Sunday, March 13, 2011

Christian, remove the plank from your own eye!

I hear a lot of complaints from Christians that we atheists are rude, angry, obnoxious, militant, and downright nasty at times. We are told that we ought to behave in a more civil manner, and learn to be more polite when discussing our views with people. And sometimes, if we refuse to amend our ways, we are blocked from commenting on certain websites. We are marginalized and ignored as hopeless cases beyond the grasp of ordinary evangelism methods, reprobates who deserve the punishment that God has in store for those who refuse to repent. But these Christians should try to be a bit more understanding of our perspective; you see, it's not easy being the enemy of God and of civilization. A lot is expected from a nemesis of the Almighty, and we try really hard to live up to our elevated status. So please bear with us, we are trying as hard as we can.

But seriously, the same Christians who expect civility and friendly discourse when engaging with atheists seem completely unaware of the nasty language used in their sacred texts to demonize and discriminate against unbelievers. The pointed language we sometimes use pales in comparison to the hateful speech used to describe unbelievers (and other sinful people) found in the Bible, which serves to nurture hate against atheists everywhere. Thus, Christians engage in a hypocritical double-standard; they demand perfect civility from unbelievers, but they embrace hate-language to justify belief in their silly and implausible doctrines. So let's take a little walk through the Bible to see what I mean...

Unbelievers are maligned and insulted throughout the entire Bible, and I begin here with perhaps the most widely known example: Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God,' They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds...” We will encounter those abominable atheists throughout our study. In fact the same line above is repeated in Psalm 53:1, just in case you didn't catch it the first time. I wonder if any elected official could announce in public, “Christians are corrupt and their deeds are an abomination!”? Yet the passage in Psalms is read openly in churches to spread hate against unbelievers. It is no wonder, then, that it is nearly impossible for an atheist to be elected in America today, thanks in part to Bible-based bigotry.

The Apostle Paul goes farther and claims that atheists really do believe in God, but willfully deny him:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in righteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools... Romans 1:18-21
Therefore, according to Paul, everyone has the knowledge of God inside them, but atheists conspire to actively reject him. Ergo we are liars, we are conspiring to suppress the truth, and we are fools. Lost on Christians is the fact that so much indoctrination is required to kick-start belief in Jesus! According to Paul, belief in God is natural. Yet years of Sunday school Bible study is apparently required to keep it there. Unfortunately for believers there is no more evidence for God's existence than there is for leprechauns, or for any other magical, mythical creatures of ancient literature. Let's be honest, without evidence it is mere speculation to say whether God exists or he doesn't. Would it be alright with Christians if we derided them for what we consider to be futile notions about angels and virgin births? Can atheists openly mock Christians whose hearts are darkened with foolish speculations about God?

One of Paul's letters in the Bible, Galatians, deals with a church whose members begin to follow another gospel than the one Paul taught them. They begin to practice a strict observance of the law of Moses as a necessary path to salvation along with a belief in Jesus, rather than to seek salvation through Christ alone. Essentially the Galatians turn away from Paul's teachings and become Jews! Paul lays out his accusation against them in Galatians 1:6-9:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
Paul is so frustrated that he has to curse the responsible party twice. A little later he employs some name-calling (3:1): “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you...?” Paul calls them fools. And what exactly is their transgression? The Galatians dared to change their minds! Sometimes people change. Sometimes what appeared reasonable at first does not seem so reasonable later. According to Paul that makes them fools. I wonder if it would be considered too uncivil for an atheist to say, “You foolish Christians.” Or would it be too impolite to say, “Cursed is the fool who teaches you to believe in your silly resurrection myth!”? Let's continue.

In Matthew 7:6 Jesus says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (see also Matthew 15:26 and Mark 7:7). Who are the dogs and the swine in this verse supposed to represent? Are they not the people who reject Jesus' message? Are they not the unbelievers? Jesus continues to say in 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In other words, beware of people with different opinions about Jesus, they are dangerous! I wonder if it would be alright for us atheists to go around calling Christians “dogs” and “swine” like Jesus did? May I call Christians “ravenous wolves,” or would that be considered militant? Oh, but there's more...

The apostle Paul warns in Philemon 3:2-3 “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision, for we are the true circumcision...” These are not violent criminals he's talking about; Paul is merely describing people with different beliefs. Yet Paul applies the moniker “dogs” and “evil workers” to them. May we atheists call you Christians “evil workers” too? Why not?

Moving right along, 2 Peter 2:1 says “..there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” Peter warns that people will come denying Jesus, and their heresies are destructive. The unorthodox are dangerous people who deserve to be destroyed. That's perfectly acceptable as long as it's Christians talking about unbelievers, right? But are we permitted to say that Christian doctrines are destructive and dangerous? I guess if we did it might make us sound obnoxious and uncivil. Can we talk about Christians deserving swift destruction, and rejoice when a tornado rips another Bible-belt town apart? Why not? After all, the Lord says he's responsible for that as well! (See Amos 3:6).

Again, 2 Peter 2:21-22 says that apostates are like dogs returning to their vomit, and pigs returning to their filth. I guess he's talking about people like me, who spent almost 25 years being indoctrinated at church and Bible College before finally discarding Christianity as an ancient mythological relic. This passage implies that someone could not possibly leave Christianity for a legitimate reason. We are portrayed in the Bible as unreasoning animals. I wonder if there is a polite way to tell someone that they are wallowing in slop? I don't think so. Would any Christians be offended if I said, “Pardon me, good fellow, I don't mean to interrupt your meditations on Jesus, and please do tell me if I am being a nuisance, but I do believe that you are drinking from the vomit bowl again”? Or how about if I said, “Excuse me, dear Christian, but I dare say that you are wallowing in your own intellectual excrement!”? If this is not acceptable then why do Christians embrace and celebrate similar language used in the Bible to refer to unbelievers? As I said earlier, the language of today's atheists pales in comparison to the offensive, discriminatory language used in the Bible against nontheists. I've never heard an atheist say that Christians are rolling around in their own shit. That's over the line by most people's standards. But not for Christians -- it's codified in scripture as divine god-talk.

Let's recall now the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, where an alter is set up and Elijah invites Baal's prophets to pray for a miraculous sign by lighting it on fire. I Kings 18:27 says “It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Call out with a loud voice, for he [Baal] is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.” [The Contemporary English Version has Elijah say, “maybe he's daydreaming, or using the toilet.”]. But nothing happens, so when it is Elijah's turn to pray, of course the LORD makes an amazing display of power and consumes the alter with fire.
When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.” Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.” (vs 39-40)
Four hundred fifty people were rounded up and killed because they believed in the wrong god. Is this book really suitable for teaching children the difference between right and wrong? You may have met some proud, obnoxious, mean atheists, but at least you survived the encounter! Be happy that you lived to tell the story. But note how Elijah engaged in loud mocking against the soon-to-be-slaughtered prophets of Baal. Is this behavior really appropriate for someone thought by Christians to be a hero? May we atheists employ loud mocking of Christians when we disagree with them? Why not? A prophet of god wasn't above loud mocking of his opponents. Jesus didn't seem to mind too much either – look he's up on a mountain having a party with Elijah and Moses (see Mark 9:4, Luke 9, Matt 17), probably laughing about the whole scene. Where is the outcry among Christians about the terrible outcome at Mount Carmel? Why isn't Elijah condemned as a militant, angry Jew? I've never heard one sermon on how disrespectful and awful Elijah's behavior was, but we never hear the end of how terrible we atheists are for persistently pointing out Bible nonsense to Christians.

Then there is the episode involving another prophet, Elisha, who was a protege of Elijah. 2 Kings 2:23-24 says, “Then [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up [or mauled, NIV] forty-two lads of their number.” So some kids were mocking a bald guy when he calls on two bears, who jump out of the forest and kill 42 kids. That teaches a great moral value, doesn't it? Recall how perfectly acceptable it is to mock Baal's prophets, but when the tables are turned then someone must die! These are the heroes of the Bible, it's very sad.1

Now it's John's turn. The epistle I John 2:18-19 says:

... just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many anitchrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us... (verse 22) Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.. (verse 26) These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you.”
Who's a liar? We who deny “the Father and the Son”. Christians think that there is no legitimate reason to reject Jesus, therefore we must be lying when we say we don't believe! Oh, and we are the antichrist too; we have joined with the very personification of evil in rebellion against god. Would it be alright with you Christians if we atheists respectfully called you the enemy of mankind and cohorts with the Devil? Would anyone consider that to be too confrontational or mean-spirited?

And here's another good one: 2 John 1:5-11 says:

“ one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward [note the moral here: don't be good for goodness sake, no, do it for the nifty gold stars that Jesus is handing out]. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.”
This passage was likely written against an early Christian “heresy”, probably gnosticism, which taught that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body that suffered and died. In other words, this invective was originally aimed against other Christians, but John considered them evil because they didn't believe correctly about Jesus. John's warning must also apply to atheists because we also do not acknowledge Jesus, least of all a resurrected one! Mere intellectual assent is what distinguishes the righteous from the evil doer; unbelief is equated with evil. John says to kick the false teacher out of your house, do not greet him, do not show him any hospitality. And this is just moments after John reminds his readers to love one another. The doctrine of brotherly love, so often touted by Christians as a unique legitimizing social feature,2 here takes on quite a narrow meaning: Love your neighbor as yourself has come to mean merely 'Love your Christian neighbor as yourself.' To hell with your unbelieving neighbor.

So far we've heard from several supposed men of god and we've seen that Christian temperaments can be much worse than those accusations brought against atheists today. If only the Bible characters had read Titus 3:2, which says “to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing consideration for all men.” Keeping in mind all we've learned throughout this exercise let me call attention to what 1 John 3:13 tells Christians: “Do not be surprised if the world hates you.” Seriously, with all the hate and demagoguery churning out of your own self-righteous lips and inspired scriptures, don't be surprised if some of that hate eventually gets dumped back on you. A Christian's worldview defines nearly the entire population of Earth as the enemy of God; so please don't be surprised, Christian, when you make a few enemies. An old proverb wisely teaches, “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” Put down your stones, Christians, and go read your Bible! Read the insults! Read the attacks and demonizing against unbelievers, against the Jews, against homosexuals, against anyone with another view of God. So please don't cry foul over your unpleasant encounter with an angry atheist. We have every right and reason to be angry. Enough of your shameless hypocrisy already!

Concluding remarks:

If the differences between Christians and atheists amounted only to a breakdown of civil discourse, then this might all be much ado about nothing. But it is about much more than that. Bible teachings which are thought to be inspired lead to hate and discrimination against atheists, which are endemic across America. It's not just ancient history, it's happening today. For brevity I wont recount the voluminous details of such incidents, there are plenty of resources where they may be found.3

If Christians are serious about wanting civil discourse then they should throw their Bibles in the trash! The Bible is full of uncivil, mean-spirited, angry insults against people who dare to think for themselves and hold different views.

Also, the fact that some do criticize atheist manners demonstrates that these Christians do not look to the Bible as an absolute moral guide. Their de facto moral compass is based upon their own sense of right and wrong, a common decency not found or articulated in the Bible (to any coherent degree anyway). In other words, they get their morals from the same place we atheists do, from within themselves. See, we are not so different after all!

And lastly, looking to the Bible, or any prescribed text, for guidance on how to live negates real freedom and responsibility for moral choices. Following a dogmatic code without weighing each unique circumstance fails to exercise our reasoning faculties, and also keeps us from investigating possible negative consequences of our actions. To surrender freedom and reason to a prescribed checklist makes one morally and intellectually lazy. As free and conscious beings we have the right, and the duty, to think for ourselves, as Thomas Paine so eloquently states in Age of Reason:

Revelation, when applied to religion, means something communicated immediately from God to man.

No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication, if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.

It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication–-after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.

Each of us has the permission and the responsibility to think for ourselves. I have shown that Christians do not accept all the morals taught in the Bible, they expect something much more noble than the examples given in scripture. Perhaps it is true that atheists can be rude at times. We face the negative consequences of Christian indoctrination every day. But Christians have no right to expect civility when discussing religion unless they are willing to renounce the offensive language in the Bible too. Nevertheless some parts of the Bible do make a lot of sense, like this passage from Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

1. I do, however, take solace in the fact that these stories never happened; they are complete fiction.
2. The 'Golden Rule' was not a Christian invention, it was taught centuries earlier by Confucius. Jesus may have been familiar with it from the Rabbi Hillel, who taught the 'Golden Rule' around the 1st century BCE.
3. Below is a list of examples to support this claim. I will add more links in the future:

An Army Officer Resigns because of rampant discrimination against Atheists in the military
Atheist event at Fort Bragg forced to cancel because of last minute, discriminatory requirements not imposed on other groups
Hotel owners discriminate agains a gay couple
Indianapolis schools internet filtering policy discriminates against Atheists
Televangelist is openly bigoted against Atheist, tells woman she must divorce Atheist husband
Spiritual Fitness index in military reviews discriminates against Atheists
Hospital waives fair hiring clause in order to merge with religious organization
Ballpark offers discount to religious people, but not to the unchurched
Atheist girl harassed at school, and father falsely accused after principal hits him!