Changing the Face of Christianity Introduction
We recently received a letter from a “reasonable” non-theist, that we thought was worth sharing with our readers. When I say “reasonable”, I mean he is simply sharing his opinions on the topics we are passionate about.
After reading this letter, share what you can relate to and what WE can learn from his perspective.
I think there are things we can learn from him about negative Christian stereotypes and how WE create them. It’s also important to note that he doesn’t claim to represent all of atheism/agnosticism/non-theism, similar to how our site doesn’t pretend to represent ALL of Christianity or Christian opinion.
If you choose to comment on this article, and we hope you do, PLEASE remember this is NOT a debate. Instead, let’s read/listen with an open mind and a humble heart. I encourage you to share what you can relate to and most importantly…what WE can learn from his perspective. Now, his open letter to Christians:
Open Letter to Christians from a Reasonable Non-Theist
Author: Anonymous for family privacy concerns we respect.
You are right about the negative stereotypes associated with Christianity in secular America. Some of it is deserved, some of it is undeserved. While I don’t agree with some of what you say on your site, I do believe I grasp the spirit of your intentions.
I have a confession: Last week, when Congresswoman Giffords and several others were shot in Arizona, the first thing I said to my wife was “I bet the shooter is a conservative fundamentalist.” My thoughts were wrong, however private I kept them. Regardless of his theology, or lack there of, the man is clearly insane. Clearly, you are not a violent fundamentalist, so this isn’t an apology.
Equal Rights and Freedoms
If one man’s rights are denied, then all of our rights are vulnerable.
This is where I see the biggest gap between Christians and Atheists. If freedom of religion were taken away, and you were not allowed to congregate in a church, or pray to your god, most atheists I know would have a serious problem with that, and we would willingly stand up for your rights, even though we think your beliefs are incorrect.
On the other hand, it seems that Christians are very fast to contribute to the denial of our own rights to not acknowledge a god. You won’t see many Christians fighting for separation of church and state. You will be much more likely to see Christians redefining the phrase to fall in step with their beliefs. This is nothing unusual for Christians, as Christians seem pretty consistent in forming an argument around a predetermined conclusion: “God is the source of all that’s good, therefore nothing that promotes god can be bad,” or “God loves his children, so there’s nothing wrong with a public school teacher leading the class in a prayer.”
Prayer in School-Be Consistent
Had the Principal led the school in an Islamic prayer the Christian teachers would have had a fit. This mentality and interruption of consistency and reason is what bothers Atheists about Christians the most.
On the issue of school prayer, there is not an atheist I know who feels that kids don’t have the right to private prayer with their god. It is a different matter entirely when a public school teacher leads the class in a public prayer. This is wrong, and it’s equal to the state promoting one religion over the other. I think you can probably agree with this.
However, during a friend’s first day teaching at her new public school this past summer, the Principal decided that he would lead the teachers in an open prayer. Being that we’re in North Carolina, I’m fairly certain that most of the staff is Christian of one denomination or another, but my friend is agnostic. She was afraid of objecting to the prayer, and I can’t blame her. Her job was hard to find, and she didn’t want to put a target on herself. But none of her fellow Christian teachers seemed to mind in the least.
I am willing to bet that not a single one of them saw anything wrong with what they were doing. However, had the Principal led the school in an Islamic prayer, my friend would have been equally as uncomfortable with the prayer, and your Christian teachers would have had a fit. This type of mentality, this interruption of consistency and reason is what bothers Atheists about Christians the most.
Belief or Disbelief in God is Important
Feelings and thoughts on god are very, very important to us.
Former Christian, Now Atheist (non-theist)
I grew up attending church, sometimes 4 times a week.
Grandfather (Wesleyan Minister) Was Great Influence
My grandfather was a Wesleyan minister, and he was and continues to be one of the greatest influences on how I live my life. When I was a kid, my grandfather represented Jesus to me, and even though he’s been dead for 20 years, I still hear people say that about him. He was a great man. And he was a great man because he was a servant. He was kind, he was gentle, he was loving, he was giving, and he was genuine. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was as close as I’ve ever known. He was also a reasonable man.
Jesus gives no exceptions when he tells people to be gentle and kind.
Not Many Christians To Admire Anymore
I don’t see the love and the gentleness and thoughtfulness that defined my grandpa.
What I see instead is justification of exclusion, and often celebration of Prosperity Theology. What we perceive from the outside is that you’re saying to us, and to everyone who isn’t already in your group “we know you’re flawed, we know you’re a sinner, we are too, join us and we’ll help you find salvation.” What I’m not hearing or seeing is “we love you, and we care about who you are and we want to know you and what you have to say.” Christians aren’t interested in what anybody has to say, they’re only interested in telling everyone “how it is.” That’s not conversation, and it’s rarely helpful.
Evangelicals often celebrate the most cynical pundits and celebrities who sound and act the opposite of gentle, kind, and genuine. Sarah Palin criticizes Michelle Obama for promoting healthy exercise and eating habits in children (a Presidentially encouraged idea since 1956), and the next thing I know I’m hearing conservative Christians praise and support her crazy words about how “the government can’t tell me how to raise my kids.”
Glenn Beck villanizes half of the American population, speaks about apocalyptic-like hard times, and how everybody should be prepared and purchase a product that he advertises called “Food Insurance.” The next thing you know, the Mormon owned company “Food Insurance” gets a massive boost in sales by the Evangelical community, thanks to Beck’s fear mongering sales pitch (btw, you can assemble the contents of a Food Insurance package yourself at about 1/3 of the cost). I’m saying this as somebody who doesn’t like Keith Olbermann either. These aren’t good people.
A History Lesson (Segregation, Slavery, Gay Marriage)
Thirty years down the road, these opponents of gay rights are going to be looked at the same way as the racist segregationists.
Are you going to say “well, it was complicated,” when it will be abundantly clear to you that gays with equal rights doesn’t hurt society? In fairness, there were also plenty of Christians and churches who supported civil rights all along. I know the Wesleyan Church has always stood against slavery and mistreatment of African Americans. But the point is, several denominations of Christians were absolutely wrong, and they did so much damage to so many people. That fact still hasn’t changed, and it continues today.
We both seem to agree that being a good Christian starts by striving to be a good person.
Thanks for your time, and best of luck to you. I certainly appreciate what you’re trying to do.
Thanks SO much for sharing your story and experience in and out of the Christian faith. You raise some very important things for us to consider and work through. And yes, we love Dan Merchant’s work. His book/DVD is on our Recommended Reading List. His movie is also an “instant play” on Netflix…so anyone with Netflix can watch it now! Thanks again and we hope you continue to engage with us as we continue to engage with non-Christians and repair the damage that has caused so much animosity and mistrust between us. Peace to you and your family.