Saturday, January 06, 2007

Atheists Get Vocal When Christians Get Arrogant

"[Atheism] always makes a comeback, I think, when religious people get too arrogant, when they begin to look as though or speak as though they know it all, when they begin to impose themselves in ways that are unwelcome to other people in the society. Then atheism is a kind of, for me, welcome critique of this arrogance."

--Professor Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School. The quote is from "The New Atheists," a segment on PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, which presented viewpoints of several prominent atheists including bestselling authors Dr. Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Dr. Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation).

H sez: I've been writing about this topic a lot lately because it well reflects the interactions I've had with atheist and agnostic friends. My friends have told me they feel Christians look down on them. They believe Christians see non-Christians as bad, immoral people. Thus, they feel Christians are judgmental.

I've often told my friends these ideas of superiority that some Christians put out there don't come from Jesus or God. I've told them Christians and non-Christians are equally sinful and flawed. I'd like to believe that Christians and the church as a whole aren't projecting a holier-than-thou attitude. In my heart, I know I'm wearing blinders. In "The New Atheists" segment, reporter Betty Rollin says, "And what about morality? Many people think religion is its only source."

Yikes. For a reporter to make such a broad statement, the statement generally has to be accepted as fact. While this statement--that a majority associate morality solely with religion--is highly uncomfortable for me, I can't honestly say it isn't true.

Funny thing is, one of the most moral, ethical people I know is agnostic. I'll call him Jim. I recently asked Jim if he wanted a photocopy of an article. He said, "No, I couldn't accept it--it's copyrighted material. I'll buy a copy. Thanks for letting me know about it." The idea of copyright infringement had never entered my mind. And photocopying published material seemed natural and normal because, well, it's done all the time. Many of my Christian friends have noticed Jim's high morals. Jim doesn't go to church and I don't think he's ever read the Bible. Yet, he's consistently a far more moral, ethical person than regular church-attending, Bible-studying, copyright-infringing Holly.

Many people equate religion with morality. Non-religious folk are, understandably, put off by that notion. So where does that leave us?

I don't want someone to be repelled by Christianity simply because they think Christians are looking down on them. But what can we do? First, we can let individuals know we see them as just as good and moral as we view ourselves. We can tell them that, regardless of whether they believe in God, that in the Christian faith all people are loved by God--even though none of us measure up to God's standards. Hard as it may be, we can point out our own failures and moral lapses, how despite our faith we continue to be imperfect people.
I resolve to be a little less arrogant this year.

Yup, I talked about this topic a lot in 2006. You'll likely hear much more about it in 2007--at least until reporter Betty Rollin's statement is no longer generally accepted as fact.

To ponder:
1) What causes some Christians to be arrogant? Is there any benefit to arrogance?

Think about a statement or action an atheist or agnostic person has made that offended you. Why did it offend you?

3) Now, attempt to step away from your feelings about that statement or action. Consider: What do you think motivated the atheist/agnostic person to make that statement or act in that way?

4) Is it difficult for you to interact with people who have different beliefs than you do? Why or why not?

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