Sunday, April 27, 2008

Atheist Christianity (Why I want to be more like an atheist)

For quite some time now there has been a contest – or battle if you will – between Christianity and Atheism (for the purposes of this post, “Atheism” will be used as shorthand for atheism, agnosticism and all forms of non-religion). By this I am not referring to the “War on Christianity” that the Christian media is always talking about. No, I’m referring to a battle the Christians seem to be losing quite badly. I’m referring of course to the “who behaves more like a Christian” contest.

See I was brought up with some very black and white ideas regarding Christianity and Atheism. According to everything I was brought up to believe Christians are the best, most moral people in existence because they are: a) born again (hence not like all the unregenerate, spiritually dead people in the world), b) following the teachings and examples of Jesus and c) empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit. Atheists on the other hand had none of this and were therefore necessarily evil, morally bankrupt and untrustworthy (to put it mildly). After all, they couldn’t be moral, they don’t have God who is the basis for all morality! Every church I have ever been in taught that life had 4 basic questions:

1. Who am I? (What am I worth?)

2. Where do I come from?

3. Why am I here?

4. Where am I going when I die?

It seems so simple, Christianity gives answers of value, worth and hope but Atheism gives only scary, uncertain answers to those questions.

See I get all that, I fully understand every one of the Christian arguments and why they must be right. After all, you should see a clear difference between people who are helped and guided in life by God Himself and those who aren’t. What I don’t understand is why this doesn’t line up with reality. Coming from a Christian background/mindset I get how things are supposed to be and why. Problem is, when I look I see the opposite.

When it comes to marriage, no one should do better than a Christian right? Christians after all, understand that it is a holy covenant relationship, instituted by God and sacred in His sight [1]. To Atheists on the other hand it is just another legal contract right? One they will probably end in divorce with ease since they don’t put the same sacred value on it that Christians do right? Well, not according to the facts:


Variation in divorce rates by religion:

Religion

% have been divorced

Jews

30%

Born-again Christians

27%

Other Christians

24%

Atheists, Agnostics

21%

(http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm)


Unpleasant statistics indeed! However, when it comes to being law abiding citizens, Christians should really outperform all others right? After all, Christians have the Holy Spirit leading them AND they have God’s Law written on their hearts[2] not to mention several Biblical admonishments [3] to obey the law of the land! Surely Christians should do better than Atheists who have no moral absolute and are therefore morally relativistic and prone to do evil? Again, not according to actual reality:


Prison population by religion:

Denomination - Number - Percentage

Catholic - 29267 - 39.164%

Protestant - 26162 - 35.008%

Rasta - 1485 - 1.987%

Jewish - 1325 - 1.773%

Church of Christ - 1303 - 1.744%

Pentecostal - 1093 - 1.463%

Jehovah Witness - 665 - 0.890%

Adventist - 621 - 0.831%

Orthodox - 375 - 0.502%

Mormon - 298 - 0.399%

Atheist - 156 - 0.209%

So then:

Judeo-Christian Total: 83.761%

Total Atheists in Prison: 0.209% (156 of the 74731 total responses)

Note that atheists, being a moderate proportion of the USA population (about 8-16%) are disproportionately less in the prison populations (0.21%).

(http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm) Also these statistics are based on prison admittance forms so conversion in prison plays no role here.


Of course, the one area where Christians must surely excel is in loving their neighbour.
After all, that is the great commandment given by Jesus, second and like to loving God[4]. In fact we are to be known by how much we love one another! After all, according to the Bible we aren’t even allowed say that we love God if we don’t love our fellow humans [5]! So surely, only godless Atheists would belong to hate groups, never Bible believing Christians! Again, sadly not the truth:

Ku Klux Klan Membership:

Bible believing Christians: 100%

Atheists: 0%

The American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan note that only those of "Christian faith" can be members, and asks every new recruit "Do you believe in Jesus Christ?" The White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan declare that "at some point God's people must take action in the defense of our Christian, racial and political beliefs". The Camelia KKK website also explicitly states "We base our beliefs on our Biblical interpretations, not ignorance, superstition or blind hatred." How does the Camelia KKK justify its opposition to "race-mixing"? "White Christian Israelites are under God’s law and covenant. The other peoples of the earth are under nature’s law, which God also created. . . Nature’s law, which is a creation of YAHWEH, dictates that kind reproduce after kind. The different people of the world were never supposed to mix." The Imperial Klans of America declares, "We are a gathering of White Christian men and women." The National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan website declares that they "reverently acknowledge the majesty and supremacy of Almighty God and recognize his goodness and providence through his Son Jesus Christ. We avow the distinction between the races of mankind as decreed by the Lord our God, and we shall ever be true to the maintenance of His Supremacy."

www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Hangar/2437/nazis.htm [6]

Also it’s not just the KKK. Apartheid was run by Christians and ditto the AWB and many other hate groups.

As a Christian, I am often reminded of the need for Christians to be in charge of everything from governments to school boards. The reasoning here is that if Christians are not running things, the entire country and everything in it will deteriorate into a complete cesspool. Clearly, there should be an obvious difference between countries with a majority Bible believing Christians calling the shots and secular states with no prayer in school, evolution in the classrooms, the 10 Commandments out of the courtrooms and a minimal Christian population. But you can probably guess what is coming next by now:

USA Ranking on Adult Literacy Scale: #9
(#1 Sweden and #2 Norway) OECD

USA Ranking on Healthcare Quality Index: #37

(#1 France and #2 Italy) World Health Organization 2003

USA Ranking on Student Mathematics Ability: # 24

(#1 Hong Kong and #2 Finland) OECD PISA 2003

USA Ranking of Student Science Ability: #19

(#1 Finland and #2 Japan) OECD PISA 2003

USA Ranking on Life Expectancy: #29

(#1 Japan and #2 Hong Kong) UN Human Development Report 2005

USA Ranking on Political Corruption Index: #17

(#1 Iceland and #2 Finland) Transparency International 2005

USA Ranking on Infant Mortality Rate: #32

(#1 Sweden and #2 Finland) Save the Children Report 2006

USA Ranking on Human Development Index (GDP, education, etc.): #10

(#1 Norway and #2 Iceland) UN Human Development Report 2005
(http://www.craigslist.org/about/best/sfo/163437715.html)

  • These are just some of the statistics given. It seems the USA – the country with the largest population of Bible literalist, born again Christians in the world does not fare very well against completely secular countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden. Also when taking a closer look at the American statistics a strange trend appears – the higher the concentration of conservative Christians, the higher the number of divorces, teenage pregnancies, violent crimes, cases of sexually transmitted diseases… (http://www.stopthereligiousright.org/biblebelt.htm)

    In other words, the more Christians you have somewhere the less it seems like it. I’m not even going to mention the horrendous statistics regarding South Africa – a country that is 80% Christian…

    Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to simply substitute one stereotype for another. Substituting “Christians good, Atheists bad” with “Atheists good, Christians bad” is a completely lateral move – the two statements are equally disconnected with reality. I know enough Atheists to know that the Christian caricature of them is wrong – they are not evil, immoral people you can’t stand to be around. Yet at the same time, this doesn’t mean there aren’t some utterly terrible Atheists out there. Certainly you will find your fair share of atheist skinheads in some of the various hate groups of the world. Certainly some people who don’t believe in God are also complete assholes. But then, I can say the same for Christians! While there are some amazing Christian people in this world who I greatly admire, there are also some truly horrible people out there who are Christian. All in all you find good and bad, saintly and truly evil in both camps.

    But that is kind of the problem here isn’t it? There is supposed to be a difference according to Christian dogma. After all, Atheism is simply the non-belief in God and it offers no guidelines for living or behavior. Christianity on the other hand does just that – it is supposed to offer a superior way, it is supposed to have transforming power. Why then does it seem that Atheists are doing a far better job at behaving “the Christian way” than the actual Christians? This is something Christians really cannot keep their heads in the sand about. After all, an effective means for critiquing a belief system and/or its adherents is to point out significant contradictions between how believers behave and the ideals they espouse. Big contradictions in this can suggest that they don't really believe what they say. With such an obvious disconnect between the Christian ideal and the Christian reality, is it any wonder so many are turning their back on the faith? It is nothing short of hypocrisy to call yourself the “salt of the earth” while behaving worse than those you call “heathens”. Clearly, it is fooling less and less people by the day.


    So what I am interested in finding out is why exactly are so many atheists so good at doing what Christians are so bad at doing? What is it that Atheists are doing right and Christians are doing wrong? Here are some of the (very Biblical) lessons Atheists have taught me:


    Seek real vs spiritual solutions

    The movie Apocalypto showed pretty graphically how gruesomely ineffective it can be to attempt to solve a real world problem by spiritual means only. In it, a South American tribe was suffering under a drought and thought this to be the wrath of the gods. To appease the gods they made one human sacrifice after another – the longer the drought went, the more people were sacrificed. Nowadays one finds that not much has changed when religious leaders blame the events of 9/11 on the acceptance of homosexuals or the 2004 Tsunami on rejecting Christ[7]. I think atheists are far more effective in this world simply because they don’t pray for things to happen, they make it happen. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against prayer at all. But the attitude of just praying and waiting for God to do the work while staying inactive (holy as it may seem) is not even all that Biblical! Read the Bible – sure, people prayed, they sacrificed, they cried out to God, BUT then they went forth and actually fought the battle/did the work/met the challenge head on. Addressing the spiritual side of things is fine and good but at the end of the day, a real world problem requires real world action to be solved.


    Live in the moment

    One of the best loved misconceptions Christians have about Atheists is that they live empty, meaningless lives with nothing to look forward to. However, after actually getting to know some atheists I have found this to be utterly untrue. In fact, while many Christians are happy to wait for the eternal while being passive and inactive in the temporal, most atheists grasp the most fundamental thing about the here and now – it matters greatly. Unfortunately, many good Christians miss this vitally important fact – after all, there is a reason we even have sayings like “he is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good”. Again, this is not the kind of life Christians were meant to lead! We are here on this earth for such a brief flicker of time, why squander it? If you actually believe that God put you on this earth, how can you not see your time here as vitally important? Your life here matters, what you do with it matters, wasting it is unacceptable, tragic and completely against the teachings of Jesus. If the here and now was not important, why would Jesus even have bothered teaching the parable of the talents[8]?


    Do what is right without waiting for guidance

    I think another factor that makes atheists far more effective at being a force for good in this world is the fact that they do things because it is right and because they are able. Christians on the other hand tend to not do anything unless God instructs or leads them to do it. This usually leads to a lot of sitting around and doing nothing. For instance, you can always tell which group of people in a church are “waiting on the Lord” for a marriage partner – they are the guys who stay single year after year after year. Again, the atheists manage act more Biblically correct than Christians. Take Nehemiah for instance. No angels appeared to him, God didn’t speak to him and he had no dreams and heard no voices. He did however see a problem in Israel and he was in a position to do something about it and so he did. He saw a problem and he fixed it because it was right and because he could. He did it so well in fact he got his own book in the Old Testament!


    Take personal responsibility

    Atheists can be forgiven for thinking that religion is a crutch for the weak minded. After all, Christians tend to use their faith as a way to duck personal responsibility all the time. They do something wrong, it’s because the devil tricked them into doing it. Alternatively, things are just passively accepted as the “will of God”. Grace and forgiveness to some Christians represent a license to do as much wrong as you like and get away with it. I think this is one of the biggest factors why atheists do so well against Christians on crime stats (among other things). The simple act of being responsible for who you are, what you do (and don’t do) goes a long way toward living a moral life and in this Atheists tend to have Christians beat hands down. Unfortunately Christians seem to have forgotten that personal responsibility is taught in the strongest terms by Jesus and the Bible. After all, if you believe in a God who will hold you accountable for your life, shouldn’t you be taking more personal responsibility in stead of less?


    So in conclusion, I think Atheists live more like Christians because they are actually living more like Christ prescribed than many Christians! Of course these are simply some of my thoughts, I would love to hear yours if you have any.



    [1] Matt 19:3-9
    [2] Heb 10:16
    [3] Rom 13:1-7; Tit 3:1; 2 Pet 2:13,14,17
    [4] Matt 22:39
    [5] 1 John 4:20
    [6] It seems the page has been removed but can still be accessed via Google by using the “cached” option.
    [7] I’m not sure how widespread that was but I personally heard that claim from 2 different pulpits in two different cities.
    [8] Matt 25:15-30


    2 comments:

    Tania said...

    I have "atheist" friends. One of them says he just tries to be a good person, and you know, he really is. As a Christian woman (one who've known God a long time), I often learn more from him than I learn in church. Jesus lead by example after all, and He loved everyone, even those despised by his peers. EVERYONE. I, for one, am thankful for that!

    TPluckyT said...

    You make some very good points . . . Here are some random replies . . .

    When I was young I heard it often said that when Satan found he couldn't defeat the church he joined it, obviously to promote destrution from within . . . I think this carries some truth, but the danger is taking it to the extreme that we bear no personal reponsibility, aka, "The Devil made me do it!"

    Maybe the whole term "Christianity" should be redefined to better capture those who are truly representing themselves as "Christ's Ambassadors." . . . Once again, the danger is that this thinking quickly turns into a "works" mentality with less room for Grace.

    I too have "non-christian" friends who act more compassionately, generously, and live life with integrity far more than many of my "Christian" friends . . . It blows my mind . . . But then again, I think these friends do a better job than myself which causes me to reflect on my own walk . . .

    It sucks to be a member of a so-called "Christian" nation because we just can't seem to live up to everyone's expectations . . . The book "The Myth of a Christian Nation" really puts that in perspective for me and I highly recommend it . . .

    Don't forget that the Corinthians struggled with orgies, gluttony, and wanton lasciviousness yet Paul still considered them Christ followers . . . I realize our witness is important (I believe that to be Biblical), yet one counterpoint to your post would be it is the very slime pit of sin/mistakes we struggle through that keeps before us our need of God. You see another distinguishing characteristic between a Christian and Athiest is that one perceives that they need God and the other doesn't . . .

    Did you hear the one about the Agnostic Dyslexic Ansomniac? He often stayed awake at night wondering if there really was a Dog . . .

    Very good stuff, Eugene, and in my opinion well thought out . . .