Christians Aren't Stupid and Atheists Aren't Killjoys
ARE CHRISTIANS INTELLECTUALLY INFERIOR?
In most places, "faith" is a ridiculous concept.
Think about it.
You don’t have “faith” that you’ll get to a destination – you check your gas gauge beforehand. You don’t have “faith” that your baby will be well fed and survive – you make sure your baby gets proper care. You double check receipts. You look both ways before you cross the street. You don’t have faith you’ll have enough money to buy something – you check your bank account. Right?
That's not to say faith about these things wouldn't make you feel awesome.
Sure, it would feel great to have faith that money will magically appear in my bank account to buy everything I want, or that my care will never need maintenance, but you and I both know that's a recipe for disaster. I have to go out and work, and I have to figure out how to make sure my car gets from a to b. I mean, this isn't rocket science. And it's something myself and most Christians know -- I can tell it from the way they actually live their down-to-earth, day-to-day lives.
Because we have that common sense down-to-earth knowledge in common, I don't really agree with atheists who think Christians are intellectually inferior. Most of you are very intelligent; and in different ways are probably more intelligent than I am. In almost every area of your life you have doubts, you question, you investigate, you make sure you’re right. If your child came to you saying that a monster was in her closet, most of you wouldn’t believe her until you both went to check. If a friend of yours said that she ran five miles in ten minutes, you would need to see proof before you believed her.
We know that you don’t know EVERYTHING about the world. But there are some things that seem to happen less than others, and we use probability to make our choices. We have to. If we don’t, we exit the gene pool.
But we also have stories – fantasies that we engage in from time to time, in which we suspend our judgment. All kinds of fantastic things can happen in a fantasy, and we can suspend disbelief in them when the stakes aren’t that high. For example, we can watch Star Wars and believe in the “Force” for a while, because – well, why not? It feels great.
I KNOW I’M AN ATHEIST – BUT I GOT THIS ANALOGY FROM YOUR PASTOR
When I was a Christian, I heard a lot of sermons about how people weren't taking their faith “seriously.” That matched up with my own observations, oftentimes, and sometimes in small group Bible Studies I remarked that church congregations treated Jesus like most people treat Superman – he makes you feel great when you think about him, and he might inspire you, but most of the people sitting in the theatre don't believe that there’s literally an alien superhuman walking the face of the earth. The surprising thing is that, when I was a Christian, most Christians agreed that the diagnosis was correct (although they never would now, to me as an atheist).
In short, the notion that Christians see Christianity as a fictional, yet inspirational, tale is not just an accusation made by atheists – it’s one that is frequently discussed by Christians, as well.
Maybe this is because many Christians are more concerned about the experience of belief rather than the truth of their belief.
This isn't unusual; when interacting with fiction, atheists and Christian alike often suspend disbelief so that we can have an experience that metaphorically inspires their lives. I think this dynamic applies to much of Christendom. Normally, you wouldn’t believe in people walking on water. But if the story of having faith in a difficult moment is deeply meaningful to you and inspires you to keep going when times are rough, you may suspend disbelief of the story. Normally you wouldn’t believe in a worldwide flood. But if the story allows you to focus and concentrate on a certain goal – pleasing God – that seems to make your life go better, you may suspend disbelief in that story, too. Perhaps, most of the time, you would be unlikely to believe in a man rising from the dead. But the idea that you can live a new life and spend eternity with your loved ones and with an individual infinitely greater than you could ever imagine is a beautiful, encouraging one that allows you to prioritize human beings and see beauty in the world around you, and so you suspend your disbelief there, as well.
HOW I SEE THE WAY CHRISTIANS REACT TO MY ATHEISM
For me, that notion of suspension of disbelief for the sake of an experience is really the only way to make sense of how people who seem rational in every other aspect of their lives seem to believe fantastic things in the Bible on far less evidence than they would normally demand. It also explains why people are so passionate about protecting the story.
Atheists have a role to play in the story -- a certain array of lines. An atheist may be seen as the “bad guy” in the story, and that’s bad enough, but the anger can get ratcheted up when the atheist acts outside of the “bad guy” role and threatens to end the movie itself. At that point, the atheist may be asked to leave, or the person may try to somehow separate himself from the atheist.
In my experience as an atheist, this has proven true. Most people are fairly congenial at the beginning of the conversation, although they have me in a role as someone who is unsaved, someone who needs Jesus. They often feel compassion and sadness – and as long as I fit into that role, things are fine. But when I break out of that role – when I come out of the screen and threaten to end the movie and the story itself – that’s when people unfriend me. And I get it. It’s not because they hate me. It’s because they don’t want the beautiful story to end, and I pose a threat to ending it.
EVEN IF IT ISN’T TRUE – ISN’T IT STILL A BEAUTIFUL STORY? WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO RUIN IT?
Although many Christians insist that they believe in the Bible because it is the Truth, I’ve noticed that many of them ask me, “What’s the harm? Why do you have to fight against Christianity? Even if you're against it -- doesn't it do a lot of good in the world?” It’s almost like someone asking someone who is trying to stop the movie in a theatre, “What’s the harm? Why can’t you let people enjoy their film? They’re decent people, living good lives, and the film encourages them. Why would you want to take such a beautiful film away?”
Indeed, many atheists have this attitude. They see Christianity as a relatively harmless fairy tale. Sometimes they go to church, sing Christian songs, enjoy a sermon. Indeed, the number of people who do this may be larger than those who claim to be nonreligious. Craig Goeschel has a book out called CHRISTIAN ATHEIST that is meant to berate Christians for not being true to their convictions, but there is actually a real religious affiliation of Christian Atheists who think the Bible is a fairy tale, but who live according to its commands and see great value in its symbolism nonetheless.
So why would I fight Christianity? Because of how extensively the fairy tale comes into contact with reality. Many nonbelievers, like Richard Dawkins and, more diplomatically, Neil Degrasse Tyson, say that they don’t mind people being religious as long as they keep it to themselves – that is, as long as what nonbelievers see as fantastic beliefs aren’t applied to the real world. In essence – you may be able to close your eyes and drive a car using the force in your dreams and in your imagination in a movie theatre, but the moment you start doing that on the road, we’re going to have an issue.
The main place I fight Christianity, then, is where its exaltation of faith comes into contact with the real world. This is why I wrote notes like the one about 101 things about Christianity that make me angry – these are points in which Christianity comes into contact with the “real world” in destructive ways. The reason I am so against Christianity wholesale is because its premise is that all men are depraved and can only be saved through faith in the Bible’s God. If that were in one’s imagination, that’s one thing. But applied to the real world, I think you have rather disastrous consequences.
I think the Christian story is epic and interesting to look at and investigate, but I also think that it would be horrific in reality, and that its results are destructive when applied to reality. So that’s why I fight against it. And yes, I know that I’m ruining people’s beautiful stories. Mine was once ruined to, through tears and heartache. But once you walk away from the false lessons of that story – believe me, there are other beautiful ones out there, ones that are much closer to the reality of our situation and that make the world we live in more beautiful. Ones that allow and even encourage doubt and questioning and reason, but also are full of passion and emotion. So I’m not trying to ruin your day with my attacks. I’m trying to show you how the story of Christianity, as beautiful as it may seem to you, actually is harmful in many ways if you actually apply it to the real, everyday world. I’m saying that, as beautiful as the story is, it’s important to base the real-world reality and application of this story on the same demands for evidence and reason you make on every other aspect of your life.
Maybe you didn’t agree on all that, but hopefully you understand a bit more.