by Reid Fitzsimons
Years ago, as a teenager and young adult, I was a secular atheist. I was from the semi-obnoxious school of atheism as compared to the aggressively obnoxious one, the latter being quite common today. Back in the mid-1970’s it was great fun to get plastered and/or smoke a little weed and stay up into the night with friends watching and mocking the 700 Club or PTL Club or whatever was on. I’m not being facetious- it was fun. Though I haven’t done any doobie for over 35 years and rarely drink, I still enjoy watching and mocking the Christian charlatans on TV, and there are plenty of them.
Somewhere into that coveted 30 to 45 year-old range of robust adulthood and then into middle age I began to see the light, as it was, and converted to agnosticism. Actually there was neither a blinding light nor was I knocked off a donkey, but rather life experience happened and perhaps a little wisdom seeped in. The bedrock arguments of atheism, the truism that many Christians are hypocrites, that many wars have been fought and many have been killed in the name of Christianity, if God exists why is there so much suffering, etc certainly have appeal, but mostly to a thoughtful adolescent pondering the mysteries of life. Eventually, however, if one isn’t too beholden to their teenage worldview and they mature, hypocrisy is found to be pretty universal, there is lots of killing done in the name of other beliefs along with the more base things in life (i.e. money, power, sex), bad things happen because there are bad people, and maybe, sadly, suffering just is an accompaniment to worldly existence.
At this point I must confess that I am a conservative though with some atypicality, for example anti death penalty, a philosophical vegetarian, and a tendency toward anti-materialism. Hence, as there are many conservatives who identify themselves as Christians, I just couldn’t avoid them. Curiously, mixed among the annoying and obnoxious Christians, the idiot Christians, the full of crap Christians, etc I discovered a large number of really great people who are Christians.
A brief aside: forgetting about theology, salvation, and such things, the bottom line of Christianity from the point of living on this earth is two-fold, loving your neighbor and treating others as you would like to be treated. When I study Scripture and Judeo-Christian theology I can get mighty riled up, and often do. But once I settle down, the two primary tenets- love your neighbor and do unto others- seem to be reasonable goals for which to strive and it dumbfounds me that they engender such vituperative reactions from our secular humanist and atheist friends.
Returning to the prior theme there really are, if you look for them, an impressive number of Christians who don’t use five syllables to say “Jesus,” who don’t actually thump on Bibles, and don’t have horns growing out of their foreheads. Rather they do their best to love their neighbors and treat others in the manner that they would like to be treated. Sure they also love their God and Lord, quite strange to us non-believers, but that is part of the package. They actually believe there is a power greater than themselves, and they don’t mean Barak Obama, Lady Gaga, or celebrities in general. I have to admit, however, that of the many Christians I have come to know I haven’t met one yet who is perfect, with exception of my wife (I am married to a Christian, one who walks the walk but doesn’t do much of the talk). Yes indeed, there are Christians who struggle with mundane worldly things, from alcohol and drug abuse to gambling and pornography to love of money and really big screen TVs, but how could we atheists, secular humanists, and agnostics feel good about ourselves without a little schadenfreude.
The secular/atheist mindset yearns for science and the solace and comfort it brings. Nothing has served as a more symbolic divide than evolution- compare the lunatic creationist against the high-minded evolutionist and the atheist is feeling pretty smug. I am of a scientific background by college and career and an evolutionist as well, but we non-Christian rationalists have a perplexing habit of taking a theory and evolving it into a fact, and then mocking those who don’t accept the “fact” as religious morons. We hold evolution to be so sacred that we cannot entertain even the slightest blasphemy. How about this- until we can speak with absolute certainty about the origins of the universe and life, we find a little humility. Is it so impossible for a high school science teacher to say, “I believe in evolution theory and will impart to you my knowledge in this area, but there are many others who believe in what is often called creation science, and I will present this to you objectively as well.” Do we have so little confidence in our theory that our only defense against non-evolution based beliefs is to close our minds and call people who don’t agree with us dummies like we are schoolyard bullies, and of course demand laws to protect our children from impure thoughts? Apparently the answer is yes, our confidence is that lacking.
A great irony is that, with the exception of evolution specifically being rejected by some Christian philosophies, Christians not only accept and embrace science and rational thought but a solid argument could be made that the enlightenment was a Christian, especially reformed, invention. It requires no great intellectual contortions to comprehend that if God exists then God could have created man as a rational and thinking being. As much as it may distress us, Christianity was the foundational basis for widespread public education and, even worse, Christians have been at the forefront of many of the great humane movements of the past centuries. William Wilberforce didn’t devote much of his life to the abolition of slavery out of a philosophical underpinning of, “If it feels good, do it.”
In politics I came to the conclusion that what we call “left” and “right” is not really a linear function but rather a circular one- Hitler and Stalin pretty well meet up at the other side of the circle. It is almost enjoyable to sit back and watch the same thing as applied to Christianity (have you ever noticed atheists don’t dwell much on other religions?) and secularists. The extreme secularist, and sadly most of them seem to fall into that category of late, look pretty darn similar to their stereotype of the fanatic Christian. Neither tolerates opposing views and one condemns to the fiery cauldron of hell whereas the other to the fiery cauldron of the globally warmed earth. They are both not just good but completely righteous and thusly overwhelmed by their own immaculate existences. Is there any real difference between a Christian theocracy and a secular one? Eventually they meet up at the other side of the circle.
Things really would be wonderful for us if Christians had the decency to fit our comfortable stereotype- blabbering and blubbering imbeciles, spittle flying as they ejaculate their supernatural dogma but too stupid and uneducated to know the meaning of words like “dogma.” Secularists are quite facile at creating a world where this is so, just as a young boy can conjure up the boogeyman hiding in the closet. The hard reality for us, however, is that there are innumerable intelligent, highly educated (perhaps even one or two with Ivy League degrees), truly gentle and compassionate people who are believing Christians. Fortunately there are also plenty of decent, sincere Christians who don’t articulate particularly well so there will always be someone for atheists to belittle.
To me a great irony is how things symbolic of Christianity, especially the Bible, bore under the skin of progressive atheists and drive them to illiberal absurdity. They are so shaken and enraged when some junior high school kids read passages from the Bible during recess it’s almost as if they believe the Bible has some supernatural mojo, as if merely having it in one’s possession will lead to being slain in the Spirit and turning away from progressive indoctrination. Trust me- I spend a fair amount of time reading the Bible and don’t find myself inclined to reach for toxic snakes. It is pretty interesting however, especially from a cultural-historic perspective, and many portions contain insightful and enduring observations on human nature. It’s not an easy read, however, which might explain why most atheists can only refer to talking points when making their acerbic criticisms.
A parting suggestion from an agnostic to fellow non-believers: lighten up and grow up! If we are so convinced as to the correctness our non-beliefs, why do we spend so much money and effort forcing denial of what we ostensibly view as nonsensical mysticism. Increasingly we are acting like everything we ridicule in Christianity- seeking out blasphemers, demanding that everyone adhere to the prevailing doctrines, attributing all manner of ills to non-believers, etc. Why don’t we comport ourselves with a little dignity and compassion rather than spewing out vitriol like some stereotypical revival preacher condemning everyone to eternal damnation? Despite our desires, not everyone is going to think about everything in the exact way as us at all times. We really shouldn’t feel threatened by differences in thought and belief- a little diversity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By the way, is it possible they-Christians-know something we don’t? If so, we’re screwed.