Guest Post: Apologies from a Christian

The following is a guest post from Joshua Gardner, a musician in the “rogue folk band” Girls from Ipanema and a Christian who was brave enough to write on my blog.

I had something in mind to write here, but the more I thought about it, the more difficult it became to say with any semblance of clarity of thought. So bear with me if I ramble or express myself poorly.

A trend, although depressingly small (to me anyway), among the more socially conscience religious types as of late is to apologize for the terrible things done in the name of religion, specifically Christianity. And things certainly do need apologizing for. We Christians must apologize for burning Korans. We must apologize for the misogyny perpetrated in the name of Jesus. We must apologize for marginalizing the gay community and the individuals within it. We must apologize for carrying banners of war disguised as democracy to developing nations. We must apologize for many, many horrible things that we, as a group, have done.

I’m just one person and can’t really apologize on behalf of others. But as far as it concerns me, I do apologize for these things.

But, then what?

Those of you who consider yourself atheists are, in my experience, pretty familiar with the things Jesus said, and are even more familiar with the way followers of Jesus, at best disregard and at worst, contradict and insult those teachings. And it probably makes you angry. And rightly so. Imagine how much more angry it would make you if you were committed to following Jesus’ teachings of love and forgiveness when you saw others spreading hate in Jesus’ name. So, it makes me angry, too. It also makes me incredibly sad.

And that’s why I felt I needed to say this. We Christians, every day, do so many things we really need to stop doing and apologize for.

We, as a church, routinely tell people how they must think and feel, ignoring how they do feel. We distort normal, healthy views of sexuality and create confused, repressed young people. We treat women as separate and unequal to men. We declare that people choose who they are attracted to, that people choose to become part of a minority that is routinely mistreated, sometimes violently so, because of who they are attracted to.

We say and do a lot of things that hurt a lot of people, which is ironic, considering the fact that our holy book commands us to treat others the way we would like to be treated; it commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” and to “love our enemies and do good to those who hate us,” and to “do violence unto no man,” and to “live at peace with all people.”

So, if you’ve been mistreated because of your religion, race, sexuality, or gender, in the name of Jesus, as much as I am able, I would really like to apologize.

And I mean that.

But I’m unclear on where I’m going with this because my apology does nothing to end the suffering committed in the name of Jesus.

So what’s next?

I don’t really know. Which is why, as I said, the more I think about what to say, the less I know what to say.

I wish the church, and the people within it, were more interested in reconciliation instead of retaliation. I wish the church were more aware of the fact that the same Jesus who said “don’t be greedy” never once said “don’t be gay.”

I don’t pretend to be an expert at this whole “love everyone” thing, but I think if we, as Christians, tried a little harder to do it then we all, as people, would be a lot happier.

Over the years, people you know like Leo Tolstoy and Martin Luther King Jr., and people you might not know, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, have said and written similar warnings that if the church doesn’t get its act together and take this whole “love everyone” thing seriously, that it would become an obsolete social club.

Maybe that’s happened already.

A lot of you probably see it that way.

Sometimes I do, too.

So what’s the point?

I don’t know.

But I do know that I’m interested in righting wrongs. I’m interested in loving people. I’m interested in helping the needy, marginalized, and forgotten in our society. I’m interested in respecting the beliefs, traditions, and lifestyles of others. I’m interested in reconciliation.

I hope you’ll take this apology as a step, however small, in that direction.


  1. says

    I really sympathize with the dilemma of a Christian like Gardner – in fact, I was a Christian like Gardner, at least in these regards, about two months ago. What do you do when the people who are the public face of your religion are such major assholes and espouse beliefs that you find to be antithetical to the core teachings of your religion? How far do you need to go to right those wrongs? I don’t have an easy answer to that question, and honestly, I managed to avoid it for a different reason (I realized that my belief was irrational and needed to be discarded, irrespective of the actions of other religious people). But I have a fair amount of respect for Christians (or other religious individuals) who admit to such a struggle, and I have a hard time holding them responsible in any way for the actions of other people who happen to share some religious beliefs.

  2. dcortesi says

    Well, you aren’t a pastor or a deacon (are you?) but you sure know some. Maybe you have a position on a church board or otherwise take part in your congregation’s structure. So one thing you could do is, to try to influence your congregation’s leaders to take a public stand against some of these things.

    Pastors, priests, imams, rabbis, would generally prefer to preach about positive, uplifting things. They are generally (and reasonably!) reluctant to speak from the pulpit about anything that might be considered criticism of religion. Which is why mainstream and liberal congregations are usually silent, and that leaves the public fora to the right-wingers, the fundies, the crazies. You know that the Westborough loons are not appropriate representatives of your faith, but does the public?

    So you could pick some egregious piece of anti-life, anti-woman activity that has pretentions to a religious basis, and talk about it with your pastor. Quietly, privately, but seriously urge him/her to address this kind of thing in public. You could in this way help your congregation to stop enabling the idiocy. With full charity and never demeaning your faith.

  3. says

    One thing I really liked about this piece is that it is conscious of how Christian apologies often fall flat. They often sound like attempts to improve the Christian image rather than attempts to make Christianity *deserve* a better image. They often sound like attempts to argue that Christianity’s true nature is good, and that this nature is only concealed by the acts of Christians.

    I don’t believe Christianity has a true nature, it’s just whatever people make of it. It would be great if Christians could make something better of it, but it is what it is.

  4. Kevin Lyda says

    I hear there’s one day a week where a lot of Christians gather together. Perhaps you could engage them.

    It’s nice what you say here, but most of us aren’t Christians. Extolling Christians to behave better is, in a sense, preaching to the choir.

    Here’s my theory on how you could make a difference. Come up with ways to engage Christians who are behaving poorly. Work on convincing them to stop doing so. If you come up with effective ways, tell us and we’ll try to help.

    Non-religious people quoting scripture isn’t really as effective as you’d think, so the help the non-religious can give you is limited. But where we can, I think most of us would like to.

    If talking to Christians who behave badly wears on you and you’d like a shoulder to cry on or want your spirits (as such) lifted, I’d hope people here would endeavour to do so.

    But “the needy” you could help most are gathering in buildings across America tomorrow. The urban legend is that a fellow Christian nailed his concerns about his co-religionists to the door of his church, but in reality his 95 Theses made their mark because they were printed and spread far and wide amongst Christians. Not amongst Jews or Muslims or Hindus or atheists, but among Christians.

  5. Amanda M. says

    What’s problematic is that, as a member of this particular audience, my first instinct when you say you don’t know what the next step is, is to tell you that the next step is to quit religion.

    It’s not that violence and social injustices are less common amongst nonreligious people, it’s just that religion provides such a ready excuse for people to close their eyes. I think that makes it a lot harder for them to reform and change their behaviors. When you’re skeptical, when you’re scientifically minded, when you’re invested only in observable truths, it’s a lot harder to carry on like that and keep up the excuses. Eventually you have to face the wrongness of your actions. And religion shields people from that.

    I don’t want to be rude. But, I don’t know what else to say. Honestly, that is the next step. It’s a productive step, I swear. And trust me, we all know how painful and difficult a step it can be.

  6. says

    I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t accept your apology. Hear me out…

    First, this idea of “Christian” is fairly recent. There are tens of thousands of denominations that self-identify as Christian, all with varying views on issues as trivial as sacraments and procedures to the very nature of God himself. As someone who grew up studying religion, it seems the only thing all Christians can seem to come together on is the idea that Jesus was a special guy. Beyond that, there isn’t a single point of doctrine all Christians can agree on. Before the late 1970’s, there was no concept of “Christian.” The idea that one person could speak on behalf of all of Christendom was ludicrous. People didn’t identify as Christian. They identified as Baptist, Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, etc. There is no such thing as “Christianity” in the sense of an all-encompassing set of beliefs and procedures. It is merely a family a denominations that disagree on just about everything. So, I cannot accept your apology because you do not, and cannot, speak for all Christians. Based on what you’ve written, a large number of them would condemn you as hellbound, a false Christian, and an apostate. You likely deny this, but how does an outsider like me know who’s right? Why is it my job to sort out the “true” from the “false” Christians?

    The second reason I cannot accept your apology is because you have nothing to apologize for. The acts of intolerance by the Christian community were committed by others. THEY are the ones who need to apologize, not you. The attempt to make amends is admirable, but when someone apologizes for the actions of others, that apology rings hollow and goes contrary to its purpose.

    I have Christian friends and relatives, and I know that not all of them are gay-bashing, intolerant, quasi-racist paleo-conservatives. I try not to criticize “Christians” as a group, because I am well aware of the diversity of beliefs within the theological family.

  7. Robert says

    What can you do?

    My uncle (by marriage, son of a pastor) refused to get married in his church until it acknowledged gay marriage. After many years it eventually did, and he married my aunt (and his two children were witnesses, which I think is pretty cool by itself…)

    Now, I’m not sure whether he actually caused this change (it might just have been the general culture in the Netherlands at the time, and the fact that churches are in heavy decline here.) But there are so many ways in which you can take a stand without having to abandon your church, beliefs, family, whatever…

  8. TheG says

    I don’t accept your apology either. You know, unless you are Rick Santorum using an alter.

    Look, until the Christians out there actually hurting people receive so much pressure from those good Christians who aren’t, nothing will change. In fact, many of our efforts in the atheist camp make for more strident, harmful Christians. You don’t need to apologize to us; you need to make such a fuss that the others have no choice but to listen to you and us.

  9. says

    We say and do a lot of things that hurt a lot of people, which is ironic, considering the fact that our holy book commands us to treat others the way we would like to be treated

    It’s not that ironic because the same holy book also says that gay people are an abomination, slaves should obey their masters, and killing unbelievers should fill you with joy. So the people who do evil in the name of Christianity are also following the word of God.* You say you want to distance yourself from them, but you haven’t done that if you are using the same source of justification that they are. In fact, truly good Christians help to validate the religion that causes so much evil!

    Most atheists also believe in living in peace and loving our neighbors. We hate and reject the evil commands in the Bible. It sounds like you do too, so why don’t you join us?

    *(You can’t use the defense that Jesus changed the old laws because he, himself said that his coming did not make one letter of the law invalid.)

  10. sumdum says

    The bible seems to me to be much like a Rorschach test, you can get anything you want from it, but it really only reflects your own feelings. So you get your friendly christians and your westborough baptists each claiming they are christians, and each group has as much right to that title. And since the bible can’t be altered it will never change. And you have to admit, if a bible can’t tell you who of the two groups has it right, then what good is it as a guide ?
    But the good news is, you don’t need religion to be good.

  11. Steve says

    Maybe not religion as such, but *organized* religion. If someone can find something in the Bible to make their life better, ok. But they don’t need a church to do it. Stop going to church. Stop validating your pastors by your attendance. Stop giving them money.

  12. Felix says

    I don’t think you need to apologise for what others have done, (although the gesture is appreciated).

    You want to make the world a better place, so do I, and (although it is unlikely to happen) I’d be glad to work with you regardless of our differences of opinion regarding religion.

    So try to make a difference in the world but don’t do it based upon dogma or tradition or faith but Reason.

    You will have to deal with problems that I have never encountered, such as belonging to a group who are actively promoting ideas which cause harm. I know that it is easy to say, but you can’t be silent in such a situation as it is bad for a person to live that way.

    If you feel that you can effectively work to make your Church a better place, then try. If, on the other hand, you don’t think that that is possible then you should find a Church which acts in accordance with your values, or live your live outside any church (though not, necessarily, your faith).

    Good Luck!

    You say “I’m interested in respecting the beliefs, traditions, and lifestyles of others.”

    Remember, individual humans (and other sentient creatures) are due respect.
    Beliefs, traditions and lifestyles should only be praised and defended in relation to how they contribute to the well-being of individuals.

  13. dmoore says

    I grew up as a Catholic, and I know that the vast majority of Christians (and people of other and no religions, as well) are compassionate and kind people, even among those who oppose same-sex marriage, contraception, abortion, etc. For instance, the Catholic Church emphasizes that gays must be treated with respect, dignity, and love in accordance with scripture. Unfortunately, it also takes seriously the parts of scripture that condemn homosexual acts and define marriage as a heterosexual union.

    You don’t have to apologize for their interpretation of the Bible if it differs from yours. Most of us here understand that there is a wide range of Christian beliefs and interpretations of the Bible. There are many Christians who would agree with you on the importance of love and compassion, and yet still oppose homosexual marriage or women’s reproductive rights because of how they read the Bible. That’s part of the reason why we don’t want our laws to be based on what one or another Christian denomination believes to be the proper reading of the Bible, or what Jesus did or neglected to say.

    If you strongly disagree with the Catholic or any of the other interpretations of the Bible and feel that you must do something about it, it might help to engage some of their adherents in conversation about their theology. But, you really don’t have to apologize to us for their views or actions.

  14. skepticallydenpa says

    That was a heart-felt and well-intentioned apology. But I’m afraid I can’t accept it.

    You see, the people you are speaking out against are well-intentioned as well. Christians standing up against gay rights do so out of fear for their neighbors, because the bible says they will be tortured in hell for eternity because homosexuality is a sin. These people speak out against abortion because they want to save the lives of these unborn babies. And they are not ignoring the words of Jesus. It is because they love their neighbors that they will go out of their way in order to try and save us from eternal damnation.

    The problem comes from faith. As long as one person can justify their belief on faith so can another. If morality comes from faith, then we can’t say that one person’s morality is right and another is wrong. This is why religious tolerance(as in free from criticism) will always lead to extremism. If you wish to protect the world from these zealots, you have to get over the idea that faith is a virtue. You must examine all evidence equally. That includes your own beliefs. And if you can’t do that, if you are unwilling to do that, then the world we live in is the price we all pay for your willful ignorance.

  15. Joshua says

    I wish I had the time to address more of the points brought up here than I do.

    But I’d just like to state that, for the record, I don’t attend any church regularly, and would never attend any church that was in any way anti-gay, anti-women, or anti-poor.

    The pastors and church leaders I know and am friends with are people who, like me, are working to stop the atrocities done in the name of Christendom. They live and preach throughout the country, in a few cities in California and Ohio, mostly. They encourage me and give me hope that the church might be heading in the right direction. It’s slow, thankless work. I’ve been asked to leave churches. I’ve made a lot of people angry.

    Maybe I was unclear – I’m not saying “I don’t know what to do at all” on a personal level. I do have some idea of what I can do personally to affect positive change, and I try to spend a large part of my life, both in my job and in my free time, doing such things.

    My commitment not to attend any church that is anti-gay or anti-women certainly limits my direct influence over such places. I hope that my Christian friends will make similar commitments, and I encourage them to do so.

    In an ideal world, a sort of boycott of churches that promote hate would make such churches obsolete or eliminate them altogether. Unfortunately, our world is not ideal, but that’s a goal I’ll still continue to work toward.

    In the meantime, on my own small scale, I’m trying to make a fuss and put pressure on those who use the church as a platform to promote ignorance. I do it as best as I can.

    I, as I said, am interested in promoting justice and equality as much as I can. For those of you who are interested in doing the same, I would love to do it with you.

    Some of your comments have been very encouraging, thank you.

  16. Pteryxx says

    *nods to Joshua*

    A dozen responses, a dozen different levels of acceptance. Nope, no groupthink here. ~;>

  17. AuBricker says

    One need not apologize for wrongs over which he or she has has no responsibility. Expecting all Christians for bear responsibility for their less enlightened co-religionists is akin to arguing all atheists must apologize for Stalin’s crimes.

    If more Christians shared your mindset, the world would be a far better place.

  18. Makoto says

    I’m glad you recognize the issues plaguing the (various) Churches out there. They are legion, and in many cases very troubling. There are plenty of issues plaguing other groups as well, I’m not trying to single out churches other than that was the tone of the article.

    However, there are three types of apology.

    One type is “I’m sorry this happened”. This apology is worth.. not much. It’s the “get out of jail free” card of apologies. You say it, you feel good, and you hope to move on.

    The other type is “Here’s how it was wrong” apology. This is better than the simple “I’m sorry”, in that it indicates thought, or at least influence, over thinking. However, it’s not much better than the type one, without the third, and most important…

    “Here’s how we’ll make it better / make sure it doesn’t happen again”. Saying I’m sorry is a good start. Saying I see why what was done is wrong is better. But the third step of how to make things better, or at least try to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future is the key. This is education. This is telling your pastor that you don’t agree with anti-gay sermons. This is sitting with your Sunday School group and telling them that sometimes abortion is the best choice for a mother and child. This is saying discrimination is wrong to your pew neighbor. This is being able to say “my leaving this church could be the critical point at which others start thinking about what the church does, and why”.

    I think it’s fantastic that you question, that you think what is going on is wrong. But you need to find ways to make things better for the future, not just sit around and say “there’s not much I can do”. There are many churches out there – perhaps you can make yours better from within, and if you can, that’s wonderful. If you can’t, perhaps it’s time to find a new church.

  19. says

    this is a pretty brave post to put up here. kudos!
    gets the point across nicely – now if only more religious people thought this way, then perhaps there wouldn’t be such a war out there among the religious/nonreligious…

  20. steve oberski says

    I don’t attend any church regularly, and would never attend any church that was in any way anti-gay, anti-women, or anti-poor.

    That doesn’t leave you a lot to choose from does it ?

    Your commitment not to attend any church that is anti-human does give you complete control over them.

    No moral or financial support and guess what – no church.

    That was the point of the FFRF ad in the NY Times, take away the membership and money from the RCC and it becomes irrelevant and it’s toxic effect will be nullified.

  21. tort says

    Don’t apologise for the things other people are doing. Its self congratulatory bullshit and it misrepresents both the position of us atheists and the position of the people you apologise for. You can start by apologising for the things you’ve actually done, apologise if you’ve ever said nothing when a christian made discriminatory remarks about gays, muslims or any other marginalised group, apologise if you’ve ever been aware of secularists fighting to have religion kept out of the public sphere and not helped because it didn’t affect you, apologise if you’ve taught children that your religious faith was true rather than to seek truth. Most of all though apologise for this post. Apologise for misrepresenting the views of christians, apologise for making atheists who comment on this post either complicit in this smug exercise in complacency or fearful of alienating christians who want to work with the secularist community, apologise to the next christian who wants to engage with us who will read this comment and wonder if they will face prejudice and discrimination rather than a fair hearing of their position.

    So apology not accepted. I have more that I want to say but I have stuff I need to do.

  22. Felix says

    @tort Perhaps you have something you’d like to apologise for too? It only seems fair.

  23. grumpyoldfart says

    Easter time is upon us and Christians will be telling their children about the resurrection: How the sun went dark for hours in the middle of the day, and an earthquake that opened the graves, allowing dead people to climb and walk around Jerusalem.

    And what happens to little Christian children who disbelieve this nonsense? They go to hell says Mark 16:16.

    Now there’s something that needs an apology.

  24. Chris Lawson says

    Brian, I disagree on both counts. (1) The concept of Christianity goes right back to the very start of the religion; the fact that there are doctrinal disputes within and between segments of the religion does not change that. (2) It can be meaningful to apologise for things you have not done if they were done in the name of something you believe in or belong to, which is why I think it was appropriate for the Kevin Rudd to apologise for the treatment of Australian Aborigines, for David Cameron to apologise for the Bloody Sunday massacre, for Willy Brandt to apologise for the Holocaust, for Gordon Brown to apologise for the persecution of Alan Turing, and for Ronald Reagan to apologise for Japanese internment.

    Perhaps naively, I even think the political discourse around the world would be improved immeasurably if Hilary Clinton were to apologise for the bombing of Cambodia, Yoshihiko Noda were to apologise for the Manchurian atrocities, and so on. Of course it would be preferable if the actual perpetrators were to issue these apologies, but even where it is possible (e.g. for Henry Kissinger to apologise for Cambodia), the sort of person who instigates atrocities seems to be the sort of person who wouldn’t apologise under any circumstances for anything (e.g. Henry Kissinger).

  25. cag says

    If you really want to apologize, it is easily done. Just announce that you will leave fantasy land and join us in reality land.

  26. Lagerbaer says

    The fact that you emphasize Jesus’ teaching of love over all the other hateful things one can find in the Bible, and that all the misogyny and homophobia perpetrated in the name of the church, speaks for you as a decent human being.

    But how do you know that you are right? How do you know that the Phelps clan got it all wrong? Because Jesus said one should love their neighbors? But he also spoke in very clear terms about what should be done to people who lead others away from religion: “It’d be better for them to be cast into the sea with a millstone around their neck.”

    The fact that you chose love over hate means that you live up to a higher moral standard than the god you follow, and maybe it’d be time to vote with your feet.

  27. says

    Fine words, Mr. Gardner. Alas, talk is cheap. What have you actually DONE to try to fix the problems you see your fellow Christians contributing to and/or creating? If your fine words are unaccompanied by ACTION to solve the aforementioned problems, at best you are a well-meaning irrelevance; at worst, you are an active impediment to solving those problems.
    I decline to accept your apology, and I am also unsure why you even bothered to try. Whatever else you may be, you are still a self-identified Christian, which necessarily means that your beliefs contain a good-sized dollop of batshit insanity. Judging by what you wrote here, you do seem to have done a reasonable job of keeping the crazy locked away in a box so that it doesn’t screw you up outside of church… but wouldn’t it be better if you didn’t HAVE TO compartmentalize your mind in such a manner? Come to the godless side, Mr. Gardner. We have cookies.

  28. says

    ‘I don’t attend any church regularly, and would never attend any church that was in any way anti-gay, anti-women, or anti-poor.’

    There are churches like this. Churches that marry same sex couples. Churches with women ministers. Churches in no way “anti-poor.” A minority, but a minority of those outside churches are too, so nothing strange there really.

    And, many “Christians” strongly reject the bad stuff done in its name in that respect. The person who wrote Roe v. Wade and the dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick was not an atheist after all.

  29. Jonathan Figdor says

    Beautiful post. Thanks for your thoughts. I know one thing you can do today, tomorrow, or any time you choose. And that is to walk out the doors of the church never to return (unless you want to get married in a pretty church, I give a free pass for that one…). I was in your place once. But I got tired of having nothing intelligent to say when the “sins” of the church were made explicit to me by atheist and gay friends (usually, gaytheists). I came to see that the only way to change things was to take myself out of the church. Once I left, the minister couldn’t speak for me anymore. I didn’t have to explain away things like judging gay people and relegating women to an inferior position, because I didn’t belong to an organisation that promoted those primitive values. When I took myself out of the church, they lost a person they could claim to represent. If enough intelligent believers such as yourself came to realize that as long as you frequented the same churches, those churches would continue to push the same policies, and you left, those churches would crumble. You could start a new church with those like-minded not-bigoted Christians and call it Christianity 2, or Christianity: Remixed, and you could have a successful church operating on modern ethical values. But if you stay in the church, you have to ask yourself, “are you going to push for change, or just enjoy the bubble?” and “if I push for change, am I likely to succeed, or does everybody else just enjoy the bubble.”

    Thanks for stepping into the proverbial lion’s den. I hope the other commenters keep it friendly(ish).

  30. Jonathan Figdor says

    One quibble: I’m not sure that I would describe religious tolerance as prohibiting criticism of religion. Religious tolerance in my mind is allowing all religions equal chance to make their case in the public square. Criticism of religion is definitely fair game. Indeed, in order to attain a deep level of religious tolerance, I think people have to be open to discussing the difficult problems with religion, including the problem of evil, for example.

  31. says

    I should preface my comments by saying that, like the author of this post, I am a believer in and follower of the teachings of the man known to history and philosophy as Jesus Christ.

    I would like to commend my co-religionist (I have to admit to never having heard or read that word in my memory before, but I think it’s a neat word) on his clarity of thought and charity of purpose. It takes a big person to stand up for what they believe and work toward making the world a better place. Indeed, he expresses the belief, which I share, that Christianity is not just a set of beliefs but a way of life that is a living, breathing thing. When Christ said that his coming did not change the law, it was not endorsing the hard religious laws of Leviticus and the harsh retributions of the Torah so much as simply endorsing the idea that God is Love. Remember that he placed two laws above all others: 1)Love God with all you heart, soul, and strength; and, 2)Love your neighbor as yourself. If there has ever been a greater repudiation of the harsh laws of retribution set forth in early Hebraic writings than these, I have not seen it.

    I also applaud Joshua for his courage in standing up before those who mostly, at least the loud ones, will not agree with the core basis of his post. Indeed, it is this strength which can change the world. It is this strength and conviction that will allow a Christian (or whatever religion one claims) to stand up to their co-religionists (still a really neat word) and tell them to be “Christ-like”, not just claiming the title “Christian” because it is convenient or good for their political or business lives. If a Christian is willing to “suffer the slings and arrows” of the Internet, it is a far easier thing to stand up to their fellow congregants.

    So, although, as a Christian I’m probably not entitled to do so, I do accept this apology and add my voice to it. I also offer my thanks to you, Joshua, for your words and your deeds. We must continue to fight the good fight if we are ever to win it.

  32. skepticallydenpa says

    I agree. The word I was looking for was privilege. I realized referring to it as religious tolerance made it seem as if I thought outlawing religion was a good idea, or maybe even that violence against religions was justified. I threw in a quick definition to better explain what I actually meant by that phrase to avoid such interpretations. But yes, that was certainly the wrong use of the word tolerance.

    “This is why religious tolerance(as in free from criticism) privilege will always lead to extremism.”


  33. tort says

    Yes I have plenty to apologise for, never claimed or inferred that I didn’t (the poster does infer that hir christian faith has nothing to apologise for by making it clear that all her apologies are on behalf of others whose christian faith is different). I was going to reply sarcastically but I’m newish here so I’ll just point out that saying you should apologise too and ignoring the argument presented is the definition of the tu quoque logical fallacy. Look it up.

  34. says

    Regarding the Rorschach test, this is part of my understanding of religions as a class of memetic organisms, that in their struggle for survival they naturally evolve to have ambiguous teachings, that can be reused to support whatever social positions are advantageous to the next generation of religious organisms.

    Though clearly it’s not true the bible can’t change. :-)

    I’d actually go a bit further than saying you don’t need religion to be good. Religion makes hate easier; the prime social function of religion is to allow people to reconcile their natural moral impulse with their (alas) equally natural impulse to hate people who don’t belong to their social group. (Essentially, “God’s will” becomes the equivalent of soldiers committing war crimes with the defense they were just following orders.) Of course it’s also natural for a religion (which has evolved to be good at accruing followers) to attract both people who want to be good, and people who want to hate.

  35. skepticallydenpa says

    Sorry to interrupt you patting yourself on the back there, but you seem to have missed some of the points made in the comments above.

    This belief that morality comes from God, allows for a myriad of standards, each just as valid as the other. After all, The consequences hoisted upon our fellow man in this world do not matter if they are done for the greater good of the next.

    When Christ said that his coming did not change the law, it was not endorsing the hard religious laws of Leviticus and the harsh retributions of the Torah so much as simply endorsing the idea that God is Love.[citation needed]

    Where did you get that information? And how does that make sense? “BTW guys, none of the laws of the past have changed(and by that I mean, God is still love) kthxbye” Those are some great communication skills your god encompasses.

    Remember that he placed two laws above all others: 1)Love God with all you heart, soul, and strength; and, 2)Love your neighbor as yourself.

    As for the first law, he made it clear that works mean shit; it is faith that is most important. Even if I thought that there was a magical wizard in the sky that would pass judgment on me, I could never support a system where the highest crime is ignorance. What is God, 10? Is he going to disappear if we forget about him? Why should it matter to him that we believe in him in the face of such poor evidence if we’d have eternity to praise him afterward?

    For the second, as I mentioned in a previous post, the people you are chastising for not being Christ-like, generally have the same good intentions that you do. Do you really think that Christians would be protesting gay rights, atheism, abortion, other religions, church-state issues, etc… if they didn’t care? They are being Christ-like by doing everything in there power to protect their neighbors from going to hell. And because there is no god to step in and tell the Westbrow Baptist Church that what they are doing is wrong, or to explain to the moderates that their passive behavior towards their fellow man is contemptible, we are left with thousands of denominations, all professing to know the one and only Truth, and no way to reconcile who is right.

    Morals come from a genuine need to make the one and only life we know we have better. We fight against oppression because we sympathize oppressed. We fight against injustice because there is no justice in this world unless we enact it ourselves. And when actions with good intentions yield bad results, we change our actions. Until we realize this, we will always have extremists and we will never be able to move forward.

  36. mnb0 says

    I don’t need your apologies, I can take care of my own. What I need is you – and as many believers as possible – to stand tall for the Other, be it a muslim, an atheist or whatever.
    In other words: put that nice story about the Samaritan in practice.
    Apologies are easy. Defending the rights of people who don’t have the same ideas as you is a lot more difficult. There are christians who have done that. Take him as an example:

  37. KG says

    When Christ said that his coming did not change the law, it was not endorsing the hard religious laws of Leviticus and the harsh retributions of the Torah so much as simply endorsing the idea that God is Love.

    What are the weasel words “so much as” doing there? Either you believe he was endorsing such laws or that he wasn’t; since he allegedly said that his coming did not change the law, that looks like an endorsement.

    Remember that he placed two laws above all others: 1)Love God with all you heart, soul, and strength; and, 2)Love your neighbor as yourself. If there has ever been a greater repudiation of the harsh laws of retribution set forth in early Hebraic writings than these, I have not seen it. – tonyuzzell

    A greater repudiation would be “The harsh laws of retribution set forth in early Hebraic writings are utterly vile, and their enforcement is evil.” The character of God, as depicted in the the OT and NT, means he is completely unworthy of love: Jesus is telling people to love a cruel, dishonest, controlling, pathologically jealous, intolerant, irrational, megalomaniac, misogynist, homophobic, hate-filled, psychopathic monster.

  38. clamboy says

    May I make a simple suggestion for a concrete action you can take, Joshua? Stop using phrases like “Those of you who consider yourself atheists…”. I am sure you mean no ill in those words, but the impression given by such language (and by the execrable epithet “self-described”) is that you see atheism as an unreal thing, and that no one actually is an atheist. It may be subtle, and unintended, by I have noticed that this kind of language is often applied to people who don’t hold to mainstream/privileged beliefs or identities.

  39. Karl says

    Your apology, paraphrased, was There are, and have been, some real jerkwads among Christians and I apologise for that.

    Fine words. But then you were pressed as to what substance you really possess. You’re going to get that here, this is an atheist’s forum and you won’t be spared. Sure enough, you soon had to add But not me, I’m a True (R) Christian. Regretfully we’ve all heard that one before.

    The proper, honest, apology should have been Despite everything, I’m remaining a Christian. Sorry about that.

    I can’t persuade you to grasp the nettle. That conviction has to come from within yourself.

  40. jfigdor says

    Yeah, please cut short the celebrations. Apologizing for the obvious “sins” of Christianity should be effortless. It costs the person nothing. And guess what, it gets us almost nowhere.

  41. SundogA says

    Chris, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. Not on the historical side, in this case, but on the ability – or even the right – to apologise for others.
    I firmly believe that every person is responsible for exactly two things, which are, everything you do, and everything you say. Further, I can only apologize for what I have responsibility for. Now, sometimes, that responsibility extends to such things as I have failed to do, and should have, which I fully accept. But if something happened before my birth, or in an area I have no power to affect, not only do I not have any power to apologize for that, but also no right to arrogate to myself that power. To apologize for the actions of another is not only arrogant, but also disrespectful to the people you are apologizing on behalf of – they made their own choices, and had their own consciences.
    So, no, I do not accept that Kevin Rudd should have apologized to the Aborigines, nor for Gordon Brown to apologise for the treatment of Alan Turing. Reagan and Brandt were at least involved in what they were apologizing for, though they perhaps took it farther then they should.
    The sins of the father are not visited upon the son, or the grandson. For this I am glad – everything I’ve been told about my Grandfather would indicate an intolerant, unpleasent, bigoted old man.
    But I’m not going to apologize for him. I haven’t that right.

  42. sailor1031 says

    “But I do know that I’m interested in righting wrongs. I’m interested in loving people. I’m interested in helping the needy, marginalized, and forgotten in our society. I’m interested in respecting the beliefs, traditions, and lifestyles of others. I’m interested in reconciliation.”

    It seems to me you have answered your own question. Now you just need to do it! But don’t be silent about it.

  43. B-Lar says

    Godspeed in trying to effect a change from inside the christian camp. I wish you every success. You are battling against an opposition who is severley entrenched, and it might be more beneficial for your sanity to abandon the conflict, and as is suggested above, “join us in reality-land”.

    If you choose to remain though, dont be disheartened. Just keep making noise, and dont allow yourself to be chastened. Getting more christians to actually be christ-like is the only way for them to survive the tsunami of reason looming overhead.

  44. Tom Singer says

    The representative of a government can apologize for past actions of that government. That’s meaningful, although it’s not as good as the actual people in charge at the time. It’s not Gordon Brown offering an apology, it’s the British government. The same could be said for companies, or churches. When the Pope apologized for Galileo’s treatment, he did so as the leader of the Catholic church.

    But for Gardner, who holds no position of authority in any church, or in Christianity as a political group, to apologize for anyone else’s actions is … offputting? Obsequious? Certainly unnecessary.

  45. Dan L. says

    (1) The concept of Christianity goes right back to the very start of the religion; the fact that there are doctrinal disputes within and between segments of the religion does not change that

    I think this is really ahistorical. Problematic at the very least. Early Christians lived in a very different world than we do and I very much doubt they had the same “concept” of Christianity you do — just as I doubt you have the same “concept” of Christianity as the Christians for whom you apologize in the OP. (Just for example, early Christians were a distinct minority in the Roman Empire. Modern Christians are a distinct majority in the U.S.A. So if you’re from the U.S.A. your concept of Christianity as a majority religion is necessarily going to differ from the concept of Christianity as one minor Semitic cult among dozens.)

    That’s the problem, and maybe it’s the reason you felt you were having trouble figuring out what to say in the OP. There is no one Christianity, no one concept of Christianity, and certainly no “correct” Christianity or concept thereof. There are many that claim that acting hatefully towards homosexuals is ultimately more loving — using a sort of “tough love” argument. This seems to be a different take on love and hate — a different concept of Christianity — than you have.

    My take on the whole thing is you can’t and shouldn’t apologize for the beliefs or actions of other Christians. Be yourself, believe what you believe. My problem with religion is the power structures, the fact that a bunch of Christians can team up to create social pressures on those who don’t conform to their agenda. Advocate for freedom of and from religion, that’s the best apology you can make.

  46. anon atheist says

    You apologize for something that somebody else has done in the case that you still want to be associated with that person. And that is the problem. We (atheists) would rather have you disassociate from the fundagelicals. We would like you to consider Fred Phelps to be as much of a Christian as Richard Dawkins and act accordingly.

    But you don’t do that. And that’s why you will have to keep apologizing for the things that the Fred Phelpses, Pat Robertsons, and Ricks Santorums of this world say and do as long as these people exist.

  47. Joshua says

    Anon, I do consider Phelps to be as much a Christian as Dawkins. Literally every Christian that I know does. But he still spews his hate in the name of Christendom. And other people, with much better intentions, spread hateful things in the name of Christendom, too.

  48. anon atheist says

    Brave of you to reply. But here’s another question: So Rick Santorum is a Christian?

  49. former_christian says

    The confusion and embarrassment you feel regarding the actions of other Christians is evidence that the Holy Spirit does not exist. When I was a Christian (childhood to mid-20s), I understood that Bible stories about God the Father and Jesus were in practice just stories, because neither of them are active in the world today. However, the Holy Spirit was supposed to enter your heart and provide direct moral and spiritual guidance (a supernatural experience that didn’t interfere with any laws of physics). When two or more Christians prayed together, the Holy Spirit was supposed to be present and provide a sort of spiritual link that helped Christians co-operate to do God’s will.
    If you observe the actions of Christians, you will see that they are not experiencing any sort of overarching spiritual guidance. Instead, Christians just listen to their own consciences and then self-sort into groups in which they already agree with each other, same as other types of people. If they find that they later disagree, they go their separate ways again. When I was a child, my very liberal non-denominational Protestant church experienced a schism based on whether or not people should ecstatically shout “Praise the Lord!” during hymns or the sermon when moved to do so by the Spirit. Clearly, many people in the congregation weren’t feeling it.
    Some Christians feel moved by the Spirit to perform great acts of charity, while others pray daily and somehow never get the message that they shouldn’t steal, swindle their congregation, commit adultery, or sexually abuse children. When you put it all together, you can see that Christians are simply acting based on their own conscience (or lack thereof), and don’t experience any sort of intervention from the Holy Spirit.

  50. Colleen says

    That was beautiful and very well said. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I, too, hope that everybody gets the “love everybody” act together!

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