A Christian’s Plea for Civil Discourse

rachel-held-evansCNN’s Belief Blog posted a short article yesterday by Rachel Held Evans calling for atheists to avoid using the worst of Christian extremism in their critiques against Christianity, offering to return the favor by not doing the same in reverse against atheists. Evans is a favorite Christian writer of mine for the simple reason that she speaks prophetically to the Christian church as an insider. By speaking “prophetically” I mean that she openly speaks up when she sees her friends and fellow Christians saying and doing things which she feels are contrary to the faith, no matter how important or influential those people may be. She holds the professors of her faith accountable to the ideals she feels are central; and those ideals are, in my opinion, some of the better tenets of the Christian faith. Incidentally, those elements which I find praiseworthy are the same principles which can be found in many world religions, as well as within the various forms of humanism (both secular and religious). Like me, she wants to make a way for constructive conversation between people on opposite sides of the believer/non-believer divide. For that reason, I would say she’s a kindred soul (that is, if I believed in souls), and I support her efforts.

My main reaction to her post this weekend is that I agree with her sentiment, and I feel the same way. We would all do better to highlight the more constructive voices on both sides of the divide because they seek real dialogue (as opposed to dueling monologues, which go nowhere). I’ve said before that I would describe myself as more of an anti-fundamentalist than an anti-theist (even if my next blog post may make me look more like the latter). I am interested in finding common ground with the people around me in hopes that we can work together for some common good. Honestly, where I live, I would consider it a major victory if I could just get people to not see me as an evil pawn of Satan. But Evans doesn’t run with that crowd. In fact, I think it would be fair to call her an anti-fundamentalist as well. This is the girl from Dayton, TN (home of the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial“) who took it upon herself to spend an entire year living in literal compliance with as many of the biblical commandments for women she could find in order to write about what she learned. This alone makes her worth your attention. She probably found the most cunningly clever way to deliver an internal critique to the evangelical and fundamentalist mindset anybody could imagine.

But I also feel compelled to disagree with a couple of points she made. My first disagreement is with her equating the political incorrectness of Richard Dawkins with the overt and extreme bigotry of people like Pat Robertson. As she pointed out, over the last couple of years many in the atheist community have criticized Dawkins for making comments which they felt were either insensitive or at least poorly worded and too easily taken out of the context in which they were spoken. Evans says that Christians are just as vocal in their censure of people like Robertson (for what it’s worth, that’s news to me…but maybe each of us is less likely to hear those voices because we don’t read the same stuff). But they’re not symmetrical. Not even close, in my opinion. I’ve heard and read the kinds of things that Robertson has said and I must say that context offers no improvement to his statements. Incidentally, the list could be longer than just one name; I would want to include other names like Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, and even the blessed John Piper, all of whom Evans herself has laudably corrected in very public ways.

I also find it interesting that the dismissiveness which Dawkins displays towards the pederastic behavior of his boarding school masters sounds remarkably like the dismissiveness with which the much-revered C.S. Lewis approached the same subject. I remember being bewildered by the way he shrugged off this recurring element of his boarding school days in his autobiography. He simply looked back on those things as if they were “just how it was.” Like Dawkins, Lewis went so far as to say that he didn’t feel what went on there should be grouped with the more overt kinds of violent rape which lead the headlines today. For Lewis, as with Dawkins, that’s just how things were in the British boarding schools of their youth. I can’t imagine, frankly, and to my modern ears this is a jarring perspective. But I’ve heard it now from two very different sources and I haven’t heard the same outcry against Lewis which has been levied on Dawkins. I sense a double standard there.

But here’s the real kicker: Robertson is just talking like the people in the Bible talk. The crazy talk we keep hearing from preachers like him is coming from the very book to which Evans wants to be faithful. This presents a major problem…for both of us. Those of us wanting to criticize the more extreme fundamentalist nonsense must necessarily critique the source material for their beliefs, and as a result, we undermine the very same foundation upon which the more modernized, open-minded, emergent Christian faith is built. There’s really not any way around it. Evans so often has to do this herself, but her task is even harder than ours because she is actually fighting against her own religion. She would undoubtedly say that she feels she is being truer to the ethos of Jesus than her fundamentalist counterparts. Leaving aside that debate (that’s her battle to fight, not mine), I will simply point out that Robertson is verbalizing a framework which millions of people in my country consider an authoritative representation of their faith, while Dawkins is merely voicing (at times) a personal bias on a number of issues which are his own opinion and represent no authoritative atheist position whatsoever. In fact, while the “atheist movement” has many celebrities and public mouthpieces, it has no authority figures in the sense that the Christian faith has. When people like Robertson spew their open bigotry, millions of Americans nod and say “Amen!” When Dawkins makes politically insensitive statements (again, they’re not symmetrical), the atheist community becomes livid and some begin calling for boycotts of his conferences. There’s a reason people in this subculture call themselves “freethinkers.”

Evans seeks to forge a kinder, more loving Christian faith than the one she inherited—one less wed to a literalistic adherence to a single ancient book. I applaud her efforts and I hope her tribe increases. Whether that re-envisioning of the faith is a novel reworking or simply a return to the original intent of its authors is, as I said, not my concern. But I hope people like her are successful in encouraging their fellow believers to seek out those voices across the aisle which seem the most committed to constructive dialogue. We can do much better than we’ve done thus far.

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33 Responses to A Christian’s Plea for Civil Discourse

  1. Reblogged this on Single-Mom Soapbox and commented:
    Having been on three sides of this discussion, as a fundamentalist, a Methodist, and now an atheist, I can say that sure, civil discourse is possible between the more liberal, mainstream Christians and non-believers, but there is no such thing as civil discourse between fundamentalists and anyone else – not even among themselves.

    • Can’t argue with you there ;)

    • One Thought says:

      Civil discourse is possible between everyone. But both parties must be willing to remain civil despite strong opposing viewpoints.

      Each individual is accountable to how they treat or respond to the person they are speaking with. Treating someone as a human being in a discussion and not as a subservient due to differing beliefs is what civil discourse is about.

      You treat a fundamentalist with civility and respect you will have a more productive conversation than if you treat them as a Bible-thumping bigot.

      • Joe says:

        At the back of most Christian minds when talking to an atheist is that the atheist is a sinner, predisposed to hate God and is deceived by Satan. These presuppositions make it impossible for real open minded dialogue with Christians unless they are liberal Christians who doubt original sin and the reality of demons.

        • One Thought says:

          I understand where you are coming from, but do you not see that you are making a presupposition towards Christians in your statement?

          The idea you bring up about open-minded dialogue is interesting. An open-minded dialogue is that both parties will remain open-minded towards the others viewpoints even when they are strongly opposed to them. Your comments to me sound more like, atheists are open-minded and most Christians are closed-minded.

          Do you see why this would make it difficult to have a civil or open-minded dialogue?

          Open-mindedness is not based off of what you believe, but that you remain open to new ideas or concepts. That you do not hold what you know or understand to be absolute but rather allow others insights into things to expand your knowledge and understanding in all areas of life.

          It has been my experience that because atheists do not believe in a god/s, that they are close minded when it comes to conversations about god/s. This does not mean I can assume that all atheists are like this. I mean the liberal atheists…those are the atheists that the Christian can have open-minded dialogue with about God.

          • We’re not saying all Christians are closed-minded. We’re saying fundamentalist Christians are closed-minded. One of the requirements to be a fundamentalist is that you close your mind to the world and open it to the Bible and the Bible only. (and pastor, of course, since he is who interprets the Bible for you.) I was a fundamentalist for 20 years; I know exactly how they think.

          • K.D. says:

            You were a closed-minded fundamentalist for 20 years and now you are no longer a closed-minded fundamentalist. It may be more challenging to dialogue but it is not impossible.

            I understand how the fundamentalist mind works as well. I do find the concept atheists use that fundamentalist Christians are closed-minded to be a little misleading.

            Closed-mindedness is dependent on the individual and cannot be directed at a particular group. While in large there are many fundamental Christians that are closed-minded…I find also there are non-Christians who are closed minded, this includes among them atheists. I believe the problem to arise in the definition of the term being limited to closed off to the world and only open to the Bible as interpreted by your pastor. Someone could be closed-minded towards the Bible and only open to ideas that speak against it.

            I find the definition of closed-minded to mean more that someone has closed their mind off to the beliefs of others and only accept their beliefs and those who agree with them. This is a very dangerous position regardless of which side of the fence you stand on. It is the position that you are right without question and anyone who disagrees with you is automatically wrong. Closed-mindedness is not caused by a particular belief, that belief might try and ingrain it, but it comes down to the individual accepting it as true or not.

          • Kyle, while I agree that close-mindedness can be a personality trait which transcends one’s individual creed, having lived within two vastly different paradigms (evangelicalism followed by secular humanism) I must disagree with you. You seem to be saying that fundamentalism doesn’t encourage closed-mindedness any more than other paradigms (such as naturalism, atheism, skepticism, or whatever you want to call the mindset of people like me). But it most certainly does. There are essential tenets to Christian fundamentalism (same as in Islam) which positively shuts down an openness to new ideas, be they social, scientific, moral, or psychological. Fundamentalism tells you there is only one right way to think about pretty much everything, and shame on you for trying to think anything else, you fallen wretch.

            Quite the opposite, secular humanism encourages an openness to differing cultures, ideas, and values, and it suggests that people learn from one another and that we should be always learning and always growing into a fuller understanding of the natural and of the human world.

            I’m not saying that means we don’t get our share of stubborn people. Because we do. But there are most definitely some core aspects of fundamentalism which more readily lend themselves to becoming closed off to new ideas than most other ideologies. And there are most definitely core aspects of naturalism which encourage curiosity, scientific self-doubt, and openness to learning new ways of looking at the world.

          • K.D. says:

            I won’t bog you with the details, but your definition of secular humanism is quite similar to my definition of Christianity. There are a few exceptions but very similar indeed.

            If you approach someone as an enemy, you will strike them down. If you approach someone as a friend, you will live and learn from them and they from you.

            I find using the terms closed-minded or fundamental to describe someone like drawing a line in the sand and saying, I will not cross this line and speak to those people. You’ve made a distinction between you and them. I encourage you to erase that line and give people a chance.

            I am in no way disagreeing with you about stubborn people or that there are groups of people that call themselves Christians and teach erroneous tenants. I have my issues with them as well. But my argument is that everything must get down to the individual level to have a productive dialogue. I believe you can learn something from everyone, even if at the end of the day you disagree with most of what they say, they is always a chance that they will teach you something new.

  2. RBH says:

    We would all do better to highlight the more constructive voices on both sides of the divide because they seek real dialogue (as opposed to dueling monologues, which go nowhere).

    OK, a dialogue. What is there to talk about? What can be fruitfully discussed with any prospect of some kind of constructive outcome? I’m serious; these are not frivolous or antagonistic questions.

    • One Thought says:

      I would say understanding. At the end of the day you do not have to agree with my viewpoint, but the purpose of a dialogue is to better understand where the other person is coming from. You may have a better insight or more knowledge on a topic or issue relative to our time and place than I do.

      Allowing one another to express or viewpoint and beliefs with respect rather than rejection will challenge what and why we believe the things we do. This will only help us to discover truth instead of possibly holding onto lies we might be believing.

    • There are impulses within Christianity which tend toward social justice, mercy, kindness, and community support. There are benevolent movements within the faith which are worth cooperating with to whatever extent they share common this-world goals. We share the same spaces. We might as well work at getting along.

    • Travis says:

      Well, we all share the planet, and neither religion nor atheism are going away, as much as either side might wish it. Seems there is much to dialogue about. How can we live peaceably, honestly, and respectfully in a pluralist (not the same as secular) society? How can we balance freedom (of and from religion, as the case may be) with obligation to society? How do people different from us (whoever we are) see the world, and might they have good reasons for doing so?

  3. One Thought says:

    I agree that an open-minded discourse is much more productive between opposing viewpoints. I find asking questions to seek understanding is vitally important. I am interested in hearing more on what you mean by “Robinson is talking like the people in the Bible talk?” I would, however, disagree with you that “Evans is fighting against her own religion.”

    I say this as you point out yourself that she, like you, sounds more anti-fundamentalist than anti-theist. Belief in God does not require religion. I find to often fundamentalists and many religions are believing in a concept, idea, or person rather than believing in the God they are suppose to be representing.

    I do not know this Evans or Robertson, but as you put it, she speaks “prophetically” towards Christians. I would add that speaking “prophetically” means she is calling people to believe in the God of the Bible rather than a person, concept, or idea. To a Christian, this is not an internal fight amongst believers but rather a voice to consider if what we are holding onto in our belief is from God or from a different source.

    It is very easy to use the Bible or anything that someone says out of context. I would gather from your post that this idea of taking what is said out of context is more of what Evans was getting at regarding the similarities between Dawkins and Robertson. Just as a theist should not take Dawkins views as authoritative for all atheists, atheists should not view one theists views as authoritative for all theists. To the theist, only God is authoritative, everything that a pastor or individual says about God must be evaluated rather than taken as authoritative. Sadly, this is not always the case. I will add that it is not only theists that fall victim to this trap but atheists as well, everything we believe to be true or what another tells us is true must be evaluated.

  4. Semaj says:

    I can certainly have a civilized discussion with anyone but when a disagreement reaches a certain point with some people, the subject needs to be changed or at least silenced because when at least one party is unwilling to hear out the other side, the conversation isn’t very productive. I’ve had fun with fundies discussing other shared interests. They are still human beings even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. In fact, I’ve done charity work with them before and despite a difference in motivations, they can be capable of remarkably beautiful acts.

    I remember delivering a pizza a few years back to a mormon neighborhood. I saw a father teaching his sun to throw a baseball in front of a beautiful house. It looked like something out of a movie with the exception of the political sign next to the driveway proclaiming the home owner’s support for a proposition changing the state constitution to declare marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Even an otherwise loving dad can be a bigot. People don’t fit into the boxes we like to put them in.

    On the larger point though, I’m thrilled to see a Christian not be a fundie but her entire world view is still silly to me as I’m sure mine must appear to her. I believe in civility if only for the convenience of it all. Still, I’m not willing to pull my punches. As you so aptly pointed out, Dawkins isn’t my prophet and I can criticize him when he says something stupid- and he did say something stupid.

    While not every Christian is a bigot or an idiot, I don’t see any value in accepting her offer. The fact is that atheism and humanism are on the rise while Christianity is in decline. Still, they are many and we are few. If we had an equal podium in this world, I might be more interested in the bargain but as atheists, we have far less to lose. There are fewer atheists by the numbers than there are Christians and every day we open up our mouths, our ranks grow because our position has the virtue of being logically sound and also the virtue of being new, When we have an equal seat at the table in politics, I may be more inclined to strike a balance but right now, I’m not inclined to give an inch because it wouldn’t result in a balance. If I accepted her offer, I would be shutting up all the time and she would almost never have to do so by comparison. It’s simply a bad bargain. My criticism will trim the fat our of her flock while hers will have virtually no impact on atheism. So it follows that her appeal to fairness isn’t actually offering a fair deal. So thanks, but no thanks.

    • “I don’t see any value in accepting her offer. The fact is that atheism and humanism are on the rise while Christianity is in decline.”

      In the Deep South, this is not the case. So maybe what’s different about my vantage point from yours is that I am forced by my context to find some common ground if at all possible. It’s kind of a necessity for people in my position.

    • One Thought says:

      I agree motivations may be different but acts of service in a community are important in our society today. But there are areas that I disagree with you.

      So because of the sign in his driveway you classify that father as a bigot? That is like me saying someone who puts a sign supporting change in state laws to allow same sex marriage is a bigot against traditional marriage.

      While atheism has the appeal of newness and appears as if it is logically sound does not make it better. Do you believe that because you are an atheist that you are more enlightened, more intelligent, doing a greater service to humanity and the world than Christians?

      Simply because an idea or concept is on the rise or making grounds in popular belief does that make it the wisest choice to follow?

      • Semaj says:

        Yes, because of that sign I classify the father as a bigot. As for your analogy, I disagree with that as well. There is no such thing as traditional marriage. Marriage traditions across cultures and across history have varied wildly, Calling a particular variation of marriage traditional is inaccurate. However, even if I acceot your term because I do not what you are referring to, your analogy still doesn’t hold up. Being in support of marriage equality in no way hampers or hinders anyone’s ability to enjoy a “traditional” marriage. Sorry, this isn’t a case where each side is attempting to deprive the other of something. Only one side argues for the non-existence of the other. So yeah, I call him a bigot and with excellent reason to.

        Oh this old thing again, because I’m an atheist I must think I’m superior intellectually to everyone who isn’t, That’s a very old and silly assumption about non-believers. It’s as invalid now as it always has been. (It also hurts our feelings but since you may also believe I eat babies, what does it matter to you anyway?) I really hope that one day you move beyond it.

        Since you didn’t put any stock in the first sentence of the last paragraph of my original post, I’ll flesh it out a bit more for you. The position relies on the assumption that intelligence is an all or nothing game. It isn’t. There are Christians out there that are far more skilled than I in various ways. A person can be a genius in one area and a complete fool in another, Atheists, like most people, will find themselves somewhere in the middle in just about every such area all of the time. Better in some, worse in others but most of us just aren’t lucky enough to have Hawking’s brain inside, The specific area one happens to be right or wrong in not an appropriate yard stick for measuring each other against and you shouldn’t use it as such. Nor should you assume that because I’m willing to call a whole bunch of people wrong about one specific thing, that I’m calling them wrong about everything. Besides, how many religions out there do you not even give the time of day to? Everyone has opinions on religion that by necessity preclude the opinions of others from being right. As for me, much like a Christian believes on faith that he or she is right about their view of the universe, I believe on reason that I am correct in mine. Not employing faith in my quest but rather using the same reasoning skills that have allowed humans to build all the tools and toys of the modern world, I have came to a conclusion. I have met many brilliant individuals who have come to different conclusions and even a few who purport to have used reason to get or at least help them get there but for the life of me can not understand their reasoning for it and they’ve not been able to translate it into a compelling argument, It appears illogical on its face to me and I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about it. However, many of these people could certainly beat me intellectually in many areas. I’ve lost some great chess games in my life to people of different faiths as well.

        As for enlightened- that’s to subjective to have meaning as a concept where we might have a common point of reference. I’ll pass unless you define the concept more narrowly.

        As for greater service to humanity- define service? I think the charity I run is more valuable than any church service could ever be but I can’t match the dollars thrown at healthcare and feeding the hungry that many Christians put out there. I hope that answered your question but truly, I hope you’ve learned something about your own prejudices from my response.

        My rationale behind my post wasn’t actually related to any of that stuff you just asked. I simply don’t see the value of holding my tongue when Pat Robertson says that groups of gay people are traveling around intentionally injecting straight people with HIV through needles or when other prominent Christian figures make similarly absurd and offensive statements. All she offers in trade for my silence is to not remind us that Dawkins said something stupid. It’s a bad trade on economic grounds because there are fewer atheists walking around than there are prominent Christians likely to advance such extreme ideas. Furthermore, I’m fine with Dawkins getting called out for his offensive commentary on pedophilia. When someone says something that off in the public square, they should be challenged. My response to this woman is a polite thanks but no thanks. Please call out Dawkins all you like and I’ll call out Pat Robertson and others like him all I like. Honestly, I’m happy to call out Dawkins too. He doesn’t have a title or a position among non-believers that magically shields him from criticism. As a rule with us, nobody does.

        • K.D. says:

          I have no problem with someone calling out a person like Robertson when he says something controversial. The deal is that she won’t criticize a person who is an atheist based off of what Dawkins says and asking that atheists return the favor when a prominent Christian says something controversial to criticize all Christians you meet based off of what one person said.

          My response was in regards to comments you made not in regards to a prejudice against atheists. I find both of your posts to show your prejudices against Christians. A person cannot be considered a bigot based off of a sign, simply when you do not agree with what the sign says. To argue against that persons right for freedom of speech by degrading his character is more a form of bigotry than putting a sign in your driveway.

          My questions, if they offended you I am sorry. I was trying to determine a point of reference about your thoughts and feelings. While your response may have the appearance of “no” you do not think you are better, the reality is that you are saying, yes. Your response is more of an exposure of your prejudices than mine.

          You surely have the right to disagree with me or the freedom to clarify something I may have mistaken or missed. But I do hope you realize that the article was not to judge a Christian based off of a comment that someone like Robertson says. You can criticize Robertson, but don’t apply it to every Christian you meet. Otherwise, as more prominent atheists shoot there mouths off and make comments that negatively reflect atheist beliefs Christians could easily make the same assumption towards all atheists.

          And no I do not believe you eat babies. Where that comment is coming from is beyond me.

          • Semaj says:

            Obviously, I don’t think anyone should ump all Christians or all atheists under one banner but it isn’t like Robertson is on the fringe of the religion. He’s a main stream American Christian- a former contender for the Republican Presidential nomination. When a person says they disagree with him, that person should be believed and their right to be different and still call themselves a Christian should be respected and if that is the limit of the bargain- I’m fine with it.

            The sign clarifies an inherent bigotry inseparable from the position. It’s curious that you assume it to mean an attack on free speech, I didn’t walk over and rip the sign out of the ground when I saw it. His free speech right was not questioned. The right of free speech does not shield a person from criticism. We allow outright racially bigoted groups like the KKK and the NAZI’s to march. (No, I’m not claiming there is any equivalence to either group and this guy who simply wishes to deny gay people basic human dignity) Everyone gets free speech. However, that means people like me also get free speech and I’m using mine to call him what he is- a bigot. You purport that an outward statement to the community of bigoted beliefs posted in the front lawn can’t be grounds for calling the guy a bigot? I just don’t see your logic. I think the truth is that you disagree with my contention that the belief that gays couples should be treated DIFFERENTLY under the law from the way straight couples are treated is inherently bigoted. If you wish to argue that- go ahead and try but please don’t advance a side argument you can’t possibly agree with.` If I follow your example, I couldn’t call him a bigot if he posted a sign in front that says “N*ggers aren’t human beings” Is the sign really your point or are you actually having a problem with my judging of its content? Please be honest. My position is that the content of the sign is inseparable from bigotry. The content expresses a position that some couples are better than others, He may be an otherwise nice guy. He looks like a loving Dad who has pride in his home and he probably works hard for his money. That doesn’t change the fact that he put a sign preaching inequality up in his front yard. My comment on him is fair. Your criticism of me for it doesn’t make sense. So, is your complaint truly about me judging him because of a sign or is it as I suspect because I’m judging the content of the sign? Would you judge someone with a sign reading the same as the hypothetical I just proposed? If so, it can’t be just about the sign. It must be about the content.

            The baby eating is an example of another old stereo type against non-christians. I considered it as silly as your complaint that because I’m an atheist, I must think I’m more intelligent than Christians. Your latest criticism that I show a bias against Christians even in my latest response lacks any citations to support your claim and I can’t identify where it came from. As for your attacks on me, I maintain that they show far more about you that you may realize. I don’t hate you for them or assume that you’re ready to launch a crusade or burn me at the stake on account of your views but I also don’t give them much credit. Is it possible that you may merely be confusing me on account of privilege? Christians in this country receive a lot of privilege. Christian holidays are federal holidays. God is invoked on currency and in everyday examples of patriotism. Religions in general get a lot of special tax breaks too. It has been my experience that a lot of people confuse not extending privilege or even calling for equality by way of abolishing privilege to be an attack against the beneficiaries. I don’t seriously give the slightest amount of credit to the idea that there is a god. I find the concept of vicarious redemption through a dead/undead being un-involved with the cause of the grievance to be both illogical an immoral. I state these positions openly. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Christians I like or even love. Some of my greatest personal heroes have been Christians and in many cases, even motivated by their faith while they committed the acts for which I honor them or their memory. Just because I express a complete disagreement with a viewpoint and argue that disagreement does not mean I have a prejudice exceeding normal and perfectly permissible disagreement. Christians evangelize all the time and nobody bats an eye. Why is it than when an atheist does so, he must have a bias? That is more of that privilege I mentioned.

          • K.D. says:

            So by your first paragraph you would accept her deal if the limit of criticism falls on the individual (Robertson or Dawkins) making the statements and not against the whole community of Christianity or Atheism?

            I find it offensive to utilize the term bigot. In a sense, you have dehumanized this individual based off of his beliefs. While you did not go over and kick his sign over, your actions lead you to criticism of his beliefs and you extend that same criticism to anyone who would agree with his sign.The hypothetical sign you bring up is not even a close comparison. The man’s sign did not read, “Gay’s are not human beings.” It read that marriage is between one man and one woman. Unless you were to ask the man about the sign you have only your assumptions as to his beliefs and reasons to putting the sign up, these assumptions you make could be wrong. What if asking him about the sign, he could have given you a logical and convincing reason which would change your position on the subject?

            To answer your question about the hypothetical sign, No I would not judge him, I would be deeply hurt and feel remorse that he felt that way about African Americans. But I would not make comments about him that makes others believe he is less than human.

            As far as my complaint, it was anything but. As I explained it was a question to better understand your position. Do you believe that because you are an atheist you are better in someway or other than a Christian?

            I asked the question based off of your argument that Atheists have what appears to be a logically sound position and the awe of newness, which will make it appealing and increase it’s following. This to me is a subtle way of saying, atheism and humanism are better than Christianity.

            Logically sound i.e., intelligent
            Appeal of newness i.e., enlightenment

            And then you spoke of your charity i.e., acts of service

            Which you responded with a resounding yes, your charity is better than any church service.

            While you and I agree that intelligence is not an all or nothing thing, this was your point not mine, the question was more towards atheism being the more intelligent or enlightened choice rather than directed towards your personal intelligence (my apologies for the phrasing of the question). Of which your answer as I gathered was, while you might not be more intelligent than some Christians, you do not understand how a Christian can come to the conclusion they have because to you it appears illogical.

            I will admit that I have to fight my prejudices when I am speaking with someone. Often I have to fight comments that are highly offensive to me as well. I do my best to be self-aware of when I cross the line. I do not believe being a Christian makes me better than anyone else. Christianity, to me has erased the line of distinction between every person on earth. It puts everyone on the same plane as everyone else. So the thought of supporting a belief making someone better than another person is quite foreign to me, whether they call themselves a Christian or an Atheist.

            Perhaps another way of saying this would be, even if you ate babies I would still treat you with love and respect as a human being. I would be appalled by it, but I would do what I can to convince you to not eat babies. I would attempt to persuade you by not criticizing or condemning you for your beliefs. Like I said, my comments and questions were never intended to criticize or condemn you. I’ve chosen not to go through and reference comments you’ve made that have come off as prejudice against Christianity, but if you truly do not believe me that you have made them, I can certain go through and point them out to you?

            As for a comment you made previously about giving other faiths the time of day, I do spend most of my time deepening my understanding of my own faith. But I cannot ignore other peoples faiths. I take the time to explore the claims others make in regards to their beliefs. I enjoy being challenged in what I believe, being a Christian does not make me exempt from having a wrong belief about something.

  5. Thanks for engaging the post, Neil. This is a fair critique, I think. Wish I had more time to converse, but I’m headed out the door for another trip soon. Just wanted to stop by and say “thanks” for the respectful response.

    Now…can you do anything about the COMMENTERS over at CNN? ;-)

  6. Christina says:

    It’s heartening for me to know that there are Christians like this out there. I’ve encountered a few in real life, but as you know, in the South, religious beliefs are much like family relics. They are handed down from generation to generation and do not change or evolve from one generation to the next. They are put in a curio cabinet along with the family china and observed with appropriate fervor; never questioned or challenged. For that reason, the most common argument I get tends to be along the lines of “Because Jesus/the Bible/Pastor Bob said so.” It’s really hard to have any kind of discourse when there is no critical thinking involved. Not that deeply convicted people are stupid. Most of them are every bit as intelligent as you or I. But they are taught not to question, so they don’t. And again, this makes any kind of discussion pretty fruitless. So although, as I said, it’s heartening to see Christians like this in the public eye trying to effect change, it will never happen until the fundamentalist masses are willing to face that the world they are living in is bigger than their little insular little Christian enclaves will allow them to believe.

  7. Arkenaten says:

    When all said and done they still believe and profess that a man called jesus rose from the dead, is god and is the only way to salvation (whatever that is) and if one doesn’t tow the line, there a pretty good chance you will be going to Hell.
    Water off a ducks back when touted at the average intelligent adult. But it is a vastly different kettle of five fishes and two loaves when levelled at small children.

    Christians have had it there way for over 2000 years and after butchering a path to theological supremacy they still. haven’t figured it out and there are of 40,000 different sects that are testimony of this.
    Honestly, they have nothing to complain about. Not a thing.

  8. Rob McQueary says:

    Thank you for your moderation.

  9. yeshua21 says:

    What a thoughtful response to a thoughtful article by Ms. Evans–many thanks to both of you!

    ["But here’s the real kicker: Robertson is just talking like the people in the Bible talk. The crazy talk we keep hearing from preachers like him is coming from the very book to which Evans wants to be faithful. This presents a major problem…for both of us. Those of us wanting to criticize the more extreme fundamentalist nonsense must necessarily critique the source material for their beliefs, and as a result, we undermine the very same foundation upon which the more modernized, open-minded, emergent Christian faith is built. There’s really not any way around it."]

    This is, indeed, the misunderstanding upon which fundamentalism rests. Jesus even speaks to it, in one of the gospel narratives:

    “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” ~ John 5:39-40

    In fact, the Bible– however many unfortunate beliefs and behaviors it may suggest or inspire –is not the foundation of our faith. The written word points– more or less effectively, depending on how you read it –to the living Word. And the living Word is the “aware presence” (or “alert stillness”) in which these words are appearing, here & now. Thus, our faith refers to our “trust in” and “reliance on” the living Christ, not to our beliefs– however intelligent or foolish –about the Bible or ancient history.

    “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).

    http://jeshua21.wordpress.com/additional-essays/reading-the-bible-in-the-21st-century/

    (see also, “Critical Reflections on Bible Based Belief Systems”)

  10. Reblogged this on katyandtheword and commented:
    This is an interesting perspective on discourse between believers and nonbelievers…Two counterpoints I would make 1. I VERY much disagree with the fundamentalist’s perspective. I believe everyone is on a different journey of faith but HATRED disguised as gospel or LOVE is WRONG. Period, end of story. SO that’s another Christian pastor preaching against hate and fundamentalism (going to school at an extremely liberal school I had to plead with my fellow students that the God fundamentalists talked about was nothing like my God and please don’t be offended by my faith and love, which hopefully are a better way of being). My second problem is 2. Jesus was against crazy religious leaders too, as was Eli, and a Isaiah, Moses and Aaron certainly took the crazies down a peg. Yes there is some language (particularly in Deuteronomy and the Pauline language) that I disagree with, strongly…..but I focus on what I DO agree with. I use my mind and my relationship with God to discern what is right. God gave me a brain so I can use it. I also know (which the author probably doesn’t) of the GROSS mistranslations that exist ALL over the Bible, clearing up some of what is read as hatred ex: Sodom and Gromorrah was against Gang Rape<—-who doesn't agree with that! That being said, I am Reblogging this! Let the discourse begin!

  11. Matthew says:

    Interesting article, and great discussion here in the comments.

    I am all for productive discussions with believers, but it always feels to me (living in the Northeast USA) that this means the agnostic must be open to the believer. Also, if we have this discussion, I see the need to lay down certain basic premises: religions should not get credit for believers’ benevolent (charitable) deeds. Believers, agnostics, atheists all do benevolent deeds. Second, there are measurable facts that absolutely discount most biblical happenings, so is it really a starting point to have “respect” for those who structure deep meaning in their lives around what is equivalent to flat-earth theories? Finally, let’s remember that the Church only relented it’s absolute and deadly power by force and constant direct challenges — not by compromises.

  12. bonnie says:

    The only time civil discourse can occur between two people of different belief is when the intent is to UNDERSTAND not CONVINCE the other party. Unfortunately most religions teach missionary work so…. Christians are rarely content to simply discuss.

  13. Ryan Gentzler says:

    I can confidently say……no deal. Of course she wants to avoid comparison of the worst of atheist extremism to the worst of christian extremism. The worst of atheist extremism is pissing christians off on the internet. The worst of christian extremism has run the gamut from withholding of basic human rights, to rape and torture, to murder and genocide. I think the atheists have the upper hand if the worst of each were to be compared.

  14. thebigreason says:

    Your perspective on Dawkins-Twittergate was the one I was most looming forward to. Well said.

  15. Anthony Magnabosco says:

    When Pat Robertson or Bryan Fischer say something controversial, they are presenting it not soley as opinion, but as unchallengeable religious dogma. When Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris say something controversial, they are speaking only for themselves, and at a stretch, for their respective organizations. Additionally, the “leaders” in the atheism movement do not proclaim to have unquestionable authority, such as the Catholic Pope does. So when Dawkins says something odd about child molestation, atheists are better able to differentiate between his personal feelings and his feelings on the atheist movement as a whole. Lastly, watch out for ad hominem attacks against Dawkins and atheism because of his recent child school statement: twice now I have encountered theists during online debates that point out Dawkins’ words and proudly crow that everything else he says must be equally repugnant and untrue. @magnabosco

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