Sunday, June 9, 2013


Larry Alex Taunton, the executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation, penned an article on The Atlantic about how Christians can make their religion stronger. Presumably by convincing more young people that unbelief is a "historically naive and potentially dangerous" corruption.

I won't hide the fact that viewpoints like that concern me. While I find the idea that not believing in a deity is "historically naive" to be somewhere between confusing and laughable, "potentially dangerous" and "corruption" raise alarms. This is the stuff of which pogroms are made. While humankind's capacity for atrocity is constant, when people feel that they are protecting themselves or "the children," they can unwittingly dial it up to "11;" and marginalize - or even victimize - people who suggest turning the volume down again.

But in the end, the article was interesting, even if I found some of Taunton's conclusions to be overly self-serving. I was impressed that Taunton expressed surprise at finding that for most Americans, as I see it, their "atheism" could just as easily be expressed as "achristianity." While I spent some time investigating other world religions and deciding that I didn't believe in any of their deities either, for most people in the United States, their only conceptualization of what it means to be religious is whichever faith their family followed when they were growing up. Leaving that tends to mean stepping into the void, rather than looking for another harbor.

It's worth understanding that there is a difference between people who arrive at achristianity as a result of the faith not living up to the hype - and the often conflicting (and/or unrealistic) expectations that centuries of different sects and factions have created - and those who arrive at atheism because of a lack of sufficient evidence of something that is claimed to be true. (Not that this is a binary state; there are other paths and other destinations.) The young woman who decides that the Christian God is non-existent because a specific prayer wasn't answered or disavows a belief in the afterlife because she wants a hated relative consigned to oblivion, is not the same as someone who doesn't believe in something because the burden of proof they ask for has not been met.

And while it's true that while one doesn't have to follow a faith to respect those that do, there is more to faith than being able to quote scripture and proselytize. When I determined that many of my ostensibly Roman Catholic classmates at our parochial high-school didn't actually believe in God, it wasn't because I doubted their knowledge of the Bible or their desire to convert people. After all, I had been in the same Theology classes that they had taken and been on the receiving end of their apologetics (and outright hectoring) on multiple occasions. I doubted their belief because, frankly, they were big enough assholes on a regular basis that it was hard to understand how they could possibly have believed that there was an omniscient observer who watched their every move and would judge them for their actions.

I doubt that the relationship between atheism, achristianity and communities of faith will ever be an easy one. Atheism and achristianity, despite the fact that both eschew faith in the Christian God, are not actually the same - treating them as an undifferentiated mass will simply spark frictions. Taunton's desire to see them all as people who can be brought back into the fold (or kept from leaving) by conservative Christians being themselves, just ever so much more so, is unlikely to work as he intends. While I approve of his efforts to understand those with whom he disagrees, seeing them as individuals is a next, necessary, step.

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