Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hey, Man! Leave Those Atheists Alone.

To be honest, I find the New Atheist movement flippin' annoying. It's like dealing with hyper-fundamentalists all over again - very reactionary, very ideological, very little grounding in fact. Much yelling, screaming, flying accusations and dishes... It reminds me too much of home...

But enough about me. What I do understand about the NAM is that -- on the occasions when they are flying off the handle -- they are reacting to something that is very threatening. Take for instance the reaction to the ads going up countrywide, as reported in the New York Times.
A clash of beliefs has rattled this city ever since atheists bought ad space on four city buses to reach out to nonbelievers who might feel isolated during the Christmas season. After all, Fort Worth is a place where residents commonly ask people they have just met where they worship and many encounters end with, “Have a blessed day.”

“We want to tell people they are not alone,” said Terry McDonald, the chairman of Metroplex Atheists, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, which paid for the atheist ads. “People don’t realize there are other atheists. All you hear around here is, ‘Where do you go to church?’ ”

But the reaction from believers has been harsher than anyone in the nonbeliever’s club expected. Some ministers organized a boycott of the buses, with limited success. Other clergy members are pressing the Fort Worth Transportation Authority to ban all religious advertising on public buses. And a group of local businessmen paid for the van with the Christian message to follow the atheist-messaged buses around town.

The Christians' response (not to be confused with the Christian response) would make sense if perhaps the ads were being belligerent (like the ones in New York declaring Christmas to be a myth. Which, in a sense, it can be described of as in a fairly accurate way. But that doesn't seem to be the case here). The pastors who sponsored the bus answer that they're just trying to tell people that God loves them.

But that's the problem with much of contemporary Christianity. We talk a whole lot about love, but we don't seem to know how to practice it with people who are different from us. In fact, our love is pretty shallow, at least collectively. I'm sure some people are genuinely loving toward atheists, gays, and Muslims in person, but if you ask the typical non-Christian how they feel about Christians' response to them, you (if you were a Christian who thought the world loves Christians, that is) may be surprised. Well, it's because we're not very nice people. We're that annoying couple who come first, jabber in everybody's ear about our precious children and show dogs and jobs, and leaves hours after everybody else, and then thinks we were the life of the party. We're the muscle-necked kid in middle school who forces everybody else to be our friend, but then wonders why nobody signs our yearbook pics, or comes to hang out during the weekends or summer.

Those visuals are incorrect, though. They imply that we should be making friends. That's not a Christian's job, according to Jesus.

A Christian's job, according to the Bible and Jesus himself, can be summed up in three, interconnected parts: Love God; Love Others; Make Disciples. By being the majority bullies that we are - by not allowing others to disagree or think differently in peace - we're ignoring that second creed (ironically by saying that we're doing the second creed). Additionally, if we don't love others, we can't truly love God. And if we can't convince people that there is anything lovely about the Gospels (yet there is. We've lost that in much of our practices), what is there to attract them to it? Most of new converts would be just more fake friends, faking their way through their co-dependency, trading in one broken life for another, more dependent one. And that does nobody any good.

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