christian-atheist dialogue

ichthus.jpgatheism6.pngFor a while now, I have known that while many people are down on Christians, they usually deeply admire and even, at times, attempt to follow Jesus Christ. I couldn’t have imagined how connected these two opposite emotions might be.

The other night, while cruising cyberspace on my Internet surfboard, I came across the blog of an intelligent and extremely thoughtful atheist. I thought he was intelligent and extremely thoughtful because he was dealing with issues of Christian faith more…well…intelligently than most Christians I know. I was also struck at what people on the “outside” of our Christian faith — specifically, someone who has explored our faith and rejected it — think about us.

Here is the post that first introduced me to Atheist Revolution. Minus the brief political commentary (IMHO), I think AR does us Christians a service by giving us an “outsiders’ eye view” of what “we” look like sometimes. Over on his site, he has also posted an “Open Letter to Christians,” which he actually agreed to write after he and I exchanged a brief e-mail dialogue. He told me that he agreed to write the letter (and to have me link to it on my blog) because he would like people to know that Christians and atheists can talk about issues of faith with some measure of civility. Please visit AR’s blog and join the conversation there, especially if you find yourself nodding in agreement at the following words:

Few “Christians” Appear to Be Christians

What does it mean to be a Christian? Is telling people you are a Christian sufficient? Is believing in church dogma regarding Jesus sufficient? Can one be a Christian without attempting to follow the spirit of what Jesus allegedly taught?

We atheists are fond of criticizing the Christian bible. We highlight the contradictions, the irrational superstitions, and the numerous examples of intolerance and cruelty. And yet many of us agree with much of what Jesus supposedly taught. One of the most often repeated messages throughout the bible was that a society can be judged based on how it treats its poor. I agree with this. The bible is filled with calls to look out for the least fortunate among us, and I agree with this.

However, when I look at those Americans who speak the loudest about their Christianity (i.e., the Christian right), I see little compassion for the poor. Unless I am severely mistaken about what it means to be Christian, this seems to be blatant hypocrisy. When George W. Bush, a self-proclaimed Christian, institutes tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting programs to aid the poor, can this be anything other than hypocrisy? When he chooses preemptive war and the steep cost that comes with it over domestic programs to improve education, health care, etc., can this be reconciled with Christianity?

In my local paper, an article recently appeared about Mississippi’s “castle doctrine.” This is a new law which states that I am permitted to use lethal force to defend my home, automobile, or business. If I shoot someone who I perceive to be threatening my home, car, or business, this law says that I “shall be presumed to have reasonable feared imminent death or great bodily harm” and that I have “no duty to retreat” before using lethal force. In other words, this law allows deadly force as a first resort, even in public places such as a city street or parking lot. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma have similar laws.

The people who are the most vocal in their support for this law overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christian. And yet, if their bible was clear about anything, it was that we should not be overly attached to things. Wasn’t Jesus supposed to have said something about turning the other cheek?

I see at least two possibilities here. First, among those who call themselves Christians, most are hypocrites and only a tiny minority can rightly be called Christian. If this is the case, then I hold the minority of real Christians responsible for failing to define what it means to be a Christian and for holding the hypocrites accountable. The second possibility is that being a Christian has little to nothing to do with following the alleged teachings of Jesus. In this case, I’m not sure that the term has any valid meaning and is simply misleading, especially when applied to morality.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Christ was harder on the religious than the non-religious crowd, that is something we should remember as Christians.


  2. Posted by david on July 9, 2007 at 3:33 am

    Maybe I shouldn’t be here cause I’m neither atheist nor christian, But I do have something to say to both of you. I like what the gentleman who wrote “Open letter to Christians” said. I like that he was concise and didnt try to pull a bunch of bible sayings out of context, or misquote scripture to make a point, however he did bring up one of the common known ones about turning the other cheek, which, as all scripture,is supposed to be taken in context with the whole bible; wherein God is not a god of takin a lot of crap from evil. What I find in the general context of Christianity today is (What the bible would call lukewarm) People grasp another commonly known, and used out of context, scripture; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that wosoever believeth in him shall have everlasting life”, Many believe that as long as they believe in Jesus they can live in any self pleasing manner and get to go to heaven. One thing that constantly astounds me and irritates me is how often I bring up a bible quote or story to a christian affirmed friend and they say they have never heard of it before. WHAT? You’re a Christian and you haven’t read the bible? I find that the majority of christians say they believe that the Bible is the holy unerring word of God allmighty creator. yet they can’t seem to find the time to sit down and read it for themselves. (By their belief this should be the most important thing ever written and should have top prority.) No, most don’t know much of whats in there. There’s instructions concerning just about anything you can imagine. Protestants normally say they believe the canon you see in the King James Version is the accepted full bible. The Catholics have a few extra books. Most all agree that the book is to be taken in full context. I’m sorry, But the Holy Bible is the one only aurthoritive source of christianity…..If you dont read the Bible and TRY to follow its teachings; NO, you’re technically not a christian, but you’re someone under a different religion claiming the same name. {and dont start in about Translations, interpretations and symbolism. The bible says what it says.) Now to the Atheist: I refer you to the Stonewell principle; Extremism in any direction is most probably allways wrong. You are both extremist….Atheist or fundamentalist of any existing religions. The only things we know as fact is what has been proven by scientific method… Everything else is an asuumption, belief , theory or hypothesis,(some theories are so bordeline proven and highly supported by evidence that they are most probable). Now thats rationalism. I constantly challenge my Atheist friends not to reference Nature, Evolution, or Chaos without infering, inteligence, intent, or purpose and they constantly fail. The truth is Evolution infers Design, and intent, so does random chance. Yes it does. You seeing my take on This as lack in my mental enlightenment to see beyond design and understand how nothing caused anything and all of this could be a fluke is a reflection of why I dont see why you dont see the udercurrents of intentional design. I’m not selling an anthropomorphic God. I’m saying God is primarily ascribed to as the creative force that started, and maintains, the universe and laws of nature. (whatever started creation , if it was random chance then random chance is God, As far as that goes The laws of nature, biology, Physics are not unlike a software program. One could even say that God is creator, harddrive, and software. Now I’m really losing people. Look; Where did God come from? what is he made of? Spiritons? What is God? well, Maybe we’ll figure it out sometime after we figure out String theory, quantum physics, Gravity, and the unified field, and whatever questions they and other new theories bring up. in other words it wont probally be in our lifetime. We’ll have to answer the basicc questions about the universe and reality before we can even begin to toch on A meaningful scientific view of what God is. Nuff on that. One last subject I would like to address to atheist And humanists; a move to try and convince the majority of the human populace to turn away from ( and stop killing each other over Antiquated religious belief systems is nieve and would be disasrtous at best.) Even with a belief system many people don’t act ethically or morally. Nor is the mentally of the general population able to grasp a concept of no god. Some people can be counted on to do what is decent simply because its the right thing to do, most couldn’t if there wasn’t some governing force and promises of reward or punishment. You think religion is the cause of a lot of horrors today I think the humanists would be sorely disapointed in the chaos that would ensue without it. At present the general populace of the Human animal needs to believe 1. There is a god, or designer 2.Something remains of the personality after physical death, energy or whatever 3. Their individual life is important and has a purpose. Probally for the next several generations. I think the next big step in evolution of spirituality is a unified religion based more toward logic, reasoning and science but retaining those three basic beliefs. Justice can easily be linked to the laws of action and reaction (some call it Karma, but not in the extremist sense). Let me leave on this: Jesus said the GREATEST commandment of all Is to treat others the way you want to be treated (Love your neighbor as yourself) All other commandments are contained in this one.


  3. Information and Resources…

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  4. I suppose the question might involve how two parties can learn to disagree. I must admit the rigidity sanctioned under the rubric of religion would not be acceptable in other domains. Perhaps this means there is a larger problem…


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