An Atheist Responds to a Christian’s Questions August 1, 2009

An Atheist Responds to a Christian’s Questions

It’s rare I read an interview where every question is interesting and the responses are even better.

Internetmonk interviewed atheist Valerie Tarico and the exchange is great reading for both religious and non-religious people.

Specifically, the interview is aimed at evangelical Christians. Internetmonk lays out why that is:

1. Evangelicals are constantly mischaracterizing non-theists. We need to listen and not preach.

2. There is some common ground of concern here for many of us, especially in the area of the ethical practices of religions that seek to convert.

3. We need to measure our responses against reality. Some of our typical talking points aren’t very impressive, so we might consider retiring or reworking them.

4. I want to build a bridge. Dr. Tarico is very open to that kind of dialog.

Here’s just one bit:

When you see a church spending large amounts of money on children’s ministries and activities, do you believe this is ethical or unethical? Why?

If you heard that Scientologists were spending large amounts of money on outreach to kids would you believe this was ethical or unethical? What if they offered a subsidized summer camp to inner city kids like Child Evangelism Fellowship does? What if they had a storefront alcohol-free bar for underage skateboarders like City Church does in Ballard, Washington? What if they had teenage tutors slipping colorful invitation cards to kids in public middle schools like Foursquare Church does in Seattle?

Children are hard wired to be credulous, to believe what they are told by adults who have authority over them and who nurture them. It’s the only efficient way for them to pick up all the information they need. They can’t afford to question and test when we tell them stoves burn you or cars squish you, so they’re built to trust us. Because they are vulnerable in this way, we have a particular responsibility not to exploit or abuse that trust. If you believe the exclusive salvific claims of Christian orthodoxy, then the end justifies the means. That, I think is at the heart of children’s ministries. But it’s only fair to admit that children are being offered metaphorical candy – and the ultimate goal of conversion isn’t always up front. One Jewish neighbor sent her daughter to a playful, wholesome youth group at a local mega church because she thought “nondenominational” meant interfaith.

(Thanks to Emma for the link!)

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  • I read the whole interview – Tarico made a number of points about Christianity in America that (a) were true, and (b) most Christians don’t get.

    This is precisely the sort of discussion we should be having.

  • Charlotte

    I was directed to this article from another site. Initially I was very excited and happy but ultimately came away feeling frustrated and seriously questioning the monk’s sincerity.
    This is the exchange I had with him that was deleted (very long):

    monk:
    This really has been a fine discussion. I’ve had to moderate slightly two Christian posts, and delete one post by an angry atheist. (It is amazing. In March with the Coming Evangelical Collapse, I got mail from at least 50 atheists saying they wanted to murder all Christians. It was sad and creepy.)

    So applause to all for civility and hopefully a profitable learning experience.
    Reply

    *
    charlotte says:
    August 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

    dear imonk,
    I was really enjoying this interview and discussion until the above post of yours. In my opinion, it serves no purpose other than to further the claim that atheists are evil horrible people. I’m not questioning the fact that you got the emails, I’m wondering why you thought it necessary to cite them here. What was the point? If anything, it undermines the whole discourse and, in my mind, serves as a dig to the non-believing community. Sort of like saying, “Look how great I am at talking to the “other side”, but here’s proof that they’re all sad and creepy no matter what they say”.
    If the mirror of this dialogue was found on an atheist site and the atheist blogger wrote, towards the end, “It’s amazing. In March with the Atheists get In God We Trust off of license plates, I got mail from at least 50 Christians saying they wanted to all atheists to burn in hell. It was sad and creepy” you’d take issue as well.
    It may not have been your intent, but I definitely took this as a slight and it will only serve to prove bias. For every angry atheist, there are 100 more who are not. Let’s not add to the hate, ok?
    iMonk says:
    August 2, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Charlotte:

    It’s a little difficult for me to see how contrasting this discussion with the crazy whack out I went through in March (do you even know what I am referrring to?) amounts to “hate.” But that’s your call. If that feels like hate to you, I’d suggest you might want to separate what you feel from what I meant. My comment was straightforward reporting. When I got national exposure for writing about the decline of evangelicalism, I heard from dozens of angry atheists wanting to eliminate evangelicals. Even though my site is “hate free” and I don’t allow such comments to appear, those comments still came and they shook me up. I have many atheist friends and I understand their frustrations and emotions. I share many of them. But in Christianity there are many of us who spend months and years pointing out the crazies on our team and how they differ from the mainstream. This discussion demonstrated that the nontheist community is not dominated by voices of hate, as some Christians are always saying, but by many reasonable voices.

    I was commending this discussion and all its participants. And doing so from a factual position that few bloggers could possibly share because they don’t hear from both sides as I have.

    peace

    ms
    Reply

    *charlotte says:
    August 2, 2009 at 2:29 pm

    I think maybe you didn’t comprehend my point. I am saying that there is absolutely no good in talking about the 50 angry atheists in a thread of this type. If I were to write a similar story on an atheist site I would not see any point in throwing that tid-bit in and therefore would not. It’s contrary to your whole intent and only fuels hate from people who want reasons to hate. In this discussion you’re trying to build a bridge. You tear down your own construction by talking about atheists wanting to kill christians. It was a detrimental add for you as it fosters eyerolls and suspicion from the very people you’re trying to find out more about.
    In the future, maybe you want to make a quick check of things that may be offensive to people before you post. I was offended. The irony in it for me was that you were the one who offended me. The whole addition of that statement completely undermined your point.
    Again, I ask, what was the point of adding that “straight forward reporting” to this discussion?
    It doesn’t endear you to atheists who aren’t like that, that’s for sure.
    Just a little constructive criticism in hopes that we really can grow and accept each other more fully in the future.

    He deleted the exchange and this is what next transpired:

    iMonk says:
    August 2, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    OK. I’ve had to delete several posts. Comments are all now going to moderation.

    The phrase “you don’t comprehend my point” doesn’t go over well here.

    Commenters unfamiliar with my approach to moderation should read the FAQ #10.
    Reply

    *
    charlotte says:
    August 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Seriously? You didn’t comprehend my point. But, ok. It’s your site, you do what you want.
    Unfortunately, your credibility is tainted in a few atheist sites I subscribe to.
    Maybe a simple, I see where you are coming, I apologize if you felt offended would have done wonders for your cause.
    Good luck to you, though.
    Reply
    *
    iMonk says:
    August 2, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Well I’m just getting started in this blogging thing, and my goal is for everyone to like me. Thanks for the heads up. I need all the helpful assistance I can get from my commenters.

    I guess the Monk doesn’t appreciate constructive criticism? I also took issue w/ the implication of the title. Is it really that hard to find articulate and perceptive non-theists?? I think his bias comes through all too clearly for him to actually want “change”. Nice try, though.

  • Charlotte,

    Without trying to take sides, I’d just note that, as a regular reader of IMonk, he is constantly criticizing the state of the American church and evangelicalism. Because he’s doing this, and since there are a whole number of ultra-sensitive Christians out there – he has been flooded constantly with commenters telling him that they’ve been “offended” by something he’s said.

    I understand your point about his mentioning the atheist fringe out there. But also understand that he’s been desensitized, so to speak, to people telling him that they’re offended (because he’s always combating with a number of fringe Christian ideas out there).

    I would venture a guess and just say that the percentage of Christian readers who find his writing offensive is probably much higher than the percentage of nonchristian readers who do.

  • pete3x3

    I read the whole article and at first I was cynical as in how could a thiest would want to have a honest Q and A with a non-thiest? I thought the article was fairly sincere. I think what imonk is really asking is “Why are people like Dr. Tarico and other’s droping religion?” and also ” Why don’t people believe in his god?”

  • Charlotte

    Persiflage,
    Thank you, I really appreciate your reply. However, desensitized or not, he is an evangelist and a blogger so he should know that words are powerful and therefore I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect him to be careful in choosing them.
    My bigger issue, unfortunately, became not his offending me, but how he chose to handle the offense. It made me question his integrity and sincerity. Every post I made to him stated that I was giving the benefit of the doubt as to his intent. So, why not admit a bad choice of words and move on? To delete an entire post only makes me, and others like me, suspect him more. I’m going to take a leap and say this is the last thing he wanted. Also, his reaction was very un-monk like. Don’t take the moniker if you can’t act the part.
    If you are going to blog, you need to pay attention to small details. The title of blog and the mention of 50 vengeful atheists did his message harm by inferring bias.
    It was such a let-down because the article was so great, the responses so great, the mood so great, everything was so great. Then he blew it.
    So, three strikes in one blog leaves the monk out of the game for me. Oh well.
    I’m off in search of a more articulate and perceptive Xian who would like to build a bridge of reason and understanding with non-theists like myself.

    My best to you, Persiflage.

  • Nate

    Charlotte I don’t really get your objection. I took IM’s comment on the fifty angry atheists was a way of contrasting the usual polemics of these discussions with the constructive(mostly) nature of this one. But them I’m not a super-combative polemicist, looking for stuff to jump on. Would it be mischarachterization to ruthlessly draw attention to Christian lies and hate on a regular basis? Cause that’s basically what he does. Not sure a single (true)observation about fifty angry atheist emails exactly qualifies as what you’re calling it, in light of this. The Imonks agenda(browse the archives…) is aimed at evangelicals and Christians, not at atheists or nonChristians.

    As for the converse example you give(“…you’d take issue as well.”), it’s probably a good bet he wouldn’t take issue. You know, it isn’t unheard of for people NOT to be hair-triggers in these discussions…

    Overall, it takes a whole lot of prejudgment of intentions to draw all of your conclusions. This is what makes that conversation different then most, people aren’t doing that. When they do, they get moderated off.

    Nate

  • Tim

    Its funny how he is obviously offended by the actions of Christians and demonstrates that Christians would be too if Scientologists were doing the same thing, but he ignores the fact that Atheism and Secular Humanism are (pardon the expression) the gods of child influence in our culture.

    Would you be offended, dear Christian, if evolution and a universe billions of years old were taught to your little Tommy in the public schools?

    Duh.

    How about if your kids were given condoms and taught that sex outside of marriage is okay as long as you do it “safely”?

    Or how about if every channel on TV, including the ones for kids, peddled anti-Christian garbage, took the Lord’s name in vain, and promoted disobedience toward parents?

    What about ideals of moral relativity? What if kids in our public schools, or even watching TV from our own homes, were spoon-fed that nonsense?

    What if your darling children were being programmed by others to believe that homosexuality is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice?

    Golly, all of these Atheistic and Secular-humanistic things ARE going on!

    I think if Atheists want to be upset that Christians “offer” Christian influence to kids, they should stop governmentally mandating Atheist influence over kids. Otherwise, they are nothing more than hypocrites.

    Of course, Atheism itself is nothing more than self-contradictory — I don’t know how we can ever expect Atheists to be anything but!

    At least for now, homeschooling is still an option in most places.

  • MLB

    You know one of the great things about Christianity is that you can accept it or leave it. Jesus never forced anyone to accept him. He left that choice to you. Noone in America is forcing anyone to be a Christian. So what is your issue? I choose to believe that Jesus is who he said he is, and that he is in fact coming again and all humans throughout history will be judged by him. You don’t have to believe that. But for us that do, don’t censor our right to our religious freedom which is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

    As for children, hey , you Atheists et al have long had your freedoms to do as you see fit as far as belief systems. And what has it gotten society. Murder, filth, theft, ongoing crime, you name it, it’s there. As for me, I’ll stick with Jesus’ message.

    And in reality, if anyone is intolerant, it’s you all. With all that is going on in the world, I think God has been way more patient than he should be. One day we will all know for sure whether the Bible is true. I believe it is. But if you don’t want to believe it, then you don’t have to.

    It’s your life, and your soul to do with what you wish, but at least give children the chance to decide for themselves by not blocking their access to Christ.