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Oct 20 2010

Evangelicals Struggle With Marketing and the Definition of Atheism

I recently read an article at The Christian Post titled Atheism Becoming the New Religion, Evangelicals Warned. The article was written by Maria Mackay, a reporter for Christian Today.

Don’t know much about atheism

The title alone was enough to tell me that I probably wouldn’t be in agreement with the ideas expressed there. There is a very simple point that many people seem to be unable to grasp (i.e. Joe Cienkowski). Atheism is not a religion.

a·the·ism
[ey-thee-iz-uhm] /ˈeɪθiˌɪzəm/

–noun

  1. the doctrine or belief that there is no god.
  2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

Origin:
1580–90; < Gk áthe ( os ) godless + -ism

atheism. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheism (accessed: October 20, 2010).

I consider myself to be an atheist. What does that mean? It means that I do not believe that a god or gods exist, have ever existed, or will ever exist, in the Universe we live in. End of definition. There’s nothing more to it than that, folks. I can not say that I know that a god does not exist. I can say that no evidence has yet been presented in any form which would convince me of a god’s existence. Some people say that would put me in the soft atheist classification.

If a person attempts to tie any other beliefs or ideas to atheism, they are doing so out of ignorance or an effort to further their own agenda. I think that the Evangelical Christian leaders are doing so for the second reason, and those that follow them are doing so because of the first reason.

The article at The Christian Post covers some talks given at Cape Town 2010, the Third Lausanne Congress on world evangelization.

Losing their religion

From the article:

Carver Yu, president of the China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong, said that “confusing ideologies” were creating emptiness and alienation among people, while indifference to religion was “tightening its grip.”

I find it interesting that Professor Yu claims indifference to religion is somehow “tightening its grip.” It seems to me that it is much more the case that religion is losing its grip on more people with each passing year. Indifference has no need to gain adherents, while that is the express goal of evangelism.

He said the recent advertising campaign by Richard Dawkins and other atheists on London buses was a perfect example of the “enthusiastic zeal” with which atheists were campaigning against Christianity and religion.

Richard Dawkins and the Atheist Bus Campaign

Richard Dawkins and the Atheist Bus Campaign

I fail to see how a sign on the side of a bus stating, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” is an example of “enthusiastic zeal.” It seems to me to be a rather mild statement from a “soft atheist” viewpoint. I wonder what Professor Yu’s response would be to a sign that read “God is dead and no one cares.”

I find Professor Yu’s own words to be a much better example of “enthusiastic zeal”:

“Atheism is about to become the new religion,” he said. “Christians must preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ fearlessly because he is the way, the truth and the life. Only he can lead us away from the present state of godlessness.”

Professor Yu believes without doubt that his religion is the One True Religion™, yet it is the atheists who are the zealous ones.

Also speaking at the conference is Michael Herbst, Professor of Practical Theology at Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald in Griefswald, Germany. Practical Theology is an interesting term. [The German language article on Praktische Theologie is more thorough. View the English translation by Google.] Let’s just say that it’s the theological equivalent of Marketing. Keep that in mind when you read what Professor Herbst had to say.

Also taking to the podium was Michael Herbst, researcher in evangelism and church development. He warned that the decline of faith among parents was leading to a whole generation of children in Germany growing up with an “atheist mindset” and the belief that “faith doesn’t matter.”

He noted that the idea of a “singular truth” and monotheism had become unpopular and were widely regarded as dangerous, arrogant and potentially violent.

“Everything is relative now except for this one new and ultimate truth – that there is no singular truth,” he said. “All those professing a singular truth should be silent in a tolerant world.”

Evangelicals want to increase (or preserve) their market share, but they find that (in Germany) it is shrinking. They blame it on an “atheist mindset.” [Remember that the next time a Christian tells you that Islam and Sharia Law are taking over the world.]

Professor Herbst notes that people have begun to see it as an affront when someone says that their particular way is the only way. You know; like religions usually do. The “tolerant world,” it seems, would have those professing to be the holders of the ultimate truth and knowledge sit down and shut the fuck up. That must really put a cramp into the style of Evangelical Christianity.

Another speaker was Os Guinness, grandson of famous Dublin brewer Arthur Guinness, and co-founder of the Trinity Forum.

He said that the biblical view of truth had become “obscene to modern minds” and was being taken by many to be exclusive, intolerant and divisive.

The idea that your religion is the One True Religion™ is pretty exclusive. The idea of biblical authority and inerrancy, which indicates that homosexuality is (at least) a sin or (more likely) an abomination, is fairly intolerant. Pitting family members against one another on the basis that one of them doesn’t subscribe to your petty ideology seems quite divisive. Yes, I think the “biblical view of truth” (as seen by the Evangelical Christians) fits the criteria for being all three of those things.

“But on a deeper look the biblical view is profound, timely and urgent for the day, even for those who reject it,” he said.

I’m sorry, Mr. Guinness, but I reject your biblical view, and find it neither profound, timely, nor urgent. You’re simply wrong. You may hold your beliefs the way you wish, but they mean absolutely nothing to me unless they start impacting my life. When your beliefs begin to impact me, you’re going to have a fight on your hands.

Guinness was especially critical of liberal Protestants who he said had been “careless” with the truth. He contended that they were just as “dangerous” as those outside of the church and contributing to a weakening of the faith.

Excuse me for a moment. I have to replace one of the high-capacity fuses in my irony meter. I think I should send a good dictionary to Mr. Guinness so that he can peruse the definitions of “exclusive”, “intolerant”, and “divisive.”

He continued: “Shame on those Western Christians who casually neglect or scornfully deny what the scriptures defend and what many brothers and sisters would rather die [for] than deny — that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.”

I have no problem with people who would rather die than admit that their beliefs are based on an unsupportable mythology. Let them believe whatever the fuck they want.

I do have a problem with people who want to force others to abide by the rules that are based on that mythology, however. I also have a problem with people like Scott Roeder who murder others in the name of that mythology. Any person who thinks what Roeder did was morally correct is a reprehensible fuck whom I would not even piss on if they were on fire.

The article continues:

Christians were urged to not stay silent about their faith or be content with personal truth only. Herbst encouraged Christians to share their faith “from below” by serving and living out truth in their own lives.
 
“It is not the prevalence of Christendom that empowers the Gospel but the power of the Holy Spirit that brings the truth into the heart of those who listen,” he said.

I find that Evangelical Christians rarely stay silent about their faith. As for “…serving and living out truth in their own lives”: It’s a nice idea, but I don’t see it getting very far. Many Evangelical Christians seem to have a much easier time bitching about what other people do than they have of living the type of life they preach about.

Don’t come around here no more

I would like to remind the Evangelicals that there are a lot of us out here who don’t want to listen. We’ve heard your spiel before. We listened. We heard. We called bullshit.

I've had just about enough of your bullshit

We’ve heard enough. Proselytizing is a good way of pissing people off. Come to my door with the message of your lord and savior and how much he loves me, and I’m likely to tell you to get fucked and get lost. I’m an atheist. That means I don’t give a shit about your god, your savior, or your religion.

You’re simply not that special, even though you’d like to be. The rest of the world doesn’t care if you think your way is the One True Religion™, and we’re pretty fucking tired of hearing you say it. Please go back to your marketing experts and let them know that it’s not really feasible to sell a product that’s already broken when you take it out of the box.

1 comment

  1. Jim Gardner

    The archived article comments on my blog, mentioned above, are a treasure trove of opinion and feedback from every kind of evangelical, most of which are on this very topic.

    From the “I believe every word of it” biblical literalists to “yes, it’s written by an ancient folk but I like it anyway” progressive liberals, the one thing they all share in common is a complete lack of understanding for what atheism is and what atheists are.

    We do ourselves no favours in this regard because, in reality, there is no “we” and so there are no one set of governing principals which define what an atheist is. When you set that against a range of opinions derived from a fixed ideal (or at least the suggestion of one) atheism can appear disparate or incoherent.

    To the outsider looking in, we’re all paid-up members of the Richard Dawkins fan club who have confused scientific principles with ethical ones. To the religious, the blogging atheist, is a well meaning, if confused individual, who just needs to ‘open up their heart to God’.

    I have made one or two in-roads with individual Christians, who take the time to read, listen and converse sensibly, on the true scale of the condescending tone this attitude pervades. I’ve also been condemned to hell for the sin of thinking clearly, presumably with the brain He mistakenly gave me. But, for the most part, the common denominator with many religious, is that they find it very hard to disassociate their beliefs from the contrary facts. In their world, evidence is an elusive word, interchangeable with opinion.

    They’re particularly reluctant to concede that any one argument against the existence of God is as strong as the other. Their impression of atheism, is that it needs to use all of the arguments against each individual religious truth-claims at once, rather than compete note for note on scripture, miracles and theology as separate entities. It’s as if they’re perfectly willing to admit that, individually, the various atheistic tracts make interesting chewing gum, but don’t convince them at all when they’re bundled together into a whole; that atheism may well make an interesting philosophical pursuit, but that it is ultimately a pseudo-intellectual comfort for the lost and lonely, and offers no kind of realistic challenge to the deistic argument.

    You can even test this assertion by asking incredibly basic questions. For example, questions such as “why don’t you believe in Allah?”, or “where is the archaeological evidence of The Exodus?” are brushed aside as if it is “we” who do not want to understand the true implication of such a demand—when in reality that is exactly why we posited the question.

    What they will miss entirely, in the ensuing debate, is the very part of the question which relates to why they believe what they believe, or the dots which join the dots. Every other part of the conversation will sink-in as clearly as day. You can bounce back and forth ad-nauseam on the fraudulent gospels, or the missing years between the wedding feast at Cana and Hosanna in the highest. But reminding them that the point they missed from the original question was actually the most important part, isn’t so easy a topic to get into as we would like to believe.

    I assert that this is for a few very understandable reasons.

    Firstly, refusing to accept you’ve spent your entire life believing in things which are almost certainly not true, is a perfectly normal reaction to evidence which contradicts your existing opinion. I believe, for example, Jimi Hendrix was a space alien. I believe it with all my being. That doesn’t make it true. Nor does how much I want it to be true, make it true.

    Secondly, most religious people are good people. They simply don’t equate their version of Jesus with the version used by Donald Rumsfeld, Pat Robertson, the fucking Pope or any other charlatan liar who knows less about the true history of the bible than Simon Cowell knows about Pre-Raphaelite conceptualism.

    Their Jesus doesn’t bomb countries they can’t point to on a map, anymore than he holds anti-homosexual protest placards at a soldier’s funeral. Their real problem with “us” isn’t that “we don’t get it”. Their problem is that we do. Loud and clear. We fully accept that Jesus is the archetypal humanist. What we also make perfectly clear, is that this has nothing whatsoever to do with the veracity of the truth-claim, that he was therefore the creator of the universe in human form.

    Indeed, the very fact that we all share the belief’s of Jesus, regardless of our religion or otherwise, is itself proof positive that he was no more a God than are any of us. We don’t share those beliefs because he was magic, we share them because he was a human animal.

    99.9% of people who consider themselves Christian, have no idea what they’re subscribed to—and so conceding this fact is of no consequence to them. They think Christianity is about striving to achieve what we all want—global peace, love and understanding.

    When you remind them of the fact that the Jesus story upon which their church is founded, is merely an echo of many different tales of hero warrior gods throughout history, who have also sought this ideal, they almost seem indifferent to the fact that this fact alone falsifies multiple-layers of their other religiously founded assumptions.

    They simply fail, perhaps out of self-defence, to make the connection between this fact and the giant question mark which it places above everything else. Hence, arguing with them over this is ultimately pointless. I don’t mean that in a small way. I mean it in a way which intentionally makes a concession to the best of their arguments, which are simple admissions of our shared values.

    The question is, do you want to live this life as a cause of turmoil and unrest, or do you want to walk the rice paper? The non-religious and religious alike would all do well from a deal, based on this question, to live and let live. Where we rub up against each other isn’t a choice placed in our hands. It is a political football purposefully crafted by those who seek to divide and conquer, for the same reasons humans have always sought such pointless an aim. How we speak up louder than them is the task at hand.

    We can either strive for this or abandon it. It’s as black and white as that. Because the only other alternative, is we just wait until the 21st of this month, to see which of us shoots up into the clouds, leaving non-republicans to live their lives as they see fit—or to put it another way, for the rapture to leave behind everyone who seeks nothing more than to do unto others as they would have done to them.

    Predating the sermon on the mount, as it does, by some 500 years, I see nothing wrong with this simple Confucian mantra, as a basis for moving beyond theism and other kinds of denial. The only question is how many will follow, when such a commitment would require abandoning what they mistake for received ethics, but which are in-fact intrinsic.

    This speaks to the organised attack on scientific principals, in which many religious groups are active. They’re not attacking what they understand, they’re attacking what they don’t want to understand. Creationism is explained in this way. So too are the various invocations of Quantum Mechanics which take place at the “I’m not religious, but..” end of the spectrum.

    The God of the gaps is praised by far more people than The Church would like to admit. Unfortunately His silence on such matters, gives an air of authority to those who shout at the top of their lungs in His stead. All we have to do is prove again and again that there are no gods. We will do this with the same tools we have always done it with—not simply to convince or cajole those who have not reasoned themselves into their religious views, but to make sure future generations know neither of us fell asleep on the really important questions. It’s just that some of us happen to be rather more interested in the answers than others.

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