26 May, 2008

Dear Smarmy Christians: Knock it the Hell Off

I've been hanging about more in comments threads lately than I ordinarily do, and I've noticed an annoying trend: some Christians seem to have an overwhelming compulsion to jump into the midst of a pool of atheists, splash water, and crow, "Hey, look - you're baptized!"

Knock it the fuck off.

It's annoying. It's childish. It doesn't win anyone over except for maybe your fellow smarmy Christians.

Why the need to twist definitions until they squeal just so you can claim, "Really, atheists, you're religious and you don't even know it!"

Case in point:

Personally, I don’t believe that all self-described atheists are all that far away from God, whether they admit to a set religion or not.

I see. So we're not non-believers, we're believers-in-denial. Right.

If you have the stomach for it, read the whole thread. (Sorry to be beating up on one of your commenters, Webs, but he was the supreme example ready to hand.) Webs does an excellent job of engaging this bugger calmly, rationally, kindly, and thoughtfully. I'm not that nice a person.

Had I come into that conversation while it was in full swing, I would've been hard-pressed not to call this - ahem - gentleman out on his assumptions in terms far less gentle than Webs employed, because, well, I'm me. Diplomatic? Not often. Especially not when I'm seeing red over comments such as, "I mean, the Bible-thumper meanness can be rationalized that they believe they are doing God’s work. I honestly can’t figure a rationalization why atheists are mean to, make fun of, or discriminate against the religious."

Because humans can be right assholes. At least atheists know they're assholes. They don't whimp out by whining, "God wants me to do it!"

There's also that little point about the religious often being mean to, making fun of, and overwhelmingly discriminating against us. Even when they're playing nice. And I'm sorry, but atheists are no more saints than the rest of humanity - well, not much - just a tad more rational. When we've been slammed over and over and over, well, don't be so surprised that some of us get snippy.

But I'm not going to spend this post deconstructing this bugger's remarks. I just want to point out a little something that gets even further up my nose than Robert T. Bakker:

Now, I would never dream of engaging a convicted Lutheran, Evangelical, Jew, or Hindu over who’s religion is the surest shot to God’s favor. I will, however, engage an atheist over the question of Faith.

Maybe he meant that as "I'm genuinely curious about how you atheists get on without faith," but in the context of this self-righteous bullshit-

It’s just, without a spiritual roadmap, an atheist might be more compelled to act on urges that lead down wrong paths. True, there are Lutherans who gamble, slander, ridicule, hoard, discriminate, and cheat… but they have a doctrine than warns against those activities. What hindrance does an atheist have stopping them from engaging in acts that work against pahalah?
-I'm thinking not.

What this bugger is saying is, it doesn't matter what religion you are as long as you're religious. And then he displays the disease of so many Christians who, when confronted by an atheist who is kind, generous, and good, instead of admitting that a non-believer doesn't need God to have good qualities, proclaims that "atheists aren't all that far away from God." He flat-out states we're religious and just not admitting it.

Newsflash: we're not fucking religious. We don't need to be religious to be good human beings. We're not in denial about being religious. We're not in denial about God. We've reached this point of unbelief after a long and often painful struggle. There's no denial left: we are not denying God, because it's utterly pointless to deny something that doesn't exist.

Do not mistake extreme annoyance at being disrespected for a denial of God.

Do not mistake a rational decision to act in a way that benefits fellow human beings as a tacit admission of faith. Especially don't do it after claiming you respect our right to not believe. When you pull bait-and-switch bullshit like this, what you're really saying is that you can't possibly respect an atheist: therefore, this person you respect must not really be an atheist.

To put this in a context that a Christian might possibly understand: how do you feel when some smarmy atheist pounces on some small admission you make, such as maybe having a different understanding of God than more doctrinal Christians, or having gone through moments of doubt, and gleefully proclaims, "See? You're really an atheist in denial!"

You're not. You know you're not. Now, turn that around, if you can, and understand that an atheist respecting another person's faith is not a sign that we believe in God but just won't 'fess up. Go ahead and believe that God's really guiding us, if you must - I can't stop you there - but keep it the fuck to yourself if you're so fucking concerned about respect.

If you wouldn't challenge a Lutheran or a Hindu or a Jew on their faith, what possible reason can you have for not showing an atheist the same courtesy in regards to their lack thereof?

I really don't mind being engaged in a discussion about my atheism. What I absolutely have no tolerance for is smarmy fuckers who, instead of engaging in actual debate where there's actual respect shown for the other person's position, declare, "Anything you say proves either that you're really religious, I win!!"

No, you don't. You declared a hollow victory that has no more meaning than IDiots pouncing on a simplified rendering of the inner workings of a cell and declaring, "See, it looks designed, therefore it is. I win!"

Bullshit. What you show is ignorance. You've proven nothing, except to yourself, and pissed off the person you were pretending to have respect for.

Why not take a lesson from Karen, here, smarmy Christians? She's Christian. And she's shown remarkable respect for the atheists she's hanging about with. She hasn't tried to claim us for God. Hasn't tried to twist every argument into a victory for God. Hasn't tried to proclaim that anything we do that's good and just and moral must necessarily come from God, because it couldn't possibly come from being human. She and I haven't discussed what her views on that are. The point is, she respects our atheism. When she says she respects our right to not believe, she truly does.

I think she understands that to tell an atheist they're not really an atheist is almost as offensive as telling a black person they're not "really" black, or a gay man he's not "really" gay, or, indeed, a Christian that they're not "really" Christian.

What you're telling me by saying I'm not "really" an atheist is that I'm a lesser being if I am. You're trying to take something precious away because it's not worthy to you. And while your opinion does not change what I am, the fact of you even attempting to do so is offensive in the extreme.

We can argue points of evidence. We can explore how we reached our respective positions. There's plenty to discuss here. But let's not deny what each of us is just because we're not comfortable with the facts.


Cobalt said...

Romans 2:12 "All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)"

I always took that to mean that if you don't utterly fail at being a human being, God's gonna notice. Just as there are believers who've theoretically got the book of rules right in front of them and miss the point anyway, there are non-believers who intuitively know what it means to not completely suck.

This is the charitable way of seeing the "atheists aren't that far from God" argument, and it's be super super cool if I saw it more often.

My personal view on atheism is the same as it is on Christianity or Buddhism or Asatru or Shinto. People will believe what they need to believe to make spiritual progress. Many people can make more progress through Judaism or Wicca than through Hinduism, and that makes those paths productive for them. I apply that to atheism, too. Even though I do believe in The Divine Power OMGZ, that doesn't mean everyone is in a place where that's productive for them. It doesn't mean they or I or anyone is "further along" than anyone else. It just means that different people have different needs, and just as I expect not to hear from atheists that my way of fulfilling my needs makes me a backward irrational savage, atheists won't hear from me that their way of fulfilling their needs is somehow morally deficient.

That was a long rambling comment. But you get the idea.

Woozle said...

"it doesn't matter what religion you are as long as you're religious", etc.: This is very much the sort of thing that makes me think that the best religionists -- the sincere ones who aren't just powermongering manipulators -- are in it because of (what I call, for lack of a more precise word) "idealism", by which I mean something like "the will to do good".

If a religionist is claiming that any atheist who behaves morally "[isn't] all that far away from God", or is really religious but just isn't admitting it, this tells me that the speaker sees "belief in behaving morally" and "religion" (or "belief in God") as more or less equivalent. Note that the word "good" is derived from the word "god", which I submit as strong circumstantial evidence that these ideas are closely related.

I couldn't get Progressive Conservative to admit that belief in God was an expression of idealism, so maybe I'm wrong... but show me how it's different, dude. If you say "God makes me a better person" in an approving way, that implies that you want to be a better person -- and that's what I mean by idealism: the will to do good.

(Any suggestions for a better word than "idealism" to describe this concept?)


Also, I had another thought on Active Atheism, towards the goal of thoroughly trampling the "atheism is just another religion" meme: Atheism is just a corollary of "free thinking", which demands freedom from the requirement to believe any particular thing if it doesn't make sense. Which is basically just rationality.

If atheism is a religion, its god is reality and its one unquestionable item of Infallible Holy Writ is this: Question everything (including this rule).


(I just can't shut up today...) Personally, I'd rather face the real actual Fires Of Hell For All Eternity than go against my conscience. I don't accept superior strength as a moral argument; the God of Eternal Damnation For Sin is a goddamn bully, and I wouldn't accept his authority even if I believed in him. So, tell me again how I'm really religious and just won't admit it?

Dana Hunter said...

@Cobalt: You. Are. Amazing.

@Woozle: so are you.


Cobalt said...

I don't accept superior strength as a moral argument; the God of Eternal Damnation For Sin is a goddamn bully, and I wouldn't accept his authority even if I believed in him.

That question sticks for me sometimes. If God is good because he's in line with some standard that transcends him, then morality comes from God. If morality comes from God, it's still being chosen arbitrarily (not in the sense that it's random, but in the sense that someone has arbitrated it and made a personal decision) based on what one entity likes. God's morality is only "absolute" if God has absolute power to enforce his own standard. Maybe he does have that absolute power, but he doesn't seem to use it anymore.

Then again, no one seems to expect him to. This blog entry (http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/05/no-one-believes-that-god-of-bible.html) talks about the changing expectations of God. Even so-called Biblical literalists don't expect real life to play out the way the Bible shows.

The title of this post is not a complaint; it is merely an observation. No one confronts the representatives of another tradition with a contest to see which one's deity will send fire from heaven as Elijah did. No Christian blogger claims that those who comment negatively will be struck with blindness for doing so, as apostles did. God is depicted in many parts of the Bible as knocking down city walls, parting seas and so on. Yet no Christian dominionists are likely to march around Washington D.C. and see it fall into their hands.

Those who claim they "believe the whole Bible" and "take it literally" are being dishonest. Their pastor may have preached recently on the story of the fall of Jericho, but it was applied to God "making the strongholds of sin in your come life crumbling down", not to a battle plan to take a city.

Dana Hunter said...

Now I feel like an idiot... never even thought to ask Bible literalists what's happened to burning bushes and falling cities. Although I'm sure they'd yawp about hurricanes and such.

Here's my theory from back when I was becoming agnostic: we don't see miracles and such anymore because God got disgusted with all the fundies, grabbed Moses and Jesus, and headed over to a parallel universe for a few millenia of golf. He plays with a little ball that looks like Earth. Fellow golfers know better than to bring up that whole "earth" thing around Him.

'Twas always good for a laugh.