A couple friends on Facebook today mentioned an article on wikiHow entitled “How To Persuade a Christian To Become Atheist.” It’s a step by step guide to getting friends to question their theism without frightening them away. Apart from some errors in grammar and syntax, the article is pretty basic and logical, and emphasizes the importance of deepening one’s understanding of both sides of the issue. I’m familiar with some Christian patterns of evangelizing that utilize some of the same broad principles. Any thoughts on evangelizing atheists? Surprising? Unsurprising?
Tag Archives: Atheism
The outcome may surprise you, though. The book she wrote is called In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church. Here’s the blurb on an interview with her on Patheos.com:
Gina Welch grew up in an atheistic, anti-religious household in Berkeley, California. After she moved to Virginia for graduate school, she found herself surrounded by evangelicals, at the very time that evangelicals were credited (and often blamed) for the re-election of George Bush. To investigate what makes evangelicals tick, and to confront her own personal prejudices, Gina resolved to go “undercover” and fake a conversion at the fundamentalist Thomas Road Baptist Church, where the pastor was a certain Jerry Falwell. . . .
as Welch attended the church for two years, something entirely unexpected happened: she began to fall in love not only with the people she met, but even with the rhythms of the life of the church. Even what seemed most foreign, the drive to evangelize, was eventually understood to be an act of profound compassion and social responsibility. Yet after a mission trip to Alaska, Welch was increasingly haunted by the seriousness of her deception. She left Thomas Road without explanation, but so longed to return to the church that her friends and family worried she had lost her way and gave her books on escaping the grip of cults. When at last she returned to Thomas Road to explain what she had done, she received forgiveness and grace from those she had deceived.
Although her basic beliefs regarding God and the afterlife have not changed, Welch admits that “there were times that I felt moved in ways hard for me to account for.” Welch’s attitude toward evangelicals certainly changed. Now, as in this recent post at On Faith, Welch serves as an interpreter of evangelicals to secular progressives.
CNN has a video posted in which Sam Harris, one of the founders of Project Reason and author of “Letter to a Christian Nation,” explains why religion needs to go. It seems he’s arguing that religion is a distraction from, and an insufficient response to, the real problems of the world. The video formulates a caricature from the most fundamentalist and extremist manifestations of religion, and it is this caricature which Harris rather deftly confronts. That caricature, however, is only a caricature. That Islam and Christianity are theologically irreconcilable is not really a valid indictment of theism in general. I also take issue with his assertion that much war is waged because of religion, even when nationalism and political motivations may seem to be the proximate cause (his statement is that “it’s political because it’s religious”). This is a reductive and uninformed assessment of the causes of the wars to which he alludes.
UPDATE: Harris replies to common criticisms of his argument here.
I just received an email from Project Reason about the winners of their video contest. This was the invitation:
The primary goal of Project Reason is to spread scientific thinking and secular values. We invite you to help us further our work by submitting a short video that conveys the message of the foundation.
This was the winning video. I think it’s a good video, although I think the guy’s voice isn’t quite right for its tone. The issue I take with it is that it promotes equal social footing for all without belittling any segment of the population. This isn’t a bad position, but it is at total odds with the values of Project Reason, which seems committed to ridiculing all aspects of faith and religion.
I’ve been browsing a number of different message boards recently (with my six week Christmas break) and came across what I think is an interesting idea. A person insisted that every human being is born an atheist. I responded that this appeals to an incredibly broad definition for the word “atheist,” and that the most common understanding of “atheist” is “one who denies or disbelieves the existence of a deity” (see OED). “Non-theist” would be a more precise word for someone who, out of ignorance of the concept, has no belief one way or the other concerning deity.
That rhetoric then intentionally equivocates. The purpose is clearly to infer that atheism is the natural order, and that theism represents a departure from human nature. In order to make this inference, however, the individual has to manipulate ambiguities and appropriate for atheism a demographic that can never self-identify as atheistic—a demographic that is without exception separate from the one making the inference. I don’t believe they have that right, and I don’t believe there is a pragmatic justification for casting the net so wide.
Jim West points to an NPR article discussing an inside critique of the New Atheist movement. The article mostly features an interview with Stuart Jordan, a volunteer advisor with the Center for Inquiry. Their mission is “to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.” Jordan is speaking out about what he sees as a misguided facet of the New Atheism, catalyzed by an atheist art exhibit he feels is unnecessarily belittling towards religion. The accompanying photo shows one of the pieces. Jordan says, “I wouldn’t want this on my wall” (as an artist I’m offended by how much the painting just plain old sucks).
The article goes on to discuss this New Atheist movement, and what the journalist sees as some of the challenges that may be facing it, including a potential schism, represented by Mr. Jordan. According to the head of the Center, which ran the exhibit, “What we wanted were thoughtful, incisive and concise critiques of religion. We were not trying to insult believers.” Jordan sees it differently. The painting on the left is only one of the three things the Center’s head mentioned, and that’s concise. Beyond that it’s just taking something people find spiritually important and mocking it. If the head of the Center had anything to do with which art was accepted to this exhibit, he failed in his expressed goals.
The article then discusses prominent atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins.
Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of the book God Is Not Great, told a capacity crowd at the University of Toronto, “I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right.” His words were greeted with hoots of approval.
Religion is “sinister, dangerous and ridiculous,” Hitchens tells NPR.
Hitchens doesn’t appear to know much about war, geopolitics, or history. His opinion is a rather naive and reductive one that is common among college freshmen and those who fail to transcend that mentality. The maintenance of power and the ideologies that prop that power up are responsible for the danger so often attributed to religion. Blaming “religion” in and of itself is simply juvenile.
The founder of the Center for Inquiry, Paul Kurtz, agrees with Jordan. He was evidently ousted last year from his position, and the article has this to say:
[Kurtz] worries the new atheists will set the movement back.
“I consider them atheist fundamentalists,” he says. “They’re anti-religious, and they’re mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, they’re very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good.”
He hopes this new approach will fizzle.
“Merely to critically attack religious beliefs is not sufficient. It leaves a vacuum. What are you for? We know what you’re against, but what do you want to defend?”
The new head of the Center, Ronald Lindsay (quoted above) also had the following to say about being belittling:
“We take the high road, the low road, country roads, interstates, highways, byways, — whatever it takes to reach people.”
Perhaps he was not being totally sincere in the other quote. Either way, it’s an interesting dynamic, and what I find interesting is that the New Atheists who are trying to shock and awe more than connect on a respectful level certainly are reaching more people, but are polarizing people more than they’re changing minds. I have to side with Jordan and Kurtz that this New Atheism is going to do more damage than good to their long term goals. I’m als oglad to see someone else using a term I adopted a long time ago (atheist fundamentalists).
What are your thoughts?