It's Logically Impossible for Atheists and Christians to Discuss Religion without Being Rude
Is Christianity Ruder Than "Militant" Atheism?
The frequent complaint from Bible-believing Christians that atheists are too rude is a bit hypocritical, considering that a hallmark of the Bible is the regular introduction of rude characters. To give a brief rundown: Jesus used a whip and inflammatory language to turn out money changers, Peter told the liars Ananias and Sapphira to drop dead in the book of Acts, Paul was not above publicly calling Peter out in his favoritism to Jews, John said that if you don’t follow God you don’t have eternal life, the prophet Elijah had prophets of Baal slaughtered and convinced God to maul some teens who made fun of his baldness, David killed the Philistines and wrote several Psalms about it (start from Psalm 2, and keep reading), Noah told the world they were going to drown if they didn’t hear his words, Moses threatened plagues against Pharoah, and so on. The Bible is full of rude characters -- including, of course, Jesus, who was clearly, in many ways, a jerk. anyone who supports it has to admit that it seems to license rudeness in several instances that pale in comparison to anything a Christian might experience from discussion with most of even the rudest atheists.
More On That Double Standard
So there's a clear double standard for Christians who laud characters listed above, and at the same time berate honest atheists for their candid remarks. My experience when pointing this out to Christians (who, truth be told, rarely seem to hear this from atheists) is that Christians tend to respond by saying that an atheist does not have God’s permission to be rude, while the characters in the Bible (and, in some cases, the Christian his or herself, depending on the context in question and the pride involved), do have God’s permission and authority behind their words and actions. It should be obvious to most Christians that most atheists think these rationales are nonsense because they involve God. However, often self-described "non-militant" atheists see "militant" atheists and claim, on the flip side of this discussion, that rudeness is ineffective regardless of who uses it, because it spoils relationships and prevents understanding. Such atheists often seem to base their claim that rudeness should be avoided on two major points: First, rudeness distracts from the content of the argument; and, second, rudeness is ineffective when it comes to convincing people.
But when you sit down and define "rude," it almost seems as if the notion that we should not be rude seems to be an insistence by the ones in charge, who want to protect the comfort they enjoy due to the status quo. In addition, removing emotion from an argument in an attempt to be purely logical can miscommunicate the very real data of one's sentiments regarding the argument. Much of the time, honest emotion is necessary for advancing an argument.
James Baldwin Being Rude
WHAT DOES RUDENESS ACCOMPLISH?
For example: If someone calls me (as a black person) the n-word and thinks it’s fine in front of a group of people, politeness might encourage him to stop, but it would not show how offensive that title is to me. There still is a gap in understanding there. The person may stop because it’s not acceptable, but still lacks the understanding that it is highly offensive and rude to call someone the n-word. If someone calls me the n-word and I rudely say, “That is NOT ok. Knock it off, you bigot” we have an understanding. He has realized that I see him calling me the n-word at least as offensively as he sees being called a bigot. He now knows not only the rule that you should not call someone the n-word, but also the sentiment.
What frustrates many rude atheists is that most Christians do not seem to know how offensive they are being when they call someone an unsaved sinner. Many seem to think that all people already know they are sinners, so there is nothing particularly wrong with the title – there’s little harm in it. So being rude to individuals who think you are a sub-class of human being may be effective in underlining that the title is extremely improper in the context of discussing atheists. It’s like the n-word. If you think that black people think they fulfill the definition of that word anyway, you might not use it for proprietary’s sake, but you may still think it accurately describes them; you don’t know WHY you aren’t supposed to use it.
But underneath this -- since many atheists value honesty -- rudeness, at times, is just plain straightforward and honest. I mean, think about. If someone is rude to you but doesn’t recognize it, you probably do take offense at it. You probably do see them in a certain negative way. So voicing the way you’re seeing them as they are being rude to you is honesty and it is making them understand how they were, in fact, rude to you.
I may be able to clarify things here by stating that I am looking not just to change words, but to change sentiments. I’m not just looking to get the Christian to avoid telling me that I am a sinner – I am looking to convince the Christian that the concept of my being a sinner is offensive not simply because it is logically incorrect, but also because it devalues me and my fellow atheists as human beings. This is why I (and other atheists of a similar mind) may say I appreciate honesty from Christians, and then turn around and be rude when they call me a sinner. If you think that I’m a sinner, I want to know so I can act honestly and accurately in the world, but don’t expect me to be OK with that sentiment.
The common protest that comes from Christians when I make this goal clear is that I am trying to get them to abandon their Christianity by telling them to reject the "sinner" label, something that they cannot do. I understand that – which is why I left Christianity. I, and many other former Christians who are now nonbelievers, realized that saying people were unsaved sinners was a profound insult, and this forced us to more closely investigate the title, and the investigation showed us that the title was untrue. If you are not made aware of how much of an insult calling someone an unsaved sinner actually is, you may embrace Christianity as something that is less offensive than it actually is (cf., the Christians who don’t understand how someone could possibly dislike Christianity when it is trying to “save sinners”).
DISCUSSION ON RELIGION BETWEEN ATHEISTS AND CHRISTIANS CAN’T BE POLITE
All this brings me to an unfortunate point: there is no way to discuss Christianity with Christians without rudeness being involved. I mean, think about it before you give a knee jerk protest: If a Christian is calling atheist a sinner who needs salvation and the atheist is not, in fact, a sinner who needs salvation, that Christian is being unfathomably rude to the atheist, whether that atheist makes this rudeness clear or not. Remember how I gave the example of calling the person who called me the n-word a bigot in order to make him understand how offensive being called the n-word was? Being called an unsaved sinner is infinitely worse than being called the n-word. Nothing an atheist could say could possibly demonstrate how rude that sentiment is, and it seems that most Christians don’t realize this.
Let’s break it down. If you, as a Christian, say someone is an unsaved sinner, you’re saying that they are an enemy of God who deserves to go to hell for eternity if they don’t believe what you believe. You’re saying that they are on the bottom rung of the ladder morally (which has terrible consequences in predominantly Christian sections of culture); that their atheism makes them not only wrong, but morally bankrupt. You’re not just defining the way they act – you’re defining the person they are and saying that, because of who they are, they deserve the worst fate imaginable because they are too arrogant, evil, and/or obtuse to copycat what you happen to believe on faith with, often, very little evidence. That’s unfathomingly rude. Can you think of a worse insult than that? I can’t – if you can, put it in the comments.
A Friendly Atheist Discusses Militant Atheists
Now, I, personally, have chosen not to be just as rude to Christians as they are to me regularly through the use of the word "sinner." I think, given the fact that Christians are usually very ignorant of how offensive the title “unsaved sinner” is, rudeness that matches in offensiveness calling someone an “unsaved sinner” may be helpful in educating Christians on just how condescending they are when they say an atheist is a "sinner." I just often choose not to be that rude. I have my reasons. But I understand and, to an extent, defend those who do decide to be rudely vocal, because I think that they play a part in reminding humanity that none of us are need to cower as sinners before God, and that this title of "sinner" and its insidious meaning should be banished from the English vocabulary.
Occasionally, however, I do get rude back. And I get a lot of flack for it, but I also seem to get some understanding. Christians seem to understand why I get upset when they use that word, and we make some progress – although, as I said, polite conversation is still impossible as long as they think I’m an unsaved sinner and I have absolute disdain for that sentiment. But the fact that these conversations aren’t polite actually makes me even more interested in them. After all, my goal isn’t polite conversation, but mutual understanding that inspires barrier-breaking, honesty fueled, rationally consistent change.