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Three MORE Things that Make This Atheist Angry
I was not intending on starting a hub series with my first post about three things that make this atheist angry. The more I think about it, however, the more things seem to come to mind. The first hub covered marriage equality, the separation of church and state and the phenomenon of Christian privilege and cries of persecution. As this new hub develops, we will understand that this frustration runs deeper than imagined, and that real, justifiable and tangible reasons for anger DO exist, and need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
1. The Christian Double Standard
This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has witnessed a conversation, whether heated or polite, between a typical atheist and a typical believer. No matter how reasonable, knowledgeable or eloquent the atheist may be, a peculiar double standard begins to appear. It grows more and more apparent as the conversation continues. Christians want their beliefs to be respected. They want tolerance. They repeat over and over again that they're allowed to have their beliefs, and that they should be left alone with those beliefs, as it is a personal choice and is not anyone the business about anyone else. Yet they see no problem with believers going door to door proselytizing. They have no qualms about disrespecting the beliefs (or non beliefs) of others. They are the first person in line to point out how ridiculous Islam sounds to them, or how immoral some of Muslim beliefs seem to their Christian worldview. They insist, as witnessed in my previous hub on the first three things that make this atheist angry, that the Bible has nothing to say about tolerance, and they are not required or expected to be tolerant of beliefs or lifestyles that disagree with their morals, beliefs or dogmas. Yet they want their religious preferences to be respected, yes, even DEFERRED to in comparison to others.
I'm sorry, but you cannot have it both ways. You cannot refuse to be tolerant, welcoming or open to discussing (or criticizing) the beliefs of others, and expect your own beliefs to be somehow above discussion just because they think and believe that they're true. Secondly, beliefs do not have to be respected. Beliefs don't have feelings to be hurt or injured. The problem arises in the fact that many believers (but certainly not all) are incapable of separating themselves from their cherished beliefs. Therefore any criticism of their beliefs feels like a criticism of who they are as a person. Yet they fail to recognize this typical human response when it comes to anyone who disagrees with them. They reduce these people to their beliefs and arguments and attempt to argue against them, thinking that their own beliefs are out of the scope of conversation. This double standard will not be disappearing any time soon, but the more it is recognized and pointed out, the more aware others who encounter it (or perpetrate it) will be. Gradually, I hope this double standard will die out due to over exposure. And who says that atheists have nothing to hope in without a belief in a deity?
2. The Justification of Horrific Behaviors, past and present
In the multiple forums that I have either witnessed or participated in both past and present, I have discovered an alarming, growing and repulsive trend of believers (of any stripe) defending horrific actions that took place in their holy books or in the recent (or not so recent past).
For example, I have seem Christians not only justify the slaughtering of men, women and children in the Old Testament, the mauling of 42 children by bears at the behest of a prophet, the death penalty for a woman who is raped if she fails to scream loudly enough, a woman being forced to marry her rapist, the inquisition, the crusades, the horrible acts of the reformation, etc. within the space of a year. Regardless of whether their explanations or justifications have merit in their own rights or not, attempting to make any of these actions acceptable is morally repugnant - especially coming from people who claim to be morally superior to members of any other religion - or no religion at all.
Regardless of whether or not a god exists, it is never acceptable for someone who is proudly pro-life in the modern age to agree with, support, or justify the slaughter of unborn babies just because god ordered it. While these particular verses are not often the subject of church sermons, I have heard them mentioned - and praised as virtuous from the pulpit on at least a handful of occasions. The preacher seemed to take great joy in describing having unborn children ripped from the wombs of their murdered mothers at sword point and dashed against the rocks. This is wholly immoral by any religious or secular standard, but I have heard it justified time and time again. God needed all of these people dead, see, because they worshiped other gods. He knew, being god, that these children would grow up to be evil, horrible people - just like their idol worshiping parents - so they had to die as well. While he was at it, the animals had to die too. How can any reasonable, rational and logical, empathetic person look at these stories as anything but horrific, repulsive and unconscionable? Furthermore, how could otherwise good, caring and decent people find a way to make these stories not only acceptable, but laudable on behalf of the god that they worship, and the people who were carrying out his orders?
Allow me to let you in on a little secret. If your faith is nearly as strong as you claim it is - as strong as you would like me to believe that it is, admitting that these atrocities were, in fact, atrocities does not diminish your faith. In fact, it's far more honest than trying to weasel your way around these difficult and questionable passages. You can argue all you want that if you're not a believer, you have no sense of morality to base this determination on, and we can argue about that if you like, but it doesn't take a special kind of person to recognize that these actions are completely repulsive to anyone - Christian or not. Admit it. Acknowledge that you don't understand it. Move forward. Be honest. You'll gain more respect (or at least more credibility) from the person you're talking to than trying to make it seem like you're okay with it and see no problem with it whatsoever.
Which one of these irritates you the most?
3. Blatant Unfounded and Insulting Assumptions
No matter how many Christians, Muslims or other believers I happen to encounter, a high majority of them start out nice, and quickly devolve as the conversation begins to progress. Maybe it's because from the beginning, they assumed that they were more knowledgeable than i was on the Bible, history, church doctrine or the early church. Maybe they thought it was they thought I was a typical hit-and-run atheist that wanted to throw an early punch and then disappear into the twilight. Maybe it's because they thought I was an easy target, clearly less intelligent than they thought themselves to be. All of these possibilities begin with something very small. It begins with an assumption. An incorrect assumption, as it turns out, but an assumption nonetheless.
When many Christians find out that I used to be a Christian, they are often quick to assume that, since I'm no longer a christian that I never was one in the first place. They believe that if I had been truly saved, I would be saved still. Not only is this insulting and assumptive, it's blatantly wrong, but many of them will never accept the fact that they were incorrect. It is patently rude to assume that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt what was happening in a perfect stranger's heart and mind in previous years. Many of them never even take the time to ask questions prior to passing judgement and delivering their decision.
Things usually take a turn for the worse when they also find out that not only was I a missionary kid, and a missionary myself, but that I was studying in college to be a missionary myself as an adult, and that I have collegiate-level experience in theology, the Bible in its original languages and early church doctrine. They assume me to be uninformed an ignorant, and try to teach me things that any child in Sunday school understand and can recite verbatim by the time they reach Jr. High school.
The ultimate icing on the cake, however, is when they assume that they know not only what was in my heart years and years ago, but that they know what is in my heart NOW at the very moment that we're conversing. This assumption is one of the most insulting and dishonest assumptions that I've ever encountered in my many years of religious conversations. They assume that I am convinced that the Christian god exists, but I'm just angry at him. They're convinced that I prefer my own sin to acknowledging and following the god that I know exists in my heart.
I do my very best to not be a dishonest person. I try to tell the truth whenever possible, even when it sucks to do so. But I would never stoop so low as to call myself an atheist - that is, someone without a belief in a god - if I truly believe that god existed and I just didn't want to worship it. That would make me something a misotheist, and I would be honest enough to admit it if I was one.
Don't assume that you know me better than I know myself in order to make your beliefs hold up in your own mind. Don't make baseless assumptions about perfect strangers to make them fall in line with your preconceived religious beliefs and worldview. If you want to know the answer to a question, ask. You know what they say about assumptions.
To be fair, many of these problems can go both ways, and I've seen several atheists (even myself at times) be just as guilty as their believing counterparts. No one can be perfect all of the time, and when emotions run high and conversations become heated, it's difficult to not get carried away and pull out all of the punches. That does not mean that there is no hope, however. We can all strive to be better at communicating, regardless of which side of this issue we fall. We can all work towards productive and intelligent communication. Our beliefs do not stop us from being human at the core, and as humans we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other (even as strangers or friends) to behave kindly to each other and grow as a society and a species.