Monday, July 7, 2008

Evangelical Atheism

Greta Christina raises an excellent point when she asks, "Is it ok for atheists to try to change people's minds? And is there any difference between that and religious evangelicalism?"

Most of us feel negatively about the way that evangelical christians try to spread their beliefs. But are we guilty of doing the same? Are we being hypocritical?

Sure, we're not going door to door or handing out tracts, but we are writing blogs and speaking out. So is there a difference?

Greta Christina concludes that trying to change people's minds is a good thing. We do it everyday. If we didn't, we would never share or hear good ideas.

The problem she has with evangelizing, is how it is done.

Atheists (typically) offer logic and reason for their beliefs.

Religion offers threats of eternal damnation, false hopes of paradise, and falsehoods.

Religion wants to suppress dissenting religious ideas or views. Atheism does not want to suppress different views. We encourage education and critical thinking.

But as she puts it, religion gets a free ride in society:

"In the marketplace of ideas, religion gets a free round- trip ride in a luxury limousine, with a police escort and a climate- controlled armored truck to transport its merchandise. All at public expense. And religious evangelicalism relies on that."

The difference between religious evangelicalism and speaking out about athiesm is that religion tries to silence dissenting views while atheism encourages them.

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Prodigal Jon said...

I just wanted to say thanks for leaving a comment on my blog, stuff Christians like. The whole Todd Bentley thing is a weird subject and I thought you provided some good points.

Maximum05 said...

I agree. I thought your judgmental statement fit right in...

"but i suppose this is the wrong website to talk about requiring evidence before believing things"

I was a feeling a bit self-conscious about it only being Christians bashing each other.

Seriously though, Christian blogs could use some flavoring from other religions or non-religions. What better way to prepare ourselves for the long days of door to door sales...:-)

Karla said...

Hi, I believe that while there are many Christians who do not know why they believe what they believe and are ill equipped to give a reasonable defense of their believes, there are many more who are giving reasonable responses to the skeptics regarding belief in God. This is my aim on my blogspot.

Also I think we need the various worldviews to be out there in public debate. I want to know what others believe and why and I don't want their perspectives silenced. Their questions need answering and they are good questions that deserve good reasonable answers.

I think it is vital to have a good education and a strong ability to think critically.

A large numer of Christians can provide reasonable exposition of their beliefs and are strong advocates for broad strong education and critical thinking.

Hark! said...

I'm going to have to completely disagree. The vanguards of the "evangelical" atheism movement--Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and their ilk--have fervently and repeatedly stated that the voice of religion, Christianity in particular, ought to be silenced in the public sphere and that the spread of it as a social meme is toxic and ought to be quashed.

Meanwhile, Christianity has a longstanding tradition of embracing, addressing, responding to and incorporating the worldviews it encounters in its evangelism techniques. From Paul's famous "Mars Hill" speech in Acts, wherein he professed to Athens the "unknown god" now made known in Jesus, to Thomas Aquinas' exhaustive Summa Theologica to the works of C. S. Lewis, evangelicalism has at its core rational response.

Religion ought to be about seeking the truth--whether that truth is found through science, experience, revelation or logic--and sometimes that means reconciling our beliefs with what is revealed to be true. This requires that we study other truth claims.

I am a Christian, but I have Dawkins' book. I have Darwin on my shelf. Nietzche. Sartre. Camus. Beckett. The Qur'an, the Bagavadgita...I have 'em all, and it is not without thought that I come to Christianity, and it is not my aim to quash your speech. It is instead my aim to respond to your beliefs, point by point.

Threats of eternal damnation? I am not God; I cannot say for certain where I would go, let alone you. False hopes of paradise? Well, that's awfully egotistical seeing as there is no experiential knowledge on EITHER side to discount the existence of a Heaven or Hell. More importantly, hope per se is never specifically true or false. The question is whether the object of hope is attainable or even real. And who cares if it is false--if I die and atheism is true, it doesn't make a difference. Provided a rational underpinning of my approach to the world, my religion should have no affect on that. Rather, my religion should be an extension of my rationality--I seek truth and arrive at a conclusion. Falsehoods? That's a broad brush, and I'd love to see some specifics. Because I got all sorts of falsehoods qua atheism if we're just going to be trading jibes. But I do believe the idea is to be amiable.

The Amiable Atheist said...

I appreciate all of your comments.

First, I guess I did not make it clear enough that I was summarizing what another blogger had said in this entry.

Second, to Hark!, I would like to respond by saying that you must admit that you do not represent the majority of religious people in the world. I would think that not many religious people have read all of the books you have read, or have thought about their beliefs so thoroughly. I have heard from many religious people that they believe solely based on faith, and need no other rationalization. I realize there are exceptions to this rule, you being one of them.

I would also say that since you have read all of these books then there is really nothing more I can say to you.

Just as you do not represent all Christians, Dawkins and others do not represent all atheists. Not all of us wish to eradicate religion from the world. Mostly what atheists want is a more secular society and freedom of/from religious belief.

In the future I will try harder to avoid such generalizations as were stated in this entry, and I thank you for comments. This is a learning experience for me, and they are helpful in improving my writing.

Have a good one,
The Amiable Atheist