Oh, hi, Rachel Held Evans. I hear you’d like to make a deal with us atheists. That’s rather sweet! Let’s hear it.
Dawkins is known for pushing his provocative rhetorical style too far, providing ample ammunition for his critics, and already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism.
As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.
I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.
So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?
Uh-oh. Did you really just compare Richard Dawkins to Pat Robertson? Really? I mean, because that gets your “deal” off on the wrong foot straight away. I do agree that Dawkins has been prone to gaffes, especially on twitter — he’s a master of thoughtful lucidity when he takes the time to write in the long form, as in a book, but oh, boy, do I agree that he has a knack for blowing it in the short form.
So you want to compare: on our side, a brilliant fellow with a long career in science who carries some unfortunately antiquated attitudes and has a tendency to be blunt on twitter; and on your side, a lifelong con artist who bilks little old ladies out of their life savings so he can buy diamond mines, to which he ships mining equipment under the guise of charitable rescue. Hmmm. This isn’t exactly a fair exchange that you are proposing.
And it’s not an exceptional choice you’ve made in Pat Robertson. There’s the Pope and his gang of child rapers, there’s Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham and the guy with the giant teeth — Joel Osteen — and Creflo Dollar and Robert Tilton and Jim Bakker and Paul and Jan Crouch and Ted Haggard…I could go on and on. Richard Dawkins is well off because he has earned his money with his writing talent, and by writing a number of critically well-regarded books. But he’s a peon compared to these pirate extortionists that use your religion to bilk thousands out of their cash. You might fairly argue that some of his personal views are a bit old fogeyish — he’s only human — but to compare one of ours, who has worked hard to disseminate good science, to one of yours, who has lived fat off the hate and fear of humanity…well, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take your offer seriously. Or perhaps laugh in your face and snarl and sweep the table clear before stomping furiously out the door.
I suspect that you aren’t negotiating in good faith, ma’am.
But you’re in luck! I’ve already voluntarily given away the store. I have this book, The Happy Atheist, and right there in the very first chapter I say this:
There is nothing unusual about my town. This is perfectly ordinary, rural midwestern America, like thousands of other small towns all across the country. We’re just immersed in religion, like every other god-soaked spot in lightly-populated, Republican-leaning, Real-Live Genuine USA.
I would even say that these are good people, like most human beings, who are mostly concerned with getting along, doing well for their families, and seeing their community thrive as a safe and stable place. I don’t accept the common atheist line that religion is a phenomenon that makes men do evil acts, like fly airplanes into buildings or start holy wars; it can and has, of course, but those are the pathological extremes, and it isn’t right to judge an idea by the excesses of those maniacs who turn a belief into a cause for violence. Mainly what religion does is make people believe in ludicrously silly things, substitute dogma for reason and thought, and all too often, draw people down into self-destructive obsession as they fret more over their reward in the next life than their accomplishments in this one.
See? I already agree that my mother and your beloved relatives and maybe you and Richard Dawkins and the Unitarian church pastor and the guy who fixes my plumbing aren’t all equivalent to a moral fuckwit like Pat Robertson! You didn’t have to offer anything, and your insults to atheists were completely unnecessary! Doesn’t that make you feel good?
So, agreed, I won’t mischaracterize all Christians as being war-mongering terrorists and greedy exploiters and unethical damaged goods. I’ve never thought that, and will try to take greater care to avoid rhetorical excess. That’s a deal.
We’re still going to jump on you all for the nonsense and bullshit you do believe. And boy oh boy, there is a lot of that.
For instance, you claim to be a skeptic and a follower of Jesus. You probably are skeptical about many things, but to say so in the same sentence in which you announce that you actually believe a first century Jewish mystic actually had magic powers worthy of your allegiance…the incongruity is hilarious. Even if you claim it’s his philosophy you love, well, that’s a chickenshit excuse used by a lot of people who want to hew to the in-group of Christianity. There is no coherent philosophy there: it’s a cobbled-together mess thrown together by proselytizing religious fanatics. And really, if you’re going to sneer at Richard Dawkins for a few bad tweets, are you willing to stand up for the Apostle Paul? Or perhaps Augustine or Luther? Which have been more influential in shaping the beliefs that millions of people actually have?
I agree that Christian beliefs are complex and scattered all over the map — Calvinists are different from Mormons are different from Baptists. But there are still these common absurdities that clutter the brains of their adherents.
They believe in a guiding intelligence in the universe that is especially concerned with the sexual behavior of one species on one small planet.
They believe that they must spend time and money placating this intangible being by worshipping it or, preferably, giving money to its self-appointed intermediaries.
Christians believe that the universal sentient principle that rules the universe somehow condensed itself down into the form of one man, and that because he was killed (only not really), this god is now able to forgive us for an act of willful frugivory by one of our distant ancestors.
And the reward for this forgiveness is that some undefinable fraction of our consciousness will be permitted to live forever in an invisible church in the sky, rather than being set on fire and suffering eternal torment.
I am quite able to agree that you Christians are mostly harmless. But when you look objectively at the goofball ideas that you consider to be essential core beliefs of your religious philosophy, it’s a fair cop to say that you also look like freakin’ idiots.
Were you hoping that that was on the negotiating table? Because it’s not.