No, this isn’t some religious rant from me. A religious student group at Purdue, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, invited me and other members of the Non-Theists to an event they were holding today on Memorial Mall. They had a black board with “I HATE RELIGION BECAUSE…” written in large red letters, and invited students to write their opinions on the board.I ended up talking to some of them for a while (even though it was really cold outside, boo Indiana weather), especially the pastor who works with the group. He explained that they wanted to generate discussion about religion so they could learn from the different viewpoints and think about why some people dislike religion. Much like our Blasphemy Day event, they wanted to let people know it was okay to criticize religion – in fact, they encourage it. They don’t want people to blindly accept what they may have grown up with, be it Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, atheism. College is a place to question things and learn about different beliefs, and that applies to religion as well.
While they said no one was disrespectful, they were sad about some of the things written on the boards…not because they were mean, but because they were true about far too many religious people. Hatred of gays, lack of acceptance of science, judging others, being hypocritical…these are all things they concede that some Christians do in fact do. This group was more of the “Christianity is about a personal relationship with God, not organized religion, just love everyone and be a good person” thing. While I still don’t agree with the supernatural aspects (we had a long discussion about my atheism*), I really don’t mind these types of theists. They’re all about being moral people and loving others, and recognize you don’t need their brand of Christianity to be moral (and eagerly agreed that atheists can be moral).
Him: I actually came out because I thought they were those Non-Theists saying bad stuff about religion.
Me: I’m the President of the Non-Theists.
After his initial embarrassment, he was actually pretty nice to talk to. I tried to make a point that we can dislike some aspects of religion but still like religious people – that we’re not just a bunch of cranky rabid anti-theists. I think I made my point, since he was friendly when I left.
EDIT: See that part that’s scribbled out? Apparently a friend of mine wrote “It’s okay to be gay” there, and the guy didn’t like it so much. Yeah, great Christian tolerance there.
I made one comment that I think the event’s organizers hadn’t thought of, and they were intrigued by. When the Non-Theists do a practically identical event – actually, more innocuous because we didn’t have “I hate religion because…” as the prompt, we just let people write whatever we want – people see us as hateful. “Why are those cranky, meany-head atheists going around criticizing religion? Can’t they just leave us alone?” But when a Christian group does the same exact thing, they’re praised for it. “Yes, we should definitely be critical of hateful, ridiculous things in religion! Speak up, question things!” It’s a double standard that really shows people’s biases.
If you’d like to see what people wrote, click the close ups of the signs below. Can you guess which one is mine?
*It always amuses me when I introduce myself as an atheist to religious people. 90% of the time there’s a look of awe/confusion, then they ask me why I’m an atheist. I really need to come up with a concise reply, but there isn’t one. My atheism, like most others, developed over decades and took a lot more thought than can be summarized in a short conversation. I generally try to explain my atheism as a null hypothesis, but non-scientists don’t really appreciate that. I also had to explain how my atheism is not a faith, what purpose there is to life (none, more shocked looks), and the other general things you hear over and over again… At least they were very thoughtful about my replies.