get figurative wedgies and swirlies pretty regularly.

Bud Uzoras: Ah, but being an atheist *can* cost someone a job, or security, or friends in "the land of the free." It's difficult for me to take the complaints seriously that the media is so anti-Christian when Christians still run the country. Yeah, you guys get made fun of sometimes. Big deal. You are the ruling majority. The fact that there's even the possibility that young earth creationism can be taught on the same level as evolution in this country is evidence that Christians - and pretty fundamentalist Christians at that - are still running the show. A lot of atheists are either still in the closet, or have spent time - often years - finding the courage and strength to come out to friends and family, like they have something to be ashamed of. Declaring atheism is political suicide for someone running for office. Congress reaffirmed "In God We Trust" as our national motto because it makes them look good to the majority of voters. People hear "atheist" and automatically assume "devil worshipper" or "baby eater" or "wicked person." USA Today reported a study which indicated that atheists are as distrusted as rapists. Christians don't have to deal with that in this country.

Christian: It may not be completely anti-christian in the media, but we're still unpopular. I don't think it's a media conspiracy or anything like that. It's just that the majority of Hollywood movers and shakers are atheists, and their work reflects their views.


[UPDATE: Read the follow-up: My Christian Friend]

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