Christ. It’s yet another review of the Global Atheist Convention, this time by a long-winded Anglican priest. I’m being rude in my evaluation despite the fact that it is actually a generous review, because he repeats another of those oblivious stereotypes that always pisses me off. I’ve highlighted my triggers.
I know my atheist colleagues and friends think this way of recognising life is just a form of ‘misfire’, a delusion.Â They find support for their view from the natural processes like a tsunami or a congenital disease, which appear to be indifferent to the value of life.Â But these are some of the consequences of the processes that produce life.Â In conversations with students this quickly leads them questioning my belief in God: ‘why would God use natural processes, including evolution by natural selection, to bring life into existence?’ and ‘why would God use any process at all, why not just create the world in the intended end state, if the world is supposedly created for some purpose?’Â Â Will our faith and theology be up to answering these questions? The answer has to be robust enough to address Dawkins saying the universe is, at bottom, pitilessly indifferent.Â I regard these as excellent questions for which there are good answers.Â But these would take more than this blog to set out.Â It is one part of a larger conversation working out the rationality of faith.Â This reference to ‘reason’ is deeply Christian in a Christianity that has reason to believe the divine Logos has become flesh in Christ.Â Â Â Â
At the end of her vivid, witty segment Catherine Deveney gave us this word: “Seek the truth and the truth will make you free. Don’t be afraid of death. Be afraid of never having really lived.Â Peace be with you.”Â These are also deeply Christian themes, at least one being a direct quote.Â Â CD says ‘God is bullshit’ – that is her gig at the comedy festival.Â Taking a line from Dan Barker, a speaker at the Convention, this is culturally resonant with speaking about God as a shepherd in Jesus’ own day. But could the truth, life and peace she commends to us enter into a conversation with the truth, life and peace that Christians value?Â Catherine Deveney, would you be interested in another gig?
There was a phrase I heard all the time when I was living in Utah. If I did something friendly or helpful, the good Mormon would tell me that was mighty “white” of me. It’s the same thing when someone appropriates truth and justice and reason as Christian virtues, and sits around trying to be nice to atheists by telling them how close they come to a Christian ideal.
And they call us the arrogant ones.
I’m not nice. I’m not Christian. And I tell Stephen Ames that no matter how charitable he thinks he is, he comes across as a condescending prat, and he can get stuffed.
Those virtues are human values, they don’t belong to Christianity, and I’m so tired of Christians acting as if they are. Hands off. Ames sat through the convention, noted that many of the speakers repeated frequently that you can be good without gods, and failed to notice that not once did they play his game of pretending that goodness is an atheist property. We don’t delude ourselves that way. We also know that reason is a virtue grafted onto a religion that is primarily concerned with irrational faith, and is entirely evidence-free.
It’s his patronizing attitude that is a significant part of the moral conflict. By once again trying to tie morality to Christianity, he perpetuates the myth that marginalizes atheists.
I have to mention the flip side of this problem. I enthusiastically grant that Christians can and do embrace what I consider human cultural values, and I do not consider religion to be a necessary obstacle to doing good. The best of Christianity dedicates itself to those wonderful principles of social justice that some read into the Jesus story (I’d add that this is the very same thing I find commendable in communism). Rarely have I encountered anyone who does not regard social justice, equality, and fairness as virtues…except in the pathological extremes of libertarianism and far right conservatism.
It turns out there are people — even influential people — who seem to be dangerous sociopaths from my perspective. Roger Ebert has a fascinating essay on Glenn Beck. Beck is, apparently, an amoral being who rejects the common interests of all humankind.
What are the words “social justice” code for? Why, Nazism and Communism, says Beck: “Social justice was the rallying cry–economic justice and social justice–the rallying cry on both the communist front and the fascist front.” Beck even went so far as to cite Jesus Christ, saying, and I quote: “Nowhere does Jesus say, Hey, if somebody asks for your shirt, give your coat to the government and have the government give them a pair of slacks.” Well, Beck has me there. It is quite true that nowhere does Jesus say that. Nor, for that matter, does he ever say, A wop bop a lu bop, a wop bam boom!
What I would enjoy hearing is one single clergyman from any faith in America, appearing on Beck’s program to agree with him and denouncing social justice. Such a person might be a real piece of work. I suspect he might currently be in between congregations. Beck’s oversight is that all religions teach social justice. That’s sort of what they’re about. “My church doesn’t,” said Beck, who is a Mormon. Not for the first time, he was dead wrong, and the mountains of Utah rang with the thunder of outraged Mormon elders. I know now, and did not know before, that before statehood the Mormons in the Utah territory provided universal health care and care for the poor as a matter of their duty.
You want to identify an issue on which atheists and liberal Christians can find common ground? There it is. Just don’t try to pretend that only Good Christians are the proprietors of moral behavior.