A Christian Urges Atheists To Not Make it Harder for Her Side To Support the LGBT Community June 12, 2012

A Christian Urges Atheists To Not Make it Harder for Her Side To Support the LGBT Community

This is a guest post by Alise Wright. You can connect with her at her blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

On Sunday afternoon, Hemant posted a challenge to progressive Christians to retweet a comment saying that they don’t think that homosexuality is a sin and that they support gay marriage.

I have been open about my beliefs about whether or not I think homosexuality is sinful (I don’t) and whether or not I support marriage equality (I do). So posting a tweet stating something that I’ve written about in far more than 140 characters is not that big of a stretch.

I am by no means alone in my views. While we do not make up the majority of the Christian population, there are plenty of us who share these beliefs. We have talked to our LGBT friends, we have examined the relevant Bible verses, and we have reached the conclusion that love is indeed the highest law. For many of us, our faith has informed our decision to be affirming.

When I came out as affirming, I was prepared for those in my faith to disagree, sometimes vehemently. I knew that my standing as a Christian would be called out for being willing to question orthodoxy. Most of us who stand with any who have been disenfranchised by those who share our faith are ready for this to some degree. No doubt those accusations have caused many to avoid making bold declarations of their affirmation of gays and lesbians, but they are not unexpected.

However, there increasingly seems to be another area where the faith of progressive Christians is called into question and that is within the atheist community. I understand the questions that are a result of progressives saying one thing (I support LGBT people) and doing another (I oppose marriage equality). I think this kind of calling out is entirely reasonable and I add my voice to yours.

But this is not exclusively what I’m seeing. Instead, I regularly see atheists telling affirming Christians that they’re not really Christians. That in order to be Christian, one must adhere to the same beliefs that our more conservative evangelical friends hold. If we don’t believe that homosexuality is a grave sin and that marriage = one man + one woman, we’re not real Christians. The quality of my faith is judged not only by those within it, but also by those outside of it.

While I’m prepared for that from my fellow Christians, having that same judgment come from the outside can be disconcerting. And more than anything, it can keep allies in the closet. When you’re facing rejection from your own camp, that can be enough to keep people from choosing to support others, but when you see another group denigrate you for seeking to make right a past wrong, it can inadvertently create a scenario where people choose the path of least resistance and continue to support bigoted ideas because they see no other option. They are not willing to abandon Christianity, and if they are told that supporting equality goes “against the faith” from all sides, they may simply stay where they are.

I am not saying that this is an acceptable response. No amount of rejection should stop someone from doing what is right, and standing up for equality is right. However, I believe that in order to bring about change, we need to make it easier for people to be open about the evolution that their faith encounters.

If we want the question to “when will progressive Christians say it’s not a sin to be in a gay relationship” to be “soon,” then we need to make it easier for them to come out. I’ll do my part on the Christian side by continuing to be a voice for equality. I ask you to join me by not calling into question the veracity of the faith of those who are just trying to do the right thing.

Let’s not make this harder than it already is.

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  • Niveker14

    I don’t agree with you on some things (such as the existance of god), but I do agree that homosexuality is not a sin and they deserve equal rights to marry. I’m certainly not going to call into question your belief in god or christ over your stance on homosexuality, but I can speak only for myself. Sorry to hear that your getting flak from both sides. And thank you for having the courage to stand up for what is right even if you’re standing alone (which, to be clear, you’re not standing alone on this issue, at least not while I’m around)

  • This is really thought provoking. I’ve heard this kind of argument (if you’re not a Bible literalist, you’re not a Christian) from Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. While I agree with Dawkins and Harris that faith is harmful far more often than even some atheists will admit, I sometimes wonder if their tactics for convincing people are effective. I think that sometimes they put Christians on the defensive, which stops a reasonable discussion.

  • While I understand what you’re saying and agree it needs to be easier for believers to feel comfortable saying these kinds of things…

    “We have talked to our LGBT friends, we have examined the relevant Bible
    verses, and we have reached the conclusion that love is indeed the
    highest law.”

    This is just a nice way of saying you’re picking and choosing from the bible. If this book is the sacred word of God, why is it so flawed or incorrect in places that you can discount outright passages as being unimportant? If the condemnation of homosexuality in the bible can be discounted, why can’t other things like the terrible treatment of women?

    I feel that the problem here isn’t atheists calling you out, but a lack of a tenable position on your side which makes you feel uneasy.

  • Denis Robert

    In what way are atheists making is “harder” for Christians to not be bigots? That is entirely your responsibility as Christians. There is nothing I, as an atheist, can do to make this harder for you. I am not responsible for your beliefs, and this attempt to blame us for your failure to evolve past the straightjacketed bigotry which your faith has saddled its adherents with is laughable.

    As for not being “true” Christians, it’s not us atheists who say that, but your own people; I see little difference between you and the FRC; it’s up to you Christians to define your religion, and right now, the conservatives are winning, hands down. If you want the public face of your faith to not be so bigoted, YOU SHOULD WORK TO MAKE IT SO, instead of complaining that atheists point out the simple fact that the large majority of Christians are *not* like you, that they *are* bigoted. Until the bigots are no longer a majority within the Christian community, you will have to live with the fact that your faith has a stain on it, whether that’s your fault or not.

    You complain about us reminding you that most of your brethren are still stuck in the dark ages, while at the same time they call us baby-killers, immoral, or even worse, “Commies”. Please forgive me if I don’t feel any compassion for you in this matter.

  • ErinCAuthor

    Here’s my difficulty with your piece:

    ” I understand the questions that are a result of progressives saying one
    thing (I support LGBT people) and doing another (I oppose marriage
    equality)” contradicts this “but when you see another group denigrate you for seeking to make right a past wrong” and this “No amount of rejection should stop someone from doing what is right, and standing up for equality is right”.

    If you “oppose marriage equality”, you are NOT “seeking to make right a past wrong” and you are NOT “doing what is right and standing up for equality”.

    I’m not questioning your faith. I’m questioning your hypocrisy. “Separate but equal” is not equal and your opposition to marriage equality puts the lie to your claim about “support”.

    I am a member of the LGBT community and we don’t need hypocrites like you “supporting” us. You’re no different than those who claim to “hate the sin, not the sinner”.

    Make it “harder than it already is”? You do that to yourself by such blatant disregard for what equality actually consists of and all the while claiming you support it.

  • Georgina

    “I regularly see atheists telling affirming Christians that they’re not really Christians” PLUS
    “but when you see another group denigrate you for seeking to make right a past wrong”

    Dear Author,
    you have misunderstood. When an atheist tells you that you are ‘not really a christian’ this is not denigration, it is intended as a complement!
    have a nice (only) life.

  • This is another shining example of the fact that we already hold our own morals learned from society and our interactions with society and those who are Christian use confirmation bias from the Bible to pick out the parts that support the morals they have learned.   Not the reverse in which the morals are learned from the Bible.

  • ErinCAuthor

     Not only that but it brings up something they also don’t want to hear. The Bible has been used for centuries as an
    excuse for homophobia, misogyny, slavery and all other sorts of ills.
    When this is pointed out, most of the time, people say what has been
    said here (paraphrasing): “Oh, that’s not what the Bible meant”.

    The problem is… that’s what the Bible SAYS. It clearly supports
    slavery, it clearly says homosexuality is an abomination and people practicing it should be put to death, it clearly
    says women should shut up and let men rule them.

    I note that most people have repudiated what a lot of bigots say when they use the Bible to excuse their hatreds. And that’s good. But I also note that they have NOT repudiated
    what the Bible says. And unfortunately, ignoring it only helps
    perpetuate that bigotry.

    So here’s a simple test: is what the Bible says about homosexuality
    wrong? Is what the Bible says about women being subservient to men, just
    because they’re men, wrong? Is what the Bible says about other
    religions, about atheism, about stoning people to death who work on the
    Sabbath, about being able to sell daughters into slavery, about making a
    woman who was raped marry her attacker… not are these concepts wrong,
    is the BIBLE wrong for encouraging/promoting/saying them?

    If the answer is in the negative, then this is merely perpetuating the
    bigotry and hatred espoused by fundamentalist hate-mongers. It isn’t that people don’t think they’re wrong in their bigotry. It’s
    that people don’t think the Bible, which supports their claims, is wrong.

    And until THAT changes, the bigotry excused by the Bible won’t change.

  • MuleBreath

    Can there be a “real” or “true” Christian? So much of the religion is left to personal interpretation that taken as a whole it makes finding two “believers” with the same overall interpretation impossible. Certainly there are groups within the whole where similarities may be found, but the likelihood of finding even two following exactly the same tenets seems all but impossible.

    The recent study of the Church and parishioner belief in transubstantiation revealed that only a very few actually believed that wine and wafers once blessed actually turned into blood and flesh. Does this mean that they are not ”true Catholics”? Probably, but do you think the Church cares? Not likely. 

    Religion is such a slippery concept that it does not seem possible that any individual could ever qualify as a ”true” anything. The only truth I can find is that religious belief qualifies as mental illness in every sense of the term.

  • AxeGrrl

    Sorry Erin, but I don’t think you read carefully enough.  Right at the top of the article Alise says:

    I have been open about my beliefs about whether or not I think homosexuality is sinful (I don’t) and whether or not I support marriage equality (I do).

    and later:

    I understand the questions that are a result of progressives saying one thing (I support LGBT people) and doing another (I oppose marriage equality). I think this kind of calling out is entirely reasonable and I add my voice to yours.

  •  I had trouble with that paragraph you quoted, but I realised (by re-reading the earlier stuff) that it was being used as an example of progressives in general, not Alise specifically. Alise makes it very clear in her second paragraph that she DOES support marriage equality.

  • TheAnalogKid

    But her book, on which Christianity is based, does say that homosexuality is a sin.

  • Chris Ho-Stuart


    The major issue of contention here will be not so much about LGBT, but the matter of “real” Christian. I find it weird (and a bit silly) to have my fellow atheists or unbelievers going on about what is a real Christian belief system or not.

    As for “picking and choosing”… why is that a bad thing?

    The matter of more concern with how it is done. What is the basis for deciding how to interpret the bible? The bible is a complex book. It’s written by many people, over a considerable range of time, and shows many different perspectives. This strikes me as pretty obvious; and it is widely recognized by Christians who have done any serious level of study of the bible, especially any level of theological training. Recognizing this inevitably means looking at the bible critically — by which I mean “with careful evaluation and judgment”.

    Considered critical reading of the bible is possible for Christians; it is something to be encouraged. It sells this short to call it “picking and choosing”.

  • Marguerite

    “This is just a nice way of saying you’re picking and choosing from the bible. If this book is the sacred word of God, why is it so flawed or incorrect in places that you can discount outright passages as being unimportant?”

    This is essentially why I stopped considering myself a liberal Christian– my teenaged daughter noted that I didn’t take much of the Bible literally, and asked me how I could tell the difference between the passages I thought were true and those I thought were mythology. I couldn’t come up with a good answer. I also couldn’t justify my conviction that a loving God would save everyone on Earth in the end– the Bible didn’t support that belief, and Jesus himself talked quite clearly about hell. Eventually I had to admit that if I didn’t believe that much of the Bible, I couldn’t reasonably believe any of it.

    (from the OP) “Instead, I regularly see atheists telling affirming Christians that they’re not really Christians.”

    This sort of response may come from people like me, who’ve analyzed their own religious beliefs and found them lacking. Or it may come from lifelong atheists who have followed the same sort of logical process. I personally think it’s rude to tell someone they’re not “really” true believers, and I won’t go there. I would suggest to Alise, however, that if  she finds it necessary to discard that much of the Bible, it’s worth some serious thought as to why any of it is worth holding on to.

  • Stramsden

    I’m going to have to call “No True Scotsman” on her detractors.

  • Patrick Julius

    I think the problem is that people think that “Christian” is a good thing. 

    For it’s really pretty obvious that evangelicals follow the Bible more closely than liberals do. Just read the Bible. In that sense, they ARE “more Christian”.

    But why be Christian? What’s so great about being Christian, especially if it means that you say nice things about a book as terrible as the Bible?

  •  I think you misread,  the quote you posted is a scenario not her personal opinion. In the beginning of the piece she wrote ”  I have been open about my beliefs about whether or not I think homosexuality is sinful (I don’t) and whether or not I support marriage equality (I do). So posting a tweet stating something that I’ve written about in far more than 140 characters is not that big of a stretch.”

  • except that this argument doesn’t originate with our side. When an Atheist makes the “not a true Christian” argument, we’re not advancing a new idea; we’re echoing what we hear from Christian pastors, bishops, and media figures.

    The argument described by the author *is* intentionally provocative. And I imagine it is very uncomfortable for pro-equality Christians. But I think it’s a valid point. We’d question an anti-gun member of the NRA or an anti-pedophilia (warning! Provocation) Wisconsin Catholic. That was YOUR $20k Cardinal Dolan used to pay off pedo priests; if you keep funding the beast without fixing what it does wrong, are you not responsible for its actions? Likewise if you show up to an anti-LGBT church every Sunday and pay in to the collection plate, don’t you have to take some ownership in what they do with the money?

    If this argument puts Christians on the defensive, maybe we’re not the ones who are doing the wrong thing.

  • dollie

    When I finished reading this,I couldn’t be in any way empathertic. I am very sorry that your holy book endorses the killing of gay people. Ok, so you’ve cherry picked it to make yourself feel better. Why not just chuck the whole thing? There’s nothing of value in that book that can’t be found elsewhere.
    It seems your feelings are hurt because people are calling you out on the inconsistency of your position with your religious teachings.
    Essentially, stop whining about how hard it is to do the right thing. Telll our persecuted and ostracized LGBT brothers and sisters about your hardship.  Let’s see how much empahy you garner.

  • Ggsillars

    Fair enough.  It’s not for us to tell Christians what their religion consists of, especially when there are thousands of versions of it and it has been constantly changing from the very outset.  

  • “But this is not exclusively what I’m seeing. Instead, I regularly see atheists telling affirming Christians that they’re not really Christians.”

    I’m curious to know where you’ve read that. It’s not something I would ever say. But I definitely would say things that might be misunderstood as that. Here’s what I would say:

    The Bible is a man-made book that’s full of contradictions. (And yes, the choice of “man” rather than “human” there was deliberate.) There’s no “right” way to interpret the Bible aside from recognizing that.

    But if you do insist on treating the Bible as some super-human source of guidance, some interpretations are easier to come up with others. “The Bible says men having sex with men is an abomination to God” is easy to come up with because it’s right there in Leviticus. It takes more work to convince yourself that the Bible says nothing against loving gay relationships.

    And furthermore, the Bible’s contradictions are largely a product of it having been written by many different authors. Once you start asking, “what did *this particular* author mean?” you shouldn’t be surprised if you find out their values were at odds with modern liberal values, because they all lived approx. 2000 years ago at minimum.

    I object to liberal Christians who are so eager to reinterpret the Bible to be gay-friendly because when they do that, they’re still upholding the principle that the Bible should be treated as a special source of guidance. Sure, reinterpreting the Bible on gay issues may help in the short run on those particular issues, but until we see the Bible as just another human book (albeit an influential one, though one whose influence has so often been ill), we’ll never get out of fights over Biblical interpretation that we shouldn’t need to have for purposes of setting government policy in a modern liberal democracy.

  • If I could keep major public atheists stop making one argument, it would be the argument that only biblical literalists are Christians.  The slightest historical awareness would demonstrate the absurdity of claiming that there were no Christians until the last two centuries.

  • ErinCAuthor

     You’re correct. While my second post stands (about the Bible in general), I misread the original column. My points are accurate to the progressives that the author talks about but not to her and for that, I apologize.

  • Ian Reide

    From dollie “cherry picked it to make yourself feel better. Why not just chuck the whole thing?” Concur. Why bother? The whole idea of “progressive christian” is silly, as Dawkins discussed in TGD. 

  •  “As for “picking and choosing”… why is that a bad thing?”

    Christianity’s claim for validity is largely based upon the bible, which is claimed as the true word of God. Of course picking and choosing while still clinging to this notion of the book being of sacred meaning and value is problematic. Nothing you have said goes anywhere near to resolving that major contradiction.

  • Good and Godless


    Accept the the very real LGBT Community into your make believe club.

    Or we will continue to grow in numbers by just collecting your rejected masses.



  • AxeGrrl

    Personally, if a Christian’s cherry-picking of the Bible results in them thinking that homosexuality isn’t sinful and in them supporting marriage equality, I’m not going to take this particular opportunity to chastise them for cherry-picking.
    If cherry-picking actually results in greater compassion and actual action to support the GLBT community (like speaking out, as Alise has done here), I’m all for it.  I’m perfectly happy to save the ‘if you’re going to ignore that part of the Bible, why not other parts?’ debate for some other occasion.
    If a KKK member somehow ‘worked around’ the doctrine of their group and expressed support for interracial marriage, I don’t really care if that makes them a ‘bad/hypocritical KKK member’.  That’s their issue to deal with. I’m just glad they came to their senses on the issue.

  • It’s a tough decision for me:  Do I want to work with progressive Christians to convince more people that LGBTQ equality can be embraced by Christians, or do I want to use it as a wedge to drive more progressives and LGBTQ people away from religion and churches? I wrestle with this question a lot.

  • AxeGrrl

    I personally think it’s rude to tell someone they’re not “really” true believers, and I won’t go there. I would suggest to Alise, however, that if she finds it necessary to discard that much of the Bible, it’s worth some serious thought as to why any of it is worth holding on to.


  • AxeGrrl

    If the way this needs to work is:

    Step 1) Ignore parts of the Bible that go against the principles of love, equality and fairness that are most important to me.

    Step 2) Begin to question my need to cherry pick from the Bible

    it’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

  • I would also add that this is another example of morality coming TO religion, not morality coming FROM religion. Here is a great quote by the Presbyterians:

    “One group of Christians confidently proclaims that a plain reading
    of the Bible is a slam dunk in their favor. The other side appeals to
    Scripture’s grand narrative toward freedom and inclusive love.
    The argument boils over and ripples through the wider culture. The
    search for middle ground proves futile. Denominations break apart.
    Sound familiar? It could be 2010 — or the mid-19th century.
    As U.S. churches and denominations slog through divisive and
    long-running arguments over homosexuality, many Protestant progressives
    have sought to claim the historical and moral high ground by aligning
    their cause with abolitionism.”

  • TheAnalogKid

    For the record, there are no “True Christians” because Christianity isn’t true. The same goes for Islam and Muslims and Judaism and Jews and whatever else you care to name.

  • AxeGrrl

    This reminds me of something said in the most recent episode of ‘Reasonable Doubts’ (‘Debunking D’Souza’ May 30/12)……one of the hosts was calling out Dinesh D’Souza for making the claim that Christianity was at the ‘forefront’ of fighting against slavery (when support for slavery comes from the Bible and just as many Christians fought against abolitionism) and the guest said something to the effect of:

    “I’ll bet in 30 years D’Souza will be claiming that Christianity was at the forefront of supporting GLBT rights too”


  • AxeGrrl

    I think doing the former can lead to the latter

  • Benoit

    We atheists need to stop telling people they’re not Christians for cherry-picking the bible.  Christians believe/follow Christ.  Some of them believe 100% of the book, others less so.  No True Scotsman and all that.

    This being said, Alise, if an atheist doesn’t believe you’re a Christian… they’re definitely not denigrating you.  On the contrary.

  • MB, I completely agree.  I wrote about the same subject here:


    What good is a word that you can’t define?

  • NickDB

    There is a paradox called my grandfather’s axe or George
    Washington’s axe (Didn’t know about that name before googling it)
    It goes “This is my grandfather’s axe. My father replaced the haft, and I put a new head on it. It’s my grandfather’s axe.”

    My question is how much can you change something whether it is an axe or a
    religion before the only thing it shares in common with what it was previously
    is its name? And once that occurs, why not change its name?

    I think that is why a lot of us say that if you do certain things you’re not
    really Christian, or is a belief in Jesus the only criteria for becoming a Christian?
    (Jews for Jesus might disagree with that)

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is that according to who you talk, to being Christian
    is a different thing for different people, so there is no definition of what a Christian

    No wonder those that aren’t struggle to tell what is or isn’t a Christian.

  • Drew

    Would you be fine with your hypothetical KKK member continuing to call herself a KKK member and claiming that the KKK didn’t actually support lynching?

  • Here’s the problem as I see it. 
    The most vocal populace of atheists (the people who can be found at
    internet forums, conventions and rallies) tend to hold the
    destruction of religious institutions and religious belief as their
    primary objectives.  They focus upon LGBT issues because at this
    time in history, LGBT rights are widely opposed by actively
    practicing Christians in Western nations and other forms of religion
    in non-Western cultures.  If this were not the case, vocal
    atheists wouldn’t be nearly so engaged with LGBT issues.  They
    might lean toward supporting LGBT rights, but the issue wouldn’t be
    splashed across atheist blogs and publications.Hence, if a
    particular approach doesn’t support the destruction of religion, the
    most vocal parts of current day atheism will tend to ignore the
    effects of their tactics upon tertiary progressive issues and
    instead, they will craft their approach to those issues in such a way
    that religion is further destabilized.  If this means that LGBT
    issues might be harmed in the process, it doesn’t matter because they
    tend to see religion as the primary source of oppression in the
    world.  LGBT issues might take a hit right now, but everyone
    will be better off when religion is dead… or so they claim.I
    have recently come to recognize this as an LGBT person, and I now
    understand that the alliance between vocal atheists and LGBT activism
    is more a marriage of political expedience rather than a true
    alliance.  Supporting LGBT rights happens to support the goals
    of the mostly heterosexual populace of atheist activists. If it
    didn’t, they would care far less than they currently do.This
    is part of a long and growing list of flaws I have come to witness in
    the atheist movement.  These are among the many reasons why I
    now refuse to call myself an atheist and refuse to provide aid in the
    efforts of this social movement.Nevertheless, I hope that
    your words will change the approaches of the atheists reading your
    article.  I’m not optimistic, but it’s still good that you have
    put forth your perspective. You have my support and thank you for
    your efforts on behalf of LGBT people.

  • Blz Bob

    Alise Wright, I’m sorry that what you said has been demonstrated perfectly in these very comments.  I think you are following Jesus’s doctrine of “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And “love thy neighbor.”
    I don’t think this is the time for people to condemn your beliefs. You are an ally. There is a time and place for everything. Picking this battle with you at this time is not the right time or place. 

  • Steven Olsen

    Yo, anyone who “chooses the path of least resistance” and stays a bigot instead of taking a moral stance because someone had the audacity to say they should have a moral stance is a pretty weaksauce individual.

    This piece rather helps to make the case that the religion is what’s in the way of people making the right decision.

  • The Other Weirdo

     That’s not how it works. People in the Soviet Union were Communists, but there was no Communism in the Soviet Union. When they collapsed, they were still at the Socialism stage. The reason they were called Communists is because they were working(supposedly) towards Communism.

    Same with this. People aren’t Christians because Christianity is true, or Muslim because Islam is true. They are Christians or Muslims or Whatever because they believe in whatever. Its truth state doesn’t alter that fact. True Christians or not notwithstanding.

  • Cheryl

     As a lifelong atheist (not an activist until I came to the US and saw how religion has infiltrated every part of public life) and supporter of LGBT rights, I can tell you that you’re wrong. It goes with the territory, as far as I’m concerned. Not believing what it says in the bible means I am not pre-disposed to the prejudice and discrimination contained therein. Having the ability to rationalise and think, ‘who are gay people hurting by getting married? No one’ is what made me a supporter of LGBT rights. Not some anti-religious crusade where I’m willing to jump on any bandwagon to get what I want.

    I do, however, blame religion for a lot of the oppression in the world; oppression of women, or LGBT people, of non-white people and of anyone who doesn’t agree with their bible-tainted world view.

    As for the OP, as many have said, if you have to ignore so much of your holy book in order to be able to continue to be a Christian, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your beliefs, because ignoring the parts you don’t like is like burying your head in the sand. Those words are still in there, condemning the people you support.  I’m glad you are supportive of LGBT people, but in all honesty, I don’t think you’re a true Christian. And that, in my mind, is a good thing.

  • Kevin S.

    Not exactly. It says men sleeping with other men pretending to be women is a sin, and on the magnitude of eating shellfish, something Christians have already ditched. Hell, they’ve ditched things far more emphatically stressed than that. Progressive Christians certainly have ground to affirm their LGBT brothers and sisters. Like Alise said, don’t make it harder for them.

  • AxeGrrl

    Nope, I wouldn’t be fine with it at all.  But a KKK member supporting interracial marriage would be progress imo.
    And progress from bigot to non-bigot is a good thing. 

    For such a person’s ideological house of cards to eventually fall, such progress is essential.  

    People don’t change their entire ideology with the snap of their fingers, it happens in stages ~ and if the first stage is speaking out against the inequality they once endorsed, it’s beneficial to everyone if that’s acknowledged and praised, imo.

  • kaileyverse

    My question for more liberal Christians is this: Do you actually BELIEVE in a virgin birth  and that  Jesus died  for your sins? Or do you accept it because love is nice and the community and comfort found in religion is beneficial to you?

    I have met a few self described liberal Christians who are definitely more like deists or humanists in their world view, they just like the label because of the community or that is what they always called themselves.

    Christians call each other out on their level of “Christian-ness” – I have seen both fundamentalists and more liberal Christians do this (Real god is love and affirming, people who hate gays aren’t truly Christian or otherwise).

  • Kevin S.

    It’s claimed in the comments here. Often. This the only atheist blog I read, but I would imagine the commentariat here is not unique in those sentiments.

  • The Other Weirdo

     How’s that?

  • Thanks, Alise, for writing this, and thanks to Hemant for posting it.

  • No, what you are saying is that there are many definitions of what a Christian is. If you want to write people who claim to be Christians out of Christianity you need to make a convincing argument that a definition that excludes them is correct.

  • Sir_Derp

    “We have talked to our LGBT friends, we have examined the relevant Bible verses, and we have reached the conclusion that love is indeed the highest law.”

    It’s a shame that second step is needed to reach that conclusion… 

  • The Other Weirdo

     LOL! Those evil teenaged daughters, always ruining it for everyone else. No wonder the Bible authors hated women.  We need more of them.

    I would suggest to Alise, however, that if  she finds it necessary to
    discard that much of the Bible, it’s worth some serious thought as to
    why any of it is worth holding on to.

    Which is basically what the atheists are saying.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Several times. Of course, it also says that sex is bad and you shouldn’t do it, but if you have to, it’s better to do it within marriage.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Is this really the fault of the atheists? It’s not even our argument. Christians have been slaughtering one another for over 1,500 years, because other Christians weren’t Christian enough, or didn’t believe just the right interpretation, or well, we don’t really like those people and they don’t believe the same Christianity we do, so great, we have an excuse from God to go wipe them out.

    People focus on the Crusades to the Holy Land, but Christians have instigated crusades within the confines of Europe, targeting other Christian groups. So if atheists pick up on an old Christian argument,  don’t blame us.

    Besides, if a bigot whines that the non-bigot is not making it easy for him to drop his bigotry, is that really the fault of the non-bigot? Besides, isn’t it a commandment from Christ to revel in all forms of persecution, even imaginary ones?

  • I remember when I _knew_ who was a “real Christian.” I also could tell you who was a “real atheist.” And a “real Democrat,” a “real Republican,” a “real artist.” I could separate the posers from the real deal with unerring certainty.

    Eventually, I got around a bit and grew the hell up.

  • NickDB

    Well yes, there are many definitions of what a Christian is,
    and each group that has a definition to it usually says the others are wrong.
    So if each group of Christians is saying that the others aren’t true Christians,
    then how are we supposed to know what is or isn’t one?

    Also to have a definition that excludes you have to first agree on one
    that includes, which as previously mentioned Christians don’t.

    If we take a definition I can find in a dictionary;


    Of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings.
    A person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ
    and his teachings.
    Using that one, are those that cherry pick which teachings of Jesus they believe true christians? Can we call them non-christians, or maybe Christians lite? Diet Christians?Or do the teachings of Jesus change, or are some of his teachings incorrect? hence the bible itself is flawed?

  • I believe Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, but you don’t have to in order to be a Christian. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus after he was executed, but I know of faithful Christians who don’t interpret this event literally (lately I’ve been reading some of Marcus Borg’s writings on this). As humans, we don’t find meaning only in the “literal” interpretation of a text, nor is that the only thing we measure when determining whether something is true. Truth resonates with us at many levels. Why else do we tell stories that may or may not have an exact historical basis? I think all Christians believe in God and believe that God is revealed in the life of Jesus, but we differ on what exactly that revelation entails. In the church, we don’t have to all agree in order to all be Christians. I often become angry with some of my fellow Christians, but I won’t deny what I believe on that basis. My faith is not in them, or the church, or the Bible, but in Christ, which is why I keep the name Christian. And in the life of Jesus I see incredible grace, freedom, and reconciliation.

  • Annie: “Thesis: No Christian can support marriage equality.”

    Betty: “Counterexample! Over here! I’m a Christian, and I support marriage equality!”

    Annie: “No _true_ Christian can support marriage equality.”

  • Aimee

    It seems like you are letting your conscience and your rational thinking guide you.  That is great, keep it up.  If your world view is  guided by your Christianity then fine.   If  a few folks are “making it harder” for you to have this view on equality of marriage, then you are probably not completely sure where you should stand on the issue.   Life is not black and white and there are many who wish to think this way, it makes it easier for them to function for some reason, however it is not reality.   It seems to me that you may still be experiencing some doubt on your position with regard to this issue.  If some folks are calling your beliefs into question based on your stance on marriage equality then give them a chance, don’t focus on the vitriol, this is unavoidable.  You may find that since you are allowing common sense to rule on this issue, you may soon start to realize that your rational mind might start to weigh in on the validity of your beliefs.    In reality no one person is making it harder, I believe your inner skeptic could be making a plea to be heard and the folks who are calling your Christianity into question are simply giving it a voice.

  • Revyloution

    My issue here isn’t that your’e enlightened enough to accept homosexuals as full human beings.  My issue is that you think there is divinely inspired wisdom in the Bible.    That basic assumption is why I will argue against you.   If there is divinity there, and that divinity is open to interpretation,  then we will always have the Fred Phelps’ to go along with the  Alise Wrights.   As long as we give that silly book any respect at all, people will use it to support hideous and barbaric beliefs.  If were going to get past ignorance as a species, we need to give up these fairy tales.

  • TC

    And it’s things like this that make people think that atheists are firebreathing monsters.

  • Gus Snarp

    Interesting how this relates back to the post about the communion wafer.

    I for one have never told anyone they weren’t a real Christian, now would I (I’ve made slightly different arguments regarding Catholics, but that’s a case with very specifically encoded beliefs). I don’t doubt the veracity of the average person’s faith in God. But it is also rather obvious that progressive Christians selectively ignore huge swaths of the Bible. I would not generally make this argument with regard to homosexuality, since the commandments against it are pretty minor bits. The Bible is far more pro-slavery than it is anti-gay, for example. But it is true of that and many other clearly written commandments, if you are progressive you simply don’t believe most of the Bible. That’s fine, but just as with the wafer, it makes us wonder how you can have faith in the Biblical God when you would condemn the vast majority of what the Bible says he has said and done. Does it not make one question his infallibility when he suddenly changes all of his behavior and commandments sometime around the year 33? 

    I believe you’re a Christian. I wish more Christians were like you. But you’re also choosing to lump yourself in with all the other Christians. Your giving legitimacy to them, and you’re saying that you believe in a book that condones and gives rules for slavery, commands genocide, commands the stoning of disobedient children, condemns tattoos, shellfish, cheeseburgers, bacon, and poly-cotton blends, and describes in graphic detail how God exterminated the entire population of cities, peoples, and ultimately the planet.

    And so ultimately, I want your kind of Christianity to be a first step. I want most Christians to take that step, but then I want you to recognize the inconsistency between what you believe and what is contained in the book that has been passed down for generations as the document that “proves” there is and describes, God.

    That’s what I did.

  • Marguerite

    “LOL! Those evil teenaged daughters, always ruining it for everyone else.”

    “A little child shall lead them.” Or in this case, a teenager. We should all listen more to our children; frequently the questions they ask are the very logical and straightforward ones we’ve trained ourselves over the years to avoid asking.

  • Just as a small note, some people often feel belittled by being referred to as a plural noun of their identifier. “Gays and lesbians”, as opposed to “gay and lesbian people”. To put it another way, whenever I hear someone say something like “The gays in our country…”, it is somewhat dehumanizing. Same thing would go for “the blacks” or “the autistics”, and so forth.

  • If we choose a definition and apply it, we will have a claim about who is a Christian. If you want to use your dictionary definition, I don’t see where you are having trouble. “One who has received baptism” is fairly straightforward, though it probably should be qualified to account for people who are baptized and later leave the church. It also has a problem with non baptizing sects of Christianity and the occasional non-Christian groups that adopt baptism, but these are both relatively rare phenomena. “A believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings” is less straightforward, but I see no indication that a particular interpretation of those teachings is required.
    The “cherry picking” criticism is nonsense because it takes a false claim of a particular brand of Christians, the claim that it is possible to read and follow the Bible without interpretation, and makes it the test of Christianity. This position has two obvious flaws. First, it requires claiming that nobody even attempted to be a Christian until the last couple centuries. Second, it results in the claim that Christians do not exist, as it is impossible to follow every teaching of a book that contains contradictions. If you want to make this claim, go ahead, but it doesn’t seem like a very useful way of defining the term. If you want to apply some other definition, go ahead and argue for it, but I don’t see why we should get involved in their inter-denominational struggles.

  • This is laughable. Check your privilege or get off this blog Alise.

  • Gunstargreen

    We face the same societal pressures as the author. Most of us don’t have the luxury of having all atheist friends, family and co-workers. Our thoughts and opinions face the same judgement as the author’s. I do understand that coming out with an unpopular opinion isn’t easy especially when it’s against what others hold sacred.

    But this calling out is necessary. The more Christians that take a stand, and the more they’re seen taking a stand, the more likely it is that like-minded people will stop being in the closet and follow the example.

    There’s no time to be fickle about this anymore. The Catholic church and many others have pretty much declared holy war on the government, twisting the religious freedom granted to them by the constitution to try and take away the freedoms of others. More Christians have to stand up right now and put a stop to this before human rights are sacrificed.

    If LGBT allies are not bullies, but we are feeling a little desperate in the face of some of the recent politics surrounding gay marriage.

  • LouisDoench

     A very sensible and Humanist attitude AxeGrrl.

  • Pedro Lemos

    Ahn… You think being called “Commies” is worse than being called baby-killers?

  • ortcutt

    Teach a Christian to be a decent human being when it comes to gays and lesbians and you’ve fed him for a day.   Teach him that Christianity is a load of nonsense, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.

  • Korou

    I’m sorry, really, but I just can’t agree with that. How about:

    Help a Christian to realise that gays and lesbians should be treated decently, and you’ve helped him or her make a huge improvement in life.
    Help a Christian to realise that there is no God and that that’s okay, and you’ve helped him or her find freedom in a very profound way.

  • The Other Weirdo

     The odd thing is that there is no “love is the highest law” in the Bible. It’s all about immediate and unquestioning obedience to authority with threats of dire retribution and perpetual torture porn fantasies. At least for all brutality of the  OT, once you were dead, you stayed dead. The NT introduces us to the exciting new concept of death won’t release you from suffering.

  • David B.

    Yes, the repeated refrain that atheists are immoral (because we don’t have God to tell us how to be good) doesn’t make it any harder for us to be moral, no more than any of the other sterotypes or misconceptions about atheists become any more true through repetition.

    But they can make it harder for individuals to be accepted as not those things.

    How many of the following sound familiar?
    “Atheists believe in evolution, so think we should all act like animals.”
    “Atheists believe that fish can give birth to birds.”
    “Atheists worship science.”
    “Atheists want to ban religion and persecute us Christians.”
    “Atheists think life is worthless because we’re all accidents.”
    “Atheists are without morals because reject the Ten Commandments.”
    “Atheists believe that our lives no meaning.”
    “Atheists have no respect for the sanctity of human life.”

    That’s just the few I can recall off the top of my head. Am I not a true atheist because I don’t fit someone else’s mould? Am I cherry-picking because I think “survival of the fittest” is an observation and not a philosophy?

  • The Other Weirdo

     But does Christianity make any sense without a literal resurrection? I mean, without that, all it is is a morality tale, and not even a profound one, at that.

  • How have LGBT issues/rights been harmed by atheists?

    I don’t stand up for LGBT rights because I feel it’s an effective way to destabilize religion–I do so because LGBT rights are human rights, and I have a logical (and visceral) drive to pursue equality for everyone.  If religion had nothing to do with the oppression of LGBT people (say it was exculsively based on outdated, shaky science experiments from the 1300s that were adopted into law), I (and most atheists I know) would still fight for LGBT rights, because it’s the decent, humanistic thing to do, with no decent, rational argument against it.  Religion’s general treatment of LGBT issues are one of the many reasons I lost faith, not some pet issue I blithely pursue as a means to bring down organized religion. I’d venture to say the vast majority of atheists I’ve come in contact with feel this way.

  • Pedro Lemos

    I guess it´s only a matter of definitions. If you define “christian” as someone who believes in Christ as the son of god, then you can be called a real christian independently of your views over gay marriage.
    You probably wouldn´t be called a catholic, or evangelical, or whatever other subdivision of christianity they have that is against it, but why would you care to belong or not in a group that doesn´t have the same moral principles and beliefs that you have?
    I may believe in aliens, for an instance, but if a group of “alienists”, or the majority of them, decide they are against black people voting, for example, I wouldn´t bother not be called an “alienist” anymore if I disagree with that, even though I would still believe in aliens…
    Ok, not the best example… but I hope you get the point…

  • Not having read the previous comments yet (so I hope I’m not repeating too much if it’s already been said): while I laud you for coming out as ‘affirming’ (seems like a pretty good word, by the way), I have to wonder if the atheists who’ve questioned your faith have *actually* accused you of not being a real Christian, or if perhaps they simply questioned your faith or (it seems likely to me) quoted the Bible to point out its support for anti-gay bigotry.

    I say this because it’s usually Christians themselves who pull the ‘no True Christian’ bit. Most atheists I know leave it up to Christians to decide for themselves if they are sincere Christians or not. It would be an extremely weak argument indeed for an atheist to define what it means to be Christian and then use that definition to tell you you’re not one. Which is why I have a hard time believing that’s what actually happened.

    Don’t get me wrong, I could easily be mistaken in my doubt of your story. There are plenty of atheists who are not good reasoners, and I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one. It is entirely possible that the atheists you encountered did what you say. My position is simply that without further evidence or example, I am more likely to believe that you misinterpreted their statements or questions than that they actually said you weren’t a real Christian. (It wouldn’t be the first time that has happened, by far!)

    Now, giving you the benefit of the doubt, and assuming for the sake of argument that *some* atheists actually have accused you of not being a real Christian because you are not bigoted against homosexuality, that still leaves a big question: What reasons do you have for thinking this is typical of atheists in general? Aside from your personal experiences, do you have evidence that this is part of a larger trend? If not, then what is the point of this blog post?

  • Oh, I had no idea that you were a MIND-READER! How brilliant. You’ve looked into the thoughts of all these many people and seen their true purpose.

    Your attitude is honestly disgusting.

  • NickDB

    Pretty much agree with everything you’ve said there, and I see your argument, just because we get strawberry ice cream and chocolate ice cream doesn’t mean there is no such thing as ice cream.

    Reason for my first post is the article saying we mustn’t call those that profess to be christian and support the LBGT community – not true christians, and trying to give a bit of insight as to why some of us non theists do so. Personally I think they’re all not true christians.

     “but I don’t see why we should get involved in their
    inter-denominational struggles.”

    Because someone sitting on the
    sidelines going maybe they’re all wrong may just give those that are doubting their beliefs another option.

  •  I would like to see evidence (quotes, video) that “major public atheists” have actually made that argument. I don’t believe you will be able to produce any. If you do, I will stand corrected, but I honestly don’t think you will be able to.

  • If a person finds it difficult to publicly denounce discrimination and bigotry, that’s their fault and theirs alone.

  •  It takes guts to admit a mistake and apologize. Kudos, Erin! This kind of honesty is what the world needs more of.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Yes, I know what it means. That wasn’t what I was asking.

    Being a Scotsman is an on and off proposition, you either are or are not. If the thesis was “No Christian would molest a child”, then evidence of a Christian molesting a child was presented and then countered with “No true Christian would molest a child”, I would agree.

    That’s not what we’re talking about, however.

    Homosexuality, in person and in concept, is roundly condemned in the Bible, both the OT and the NT. If a Christian doesn’t believe this, the question is why. For nearly 2000 years this was held to be true. Why are people not holding it to be true today? Are they wrong? Or were their predecessors wrong? What makes the interpretation(or, more precisely, the abandonment of entire passages) right today? What new information has become available lately that exposed a 4,000 year old doctrinal error?

    Why are Muslims, who tend to hold to Biblical views more thoroughly than Christians do, wrong in their treatment of homosexuals and women, while progressive Christians and liberal Jews are not?

    When atheists tell Christians they aren’t true Christians, it’s not a No True Scotsman. It’s a suggestion that they are applying their own personal morals to a modern situation and completely disregard the morals of the book, which they still hold is eternal and a fount of all goodness and answers for everyday living.

    It’s a call-out of their hypocrisy, one they don’t even recognize.

  • quantheory

    “Instead, I regularly see atheists telling affirming Christians that they’re not really Christians.”

    I see why this would be annoying, and I have to say that I’ve never liked this sort of argument. It always seemed presumptuous to me to tell another group of people what they believe when I don’t even identify as one of them myself (also annoying: “I don’t know why anyone gay would be a Christian…”, which says a lot more about the lack of understanding of the speaker than about gay Christians).

    At the same time, it’s important to make two distinctions. Firstly, there’s a difference between saying “you’re not a real Christian” and saying “I don’t think your interpretation of the Bible makes sense. While I don’t believe in a god behind the Bible, I do think that the authors of many books were homophobic themselves, and that there’s very little real solace to be found for a supporter of gay rights there. That has nothing to do with a cultural Christian identity and everything to do with how the actual text presents itself to me.

    Secondly, the religious right has been speaking for True Christians for years, and this is where this idea that Christians are homophobic comes from. Keep in mind that, outside of a few select contexts, atheists have little power over the way Christianity is perceived and defined. Christians themselves, from the pulpit and through the media, have always worked hardest at maintaining this connection.

  • ortcutt

    What evidence justifies your belief that Jesus was born of a virgin?  And don’t say “the Bible” if you’re willing to ignore other parts of the Bible that you don’t like.

  • Tamara

     Alise is a guest on The Friendly Atheist. Perhaps you might check yourself.

  •  Where? Links please, or identifiable quotes.

  • ortcutt

     There’s a word for people who think that the Christianity is a series of metaphors.  “Atheist”

  • What you’re missing is that once they’re realised that the Bible is nonsense they’re left with no reason to do anything but treat gays and lesbians decently. Or women. Or anyone else.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “The most vocal populace of atheists (the people who can be found at
    internet forums, conventions and rallies) tend to hold the destruction
    of religious institutions and religious belief as their primary
    objectives. ”

    Oh? Is that what I want? All this time I thought I was fighting for equality but it seems I had an ulterior motive. (insert evil laugh here)

    There is a problem with this theory. This is the internet, I can say & do what I want here; anonymity. Therefore IF I truly wanted the “destruction of religious institutions” I can voice it, with impunity. Yet I don’t. Why is that? I think I know why, but since you know me better that I know myself, feel free to answer for me.

  • quantheory

    If your point is that atheism does not automatically make someone a supporter of gay rights, I think that’s true, but trivial. If your point is that atheists talk more about LGBT issues because religions are so bad at addressing them, I think that’s true but doesn’t reflect so poorly on atheism (why *shouldn’t* atheists focus on issues that religious people often can’t or won’t handle?).

    But if your point is that atheists are insincere about supporting the rights of LGBT’s, doing so only for reasons of political expediency, I think you’re not only wrong but also acting like kind of a dick. For a lot of us, human rights issues led us to atheism, not the other way around. How can I respect an opinion that’s so aloofly dismissive about others’ motivations?

  • Ron’s upset because this blog doesn’t cater to his needs. I know we’re super-heartbroken about it.

  • quantheory

    My solution is to just be open about my opinions and hope that other people are adult enough to decide what they think is right for themselves. (Sometimes they aren’t, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.) Just my two cents.

  • Miko

    Etymologically speaking, “Bible” basically comes from the word for “assortment of papyrus scrolls.”  It was written by multiple authors over a long period of time and originally stored in multiple volumes.  In both the new and old testaments, there was debate about which scrolls were and weren’t part of it.  I don’t know whether Alise would describe her positions as some variant of “cherrypicking” (possibly one involving less biased vocabulary) or not, but attacking her for that is just as silly as criticizing one book in a library based on the content of another on a nearby shelf.

    @Alise: Glad to have you on our side on this and thanks for your well-written and thoughtful piece.  My apologies for the kneejerk tribalistic responses from many of the commenters here.

  • quantheory

    …says the person with no editorial control over the blog. I don’t agree with the piece either, but “get off this blog” is a ridiculous thing to say, IMO.

  •  This is bullying behaviour, Ron. Who are you to demand an ultimatum? I think you need to look up the word ‘privilege’.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “Instead, I regularly see atheists telling affirming Christians that they’re not really Christians. ”

    I have never told an affirming Christian that they are not really Christian, I tell them that they are not “True Christian ®”. Note the registered trademark symbol.

    The distinction being, the latter is a moniker leveraged by your fellow Christians against affirming Christian who don’t subscribe to their views. As you represent the minority in your faith then you are not a “True Christian ®”, which in all honesty, is not a bad thing. 

  • Miko

    Seeing as the KKK still exists and lynchings are rare to nonexistent, I would suggest that the KKK today doesn’t actually support lynchings.  And why wouldn’t we be happy about this?  Is a KKK that lynches people preferable to a KKK that doesn’t?

    And comparing Christians to the KKK is absurd.

  • Interesting that most of the comments I read on here are from atheists who at least did not identify with the LGBT community. It seems there is a lot of debate as to whether it is even worth holding onto Christianity if you (so-called) cherry-pick with biblical passages.

    First, I would like to say that it seems like Jesus (you know, the guy who Christians are supposed to follow) did some “cherry-picking” with the Hebrew Bible as well. It might not have been about the passages regarding homosexuality per se, but that’s kind of part of the reason the religious leaders hated him so much.

    Second, I think it’s worth noting that there are those within the LGBT community who desire to be a part of Christianity, and one must wonder why if ALL of Christianity NECESSARILY must be against homosexuality. Case in point:


    If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you take an hour and do so. It’s articulate, and the presenter identifies himself as a homosexual.

  • Jochen Bedersdorfer

     Alise, I am sympathetic to your thinking and it looks like you are on the way to seriously question the religious doctrine you have been bombarded with.
    I wish you good insights and interesting discussions.

    That said, the problem you have is that there is no justification for your particular brand of weak Christianity other than you saying that it feels right.

    I have yet to talk to a “proper” Christian. None of them believe in all the tenets of their faith,
    which is weird:
    Apparently the god you are worshiping doesn’t really seem to care.
    What does that say about the authority of Christian priests/bishops or other people wearing silly hats?
    Your god left you with arcane texts and supposedly said that these are the ‘truth’ for all eternity. Would any intelligent being do that?
    It gets so much weirder from there…

  • ortcutt

    Lately this blog has turned into accommodation central.  I guess Patheos’ plan of coopting Hemant into the Faithest world has worked.

  • quantheory

    Phones are hard to search with, so I don’t have a link, but I’m surprised that you’ve never seen this. Usually there’s someone who says something about how the Bible is clearly anti-gay, and Christians follow the Bible, so therefore people supporting gay rights are not Christians. It’s not a majority opinion, but I see it about once a month; you’re sure you haven’t?

  • From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, LGBT rights are going to be realized MUCH sooner in places like the United States if Christians come on board than if we encourage the dichotomy of ‘accepting vs. Christian’ and wait for Christians to become a minority.

    Heck, we’d probably still have legal slavery if it weren’t for Christians deciding slavery is a great moral evil despite the Bible’s thumbs-up attitude towards it.

  • “but attacking her for that”

    Attacking? I don’t see anyone attacking. I see criticism, yes, but not attacking. Criticism =/= attacking.

    “My apologies for the kneejerk tribalistic responses from many of the commenters here.”

    Many? I don’t see this ‘many’ you are speaking of. I see a few, a handful, no more than is typical of any online forum. But I definitely don’t see ‘many’.

  • quantheory

    Er, you seem to be suggesting that “Christian” should be defined in part by the stance someone takes toward the Bible. That’s sort of the main issue here; is it reasonable to define the word “Christian” to only include people with a more “literalist” view in the first place?

    Certainly if your definition of Christianity excludes certain people, those people aren’t True Christians. But are you correct in that definition in the first place? I feel that you are not; someone who believes, e.g., that Jesus was the son of God (whatever that might mean), but does not strictly believe a particular set of writings about his life or teachings, that person still strikes me as a Christian, even if I think those views are unorthodox or just irrational.

  • treedweller

    This is something I have experienced, and I am not even a Christian. As an avowed agnostic, I have a G+ circle I call “atheists”. One of its members recently posted a call to,pharyngulate a poll that ostensibly was a Yes/no question about whether evolution is real. However, the poll was badly written by a religion columnist and had extraneous qualifiers: “yes, evolution is true and creationism has no place in science” and “no, religion and evolution are compatible.” As I know Christians who believe in evolution and do not want creationism in science classes, I said I could not choose; both are accurate (minus the yes/no). I was told those “Christians” were actually closer to agnostics. When I questioned who these guys were to declare what others believed, I got a line about their expertise and the accepted vocabulary etc.

    All due respect to the academic community, that is horseshit. On the one hand, we mock Christians who treat the bible as the unerring word of god. On the other hand, we tell Christians who recognize it as just a book of parables and analogies that they can use to guide them to a closer relationship with god that they are not really Christians. Where do we get off, anyway? When I see people gathering regularly to talk about what they believe and how to be better people through their belief in god and the teaching of Christ, I see religion. When I see some of them setting aside the truly messed up parts of the book and trying to live their lives as closely as possible to how Christ lived and taught, I see the real Christians. The ones who use their book to pick and choose verses to use as wedges to separate the people they don’t like from the rest of society, those are the people that I am inclined to call false Christians. But, ultimately, belief is personal, and we should accept whatever label people choose to attach to themselves. Maybe they remain far fro. What their god wants, but they are trying, and isn’t that all any f us can do?

    I call on my fellow nonbelievers to tweet this: “I support the efforts of Christians who refuse to accept the hateful Christianity of the right wing. Christ taught love, not hate.” anything less is hypocrisy.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Something here isn’t like the other.  Fire-breathing monsters fly jumbo-jets into other people’s skyscrapers or plan to start Armageddon by inciting a race war in the US. Atheists merely say things.

  • The Captain

    While this conversation can be interesting at times I find it can be a great distraction to gay rights. I think the most important point is lost when having it. That point is PEOPLES RIGHTS ARE NOT BASED OFF WHAT YOU THIINK IS A SIN!

    I couldn’t care less if progressive christians think homosexuality is a sin, if they don’t great, if they do, fine, either way they have no right to use the law to force another person to live by their religious standards of what a “sin” is. 

    While you may be converting a few progressive christian to the cause, I think people who make these types of arguments set the whole secular movement back by reenforcing the idea that sectarian religions sects get to use the law to ban everyone else from doing what they consider a sin. 

  • Andrew B.

     Cherry-picking what?  WE DON’T HAVE AN AUTHORITATIVE TEXT!  There’s nothing for us to cherry-pick!

  • I think a lot of atheists akin something like that to say, Nazism. “I like everything that the Nazi party does, except the killing of Jews. But I’m still going to call myself a Nazi.” You are associating yourself with the worst of the lot by keeping the same label. – and atheists don’t see how that is any different than when you are a Christian. If your religion says one thing and you disagree with it, why would you still be a part of that religion? Then it comes down to religion being a salad bar where you take what you like and leave the bean salad. People justify their hypocrisy all of the time. 

  •  “In what way are atheists making is “harder” for Christians to not be bigots?”

    The same way Dawkins makes it harder for Christians to accept evolution.

  • I think you are getting at the part where liberal Christians are sort of accomplices to the conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians use liberals’ support to justify their work.  “More than 1 Billion Christians can’t be wrong.”

    Still, I do support AxeGrrl’s message, at least Alise is starting.

  • “it seems like Jesus (you know, the guy who Christians are supposed to
    follow) did some “cherry-picking” … as well.”

    Cherry picking? You should see what he did to a fig tree!


  • The Other Weirdo

     And that’s all atheists mean when they tell Christians they aren’t real Christians.

  • Andrew B.

     Yes, an ally that bases her allegiance on unreasonable nonsense.  She chooses love because it’s “the highest law?”  What if she concluded that hatred were the highest law?  Would she choose that instead?

    It’s a despicable attitude liberal Christians have.  “We’re loving because we are COMMANDED TO.”

    Their contributions to ending inequality are welcome, but don’t ask us to respect them.  Their reasoning is still terrible and needs to be condemned, even if it occasionally leads to desirable results.

  • Patterrssonn

    No, it’s the fear that might be right.

  • ” I got a line about their expertise and the accepted vocabulary etc. … All due respect to the academic community, that is horseshit.”

    Gonna need some quotes/links to support that if you want to convince many people. In the context of your anecdote, the plausibility that you misinterpreted what they said is fairly high, IMO. I’m not outright denying that it happened. I’m just skeptical and looking for more evidence.

    “I call on my fellow nonbelievers to tweet this: “I support the efforts
    of Christians who refuse to accept the hateful Christianity of the right
    wing. Christ taught love, not hate.” anything less is hypocrisy.”

    Sorry, can’t support those last two statements. IMO, it is more likely than not that ‘Christ’ never existed (i.e. no historical person behind the stories of Jesus). Thus, ‘Christ’ didn’t teach anything at all. Furthermore, the fictional character called Jesus Christ did teach hate (specifically, that you must hate your family, etc. in order to love him); look it up. Lastly, since I tend to believe the former, and know the latter, I cannot agree to your message, specifically *because* it would be hypocritical to do so. Therefore, your final claim is false.

  • The Other Weirdo

     But that’s like saying that the Roman Catholic Church exists today and witch burnings are rare to nonexistent, so that would suggest the RCC doesn’t actually support witch-burnings. While true at the moment, that’s only because the current secular environment forbids it and condemns it. The old laws are all still on the books, and even more importantly, still in the Bible. It wouldn’t take much. We saw it 30 years ago, with the Satanic Ritual Abuse moral panic. In Africa they’re still burning children for being witches, and arresting goats and accusing them of being shape-shifting robbers.

  • The Other Weirdo

     No, “bible” comes from that word. “Bible” means something else entirely.

  • Ummm, people who believe homosexuality is a sin tend to *vote* that way.  Prop 8, anyone? Recent history lesson required?

    Beliefs influence actions. It’s a simple fact. Without addressing the *root cause* of the actions, namely the *beliefs*, we will be less than fully effective at overcoming bigotry.

  • Patterrssonn

    Gaby likes to use that argument, but I don’t see the how the OP is anything other than a rationalization of homophobia among progressive Christians. I find it impossible to believe that Christians would need validation from atheists as to the legitimacy of their religious identity.

  • JT Davis

    What is making things hard for you isn’t atheists, it is your attempt to  to hold two contradictory positions. The obvious answer is to drop the absurd position and hold to the rational one. If it is hard to support LGBT rights while being a Christian, and support for those rights is a good thing, then there is only one obvious answer.

  • Pascale Laviolette

    I think most atheists identify with the LBGTQ community – whether we are ourselves queer or not.  We share a lot in common, and to be fair – to an atheist, those labels are entirely unnecessary. Why should I care WHAT genitals you have, let alone what you do with them?

    Christians does not necessarily have to be against homosexuality — correct; and of course there are self-identified gay Christians — but shouldn’t those people begin to wonder why the “word of God” needs so much finessing and re-interpretation in order to be even SLIGHTLY closer to today’s morality?  Pretty crumby books, promoting pretty crumby Gods.  Ditch the books and the labels, just appreciate HUMANS — WHY IS IT SO HARD?!

  • Patterrssonn

    Exactly, the OP seems just like a weak rationalization to me.

  • Godwin. Please don’t make such comparisons so broadly. It really does not make a good argument or example. Perhaps such a comparison could be made in the case of some outspoken Christians advocating for rounding up homosexuals and starving them (yes, this has happened, recently, in America; for shame), but your comment here is far too broad in scope that it diminishes the comparison beyond salvage.

  • MV

     It’s a shame that she needed the first step.  I sure didn’t as a kid growing up forced to attend Catholic church and religious education.  I thought it was obvious that people deserved equal rights.  Who cared what the bible said or the opinion of the church?

    It’s great that as a Christian she supports equal rights.  But I’m not exactly sure why she wants a cookie for having empathy and being a decent human being.  If people won’t do the right thing because people criticize their incorrect beliefs, then they aren’t good people.  Sure, I’ll accept their support but they aren’t very good allies.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Well, that’s true, I suppose, but how could they have known about Jesus, if not from the Bible, since that’s the only source we have? Maybe not directly, but through a third party. Even then, the thirty party however far removed, would’ve gotten their information from the Bible.

    What, are we now supposed to cater to every crackpot theory or feeling? If that’s the case, then there’s no such thing as a Fascist or a Communist or a Republican or a Democrat or a Jew or a Muslim or an Atheist or a Hindu or anything else, for that matter. If that’s the case, then it becomes impossible to criticize, or even discuss, any concept whatsoever.

  • Exactly. Words have meanings. The word Christian has a meaning. If you do not believe that Jesus was the son of god and is also god and died for our sins to save us from the hell that god damned us to, then you are not a Christian, whether you want to say so or not. 

    Further, if you cherry pick your own holy book, you are admitting that it is faulty. Why is the word of god faulty? Why does it say rape is okay? Killing your children is not only encouraged, but part of the law. It is a terrible book, maybe if you read the whole thing, you will understand why I don’t like “liberal Christians”. More like lazy Christians. 

  •  And how is that? Specifics please. Links, quotes, videos, statistics? Any evidence at all that this is the case?

  • Don’t you know, if you can’t back up your statements and other people comment on them, it is an attack. A war on baseless claims. 

  • Yes, with quantheory. Let’s recast it this way:

    Annie: “Christians can’t support marriage equality, because Christians believe their Bible is to be read as a literal manual on what to do.”

    Betty: “I read the Bible differently, such that I reconcile the role of the Bible in my life with my commitment to marriage equality.”

    Annie: “No _true_ Christian reads their Bible in any way but as a literal manual on what to do. I declare you to be a mixed-up non-Christian.”

    Betty: “Well, we just differ on that.”


    I’m not saying that Annie doesn’t have a right to say what she says. Annie can think and say anything she wants, to anyone and in any company. She’s a free citizen. But, for my part, I hope she’d consider this response instead:

    Annie: “Betty, I just don’t get how you read the Bible. It sounds like cherry-picking to me. And it doesn’t jibe with what I hear other Christians say. I’d like to interrogate you about that if you’re willing. Meanwhile, let’s make marriage equality happen.”

  • Thegoodman

    I agree with a few other posters here. Organized religion actively opposes human rights on many levels. If you belong to an organized religious group, you support the opposition of human rights. It is not complicated. You cannot dance around your association with such hateful human beings and ask me to ignore it.

    I applaud your efforts to be a decent human being. However, your own religion condones (and actively supports in many cases) things that are contrary to your efforts. Stop clinging to your absurd and unfounded belief system. Stop cherry picking things you like from your dogma and pretending the bad inhumane things are not there, they are. People have been hurt by them and continue to be hurt by them every day.

    I will not absolve you of your guilt for being in a group that is so full of hate, misogyny, racism, and superiority. You are guilty of belonging to this group and will continue to belong until you no longer support them, via money, words, or actions. This may seem very harsh to YOU but this has nothing to do with YOU. It has to do with the victims who have fallen prey to your own flock.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Survival of the fittest isn’t even a part of the Theory of Evolution, as far as I understand it.

  • treedweller

    Well, Atticus Finch never existed either, but we regularly use _To Kill a Mockingbird_ as a lesson in racial hatred and standing up for one’s beliefs. If someone claiming to be Christian wants to view the bible as parable rather than literal word of god, why should we dispute that?
    And maybe you are allowing the right wing to influence your interpretation of christ’s message, because I do not accept your distorted view of it.

    As to the quote, I’ll let you read as much of the discussion as you like: https://plus.google.com/app/plus/mp/715/#~loop:aid=z12yw30azq2ljdnwp04cfjlr5niqudebku00k&view=activity

    Not really sure that link will work, as G+ and iPad don’t play well together, but it seems
    like it should.

  • unclemike

    I’ve looked up and down these comments for any condemnations of the OP’s beliefs and I have yet to find them. Any particular quotes stand out in your mind?

  •  Based on your answer, you’re assuming that all Christians must assume the Bible is the “Word of God.” Personally (as a self-identified Christian), I don’t think that viewing the Bible as the Word of God is healthy or realistic. The Bible doesn’t even make that claim about itself!

    Also, there are scores of Christians historically who do not view the Bible as the Word of God (right now I’m thinking of Karl Barth, the leader of the neo-orthodox movement, who claimed the Bible was a “witness to the Word of God”). When we don’t view it as some heavenly instruction manual, but rather as human attempts to understand something supernatural, it becomes much easier to allow for the Bible to say some things that aren’t applicable today, or are simply outright wrong.

  • treedweller

    We’re in trouble, I guess, if the right wing starts to form groups and have what they call “atheist meetings” where they teach that god wants fags in hell. Why are so many atheists allowing one group of Christians to define Christianity for everyone?

  • treedweller

    How is “I support gay rights despite what some purported christians say about my religion” not a moral stance?

  • Thegoodman

     His point is that the Christian label is broad. If you wear it you hold yourself accountable for the entire group. I know that internally many denominations think they are “better” than the hell bound denomination down the street, but from the outside looking in they are all assholes.

    I agree with Marc, justifying your hypocrisy to yourself does not make it less hypocritical.

  • treedweller

    If there is a Toastmasters group somewhere that routinely has a speaker saying the moon is made of cheese, would we say Toastmasters is an organization that believes the moon is made of cheese, or would we say that guy (or maybe even that chapter) is wrong?

  • Oh, I have seen it. Occasionally. Rarely. But the comment I replied to didn’t say ‘occasionally’ or ‘rarely’. It said:

    “It’s claimed in the comments here. Often.”

    As in: Often. Not rarely. I would like to see evidence to support that ‘often’.

    The issue I’m concerned with, when asking for evidence of this behaviour is that I have a strong hunch that it is a faulty over-generalization from a few sparse examples (and not representative of the ‘major public atheists’) to being a widespread trend among atheists in general. Even a 10% trend would be enormous. I’m guessing it’s more like less than 1/10 of 1% or even much lower than that. I’m guessing there may be a few culprits who use that tactic frequently, but that the *vast* majority of other random atheists do not.

    I’m further guessing that many ‘obvious’ incidents which are *remembered* as atheists calling people not real Christians, are actually misinterpretations and/or mis-remembering (which we know from psychology and neuroscience that this is more often the rule than the exception), and frankly, instances of confirmation bias and selective sampling.

    In fact, I know that misinterpretations are common because I have seen such misinterpretations occur many many times in past discussions and debates, and I could link to some if you want evidence of that.

    What I haven’t seen, despite having been involved in atheist activism online for several years, is *widespread* use of the tactic of *actually* calling people not real Christians. That’s what I’m skeptical of.

  • treedweller

    Don’t they get to try and influence the world that christianity is not what the right wing says it is? If I am a pro-choicer who believes in the economic tenets of the republicans, do I have to vote for democrats, or can I go to GOP meetings and vote to remove anti-choice language from the party platform?

  • Helicopter

    I agree with your points. 

    But even still, the salad bar mentality towards religion becomes inevitable after a society begins to become more tolerant and educated. If you walk into your average Evangelical church, do you see every woman wearing a covering over her head (which the Bible instructs)? No, you don’t. Do Mormons *occasionally* drink coffee and do over 60-something percent of Catholics use contraception? The answer is yes.

    Not only do people’s attitudes towards religion change overtime, the core beliefs of a religion can change overtime, depending on circumstances. Natives peoples who were told by missionaries about Christianity often combined it with their former spiritual practices, creating complex new hybrid religions.

    Nothing about this peculiar institution that we call religion is necessarily set in stone. People *made* religions, and they will alter them to suit their needs and tastes. Even still, I too would say that Alice is being somewhat hypocritical. By identifying as a Christian yet claiming to support gay rights, Alice is ignoring the fact that many in her religion vocally oppose what she desires. Yes, you can be a Christian, and be pro-choice, pro-LGBT, and pro-tolerance, but you aren’t going to find many likeminded people sitting in the pews of your church.

    Even still, Alice and her allies are welcome to join the cause of equality for all. 

  •  Don’t be surprised if Betty replies to the latter with:

    Betty: How dare you say that I’m not a real Christian?!

    You can phrase it however you want; odds are high that some Christian somewhere will interpret it as an accusation of not being a real Christian. Some such Christians might even write blog posts about the topic. Not saying that’s definitely what happened. Just saying it’s not implausible.

  • VorJack

    As for “picking and choosing”… why is that a bad thing?

    The phrase “picking and choosing” makes it sound arbitrary.  I think it would be better to just call it “interpretation” and leave it at that.

     Everybody interprets the Bible.  One of the hallmarks of Progressive Christians is that they try to be systematic about it in a way that acknowledges Enlightenment values.

  • Nena

    I remember when I was a christian. I supported LGBTQ rights (not much choice, since I myself am bi/queer). 

    But knowing what I knew of the Bible, I had to concede that yes, homosexual sex was a sin. The way I got around it was not to deny that it was a sin; but to say “yeah, it’s a sin, but so is gluttony, premarital sex, lying, lust, greed, laziness…and I don’t see people being shunned from the church for those things.”

    As someone who has now embraced reason and reality, I see the problems with that argument. But in my mind, it still makes more sense than saying “Nope, I think it’s okay, so it isn’t a sin.”

  •  By angry militants, no less. 😉

  • The Other Weirdo

     Toastmasters is a group where people practice public speaking. If a member is making a speech to the group about the moon being made of cheese, I would say the guy isn’t wrong, he is just purposely making stuff up in an environment where people expect it, just to have something to make a speech about.

  • Thegoodman

     If the Toastmasters published a 2000 page mission statement that was full of references to the moon being made of cheese, I would say the organization as a whole has absurd beliefs.

    I am not condemning Christians for the word of Rick Santorum, but rather for the written words in their Bible that they hold with such reverence.

    Likewise I do not condemn Muslims for a few extremists that flew planes into the WTC, but rather for the written words in the Koran that encourage oppression and hatred.

  • VorJack

    Christianity’s claim for validity is largely based upon the bible

    *shrug* As a former Episcopalian, I would say that the validity of Christianity is based on Tradition, of which the Bible is just one creation.  And that the two, mediated by Reason, make up the three foundations of Christianity.

    Honestly, I wonder if some folks here have ever spoken to a Christian that wasn’t a conservative Evangelical.  “Sacred” can just mean “set apart,” as in the Bible has to be dealt with in a way different from other books.  It doesn’t automatically mean that it has absolute authority which has to be interpreted in a woodenly literal, context-less way.

  • While I find faith of any kind to be absurd, we do need to keep in mind that this really is an issue of social and religious progressives vs. fundamentalists. It would be nice if this weren’t a battle, but the fundamentalists have decided to put up a huge fight and this is one that we have to win. Progressives should be more vocal along side we atheists in opposing the hateful, bigoted, intolerant theology of their more conservative brethren.

  • treedweller

    Are you deliberately missing the point? The bible is a book. Some Christians believe it is the unerring word of god, but not all of them do.

  • Thegoodman

     Political parties are not religions. They do not have ideas that were set in stone 2k years ago. I would recommend that you vote for candidates and not parties, and attend both meetings to better understand both sides of the fence. I know you are being facetious, but you don’t “have” to vote for anything.

  • The Other Weirdo

     But nobody claims that Atticus Finch was the Son of God who died on the cross and was resurrected to Glory so that we could all be washed of our sin of Racism, and that _To Kill A Mockingbird_ is a fount of all knowledge and goodness and the will of the Almighty Creator who will perpetually torture you if you disagree with what meaning of the words contained therein, and that its most faithful readers should make life unbearable for the rest of humanity.

  • VorJack

     Does this mean that they are not”true Catholics”?

    Depends.  Who has the authority to define what a true Catholic is?  Vatican II made it clear that the authority is derived from the Church as a whole.  If the majority of the laity disagrees with the hierarchy then … what?  We get different answers, but I would say that automatically siding with the hierarchy is short sighted.

  • treedweller

    Bad analogy, then. How about the NFL. Some members of that group believe black people are not smart enough to play quarterback, but they make excellent running backs because of their physical traits. Yet some teams have black quarterbacks. Are those teams bigots because some of their colleagues are bigots?

  • The Other Weirdo

     That’s like saying most Christians aren’t like Harold Camping. Except the only real difference  I saw last year was that he put a date to his belief, while they didn’t.

  • treedweller

    “you aren’t going to find many like minded people siting in the pews of your church.”

    This statement is patently false if you speak of at least two churches I am aware of, and I avoid churches as much as familial obligations will permit.

  • Thegoodman

     Well in that case, I am a Christian who believes Darwin was the son of Odin who was sent to this realm upon a flying unicorn to promote the religion of science.

    Since I said so, I am a Christian, right? Since apparently Christians can define their religion exactly how they see fit for their own mental health and ignore the icky parts, I’d like to do the same.

  • Thegoodman

     You are missing the point. The sticking point you seem to be overlooking is the BIBLE. This is the go-to reference for any hate monger justifying his position. If the NFL has a rule book that says Black Men are not capable of playing QB, I would equally condemn the NFL as I do Christianity. If the organization as a whole supports hate, I will not support said organization. If a person PERSONALLY is hateful, they are only a hateful person. If they justify their hate with a publication distributed, sign/stamped/approved, by their group, then I will assume that group approves of the message of hate.

  •  Okay, so here we have a definite example of using the argument:

    “Words have meanings. The word Christian has a meaning. If you do not
    believe that Jesus was the son of god and is also god and died for our
    sins to save us from the hell that god damned us to, then you are not a
    Christian, whether you want to say so or not. ”

    And here is my counter-argument to show why this is such a weak tactic:

    Yes, Samantha, words have meanings. Unfortunately, you (nor any person) are not the arbiter of what words mean to all people in all times, all places, and all contexts.

    To a very real extent, words mean what the speaker intends them to mean … to the speaker. And words also mean what the listener interprets them to mean … to the listener. At the end of the day, the actual, functional meaning of a word is entirely dependent on what meaning it communicates from one mind to another.

    Specifically, and especially in regards to the words we use to self-identify ourselves, it is possible for the speaker to use a word to mean one thing, and a listener to interpret that word to mean something different. This is called miscommunication.

    As for self-identifying labels, I think the only sensible way to work it is for people to choose or define labels as they see fit, as the meaning in their minds best describes their personal identity.

    There are literally (yes, literally) Christians who do not believe in God, do not believe that Jesus was divine in any way, and readily discard immoral chunks out of their reading of the Bible, and will readily admit to doing so, with good conscience.

    These are literally (yes, literally; there’s even a church for them) Christians who happen to be atheists.

    Who am I or you to tell them they are wrong? They would only be wrong according to *our* meaning of ‘Christian’ (if we chose such a meaning; I don’t). According to their meaning of Christian, as someone who is inspired by the teachings of the character of Jesus Christ from ancient scriptures, they are genuinely and *truly* Christians.

    When I engage Christians, I let them define themselves. More power to them. I ask them what they mean by ‘Christian’, and I take their differences with other self-proclaimed Christians into account.

    Surely, this can cause label confusion, and blur the lines in a bad way. I agree with Sam Harris’ argument that moderate ‘Christians’ can and should distance themselves vocally from the more dangerous kinds of ‘Christian’ believers and dogma. If that means coming up with a different label to call themselves, so be it. In fact, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

    Long ago, I made a video regarding the issue of communication and word definitions, that I think can help illustrate how this all can and does work in practice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFTcfnNQlcM

  • Helicopter

    Yes, I know.

    The Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ are both very accepting of gay people and gay rights.

    I should have clarified my statement a bit more than I did.

  •  I agree with your point that a more general term would be ‘interpretation’. I think ‘picking and choosing’, ‘cherry picking’, etc. can be useful in many contexts, to highlight the inherently subjective nature of the interpretation. I.e. One *could* choose to pick different things to emphasize, so one *could* choose to give up most or all of it altogether.

  • treedweller

    I will grant you that you are a Christian if that’s what you want to call yourself, but I’d be hard pressed to accept that as a sect of Christianity unless/until you get thirty or forty people to meet with you regularly and teach that dogma to yourselves and your children.

    Bottom line: I am neither Christian nor religious, so I have no standing to say what Christianity is for other people.

  • treedweller

    It is also to go-to position for people trying to justify the love-thy-neighbor brand of Christianity.

  • treedweller

    Oops—also the go-to reference

  • treedweller

    And Christians don’t “have to” accept 2000-year-old versions of what their religion is.

  • treedweller

    Nobody does? Are you sure? If they did, would that mean everyone who reads TKAM is as loony as that guy?

  • Absolutely won’t be surprised: see it all the time. I agree with you that different Christians will respond differently to the “You’re not a true Christian” line, whether they get it from non-Christians or from other Christians.

  • A. The main thesis of The God Delusion is that evolutionary biology has shown us that “there almost certainly is not a God.”

    B. Telling a Christian who is on the fence about evolution that accepting evolution includes rejecting God is going to resolve the issue for her…and not in favor of evolution.

  • The Other Weirdo

     So who cares what some members of this fictional NFL believe? It’s what the group as a whole endorses. Christianity endorses the Bible and claims it is the Word of God that will last forever, except for these parts here because we really like shellfish, and those parts over there because mixed fabrics look so much cooler. But these parts about homosexuals, why, no of course not, these will last forever! Why? Well, the Bible tells us it’s a sin. Just like no graven images. Only not so much anymore.

  • ” And comparing Christians to the KKK is absurd.”

    Although I generally agree with your objection to using the KKK to compare to Christians in general, you are aware that the KKK is a Christian group, right?

  • The Other Weirdo

     Watch out, any moment now we’ll… pull out our pens and… write an angry comment. Oh the horror! Oh the humanity!

  •  And vice versa.

  • The Captain

    “Beliefs influence actions.” yea they do, and we need to foster the “belief” that you have no right to force another person to practice your religion. Do we really need to go around convincing fundamentalist Jews that it’s not a sin for me to plug in my TV on a saturday? No. We just need them to understand that they have no right to force that ridiculous belief on anyone else.

  • The Other Weirdo

    The fallacy here is the idea that words have individually mutable definitions. In other words, you’re claiming that every person gets to define a word as they see fit. In yet other words, you’ve just eliminated language as a tool for human communications.

    If someone claims they believe in a god who doesn’t create the universe, doesn’t answer prayers, can’t cause miracles, doesn’t leave any evidence of its existence and can’t alter the course of history, I am justified in asking why call such a being a god, and then why you believe in such a thing.

    It’s true that you have the right to define a word as you see fit, for your own purposes. But in communicating with others in good faith, I have the right to smack you with my 1000 page dictionary.

  •  Unjustified. If you think this is accommodation central, you probably haven’t seen accommodation central. Here I am, die hard gnu atheist that I am, and I’m commenting left and right with no fear of censorship. This is a long, long, long way from accommodation central.

  • Guest

     I actually prefer to being called a Commie, seeing as I don’t support killing babies, I support people ending a pregnancy, which isn’t a baby, it is a fetus.

  • JustAnotherAtheist

    With all due respect, you are saying: “I am prepared to be judged by Christians (which aren’t supposed to judge) but I do not want to be judged by atheists!”   

    That seems a bit silly, especially when the Christians and atheists are telling you the same thing. Within all groups of people will be those that judge. If you are uncomfortable with being judged then you know that something somebody is doing is wrong.  
    You are not righting any wrongs by feeling bad about being judged. If you want to right wrongs stand up to both those Christians and the atheists and explain your point of view.

  •  “… to hold the destruction of religious institutions and religious belief as their primary objectives … support the destruction of religion … religion is further destabilized … ”

    I think you don’t really know what atheists want, what motivates them, what drives them to be vocal. Not. One. Little. Bit. And if you’re operating under the assumption that atheist = pro-lgbt rights, again, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Atheists can be just as bigoted as theists. Just ask Rebecca Watson …

  • The Other Weirdo

     This is nothing but wishful thinking. Somebody believe, deep down, that homosexuality is a sin is not going to try and make marriage equality work.

    Again, I’m not sure the latest version of your NTS explanation works, but I don’t know if I can explain why.

  • Skel

    Being personally accepting does not absolve the organization one belongs to of promoting bigoted viewpoints. Regardless of the author’s personal interpretation, no matter how commendable it is (and it truly is), it does not change the fact that the Catholic Church opposes LGBT rights. 

    The real problem is fear of rejection. If you (or any religious individual) accepts that their religious hierarchy is wrong on a certain issue, the fear of pulling on that logical string leads one to fear that they might one day lose their faith entirely, and in so doing be cast out by those that once shared your view. The author sums it up here, “When you’re facing rejection from your own camp, that can be enough to keep people from choosing to support others, but when you see another group denigrate you for seeking to make right a past wrong, it can inadvertently create a scenario where people choose the path of least resistance and continue to support bigoted ideas because they see no other option.” 

     The need for validation, and fear of rejection, is one of the strongest motivators known to mankind, but the beauty of being a free thinker is that you can hope to one day truly not care what others think. I don’t support gay rights because someone told me it was the right thing to do or because my friends all feel the same way and therefore I can earn some validation there. No, I  support LGBT rights because I have partied with, drank with, argued with, smoked with, studied with, talk with, shared with and empathized with gay people, and they are just that, people. And the idea that people just like you and me are denied right for something as trivial as sexual preference disgusts me. And if it disgusts you too, don’t fear rejection from those that’d disagree, but rather embrace it.

  • The Other Weirdo


    “A little child shall lead them.

    The last time I heard that line I was watching a Buffy episode, and it turned out to a boy. And a vampire. And evil.  So maybe not. 🙂

  • What a bag of dicks! Sorry guys, as an atheist with many liberal Christian friends, I’m embarrassed that my “group” has so many close-minded folks in it. I’m sure they will  just dismiss me, because clearly, I’m not a REAL atheist if I have Liberal Christian friends. I’ve used all of these arguments in the past, and I’ve found that it hinders rather than helps people see the hypocrisy. How about we work together instead of pouncing on people when they take positive steps?

  • “Well,
    Atticus Finch never existed either, but we regularly use _To Kill a
    Mockingbird_ as a lesson in racial hatred and standing up for one’s

    Are you proposing to amend your tweet to: “Atticus Finch taught love, not hate.”? Because, somehow, I don’t think that’ll catch on the way you are hoping. Might have something to do with the fact that nobody believes he was real.

    “If someone claiming to be Christian wants to view the bible as
    parable rather than literal word of god, why should we dispute that?”

    I don’t.

    maybe you are allowing the right wing to influence your interpretation
    of christ’s message, because I do not accept your distorted view of it.”

    *MY* distorted view of ‘Christ’s’ message? As if the whole thing isn’t distorted from the beginning? Ha! Good one. You almost fooled me there. 😉

    “As to the quote, I’ll let you read as much of the discussion as you like: https://plus.google.com/app/pl

    Not really sure that link will work, as G+ and iPad don’t play well together, but it seems like it should.”

    Unfortunately, the link (Google) is asking me to share my location data, and that’s something I’m not willing to do. If you could provide a safer link, or just some direct quotes to the support your point, that would work better.

  • treedweller

    You don’t speak for all atheists and the religious right does not speak for all Christians.

  •  I know his point and agree with it. It is the example that is problematic.

  •  Bingo.

  • AxeGrrl

    I call on my fellow nonbelievers to tweet this: “I support the efforts of Christians who refuse to accept the hateful Christianity of the right wing. Christ taught love, not hate.” anything less is hypocrisy.

    I love it!

    I wonder if a few will consider it ‘too accommodationist’…..*rolling eyes*

    In any event, great suggestion 🙂

  • treedweller

    The democratic party in the US states in its platform that democrats are pro-choice, but some democrats are not. Does this mean they only think they are democrats, or does it mean that no group can be viewed as uniformly in agreement about everything? We each align ourselves with the community that emphasizes most of the values we believe are most important. Some of us then try to persuade the others to agree with us on other issues where we disagree. But we are still members of the group if we pay our dues and attend the meetings.

  •  If 90% of the people in the room stood up and cheered the proclamation, shouting out the correctness and blessedness of this cheesy-moon view, then yes, I WOULD say the organization that believes the moon is made of cheese!

  • treedweller

    But I know Christians who did not give any money to that Wisconsin church. Also, the money they gave their own church was not used for such despicable purposes (I might not agree with how they spent every dollar, but I am confident they did not support such despicable actions). And, since they are not catholic, I am hard pressed to blame them for the pope’s actions.

  • treedweller

    But, difficult or not, some do it. Why are we telling them their support is not valid and/or unwelcome?

  •  This is a plausible hypothesis. However, a hypothesis without evidence remains simply a hypothesis. Do you have evidence to support the claim that it is true that “Dawkins makes it harder for Christians to accept evolution.”

    Please note that while the hypothesis you state is plausible, there are many many other hypotheses which are at least as plausible that would argue oppositely, that Dawkins makes it easier for Christians to accept evolution: by helping them to give up Christianity and their only roadblock to learning the evidence about evolution in the first place. In order for your hypothesis to win over the others, you can see that the only real way to resolve the question would be to provide actual evidence that it truly is the case, right?

  • What’s the word for someone who believes in God but also acknowledges that human encounters with God, for the most part, can only be expressed through metaphor? There are more than two options in interpreting the Bible: as a perfect, infallible, God-breathed text; or as just a collection of invented parables and metaphors. The Bible is important to Christians like me as a record of encounters certain people had with God, which they (or others after them) did their best to express in writing.

  • treedweller

    What does Catholicism have to do with liberal Christians?

  • AxeGrrl

    I’ve used all of these arguments in the past, and I’ve found that it hinders rather than helps people see the hypocrisy. How about we work together instead of pouncing on people when they take positive steps?

    You nailed it, imo Steve 🙂

    Personally, I’m finding the ‘so what if this Christian is making progress towards a less fundamentalist/more Humanist position? they’re still religious!’ complaint rather tiresome……..

    Again, how did many ex-Christians become atheists?  by starting with small steps like this.  I think many forget this.

  • The Other Weirdo

     They can do that with a couple page ripped out of the bible and discarding the rest. If they did so, this entire argument would drop like thermite through an engine block.

  • I don’t see how “Christianity”—or even the life of Jesus as it is told in the Bible—can be just a morality tale. There’s much more to both than that. What is this not-very-profound morality tale to which Christianity must be reduced for someone who doesn’t believe in a scientific, historical resurrection?

    BTW, you misunderstand me if you think that those (like Borg) who question the resurrection as a literal event think that therefore it has no meaning.

  • Merlin’s Dad

    This seems to correlate with another posting in the blog about the KKK adopting a highway.People throwing trash out on the side of the road … that ain’t right.
    Baseless hatred of black people? They’re fine with it.

    Let’s not make it difficult for the KKK to hate black people.  After all, they are picking up trash on the highway.

    Let’s not make it difficult to religionists to spread ignorance and irrational ideas.  After all, they acquiesced that an oppressed minority should have the rights that the constitution already guarantees.

  • As I said before, I don’t think belief in the virgin birth as a historical event is essential to being a Christian. But you are continuing a false dichotomy of how the Bible can be interpreted. For me, I believe Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born because (the author of the book of) Luke seems to be the closest we have to a researcher among the authors of the New Testament, and that’s the conclusion his research led him to.

    I don’t ignore the Bible. I take it “seriously, but not literally”, as is being common to state among progressive Christians.

  • The Other Weirdo

     If anyone does, then they’re loony fringe and are irrelevant to the argument. Everybody else reads it as the literature with a message that it is.

    That’s not the same thing as the Bible. You’re trying to conflate the two and I’m sorry, but that’s unacceptable. Sure, there are Christians out there who believe the Bible is nothing more than a collection of parables and morality tales and none of it is to be taken literally. Good for them. But every one of the them there are a dozen others in government who take the view that it’s the inerrant word of god, except for those pieces that they don’t like or are too lazy to follow.

    The first group gives cover to the second.

    The Bible is not just literature that can be dismissed out hand at any given person’s say-so. If a man calls himself a Christian, but doesn’t believe in the Bible, doesn’t believe in the Resurrection, doesn’t believe in angels, doesn’t believe in the devil, doesn’t believe in hell, maybe doesn’t even believe that the man called Jesus the Christ was the Son of God or in what the Book of Revelations says, why is this man calling himself a Christian? If a Catholic doesn’t accept that the cracker and the wine is the flesh and blood of Christ, why is he calling himself a Catholic? Wouldn’t Christian be a better label?

    You can’t just claim that the bible means nothing but broadly-painted metaphors and morality tales. You’d need more justification than “Oh I don’t really believe in that but I’m still Christian.”

    That’s like saying, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” A sentence without meaning.

  • “… the idea that words have individually mutable

    Do you deny it? What does ‘gay’ mean?

    “In other words, you’re claiming that every person gets to
    define a word as they see fit.”

    Yep, pretty much. Don’t see how society would be workable any other way. No such thing as the language police, and if there were, we would have to fight against them. A la 1984.

    “In yet other words, you’ve just
    eliminated language as a tool for human communications.”

    Nope. That’s a fallacy of non sequitur. Your conclusion does not follow from your premises. I explain much more clearly in the video I linked to, but the gist of it is that some words/concepts/definitions are better than others. For words, we judge which ones are ‘better’ by which ones allow us to communicate better.

    Someone might call themselves ‘Christian’, and by that mean that they believe in space unicorns or whatever. They are absolutely free to do that. More power to them.

    However, they won’t get very far in a conversation with that definition, because *other* people do not share that same conception of the word ‘Christian’. There will be a bunch of miscommunication, and eventually the ‘Christian’ will have to explain their uncommon, idiosyncratic definition of ‘Christian’ to their audience. Big waste of time, yes. Poor definition of ‘Christian’, practically speaking, yes. But if they want to randomly define words that conflict with everyone else, that’s their problem. I will take note of the random definition, realize that it’s next to useless for communicating in our current culture, and not bother much after that.

    Yes, people can have different understandings and definitions of words. Are you surprised by this? It happens all the time. Literally every single person on the planet has their own variations on the vocabularies and meanings of the words in their local cultures. This is not unusual, it is everyday life; it is the norm.

    And yet, somehow, we still manage to communicate. Quite well, actually. Even with ambiguous context.

    Words are tools for communication. Some work better than others. But if someone wants to make up their own communication tools, more power to them. They may work better, they may fail miserably. I’m under no obligation to adopt their usages as my own, so I’ll decide for myself if I want to pick them up or throw them away.

    What is the alternative?

  • treedweller

    Once again, you ask me to apply the beliefs of one sect to another which specifically has said they are not aligned with that other sect. You don’t believe the bible is a holy book, yet you use its holy scriptures to support your arguments. Picking and choosing, indeed.

  • Cheron22

     For much of the past few decades it has been the all too real Evangelicals who are pushing to make laws and policies based on the sacred (i.e. holy inerrant word of god) Bible.  As such it is towards these ignorant bigots that we most often rail against.

    If your so far fictitious reasoned Christians ever come to power and start a war on women, atheists, etc.. then I will start yelling at them over the internet.

  •  “If someone claims they believe in a god who doesn’t create the universe,
    doesn’t answer prayers, can’t cause miracles, doesn’t leave any
    evidence of its existence and can’t alter the course of history, I am
    justified in asking why call such a being a god, and then why you
    believe in such a thing.”

    Totally agree. Happens all the time. There are about 7 billion definitions for the word ‘god’, give or take. That’s a perfect example.

    “It’s true that you have the right to define a word as you see fit, for
    your own purposes. But in communicating with others in good faith, I
    have the right to smack you with my 1000 page dictionary.”

    No, actually, you don’t. That would be assault, which is illegal in most (if not all) countries, and is certainly protected against by internationally agreed upon human rights.

    In communicating with others in good faith (I presume you don’t mean the same ‘faith’ that Paul means when he talks about ‘faith’ in his epistles), if there is miscommunication going on, and you are interested in clearing it up, the effective thing to do would be to ask for clarification, and either a) learn their variant definition and adopt it for the conversation, b) teach them your variant and request that they adopt it, c) build a conceptual ‘bridge’ in your mind, as I explain in the video, or d) decide it’s not worth your time or effort, give up on the conversation, and move on.

  • Baby_Raptor

    More “I know we pick on you but don’t pick on us back” whining. People shouldn’t need kid-gloved to do the right thing. And calling out inconsistencies, or demanding that you actually take a stand…Those aren’t judging you. 

  • Ibis3

    You’re missing the point that the atheists are making, Alise. They’re not saying you’re wrong to support LGBT rights. They’re not denigrating that position. They’re saying you’re not thinking things through and taking the issue to the inevitable reasonable conclusion. If you want to take a revisionist approach to the scriptures you don’t like, fine. But you’re not holding yourself to a very high standard of intellectual integrity.

    One must apply the same method to the rest of the book: slavery? immoral; misogyny? immoral; racism? immoral; torture? immoral; animal and human sacrifice? immoral; genocide? immoral; crimes of ancestors transferring to descendents? immoral; substitutionary atonement? immoral; valuing ignorance and obedience over knowledge and liberty? immoral.

    Once you do that, what’s left? A few passages that might have a modest amount of laudatory content. You’ve not got an inspirational holy scripture anymore, you’ve got a pile of immoral crap that you should be ashamed to associate yourself with. A person who merely thinks there might be a modest amount of laudatory content in the thing shouldn’t be supporting the whole edifice by identifying as a Christian. It’s like calling yourself a fascist because you like the trains to run on time.

    Now from another angle: If you get to individually pick and chose what parts of the Bible you think are valid, you’re undermining the whole foundation of your belief system. If the writers of the scriptures were wrong about men having sex with men, what else were they wrong about? If the men who chose what writings belonged in the canon were wrong in their selection, why should you trust that they got the rest of it–any of it–right? If all the Fathers of the Church were wrong in their formulation of doctrine on this issue, why are you assuming that they had special insight about the nature of God or the teachings of Jesus?

    Again, once you start dismantling parts of the religion, you’re really dismantling the whole thing (if you’re honest). You can cling to a remnant, prop it up with rationalisations (likely personal experience of some “spiritual” altered state of consciousness) and call it Christianity if you like, but once it’s reshaped to such an extent, isn’t that misleading and dishonest to continue to use that label? Moreover, why would you want to?

    Let’s say your parents were members of the Patriotic party. They brought you up to be a Patriot too. Going to party events, rallies, protests, and fundraisers formed the core of your childhood experiences. You had a great time and as you grew up you internalised the party doctrine and thought (without looking into it too much) it was unadulterated brilliance. Then you went away to college and met up with some people who (horror!) didn’t belong to the party. They started asking you questions about the Patriotic party platform. Uncomfortable questions. Soon, you felt like you had to read the platform for yourself. To your dismay, you find out that you can’t agree with several core planks of the platform. Can you still be a member of the party if this is how you feel? Sure, the party doesn’t care as long as you’re paying your dues. You can try to change the party from within. You and the few who agree with you can keep pushing over the next few decades to try and upset the platform, remould it so it accords with your new views. Or you, and the people like you, can agree that being a Patriot member means  accepting the core philosophy and at least most of the policy positions of the party. If you don’t accept them, you aren’t really one of them. Don’t keep the membership card, don’t keep the label. Get out.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Because there are no Catholics who disagree with the RCC? There are no liberal Catholics?

    To an atheist, like myself for example, all variations and permutations of Christianity, and yes, including Catholicism, are all basically minor variations on a theme. In other words, they’re all the same thing. We may understand that there are differences, sometimes vast ones, but at the end of the day, they’re not all that important to us.

    Many non-Catholics don’t accept the idea that Catholics are as Christian as they are. To an atheist, that’s just silly.

  • Origami_Isopod

    Since Ms. Cowardly Nicety-Nicety Xtian deleted my comment at her blog, I’ll repost it here:

    So it’s all atheists’ fault that xtians are bigots.

    Fuck. I hate smarmy, whiny liberal xtians like you as much as I hate the fundies. At least THEY don’t pretend to be “allies.”

  • It’s too obvious that tying a new belief to a worldview change presents more of an obstacle than *not* tying a new belief to a worldview change.

    Research would only be appropriate if it, surprisingly, disagreed with such common sense.

  • ortcutt

     “Luke seems to be the closest we have to a researcher among the authors
    of the New Testament, and that’s the conclusion his research led him to.”  Are you kidding with this stuff?  How would Luke “research” this anyway?  Do you think he interviewed the elderly Mary somewhere?  Would she necessarily tell the truth anyway?  You really need to ask yourself why you want to believe this and how that is clouding your ability to think about evidence clearly.

  • treedweller

    I don’t know if you’ll like this any better, but here are the relevant parts n a Facebook note: http://tinyurl.com/79beudq

    It is simply too long to post it all here, and I can’t find another way to link to the G+ post. I made it public, so I believe you can see it if you are not on FB.

  • Gus Snarp

    You know, a good number of the negative comments here exist because the piece above amounts to an accusation: atheists tell us we’re not Christians if we support gay rights, so atheists are to blame for Christians failing to support gay rights. It’s natural that people would become a little defensive about that. I’m sure some people would have nasty things to say no matter what, that’s the nature of the internet, but I have a serious problem with this piece having been written to blame atheists.

    What I wonder is, how accurate is the accusation. Aside from the defensive comments in response to this accusation, can you point to prior instances of atheists saying Christians who support gay rights aren’t really Christians? In significant number? Or from prominent atheist blogger? Let alone both?

    Do you actually have friends who identify as atheists who’ve said this sort of thing? Personally to a Christian supporter of gay rights?

    That would at least establish the premise. But what of the conclusion? That Christians are afraid to come out in support of gay rights because of what atheists might say.

    How many Christians care? How many Christians even know they have atheist friends, let alone talk religion with them? How many Christians are busy reading atheist blogs hoping for reinforcement for their views? How much of the responsibility do atheists bear when Christian bloggers, preachers, officials, and ordinary Christians are doing far more to stigmatize their fellow Christians who support gay rights?

    I find the premise unlikely, and the conclusion laughable.

  • treedweller

    Here is an even more abbreviated version, cutting straight to the quotes you requested:
    It is not, by its application a ‘religious’ perspective.
    HIM2: That description fits a spiritual person, as an agnostic.
    It is not, by its application, a ‘religious’ perspective.

    ME: who made you the arbiter of what is religious, +Rich LaDuca? I know devout Christians who do not want creationism in science texts. They understand and do not dispute evolution. They believe a god existed and has always existed and was the cause of the big bang and all that followed. How is that not religious? And doesn’t what happened before the BB fall outside the purview of scientists, at least as far as we know right now? No evidence, and all that.
    HIM2:Aside from my education, my experience and my exposure to this subject… (If you need me to elucidate on such , let me know.)
    There is always specific definitions for these terms that you can easily reference for yourself to see if indeed it is I who act as arbiter of what is religious or I am drawing on well documented facts as they relate to said vernacular.

  • “Do we really need to go around convincing fundamentalist Jews that it’s not a sin for me to plug in my TV on a saturday? No.”

     If you were living in certain parts of Israel, you would. No joke.

    “We just need them to understand that they have no right to force that ridiculous belief on anyone else.”

    I agree with almost all of your points. My only contention is that it seems to me that the easier path is to teach:

    “The Bible is not a universal moral authority” ==> “The Bible’s teaching that you should impose your beliefs on others is baseless.” ==> “You don’t have a right to force your beliefs on others.”  ==> “Don’t vote against LGBT folks.”

    Than it is to teach:

    “You don’t have a right to force your beliefs on others.”  ==> “Don’t vote against LGBT folks.”

    The former argument addresses the core belief that is influencing their actions. The latter argument does not.

    I do not believe one would get very far with the latter argument, for those people who believe that they are morally obligated to force their beliefs on others.

    I could easily be wrong, but the way I’ve seen it happen usually is that people give up religion (and hence their dogmatic beliefs) gradually, in stages, starting with the cracks in the foundation (perhaps nudged to start looking at the foundations when something in reality clashes with their outer dogma; for example, learning that a good friend is gay can cause cognitive dissonance, forcing them to examine why their dogma is anti-gay in the first place). Once they start to explore those cracks in the foundation, the whole dilapidated house eventually starts to crumble.

  • treedweller

    “The first group gives cover to the second.”

    Even if they publicly denounce the second, vote against it, and live their lives in such a way as to repudiate it? By that standard, we re all equally guilty of every bad thing ever done by anyone.

  • Ms. Wright, that was refreshing in its clarity and ethical strength (ethics are for atheists what “moral values” are for Christians). I thank you, as a queer person, for your support. You have mine, in the sense that I am always respectful with people I believe embrace the positive and only positive elements of Christianity; it seems you are. I also defend you guys in some of these atheist hellholes when my fellow ungodly say you don’t exist. 😉

    However, I am also a scholar of religion and I have heard this argument in many forms, and it fails at a fundamental level in terms of logic, example and history. The short version is that very few people who can’t “come out” as you put it, right now, in favor of gay rights and equality in general, never will. I have no interest nor do I think it a useful application of time and effort to coddle them because their faith is not strong enough to realize what you have: if religion is any good at all, it is because “love is the highest” commandment. Any person who can’t say all beings are equally deserving of love, freedom and opportunity has, in my opinion, a problem. 

    I also think that you should more closely examine the tenants of your faith. Ask yourself honestly about its history, about how different beliefs and creeds have risen and fallen, no pun intended. Your faith is an ancient one, and the farther back you go, the more you realize that what defines “a Christian” has changed and warped and been destroyed and reinvented so many times that it’s ridiculous to say that any one of them is “right.” So if an atheist wants to say “she’s not really a Christian because she believes _____,” be that believer pro or anti gay rights, that atheist has just as much reason, history and logic as any believer to say so. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Intellectual Christians such as yourself often stumble with this point. But there is no one always-valid definition of “Christian.” There never has been.

    Finally, as both an atheist and as a person who has a great deal of archaeology and scholarship behind this opinion, let me say that I cannot believe that an historical “Jesus Christ” ever existed. I am happy to share with you my own opinions on the origins of the Christian faith at another time. I say this to you not to denigrate your faith and belief nor to insult you. Instead, I hope to open your mind, as I suspect it already is, to the notion that Christianity is a constantly evolving *idea* in the minds of humanity, and you are your “own god,” if I may blaspheme. I admire you for what you are doing, because it is people like you that bring glory to your faith, so much more than a being who very few can honestly claim to have spoken with and been guided by, if any truly can. 

  •  Bingo^2.

  • treedweller

    I think you are confusing analogy with something else entirely. No, I do not think Finch taught love, not hate (not directly, anyway). I do think many Christians believe that’s what Christ was all about (and my admittedly cursory reading of the bible tends to support that). I also think it is a good standard to live one’s life by. And I think those Christians have just as much, if not more, right to the name Christianity than the right-wing selfish bastards that would tell you Christianity is something else. And I support them in their efforts to persuade more of the latter to believe the former.

  •  Liked. Though, to be fair, she did stand up and explain her point of view.

  • treedweller

    And so I have proved for you that at least one atheist said that once. I don’t know why you doubted me, honestly, or what that really adds to the discussion, but I don’t want to leave you hanging.

  •  What a bag of hypocrisy. Who are you calling a dick?

  •  “Personally, I’m finding the ‘so what if this Christian is making progress towards a less fundamentalist/more Humanist position? they’re still religious!’ complaint rather tiresome……..”

    Got a quote for that? I don’t see anyone arguing that.

  •  Not surprised she deleted hatemail.

  •  All good questions. You said it far better than I did.

  • treedweller

    Liberal Catholics might deserve the criticism above. Liberal Christians do not.

    Yes, I agree that all Christians look a lot alike from the outside (I’ve even posted that elsewhere in the past) but there are, nevertheless, distinct differences within their ranks. How about we criticize the misguided beliefs of individuals, rather than trying to decree that all Christians are, well, anything. It’s no different from when some Christians say, “atheists are ___.” Some atheists are ___, but we are all different.

  • “No, actually, you don’t. That would be assault,”

    No, it would be battery.  The assault is the threat, the battery is the contact.

  • It’s a bad summary of the idea.  There are a lot of better ways to express it.  It’s not exactly right, but it’s not exactly wrong, either.

  • “The same way Dawkins makes it harder for Christians to accept evolution.”

    That’s a load of nonsense.  You shouldn’t go blaming anyone else if you refuse to accept a fact because you want to maintain self-delusions that that fact makes more difficult to entertain.

    The fact that Dawkins isn’t into coddling people by suggesting that evolution is compatable with Christianity isn’t a problem of Dawkins’s, but of the person who wants to continue believing the Christian nonsense and is willing to disbelieve fact to do so. 

  • i would like to know how you’re so confident no money went to those nefarious purposes. the RCC is like any other corporation; the mixing of money happens because there is a hierarchy that demands  it. don’t kid yourself; there are no “clean” RCC donation feeds anymore.

  • and it turned out to a boy. And a vampire. And evil.

    well, you just answered your own question there. /scampers naughtily away

  •  “Research would only be appropriate if it, surprisingly, disagreed with such common sense.”

    This is putting the cart before the horse. How could you tell if it agreed or disagreed with common sense, if you didn’t research it?

    “It’s too obvious that tying a new belief to a worldview change
    presents more of an obstacle than *not* tying a new belief to a
    worldview change.”

    All other things being equal, sure. But how do you know all other things remain equal?

    Dawkins’ work surely does more than just assert that “evolution leads to atheism”. He also gives evidence for evolution, and explains how it works for a popular audience, not all of whom are aware that he personally believes that evolution leads to atheism.

    Also, he has produced *the* most widely distributed argument in book form against theism. Surely, you do not deny that this has had an effect on theists deconverting to atheism? (Hint: google “convert’s corner” at the richarddawkins.net site.) And surely you acknowledge that atheists are by far more likely to accept evolution than theists, right?

    It remains: Without supporting evidence, your hypothesis remains a mere hypothesis; there is no good reason to accept it over any other hypothesis.

  • that’s a good comeback, strongest i’ve seen in blog form in a long time. but it still fails. here’s why: change has, and does, and *will* happen. i’m big into super-ancient history. i’m telling you: humans do this over and over. the Big Idea comes along, and Everything changes. xtianity is one such example; it destroyed countless thousands of years of established theology almost overnight, historically speaking. an amazing human evolution of the mind. we’re in the midst of the same today. it feels slow to those of us already living in the New Age but to those in the majority it’s tough to give up so much history and tradition. but people die. and children are born free of since lost ancient and impractical “traditions” as a result. 

    shorter me: dino museums and WoW beat the buybull every time, as a video product. this alone kills much religion.  

  • I am a member of the GLBT community AND an atheist. My journey to atheism really began when I came out in 2008 and decided to closely examine to Bible to determine what it truly said about homosexuality. And when I finally looked, I started noticing the inconsistencies, not just with the “clobber” passages but with the whole thing. And it all fell apart. Before that I’d bought the cherry-picking that my fundamentalist church and community employed to oppress and demean homosexuals, but once I figured out that the whole anti-gay mentality that the church has is thoroughly steeped in homophobia and a visceral terror of losing power, the whole institution came crashing down for me. It’s a small step then from deciding that God didn’t write the Bible to deciding that God probably doesn’t even exist.

  •  Depends on where you live, doesn’t it? Where I live, ‘assault’ is partially defined by contact.

    See? Same word, different meanings. The sky is not falling. Life goes on.


  • the true crux of this question is: what is more important to a believer? the organization and its hierarchy, or belief/creed/interpretation on the part of the individual believer? 

    we call the latter “liberal Christians” and the former “fundies.” 

  • simply: if you reject parts, how do you know you’re ‘right’ to reject those and not others? that’s all we’re saying. 

  • Mdamon808

    Atheists making a “No True Christian” argument. It makes me sad that they broke down one set of mental walls only to fall prey to another set that they can’t even see…

  • quantheory

    1) “The Bible” is composed of multiple texts, and there are other early Christian writings that claim to be independent accounts (e.g. the apocrypha). It is entirely possible for someone to believe some parts of some texts without believing the whole of all of them. (For example, some people believe that the Gospels carry more weight than the writings of Paul.)

    2) Many (perhaps most) Christian sects believe that God has sent other messages (e.g. through prophets, saints, popes, whatever), or that all Christians can have personal experiences talking to God. Some even believe (however wrongheadedly) that science or rational philosophy can prove the existence of God. These would all be sources outside the Bible.

    3) I wasn’t defending the *rationality* of a Christian that doubts parts of the New Testament. I was simply pointing out that such people exist, and that it seems that they should still technically be considered Christians. If you want to talk specifically about Christians who are particularly orthodox, or traditional, or literalist, or view the Bible as infallible, maybe you should use those words, rather than depending on the generic term “Christian” to get your meaning across.

    4) I legitimately cannot understand what your second paragraph has to do with anything I said. I’m not suggesting that the word “Christian”, or any other label, is meaningless. I’m pointing out that the way you define the term seems to be different than the way I use it, and the way I think most people do as well! That was the point of my counterexample: I suspect that most people would consider someone who believes in the divinity of Jesus, but is not an infallibilist, to be a Christian, and that the main exceptions would be hardcore fundamentalists.

    If that’s too vague or unsubstantiated for you, why don’t you try finding (or doing) some research into the matter. Until then, there’s no reason for either of us to change our minds from whatever seems superficially more plausible.

  • Questioning basis for unfounded belief in magic book that supports discrimination is not the same thing as saying their support is not valid or welcome.

  • quantheory

    …and what about someone who doesn’t believe that homosexuality is a sin?

    (Yes, such people do exist who call themselves Christians, whether or not you’d grant that they are correct to do so.)

  • Frank Bellamy

    I agree with the general point that it is possible to be a christian and not believe that homosexuality is a sin and support gay marriage all at the time. And I agree that telling such christians that they are not christian will make it harder for them to support equality. But I strongly disagree with the argument Alise has used to support that position. Nowhere in here does she actually try to argue that it is true that one can be christian and supportive of gay rights at the same time. She does not say “this is the definition of what a christian is, these are the minimum things that one has to believe to be a christian, and look, none of them contradict the proposition that homosexuality is not a sin.” Her argument, if it can be called that, is that we non-christians don’t have a right to judge. She seems to think that we should never question a persons assertion that they are christian. And that is bullshit. There are too many people who claim to be christian and aren’t. 5% of americans who claim to be catholic do not believe in a god. They are not catholic. They are not even christian. And we nonchristians have just as much right and duty to point that out as christians do. Being christian is not a pre-requisite to knowing what the word christian means. All that takes is a brain and knowledge of the english language.

  • Ask and you shall receive!

    The entire argument from evolution rests on the most important form of this argument.  I would like a clip with better context, but here is an example of Dawkins making a statement to this effect that is actually being used as ammunition by one of the less reasonable types of Christian.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJM8EdYZpls 

    Now, strictly speaking, Dawkins does not claim that Christians who accept evolution are not Christians but rather that “evangelicals” (which here can only mean people who take Genesis 1 quite literally) have a clearer understanding of Christianity than Christians who accept modern science but claim that there is a god that made the rules and occasionally intervenes.  But the significance is the same: you get a nicely edited youtube video for fundamentalists to tout as evidence that Christians must literally accept Genesis or they are “deluded.”  Encouraging people to believe that they should disbelieve empirical evidence if they really believe in their religion is not likely to improve attitudes towards science.

  • Neil

    Timberwraith-  Wow.  I can only say that you have an extemely cynical and narrow view of atheists, as bad or worse than anything I see atheists here saying about “cherry picking” liberal christians.  Almost as bad as the many christians who assume that we’re all secret devil-worshippers or just waiting to do away with religious freedom.

    I guess people like me, and every other atheist I personally know, and most of the bloggers I read, just don’t exist.  I am an atheist, a very vocal secularist, and an anti-religious person who thinks that faith-based “thinking” is a bad thing that needs to be opposed in all its forms.  I’ve been this way for almost two decades.    

    However, I was a pro-equality-for-all liberal for almost a decade before I took on the “atheist” label.  But thank you for enlightening me as to my true agenda and beliefs. 

    Also, the existence of at least half the blogs at Freethought Blogs alone shows your statements to be not fully accurate.  While most of the bloggers are non-LGBT, they are some of the most vocal pro-LGBT activists I have ever seen.  In fact, there are several of them who go to the exact opposite extreme you do here, pretty much claiming that if you’re not fully sympathetic to every issue raised and claim made by other LGBT activists and all issues and claims related to feminism, then you just aren’t a “real skeptic” and thus not worthy of their time, attention, praise for anything (no matter how otherwise praiseworthy) or anything else but heaped scorn and contempt.

    All I see is that some single-issue-focused people are strangely willing to make enemies of everyone who doesn’t agree on every single point of their assumptions about society and individuals or their activist ororthodoxy.   That’s a shame, but you’re the one choosing to be an irrational hater.  As much symathy as I have for your situation,  I don’t owe that attitude any respect at all.  Of course, I (and all the other atheists I personally know) aren’t spiteful little children, so we’ll still be fighting and voting for equality, even if we don’t do it in the right way or for pure enough reasons to please you.  

  • treedweller

    Faith is not about knowing facts. It is about accepting . . . Oh, he’ll, I’m not the one to say what faith is, as I have none. But I do not think many liberal Christians would claim to know with certainty what god wants from them. Like all of us, they look at what’s out there, examine their choices, and make the one that seems most likely to help them be better people. Maybe they are wrong, maybe they are kidding themselves, and maybe there really is a god who will one day condemn them for what they chose, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t trying their best to be good Christians.

  • treedweller

    But I am not talking about Catholics. I am talking about Protestants who formed a distinct church with its own rules and beliefs, only some of which overlap with RCC. But, no, I am not absolutely certain they didn’t use any money for what I would consider despicable acts. I can only look at it as an outsider. What I see in some churches is people who would be just as appalled as anyone here to see their church pay off victims of sexual assault so their predators could remain free to continue abusing other congregants.

  • Alise! I was planning on writing a post just like this but hadn’t gotten around to it. Great minds, great minds. 

    But yeah, I get so fed up with the idea that secularism is the only way to fight injustice in the world. There are Muslim feminists who are gaining rights for women in the most patriarchal of countries, and there are LGBT affirming presbyterian groups that do more for LGBT rights than some secular groups (I did research on The More Light Presbyterians, who supported the inclusion of trans people in the 2007 version of ENDA while the HRC did not). 

    Also, let’s not forget that for decades, Western science was used to support homophobia as well. It’s not just religion that is sometimes a tool of oppressors. Secularism has also been hijacked in the past (and present) by oppressors to support bigotry. Both sides need to be vocal about defending the oppressed and opposing the oppressors that use their world view for evil. 

  • Exactly! Christians have been behind abolition, the civil rights movement, and first wave feminism. There are plenty of bigots trying to use religion to cover up their hate, but there are also plenty of us Christians who see through that bullshit and use our religion as a tool for good!

  • Kodie

    How have LGBT issues/rights been harmed by atheists?

    As long as you’re asking, how have Christian (or any religions’) rights been harmed by LGBT equality? I agree with what you’ve said, I am not using these issues myself to destroy religion. In a perfect world, I think people could believe what they wanted and have nothing to do with me. If Alise is a Christian who isn’t a bigot, I mean, good? Like many other people, I don’t see what’s so great about defining oneself as Christian, the cherry-picking, whatever. Seems to me believing what you want means finding something, or even forcing something, to agree with what you already think. That means if you hate gay people, you can find a belief to justify it and let you off the hook for being mean. If you have to figure out a way to manipulate what you believe to support not hating gay people, you are inventing a religion. God agrees with me, no matter what I think, right? I put the words in his mouth, I tell him what to tell me is the right thing to do, whether that’s hating or not hating. I don’t have to take responsibility for inventing those thoughts… this is the problem I have with cherry-picking.

    To admit that the book might have gotten some or a lot wrong and say, well I still think Jesus died for my sins and was resurrected and I’m going to meet him someday? That’s magical, really unbelievable. So god didn’t write the book or he didn’t mean some of it that way – did any of it really happen? He’s really not a bad guy, see, I’m still a “true” Christian since I freely ignore god’s heinous cry-baby petulant violent ridiculous ways in order to presume that he loves me and has a special plan for my life! Atheists, stop making it so hard to delude myself!

    Anyway, it would be ok with me if religious people even had the freedom to believe whatever contortions they want as long as it doesn’t affect other people. I was going to say LGBT rights do not affect religious freedom at all, so I don’t know what the fight is about, but “true” Christians are losing people like Alise, and people like their children. Unless they can make hate a law, people will continue to come around, yes, from having been exposed to gay people, meeting them, making friends with them, and accepting that they aren’t perverts like they’d heard, and showing their acceptance by supporting causes, equal rights, and voting for these changes to occur. Maybe bit by bit and not all at once. At the very least, I wish gay people could get married anywhere they wanted, live as married couples anywhere they wanted, Christians could just admit this doesn’t affect them. Alise goes a little further, but I don’t know why she’s addressing this with us. Unless she’s evangelizing her faith to us, or telling us we should be supportive of LGBT rights as she is, what does her difficulty in doing so have to do with atheists? Between nice people and mean people, I like nice people better, so why if one calls oneself a Christian, bring this message to other Christian people and try to justify what you tell the god to tell you is ok to think – I know, backlash, but well. I know, being a Christian is too hard, and you get a clap-clap-clap for persisting. Why do moderate/liberal/progressive Christians argue with atheists about their own shit?

  • Malignant Narcisissm

    Newsflash, nobody likes assholes! Alert the press!

  • Patrick

    TLDR: If you make people like me choose between our faith and being a decent person, we’re worried some of us might pick our faith.  Please don’t make us choose.

    …and that’s the problem.  That’s why your faith is the problem.  That’s why pointing out that your faith is incoherent is worthwhile.  Its making you worse people than you’d otherwise be, in the most direct and literal sense.  Our message isn’t that you must choose between your faith and your moral beliefs, its that you CAN’T choose your faith… because your faith is wrong.  So just stick with the moral beliefs, because the alternative is an intellectually vapid shell.

  • Jim

    The funny thing about the “firebreathing monsters” statement is that people actually still believe in firebreathing monsters…

  • Baby_Raptor

    No, not really. Christians call for the death or forceful removal of anyone who disagrees with them all the time. Just like the KKK did with blacks. 

  • VorJack

    For much of the past few decades it has been the all too real 

    ?  Try the past few centuries.  It’s only in the past 50 years or so that there has been enough opposition that the conservatives are “pushing” rather than “succeeding.”

    If your so far fictitious reasoned Christians ever come to power

    Ha!  Oh, they’ve come to power all right – they’ve taken over the theology departments of many a large university.  Political power is something that always seems to allude them.

  • icecreamassassin

    And the common thread amongst the religious and non-religious people supporting those laudable goals are the shared understanding of the human condition, the desire to alleviate suffering, and the sense of duty to make the world a better place.  The common thread amongst the religious and non-religious people supporting evils, the back-peddling of human rights, and generally despicable behavior is some kind of myopic irrational sense of entitlement that is built upon greed and a lack of empathy.

    Christians have been behind abolition.  Christians have been behind slavery.  Christians have been behind civil rights.  Christians have been behind denying people basic humanity.

    Atheists have been behind abolition.  Atheists have been behind slavery.  Atheists have been behind civil rights.  Atheists have been behind denying people basic humanity.

    My problem with your statement is with the phrase ‘religion as a tool for good’.  Basic human desire to be moral was all that was needed.  I fail to see what religion has to do with it.

  • dawkinstatistic

    6 months ago I was on the fence wanting to keep my faith, I am now an agnostic atheist because of “The God Delusion” and Richard Dawkin’s ideas. 

    You have no real basis for your argument. I have 100% accepted evolution. He made the choice easy.

  • Neil

    I see a lot of this attitude on various atheist blogs, especially on pharyngula.  There is validity in expecting people to accept responsibility for the practical outcomes of their actions/inaction, and beliefs.  However I find that those who espouse this attitude completely and dogmatically are showing a blind spot of privilege themselves.   I was raised in a time and place where my unpopular opinions could only get me in very little trouble in any sense.  It has never cost me much to be pro-equality for everyone, or to be a liberal, or to be an atheist, and what is has cost was a bargain to me, since I have never needed much social support or approval from others anyway.  But my(or any one person’s) experience isn’t the whole story.

    We should keep in mind that oppressive and bigoted attitudes are a product of a whole society, and that many individuals come from a background that is steeped in ugliness and nonsense, closed off from new ideas, and nowhere near as open-minded or tolerant as other societies might be.  For some people, it is extemely expensive to have unpopular attitudes or beliefs.   It can cost people jobs, money, happiness, family harmony, friends, necessary social support…it is unfortunate that bigotry in many forms has such deep ties in human society, but it does whether we like it or not. 

    I get really tired of this attitude on some blogs.  It gets to the point where a formerly religious, self-righteous, and extremely bigoted, blinkered person may have overcome huge personal hurdles, changed who they are and the way they think, lost friends, had life-changing decisions to make, or even had to rethink or even give up their entire former life…and all too often, the first thing that atheists and “skeptics” have to say is “Oh goody for you, you’re not a facist bigot anymore, what do you want, a f#cking cookie?” (direct quote from multiple pharyngulites directed at multiple people struggling with equality or bigotry issues)  This attitude seems to come mostly from people who have never really sacrificed much or been heavily penalized by society for their causes and beliefs.

    I think that my personal battle for independent thought was hard won, and took a lot of time and energy on my part.  It was well worth it and I am proud of what I accomplished…but because of my beginning circumstances, I never had to give up everything I held dear to make this change for myself.  It couldn’t hurt to have a bit more sympathy for those who don’t have it so easy. 

    So, how much have you had to give up for your beliefs?  Ironically, there is a valid lesson from the new testament story here…doing what is right can be the hardest thing to do, and many never even try.  The level of sacrifice sure doesn’t make a belief right or wrong, but it can surely keep a belief from being popular or easy, even when it’s right.      

  • Critic

    Frankly, LGBT rights are going to be realized at precisely the speed at which the older generations die off, which makes this whole diplomacy vs polemics debate irrelevant.  

    As Christianity did with the issues you listed, modern Christianity is now attempting to appropriate a social cause fighting Christian bigotry in order to promote itself.  Do we accept progressive Christianity’s incredibly small and incredibly late compromises to secular ethics as a mandate for their continued promotion of OTHER social evils?  I don’t.

    The Bible is a fundamentally evil book, and it’s evil about a lot more than the topic of homosexuality.  Let’s not kid ourselves about where the source of these problems comes from.

  • Critic

    It’s progress of a kind as Hitchens would say.

    People don’t change their entire ideology at all if society makes ideological compromises tenable.  

  • Except scientific data interpreted by biased humans that deems women, LGBT people, black people, etc. less evolved. 

  • A good story that seems relevant to this discussion can be found here. It seems this evangelical Christian community put their money where their mouth is. It also seems some commenters here would rather things like this not happen so they can continue in their doctrinaire rejection of all things that go by the name Christian.

  • Chris Ho-Stuart


    Just quietly, the habit of looking critically at the bible does frequently end up eroding Christian faith altogether, though not always.

    Be that as it may, it is an intellectually consistent position to recognize that the bible is not an inerrant word direct from God, but rather is the writings of a people on their dealings with God. In this, it is a sharp contrast with (for example) the Qu’ran; which is explicitly identified as a direct word from God transcribed by Mohammed. The bible does not speak of itself in such terms; indeed it frequently identifies its human authors without any attempt to imply they were dictating God’s words; they were basically writing books about God.

  • Neil

    I don’t see where anybody, even those attacking Alise’s religious beliefs, has said that “secularism” is the ONLY way to fight a social injustice.  Many of us think it is the best way, not fraught with internal contradictions and religious baggage.  We all know that more liberal members of religion have done a lot of good within the religious population.  Some atheists choose to use the fundamentalist definition of christianity to point out the absurdity of liberal belief when it contradicts supposed articles of faith.  Two different things.

    Also, while some aspects of science have been abused to enforce a cultural bigotry, what does that have to do with “secularism” or “hijacking secularism”?  Most liberal chrisitans are as “secular” as most atheists…we do not believe that society should be ruled by any one religious belief or religion in general. 

    Unless you are referring to something specific that I’m missing, I think you need to check your understanding of what “secularism” entails.      

  • Adam Casto

    Wow… reading through many of the comments the phrase “give an inch, take a mile” comes to mind. It seems as though many merely use arguments on progressive points to play a game of gotcha with people’s faith.  How are we ever to expect to engage others on specific issues if it only serves the ultimate goal of gaining a position to undermine their other beliefs? This “all or nothing” mindset makes no sense. 

  • Neil

    I see no benefit in this type of squabbling.  When it comes to people’s beliefs about unanswerable musings, how accurate can any one understanding be?  Why is it important to you to tell other people what they believe, or what category of believer they are, especially when most people never even get so far as defining their own beliefs?

    What are the criteria?  What matters most?  Public professions of faith?  Internal belief?  Visible actions?  Some churches lay out a specific “belief plan”, some don’t.  They all change over time, usually because of the actions of people who weren’t happy with the previous definitions, but never left the group.

    I think I get what people think they are doing…trying to expose the absurdity of belief by showing how little any reasonable person can truly follow the beliefs that their religion has been based on…but I know a lot of christians, who apparently get something they consider worthwhile from their beliefs, yet who are not fundamentalists.  Almost every chrisitian I know is some form of modern, liberal christian…their beliefs, and their organized religions, change over time.  Unless you are part of a church with a specific, unchanging dogma of belief (that is also actually honored in practice), who is anyone to tell you you are or aren’t a christian, except yourself, or the particular group to which you try to belong?

    I was once a christian who didn’t believe in virgin births, predestination, prophets, miracles, biblical infallibility, church authority, or hell.  I did believe in universal salvation, jesus as a representation of the eternal, and the spiritual evolution of humankind .  I was on the fence about heaven and a personall god, but I still prayed and meditated with jesus in mind.  Was I a christian? I sure thought I was, and nobody else complained either.  Jesus never issued a ruling.   

    Some groups say you have to believe in the virgin birth, some don’t.  Some say you have to believe in physical ressurection, some don’t.  Some say that prophets are still active today, some don’t.  I would venture to say that MOST christians do not believe everything their church or pastor says they are supposed to.  Give it long enough, and the pastors will be the ones who change their tunes.  A religion is what it is made by those who claim it, and with such an open-ended scheme as christianity, there will always be continuous dissent.

    If we’re going to play the game of telling other people what they are, we should at least play it fairly.  You would need to know what the other person thinks they need to believe to be a christian, and then ask honest questions, and then have enough patience to get to the honest answers.  Even so, all you will be able to do is scratch various denominations and philosophies off of a list.  And if you ever get to the bottom of that list, there will still be people who believe in SOMETHING, vaguely jesus or bible based, that is close enough for them to claim the title christian, or “follower of christ” or whatever the hell they call themselves these days.  

    I’m not saying don’t have the discussion…just make sure it’s a discussion, and not you making declarations about the contents of another person’s mind.  You may find that the beliefs are so ill-defined that classification is pointless or impossible, but the discussion can still be enlightening.    



  • VorJack

    Further, if you cherry pick your own holy book, you are admitting that it is faulty. 

    Why?  Is a hammer “faulty” because it can’t turn a screw?  Is a screwdriver “faulty” because it’s not a wrench?

    Before you define something as faulty, you need to be clear as to the function.  The idea that the Bible is Life’s Little Instruction Book, or that it’s the source of all morality, are both modern ideas that have never been shared by all self identified Christians.

    Seriously, if the medieval Christian church had believed that all the answers were in the Bible, they never would have employed so many philosophers or relied so heavily on Aristotle.

  • Neil

    I can understand your feelings, but don’t go telling lies.  It’s not appreciated.  I’ve read all the comments on this post, and didn’t see ONE SINGLE PERSON claiming that it would be better if all christians were obnoxious fundamentalists, or that good acts were not welcome from christians.  Some have chosen to use this opportunity to try and explain the absurdity of all religious belief to a person who is clearly having issues with the larger christian society.  Those are not the same things.

    You may not appreciate the arguments, or think the timing is appropriate,  but dishonest accusations of “doctrinaire rejection” (aka”atheist dogma”) will not get you very far with this crowd.  While some here will always take an opportunity to criticize lazy thinking or unfounded belief, I haven’t seen anyone complain about the fruits of liberal christians doing what they feel they can.  Some complain that it isn’t enough…but you can’t please everybody all the time.       

  • Thegoodman

     Are you trolling? We are not discussing sects or the voices of individual corners of the Christian tapestry. Everyone has responded to your inquiries with the same thing, THE BIBLE defines Christianity. Just because many Christians lack the conviction to accept it in its totality does not make them “better”, it just makes them spineless.

    In my opinion, anyone who puts money in a collection plate actively supports everything the Christianity does, good and bad. Personally, I think the bad parts far outweigh the good.

  • Neil, no lies here, as I only stated what it “seemed like” to me after scrolling through the comments section. An argument repeatedly made goes something like this:

    (a) True Christianity is fundamentalist Christianity (i.e., taking everything in the Bible literally, not using any kind of nuanced hermeneutic, etc.)
    (b) Support for LGBT rights is incompatible with fundamentalist Christianity. 
    (c) Therefore, support for LGBT rights is incompatible with true Christianity (from a and b). 

    Then it is argued based on the above argument (or something like it) that one must choose between being a true Christian and supporting LGBT rights. Thus, when a story like the one I linked to describes ostensibly true Christians (and rather conservative ones at that ) actually supporting LGBT rights, it serves as a counterpoint to the above argument. But, since a number of commenters want the above argument to be true, they *seem* to not want such counterpoints to exist. That’s all I meant in my original comment. My apologies if my rhetoric (“doctrinaire rejection”) overshadowed my basic point. 

    Further, since there is a rather large community of LGBT Christians out there, claiming that true Christianity and support for LGBT rights are incompatible ironically only further marginalizes and discriminates against the very folks those making this argument are trying to defend.

  • JustAnotherAtheist

    It doesn’t matter how accurate the accusations are. If she is receiving the same judgement/questions from both Christians and atheists, and is prepared for one group to do so but condemns the other for doing it, then something is wrong.  

    The rest of your post is exactly what I think of the article, although I do hope that she continues to write and support gay rights loudly.

  • JustAnotherAtheist

    Thank you.  

    To clarify what  I meant: she said she studied the Bible, so I would like an explanation of how she has decided that her studies are more important than the official stance of the Church she continues to support, despite the bigotry that she herself condemns. This explanation would serve to answer both the Christians’ and atheists’ questions. However, I understand that this is not the focus of the article, and think it is very good that she supports gay rights, but I find it hard to congratulate someone for being a decent human being. 

  • “I get so fed up with the idea that secularism is the only way to fight injustice in the world.”

    It’s pretty much the only way to fight this injustice, which isn’t about LGBT right specifically, it’s about religious people trying to force other folks that don’t share their beliefs to conform to their religious rules.

    I really don’t care if a Christian doesn’t like gay sex, or abortions, or mixed fibres, or whatever, any more than I care about Jews not liking bacon or Muslims not liking beer. Where I care is when you try to stop me having those things because you don’t like them. I think you can live your life however you want, but you should keep your nose out of mine, and that, in a nutshell, is secularism.

  • Baby_Raptor

    He has a point. She’s whining about someone calling people who espouse her views out to make good on it like it’s some actual form of harm or persecution. 

    Meanwhile, she enjoys massive privilege simply by being a Christian in America.  And the people she’s advocating for are repeatedly denied rights and threatened with death. By people from her religion.

    She’s not suffering. And the fact that she’s acting like she is is a bit of an insult. 

    Edit: I’m not saying I support his attitude. I’m just saying that the point he made is true.

  • MuleBreath

    I think that is exactly my point. With religion or any form of superstition there is no single point of agreement, so there can be no single focus with which to remain “true.” This is the reason that the very word “believe” should be struck from out lexicon. Either something is factual or it isn’t, or it is hypothetical and we are testing it. We accept nothing on faith.

  • Ibis3

    Now you’re deliberately misreading, since it was pointed out that your interpretation was incorrect. It’s like a creationist claiming that we’re saying that there are no scientists who believe in God. Sure there are, but they are compartmentalising their religious belief and not applying the same standards of evidence and scepticism to that belief as they would to any other claim about reality.

    No one is saying that people who self-identify as Christians can’t hold progressive views about LGBT rights. That would be stupid. There are whole denominations that endorse gay marriage.* Just like there are some that allow women to be ministers despite their Big Book of Misogyny commanding that women be forbidden from teaching in church. But those Christians are using gymnastics to distance themselves from one specific turd while wallowing in a sewer.

    Please do disavow bigotry against gay people (or slavery or forcing women to give birth or a belief in eternal torture or any of the other vile doctrines of the religion), but don’t stop there. Once you’ve thrown all the immoral teachings over the side, move on to discard all the nonsense. What you’ll be left with isn’t what is usually meant by the term “Christianity” anymore.**

    * The Metropolitan Church in Toronto was the site of the first legal same-sex marriages in Canada back in 2001.

    **As an historian, for practical purposes, I tend to go with the Nicene creed as a basic definition. If a person doesn’t accept those basics, I wouldn’t use the word Christian (at least not without a qualifier–e.g. Arian, docetist, unitarian, gnostic) for them, no matter what term they’re using for themselves. Go too far beyond that standard definition and the word loses all meaning.

    Oh, and just for those playing at home, that’s not a No True Scotsman fallacy. If someone is born on a remote Polynesian island, has never lived nor even visited Scotland, and has no Scottish ancestry, and has never heard nor spoken a word of Scots or Gaelic, and has neither met nor married a Scottish person, then they really are no Scotsman, even if they like to wear a kilt on special occasions.

  • Ken

    I can agree that carping on the degree of Christianity among Christians is a questionable tactic and somewhat counterproductive.  Essentially, who cares as long the religious argument is not raised.  I frankly do not care about the beliefs of Doctors Without Borders, I just think they are doing good work.  Is it dishonest for Christians to pick which parts of the Bible are inerrant and which are baloney?  Yes, but that’s their issue, as long as they don’t impose their beliefs on others.  Then they become fair game in a debate, but even that is a lost cause when their entire argument rests on a single dubious book without any corroboration.  Is this really a fight we want to engage in?  As much as possible, might it not be better to avoid confrontation, forcing Christians to concentrate on ripping each other apart — they do it so well.  Just imagine, if Romney wins, the problems that will ensue with the Evangelicals when a Mormon starts leading prayers at official functions.

  •  It seems, Ibis3, that your comment simply reinforces my point. You claim that unless one is (a) misogynistic, (b)  bigotrous against gays, (c) believing in slavery, and (d) believing in eternal conscious torment in hell, then they aren’t a true Christian (i.e., what they are “left with isn’t what is usually meant by the term ‘Christianity’ anymore”). This is the most uncharitable understanding of Christianity possible. Sure, there are fundamentalists who hold to (a) – (d)–though not even all fundamentalists do–but Christianity should not be defined by its fringe elements any more than any other belief system should.

    In other words, in response to my argument, you are arguing that:

    (a) Fundamentalist Christianity = true Christianity;
    (b) Fundamentalist Christianity is incompatible with gay rights (and other moral viewpoints); therefore,
    (c) True Christianity is incompatible with gay rights, etc.

    You even go on to inform me that if I believe in women’s rights, gay rights, abolition, etc., that I should leave Christianity behind–the exact argument I just described in my previous post.

    Moreover, none of (a) – (d) are contained in the Nicene Creed, so it is a bit confusing how you can use the Creed as your basic definition of Christianity and yet think that it entails (a) – (d). As a theologian, it is difficult to overestimate the apparent lack of understanding (or is it willful misrepresentation?) of the historic Christian faith displayed in your comments.

    In short, it seems my comment was a quite fair (if not somewhat generous) interpretation of the kind of arguments being made here. But I trust you’ll excuse me if I don’t continue a conversation with persons who choose to describe others’ belief systems via scatological language.

  • treedweller

    I think we are all trolling to some degree, but I think the real issue is we are just circling each other and never addressing the same point. You say the bible defines Christianity. That’s a fair and reasonable point. You say people cannot be Christians unless they accept some unspecified percentage of the tenets of the book. I say people find inspiration in the bible, even when they recognize the difficulty of applying it to our society centuries after it was written.

    I say there are good, intelligent people who take comfort in their faith and call it Christianity. You (speaking more broadly to the “other side” here) say if they are really intelligent they will reject Christianity and adopt what is, probably, quite scary and disturbing to them.

    I say a Christian who supports LBGT rights, who spends more church funds on helping disadvantaged people than he spends on his own sanctuary, who practices his faith on his own time and respects the public space, etc., these are the Christians who should be our allies.

    Some of you say there is no such Christian, and the choice is to be a fundy or join us.

    So I keep coming back, because I have asked them to support some of these other causes, and they have. I feel it is only fair I should support them when they are being pushed aside, patronized, minimized, and libelized.

  • Pseudonym

    By the same measure, anything that Pat Robertson says on his TV show is just a comment, too.

    I don’t know where to draw the line, but I would say you’re over it when it gets personal. Telling someone who was born in Scotland that they’re not a True Scotsman (or woman, in Alise’s case) is personal in a way that merely saying her argument is bogus is not.

    Saying that a progressive Christian is not a Christian is pretty much the same as saying that homosexuality is a choice, or that atheists don’t exist. You’re denying someone’s very identity, and it doesn’t get much more personal than that.

  • Pseudonym

    The fallacy here is that words have single, well-understood, mathematically-precise meanings. In reality, only a handful of technical words have that property.

    Every linguist has known this since Wittgenstein first explicitly pointed it out, and most sort-of knew it before that. Every computational linguist has rediscovered it the hard way.

    Before you smack anyone with the dictionary, it might be worth reading the preface to discover who compiled it, and what methodology they used. Dictionaries do not dictate what a word means or denotes, and how to use that word. If you want that, you want a style guide, not a dictionary. The purpose of a dictionary is to report how words are actually used in the wild.

  • Pseudonym

    In communicating with others in good faith (I presume you don’t mean the
    same ‘faith’ that Paul means when he talks about ‘faith’ in his
    epistles) […]

    Actually, that is the same “faith”. The word that Paul used which is translated “faith” (pisteo in Greek) means “trust” or “loyalty”. No more, no less.

    At some point in the last few decades, it’s come to also mean “belief held in the absence of evidence”, which makes reading theologians from previous eras, including Paul of Tarsus, more than a little confusing for the modern reader. Sam Harris did the world no favours by adopting the confusing definition.

  • Pseudonym

    “Faulty” in the sense that it makes for an inconvenient straw man, I suspect.

  • Pseudonym

    In the sense that you mean it, religion has nothing to do with it. I agree with that.

    If I’m reading Alise correctly, that’s also part of her point. Telling people who support LGBT people and LGBT rights that they’re not really Christian is precisely the kind of making-a-big-deal-of-religion that you object to. Isn’t it?

  • Akita Mix

    The “you’re not a true christian … blah blah” is a fallacy that should be avoided. IMO majority of atheists rarely use this fallacy.

  • Pseudonym

    I didn’t spend any time looking for quotes, but this is the one I’m always reminded of:

    I find very few Christians actually live the New Testament morality,
    they cherry pick.  Unkind people would call that “hypocrisy.”  At the
    other end of the scale, however, are those who take their religion
    extremely seriously, the extremists, we call it them.  The point about
    the extremists is that they are the most honest of the people who have a
    religious view because they commit themselves to what their tradition
    tells them, and they stay closest to the texts.  Now, if that’s real
    religion, that’s honest religion, the world is very much better off
    without it.  And if the world is much better off without the true and
    the honest form of religion, why not put the hypocrites in with them,

    — A.C. Grayling

    He didn’t say “not really Christian”, but he did say that fundamentalists are more honest and unkind people would label moderate-to-liberals as “hypocrites”. That’s pretty close.

    And, of course, from last week on this very blog:

    Maybe you call yourself a cultural Catholic, or a non-practicing
    Catholic, or a bad Catholic, or just a run-of-the-mill Christian, but you’re not a True Catholic if you deny one of the basic Sacraments.

    — Hemant Mehta

  • Pseudonym

    Cherry-picking the evidence. If you define “Christianity” to mean “fundamentalism” and anything else to be “hypocrisy” (as A.C. Grayling does), then that is cherry-picking.

    Richard Dawkins’ remark that “decent, understated religion is numerically negligible” (preface to the paperback version of TGD), that is cherry-picking. Arguing that science proves that religion is an evolutionary byproduct rather than an evolutionary adaption is cherry-picking.

    Christopher Hitchens was one of the most accomplished cherry-pickers of all, writing that “religion poisons everything”, while sending his daughter to a Quaker school (claiming that it’s “not really religion”).

    I’m not accusing you of any of this, of course, but there’s plenty of it out there.

  •  “Now, strictly speaking, Dawkins does not claim that Christians who
    accept evolution are not Christians but rather that “evangelicals”
    (which here can only mean people who take Genesis 1 quite literally)
    have a clearer understanding of Christianity than Christians who accept
    modern science but claim that there is a god that made the rules and
    occasionally intervenes.”

    So, what you’re telling me — what you are admitting, if I may call a spade a spade — is that this is not actually the evidence I asked for, of “major public atheists … making … the argument that only biblical literalists are Christians”?

    In other words, someone who sees this as such an argument would actually be misinterpreting Dawkins, right?

    Which is what I (later in this thread, but earlier in time) predicted would likely be the case, correct?

  •  Except that Paul doesn’t just mean ‘trust’ or ‘loyalty’. Paul writes: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    See? Same word. Not the same meaning.

    Sorry folks. You may not like it, but people redefine words all the time. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it happens, and we just have to deal with it.

  • Pseudonym

     Here’s another one, while I think of it:

    Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who
    stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who
    see suffering as an intractable “mystery”, or who “see God” in the
    help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti, or (most
    nauseating of all) who claim to see God “suffering on the cross” in the
    ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the
    centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson
    who is the true Christian here.

    — Richard Dawkins

  • Pseudonym

    No need to apologise, but I appreciate the thought.

    That quote, by the way, is not from an authentic letter of Paul, and it’s commonly misunderstood based on a quirk of translation, so I stand by my statement that Paul’s usage and yours is the same.

    The word here translated “substance” is hypostasis which is a Greek philosophical jargon term. Similarly, the word translated “evidence” is elenchos, which is the word for philosophical dialectic, well known from the Socratic method. “Substance” and “evidence” don’t quite capture the intended meaning.

    But I don’t really want to get drawn into a theological debate here.

  •  “That’s pretty close.”

    But not *actually* the same, as I requested evidence for. In fact, he begins the paragraph by speaking of them as “Christians”. His point is not about their identity, but about their hypocrisy. Very different arguments, in fact.

    As for the Hemant quote:

    1) Needs more context (such as a link). Is Hemant voicing his own opinion that they are not ‘True Catholics’, or is he voicing the official dogma of the Roman Catholic church.

    2) This is not an example of saying that people are not actually *Christian*. It’s talking about the official definition/dogma of an institution, the RCC. Like, for instance, you’re not actually a True Mason(tm) if you don’t know the basic handshake (or whatever). Or you’re not actually a Scientologist if you don’t practice e-meter auditing (or whatever their official threshold is for membership).

    It is not talking about a self-chosen identity (note that he says you may call yourself various kinds of Catholic), but of an official, institutional  membership group identity. It’s not up to the individual to define whether they are officially recognized as a Roman Catholic. It’s up to the RCC.

    So. Once again. Mis-remembering. Misinterpretation. Again. As I predicted.

  • Marc Gravell

    I’ve **never ever** seen atheists (of any ilk) trying to tell Christians they aren’t “real Christians” unless they follow a particular pattern. If anything, atheists are **acutely aware** (perhaps more so than many in a particular field?) that Christianity is a huge spectrum, and that many Christians support homosexual marriage. Also, it is a “no true Scotsman” argument ;p

    So agree: people shouldn’t do that, but I have never seen it done either. I *have*, however, seen many Christians (particularly on the right) say things along the line of “The Christian view on this is…” or “The Bible’s view on this is…”. So *from what I see*, the situation is reversed: it is usually Christians making statements about what other Christians believe.

  • You were right about the usage of the word ‘religion’ in that thread. HIM2 was full of it, IMO. His claim to ‘well documented facts’ and ‘vernacular’ was simply false.

    I reacted to your comment (above) because you said, “All due respect to the academic community, that is horseshit.” You’ll be glad to know that the ‘academic community’ does not match HIM2’s description of it, and in fact more closely matches what you were saying. And so, my reaction to that comment is no longer relevant. (Thanks for following through and posting those links, by the way. 🙂

  •  I doubt pretty much everyone. I even challenge my mom, sometimes (though that can be tricky!). It’s nothing personal. I’m just generally skeptical, even of my own beliefs. Something sounds fishy to me, bam, the question pops out, “How do you really know that?” I used to piss off the teachers when I was a little kid in primary school when they’d say something, and I’d blurt out, “That’s not true!” 🙂

  •  “It seems, Ibis3, that your comment simply reinforces my point. You claim
    that unless one is (a) misogynistic, (b)  bigotrous against gays, (c)
    believing in slavery, and (d) believing in eternal conscious torment in
    hell, then they aren’t a true Christian”

    Actually, that’s pretty much the opposite of what she said. You are ‘reading into’ her comment things that aren’t there.

  •  “Is this really a fight we want to engage in?”


    “As much as possible, might
    it not be better to avoid confrontation, forcing Christians to
    concentrate on ripping each other apart — they do it so well.”

    The world can no longer afford religious (i.e. faith-based) conflict. If you haven’t yet, you may want to read Sam Harris’ The End of Faith. The argument is quite compelling, IMO.

  • Well, there’s an example (actually two, by my count) in this very thread. I responded to it above, (regarding “words have meaning”). But generally, yes, as Akita Mix just before you wrote, “IMO majority of atheists rarely use this fallacy.”

  • Calling out the hypocrisy of Christians is not the same as saying they aren’t actually Christians. Nor is it ‘defining’ Christianity, if he is actually referring to self-professed beliefs.

    Dawkins’ opinions on what is ‘decent’ or ‘understated’ religion are his own opinions, by his own, personal judgment of those terms. In fact, saying that this constitutes ‘cherry picking’ is committing the same act you are accusing him of.

    None of the people you named argue that “science proves” religion is an evolutionary byproduct. Some of them propose it as a hypothesis, not a proof. Enormous difference.

    Would need a quote/link on that Hitchens one. Sounds to me more like a sarcastic quip than an actual argument, though.

  • Since I’m going off second-hand info, I will assume you are correct about Paul. However, I only used him as an example. I could easily have chosen some other random person with a different meaning of the word faith. My point was simply about the fact that the word ‘faith’ means different things in different contexts, and according to different people. It was simply an example. Any word with multiple meanings would do in its place.

  • Oooh, very close. I’m tempted to give it to you, but I’m going to call it a quote mine. Because: The single, two-word-sentence paragraph *just* before the beginning of the part you quoted sets the context. It reads, “What hypocrisy.”

    You almost had me convinced, with his usage of the phrase “true Christian”. I almost didn’t google it. I almost wrote “I stand corrected.” I still might, if you find a more clear-cut example. However, here is the quote with the salient context (two prior paragraphs):

    “Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads are falling over themselves
    to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors,
    evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier

    What hypocrisy.

    Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who
    stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans ***who
    see*** suffering as an intractable ‘mystery’, ***or who*** ‘see God’ in the
    help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most
    nauseating of all) ***who claim to see*** God ‘suffering on the cross’ in the
    ruins of Port-au-Prince, ***those*** faux-anguished ***hypocrites*** are denying the
    centrepiece ***of their own theology***. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson
    who is the true Christian here.”

    Dawkins is clearly making a case that *those* theodiceans *who* deny *their own theology* (note: Not, Pat Robertson’s theology, but *their own* theology about suffering), are *hypocrites*.

    He uses the phrase ‘true Christian’ here to drive that point home. They are not ‘true Christians’ by *their own definition* of ‘true Christian’, as they define it, in their own theology.

    This is not denying someone their self-defined identity. It is pointing out the contradiction between their professed definition, and their subsequent back-pedalling from their previous positions on the question of suffering and theodicy.

    It is not like these are people who *didn’t believe* that “suffering as an intractable ‘mystery'”, and Dawkins is using Pat Robertson’s comments about suffering in Haiti as the definition of ‘Christian’ to show that they are not.

    It is that that *do believe* (or at least profess to believe) that suffering is a divine mystery, but when Pat Robertson makes a fool of himself saying the same thing, they distance themselves from it *as if* they *didn’t* believe the same thing (as they have already professed).

    TLDR version:

    Theodiceans: We are True Christians(tm) because we believe X.

    Pat Robertson: The tragedy in Haiti proves that X!

    Public: Boo, Pat Robertson! X sucks!

    Theodiceans: Boo, Pat Roberston! X sucks.

    Dawkins: Not so fast, Theodiceans! By your own definitions, Pat Robertson is the True Christian(tm), and you are not! Hypocrites.

  • Care to elaborate? What am I “reading into”? She plainly states:

    “But those Christians [i.e., progressive Christians] are using gymnastics to distance themselves from one specific turd while wallowing in a sewer.”

    That *sounds* like she is saying that those Christians who don’t take everything in the Bible literally–as extreme fundamentalists say one is supposed to–by definition aren’t true Christians, i.e., they have to use “gymnastics” to justify their progressiveness vis-a-vis Christian scriptures and doctrines. 

    Or again: 

    “Please do disavow bigotry against gay people (or slavery or forcing women to give birth or a belief in eternal torture or any of the other vile doctrines of the religion), but don’t stop there. Once you’ve thrown all the immoral teachings over the side, move on to discard all the nonsense. What you’ll be left with isn’t what is usually meant by the term ‘Christianity’ anymore.”

    To me, that sounds as though she is saying that the essence of Christianity (i.e., that which Christianity can’t cease to have and still be “‘Christianity’ anymore”) boils down to the nasty things she described, such that progressive Christians–or just average Christians who don’t believe in those nasty things–aren’t adhering to the true Christian faith. 

    If that’s not at least close to what she means, then I fail to see what her argument with progressive Christians is. But if I’m reading into her argument things that aren’t there, please explicate it or restate it more clearly (perhaps without reference to feces this time, which might be obscuring the point she is trying to make . . . ).

  • dantresomi

    While there are a handful of atheists who are trolls on and off line, my gripe is that people confuse “challenge” with “attack.” 

    As a skeptic, I will continue to challenge your beliefs as a Christian, Muslim, etc. You can ignore me or accept that challenge. 

    From experience, may of us in the Freethinking community are not in the business of telling people who is a “real” Christian, or “real” Muslim (whatever that means). Are there a handful of us who might ridicule you for being Christian, of course. Are they wrong? yes. But should that accusation be leveled at the rest of us. I don’t think so. 

    The other day I read a wonderful piece on someone who is a Feminist and a Christian. Did i find much of this person’s article cringe worthy? Yes! I could not imagine how this person reconciles this person’s feminism and Christianity. Like most of us, the author was raised in the Church and like most of us, we give alot of the crazy insane stuff in the Bible or preached on the pulpit a pass. And like many people, we refuse to challenge those ideas. Then again, the church wasn’t organized to allow criticism or any forms of critical thinking. 

    While i know many progressive Christians who do great work, I still take issue with the fact that they are not challenging THEIR churches enough. That many attend homophobic, racists, and backward thinking churches and support them with money and time and never challenge ANY of the ideas espoused within those organizations. 

    Are there other institutions that do that same thing? yes there are, but usually it only takes a lawsuit or two to make them change their policy. The church? that’s a different story altogether. 

  • The claims “only fundamentalists are Christians” and “only fundamentalists properly understand Christianity” are effectively identical here: both accept the claim that believers must disrespect empirical evidence where it conflicts with the most literal reading of texts.  If you want to hang your hat on the distinction between the difference between “only fundamentalists are Christians” and “only fundamentalists are proper Christians,” knock yourself out with that.

  • Ken

     Ms. Wright could just as well have been writing about those atheists who denigrate/castigate (can we say “enlightened”) Christians who _believe_in_ the central historical (e.g. the Resurrection) and moral tenets (e.g. the teachings of Jesus) of the faith while _accepting_ scientific process and scientific knowledge (e.g. the age of the Earth, biological evolution including humans) as the best available explanation of how the natural world works.

    I know more than a few thoroughly competent/qualified scientists who are (usually quietly) devout Christians and more than a few (allegedly) liberal-thinking atheist (some legitimate scientists, some not) who are (loudly and unpleasantly) hide-bound in their position that all Christians (or people of other faiths) are stuck-in-the-mud Genesis-literalists

    Every time I see one of those “Darwin fish” (the fish with legs) I’ve got to wonder whether the bearer understands that they are not, in fact, refuting Christianity but only one narrowly-focused segment of a diverse community–while insulting most of the members of that entire faith community.

  • Ian

    I don’t see how your conclusion follows from your premise. Dawkins is, as the OP claims, delineating the content of someone’s theology (he is making the claims for what they believe, and I certainly don’t recognize them from actual theodicies I’v eread) and claiming that they don’t follow it. There are plenty of people with a rather complex theodicy, one that encompasses both an omnimax god and the fact of suffering. I think they’re wrong. But Dawkins decides they’re hypocritical and not true Christians. That is exactly the point, surely. You don’t get to decide whether someone’s Christianity is ‘true’ on the basis of what you judge to be their logical consistency. Those who do, who decide they’re perfectly equipped to pass judgement on the self-identification of others, come across to me as dicks or bigots.

    I’ve been told much the same myself. That I’m not a ‘true’ atheist because I think there was a historical Jesus at the core of the Christian myths. That I’m not a true atheist because I use the term ‘spiritual’, even though I define it specifically, non-theistically and naturalistically. The people making such claims about my atheism like to bombast about my logical inconsistencies too, but like Dawkins, they rarely demonstrate that they actually know what they’re talking about.

  • Ken


  • Ken

     Ummm… I don’t see “the hell that god damned us to”, actually, anywhere in the Christian Testament, methinks,

  • Denis Robert

     In the minds of most Americans, yes, it is. “Commie” is short for “Satan”, or don’t you know? And since Satan doesn’t kill babies, but God does (so the Bible says), being a Commie is far worse than being a baby-killer…

  • Denis Robert

     How so? Dawkins just states the facts of evolution, and the fact that they do contradict some of the core beliefs of Christians. That’s a simple fact. It may be possible for Christians to twist their worldview to accept evolution, but how is stating basic facts “making it harder”? If anything, the facts themselves make it hard for Christians to accept evolution, not Dawkins.

  • Denis Robert

    As I stated above: the FACTS of evolution make it hard for Christians to accept it, not Dawkins’ books about them. In essence, you are implying that the messenger is more important than the message, and that silencing the messenger would silence the message. Dawkins has nothing to do with Christians’ attitudes towards evolution, since Dawkins did not invent it. Evolution is an observed fact, and “The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection” is by a parsec the best explanation we have of that fact. It’s that fact that bothers Christians, not Dawkins. They are just pissed off that Dawkins dared to point out the obvious to them.

  • Denis Robert

     Yeah, well: when it comes to Catholicism, there is a clear definition of what consitutions a true Catholic: it’s the Catechism and the teachings of the Holy See. You don’t get to define what Catholicism is: the Pope does. That’s the whole point of the Catholic church. That is different from Christianity as a whole, where there are in practice as many Christianities as there are Christians.

    But for Catholics, you’re absolutely, 100% wrong. If you don’t want to follow the Pope, don’t call yourself Catholic. It’s really that simple.

  • Ian

    This illustrates the problem, perfectly. A large number of atheists believe exactly what the fundamentalists believe: that Christianity is first and foremost based on the belief that the Bible is the Word of God, in the sense of God’s communication with humanity on doctrine, morality and practice. Therefore any discussion of what Christianity should be or is becomes a discussion of what the bible says. This is exactly what fundamentalists want you to believe. 

    But the very fact of being a liberal Christian probably means she has a very different theology of the bible to the one that’s been rammed down your throat by the religious right.

    For example, here’s a pretty common theology of the bible among large groups of Christians around the world, in non-technical language: “The bible is a collection of writings that Christians found to reveal something of the character of God, or truth about man’s response to Him. The writings are of their time and culture, and Christians must use the discernment given them as a gift of the Spirit to understand how the God revealed in that cultural setting relates to ours. The source and arbiter of our faith is God alone, not the bible, but we recognize that God has often chosen to use the bible to inspire and draw faithful people to him.” Now you and I may disagree with that theology, but I can’t see any way of saying that it is less Christian, or more untenable than a fundamentalist view of the bible (quite the opposite, I’d say, as the fundamentalist view is much more logically inconsistent). In my experience of European Christianity, adherents with a variation of this theology of the bible would outnumber fundamentalists by perhaps an order of magnitude.

    I get that it is difficult to find the patience to find out what Christians actually might believe before telling them they’re doing it wrong. But you just make the point the OP is raising. If someone says “my faith leads me to believe homosexuality is not a sin”, basing your comment on a belief about the bible they probably don’t hold is just demonstrating the problem. 

  • Thegoodman

     Excellent points all around.

  • amycas

     While I do enjoy the beat-down (metaphorical) the pharangulites give to those who deserve it in the comments, I do feel they get over enthusiastic and go over board on many people who don’t deserve it.

  • amycas

     “…or an anti-pedophilia (warning! Provocation) Wisconsin Catholic. That
    was YOUR $20k Cardinal Dolan used to pay off pedo priests;”

    I believe the original comment was specifically referring to Catholics.

  • Please note:

    “but rather that “evangelicals” … have a clearer understanding of Christianity”

    is *different* than:

    “only fundamentalists are proper Christians,”

    You have changed your claim. Can you actually quote Dawkins saying the latter? Or is this, *yet again*, a misfiring of fallible human memory?

  • Neil

    Thanks for the sincere response, David. 
    To be honest, I think your interpretation of the basic argument some are using is just about right, and it is a flawed argument in its imposed limitations.  While I can spend all day debating the truth or usefulness of religious ideas, I don’t bother trying to define christianity as one monolithic entity.  As much as I am not a fan, there are many, many different variations, with millions of different personal interpretations in each, and there has been for centuries.  I don’t waste my time trying to argue that any one of them is the “true” christianity that others must live up to in order to claim the title.   

    However, much as I was put off by your rhetoric, I think the same may be happening to you.  Because at the root of it, there is a valid question there, but the ones asking it are doing the framing of the question, and demanding a simple answer to a possibly complex question, which puts people off. 

     The point being made(as I see it) is that many modern, liberal christians are in direct opposition to both the words of certain passages in the bible, and centuries worth of long-standing majority interpretation among thousands of churches and  millions of individual christians.  This seems like a lot of contradiction for a religion or  believers in a holy book that is supposed to be somehow timeless, perfect, or even just “inspired” by god.  They are trying to point out that liberal christians have already deviated, by investigating their own consciences, quite far from both long-standing traditional christian beliefs, and in some cases, the direct words of the bible itself.  They are looking for a clear and hopefully rational explanation for the discrepancies, or an admission that the believer is more inspired by their own conscience than by jesus or the bible. 

    They seem to think (and I agree) that there isn’t any real explanation that doesn’t pretty much show that people are just picking and choosing what they like in religion, like they would in any other human enterprise like politics, except that believers still want to retain some sense of entitlement for their beliefs…that, despite the readily available evidence, there is something “godly”, or “eternal”, or “supernatural” about their beliefs, more than just the apparent human social construct.  Some of these questioners go further, hoping to use this obvious discrepancy show that the religion is the unnnecessary part of the equation, often serving only to stunt the personal moral and intellectual growth of believers.  The most complimentary reading I can see is “hey people…you’ve already decided to be better people than your religion wants to allow by its own rules…why not drop the pretext and own your morality?  It’s already yours, anyway!”   

    As far as that goes, I think they are correct.  But I do agree with you that using the argument to say that “you don’t follow every word of the bible, therefore you can’t call yourself a christian” isn’t very convincing or true to life.  Partly because personal religious belief is a very personal journey, with internal and external conflict being an unavoidable part of the process, and also because there has never been a perfectly biblical christianity to compare others to.  It’s always been a mish-mash of interpretation and circumstance, like most other human enterprises.  Nobody gets to define another’s subjective experience and require that that their definition take precedence over the experience itself.  I see people asking a fair question, but trying to limit responses to what they deem proper, in order to force a “deconversion” on logical grounds, but without being willing to take the other person’s personal experiences seriously.  If some want to criticize the religious sentiments of individuals, fine…but they owe it to them to listen to what their experience is, not just declare what it must be.   If there’s a discussion to be had, or even a deconversion to be made,  it’s not going to get very far if we ignore what religious people tell us about themselves and their beliefs.  It looks like some want a short cut, so they can do away with all that tedious “talking to people”.
    I’m not a fan of christianity or religion in general, and I think the arguments made around the obvious contradictions are valid ones that beg for a clear response(or at least careful consideration)…but I’m never going to try to tell you what your experience of christianity is like, or that you can’t be a “real believer” or “true christian” because of some definition I impose from outside.  That’s all yours, and all up to you.      

  • “Dawkins is, as the OP claims, delineating the content of someone’s
    theology (he is making the claims for what they believe, and I certainly
    don’t recognize them from actual theodicies I’v eread) and claiming
    that they don’t follow it. There are plenty of people with a rather
    complex theodicy, one that encompasses both an omnimax god and the fact
    of suffering.”

    He is not only ‘delineating’ their theology, he is *defining* the subset of people *who* he is talking about. Notice the words “who see”, “who ‘see God'”, and “who claim to see”. He specifically states that he is speaking about *those* particular people. Notice the words “those faux-anguished hypocrites”.

    You may not ‘recognize’ those people, but that is not my problem. I do not have the burden of proof here. You want to find out specifically who he was talking about? Google is your friend. Have at it. I *predict* that you will not be able to show that Dawkins was wrong. Care to test my powers of prediction again? So far in this thread they’ve been steadily on the mark. I could be wrong, of course, and I’ll admit it if I am. But you’re going to have to do that research work yourself if you care to pursue it.

    “But Dawkins decides they’re hypocritical and not true Christians.”

    By *their own* standards. They are, in fact, the ones declaring what ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ a ‘true’ Christian. Dawkins is simply calling them on their hypocrisy. As the quote in context clearly shows. He even emphasized it by separating *two words* into a single paragraph. Need I remind you?

    “What hypocrisy.” ~ Dawkins

    If you cannot read that and realize that Dawkins is calling attention to their *hypocrisy*, then there is not much further I can do to help you on that.

    “The people making such claims about my atheism like to bombast about my logical inconsistencies too,”

    That may be a clue.   ::shrugs::

    Long story short: Burden of proof has not been met. Obvious quote mine is obvious.


  • “The odd thing is that there is no “love is the highest law” in the Bible.” 

    Um, actually, there is. In Matthew it’s explicitly stated that the highest law is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, and there are many supporting verses. 

    Matthew 22:36–40: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
    1 John 4:8 — “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

    John 13:34– “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

    1 Corinthians 13, which I will not quote in full. 

  • Ian

    “So far in this thread they’ve been steadily on the mark” Can you actually hear yourself? Seriously? You can’t be that much of a parody of yourself, surely?

    The Dawkins quote is clearly using the phrase ‘true Christian’ in a mischievous way (clearly to me at least, and it seems to you), but he does so based on exactly the kind of argument that the OP here is pointing out. By building an argument which is a ‘real Christianity’ is what I say it is argument (in this case it is having what Dawkins considers to be consistent theology, presumably).

    “[Pat Robertson] is the Christian who  stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable ‘mystery’ … , those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology.”

    So these agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable mystery are denying the centerpiece of their theology how? What is the centerpiece of their theology? Who, even, are these people? Are they just an abstract category Dawkins has made up with potentially no members in it? Where do they state this centerpiece, and claim it is the center? And where further do they deny it? Is it seeing suffering as a mystery which consititues the denial? In what way can seeing suffering as a mystery be considered a denial of anything? Can we have some actual quotations, please? I *predict* not.

  • Pseudonym

    Like Dawkins, A.C. Grayling is expressing a view on what constitutes “New Testament morality”. That is a theological opinion, deciding that one theological position is correct and another is incorrect. His argument follows from there. I don’t think that’s a misinterpretation in the slightest.

    As for Hemant, you do have a point that he was essentially following the Pope’s view; though once again, the Pope has never, to my recollection, ever uttered the phrase “True Catholic”, no matter how it was capitalised.

    Nonetheless, he was also deciding that one theological position was correct (that of the Catechism) and that another was incorrect (that of the majority of Catholics).

  • Pseudonym

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  • Pseudonym

    People always swell their numbers when it suits them. That’s just human nature. Conservative Christians think that liberal Christians are Christians when it’s convenient to do so, and thinks they’re not Christians when it’s convenient to do so. I’d feel better about them including we liberal Christians in our numbers if they actually talked with us every now and then.

    Hell, conservative Christians will even side with Moonies or Mormons these days if there’s a common political goal. Nobody saw that one coming.

    Oh, Alise isn’t “starting” anything. She’s continuing a very long liberal tradition, which was has roots which go back long before St Stephen of Hungary abolished slavery a thousand years ago, but is one of the many fine products brought to you by the European Enlightenment.

  • Pseudonym

    Hold on a minute there. The Roman Catholic Church only believed in witches for a very short period in history. Indeed, the Canon Episcopi not only denied the existence of witchcraft, it considered it belief in witches to be heresy.

    The words “witch”, “witchcraft” or any variant thereof do not exist in the current Code of Canon Law. The word also does not appear in the Bible.

    (OK, the KJV, written as it was during the height of the witch hunt craze, does use the word “witch” to translate words like mekhashshepheh. Modern translations, based as they are on better linguistic evidence, correctly use words like “medium”, “spiritist” or even “poisoner”, alluding to people who dealt in lethal “remedies”.)

  • Pseudonym

    “We’re loving because we are COMMANDED TO.”

    Were I a betting man, I’d bet you money that this isn’t an actual quote from an actual liberal Christian.

    Liberal Christians will often point out that they are commanded first and foremost to love. Partly because it’s true. Jesus is really reported as having said that this is the most important law. But partly because that is the test by which all other laws, rules and principles are to be judged.

    Almost exactly none of them would ever say that we love only because we’re commanded to. That, as you rightly point out, would be a dumb position to hold. That’s why nobody holds it.

  • Pseudonym

    I don’t mean any disrespect. I don’t know you, and I don’t mean to play armchair psychologist. But I strongly suspect that had you not come to the US and saw what religion has done to the place, you may not have come to the conclusion that “true Christian” meant “US-style bible belt protestant evangelical”.

    (You might still think that religion is responsible for a lot of
    oppression in the world, of course. That’s some fruitful discussion to be had there on another occasion.)

    As others have noted in this thread, the premise that the Bible must be interpreted as some kind of infallible, inerrant text handed down by a deity otherwise you’re not a “true Christian” is only held by fundamentalists and antitheists. If that’s how you define a “true Christian”, then it trivially follows that progressive Christians are not “true Christians”. That’s circular reasoning.

    That’s fine, but I’m unsure why you’d accept such a premise. I’m sure that you don’t believe that the Bible is infallible, inerrant etc. Why should Christians believe it?

  • Pseudonym

    I totally didn’t get that from Alise’s op-ed. She didn’t claim to be suffering. What I got from it is that LGBT people are suffering, and that their cause is being hurt by unnecessary dividing their allies.

    I see nothing wrong with exploiting your privilege for a noble cause, as long as it’s done with respect.

  • Pseudonym

    To be fair, Alise didn’t ask for a cookie. She merely asked that LGBT allies not attack each other while there’s work to be done. I don’t consider that an unreasonable request.

    When LGBT people get full legal protection and acceptance in mainstream society, maybe then we can bicker over who is and isn’t a true Scotsman. Or maybe we can move on to another common cause.

  • Alconnolly

    I may have been misinformed, but I was taught that the word hypostasis was little understood and debated for decades, until a stach of documents titled hypostasis were found in a satchel and were shown to be title deeds to property. This would be even a stronger statement than the word “substance”.

  • Pseudonym

    The problem here is that Christianity is a socio-cultural movement with a long history, and has undergone considerable evolution. Pat Robertson’s position on most theological issues barely resembles that of Paul of Tarsus, yet they are both “Christian” by any reasonable definition.

    Almost all non-technical words defy the kind of precise definition that you seem to want. Every linguist since Wittgenstein has known this, and most before him intuitively knew but didn’t articulate it quite as well as he did.

    The ambiguity is inherent, because we’re trying to come up with a way to categorise things found in the wild. Reality invariably doesn’t fit into neat hierarchies and ontologies. Any attempt to impose one will be an approximation at best.

    Incidentally, have you ever looked up the biologist’s definition of the word “species”? I should actually say “definitions” plural, because there is no single agreed-upon definition. Plant biologists tend to avoid the word completely.

  • Pseudonym

    Speaking on behalf of progressive Christianity, I’m totally cool with that. We invented modern inter-faith dialogue about a century ago, so we’re very much used to being open and honest with people we disagree with. It’s the only way we can work together for the benefit of humanity.

    The question here is about making a call that someone is or is not a “true Christian”. Assuming that this is even a sensible question to ask, it’s a theological question. So why would an atheist even have an opinion on it?

    Of course, progressive Christians generally consider the question of “who’s in” and “who’s out” to be stupid and counter-productive. The preoccupation with that question is one of the less endearing qualities of your typical fundamentalist. So if you like, you could consider the request not to do that as a compliment. We think you’re better than that.

  • Pseudonym

    Dear Anti-Theists,

    We happily and eagerly accept any LGBT person, practicing or not, who feels that they are a Christian. We have been doing so for decades.

    We’re also far happier for an LGBT person to lose their faith completely than to suffer in a Christian community which doesn’t love and appreciate them for who they are.

    I think you’d really like us if you got to know us.

    Yours faithfully,
    Progressive Christians

    P.S. Our club isn’t make-believe. It does exist.

    P.P.S. What’s wrong with make-believe anyway?

  • Pseudonym

    OK, I think I’ve misremembered the Hitchens comment. The “not really religion” comment was drawing a distinction between Trotskyism and Stalinism. To Hitchens, anything that he had a liking for (e.g. Trotskyism) wasn’t religion, and anything that he disliked (e.g. Stalinism) was.

    This is a quote from Peterson Toscano:

    Turns out Hitchens’ daughter attends Sidwell Friends School in DC, a
    Quaker institution where they have silent worship most mornings. I
    asked him why he would choose a religious school for his daughter, to
    which he replied, “Well it is a good school.” When I asked about the
    worship, he stated, “Ah, but they just sit in silence,” which I think we
    can take as a passive endorsement of Quakerism from this outspoken

    That’s not a direct comment that Hitchens’ daughter was not subjected to religion, but it’s probably as close as you’ll get from the master of quipping one’s way out of uncomfortable situations.

  •  This is very helpful, Neil, as it lays out the real issues quite well. In fact, as with many of the commenters here, I too am critical of much of mainstream Christianity–historic and contemporary–but at the same time I wouldn’t consider myself “liberal” in the typical theological sense of the term, as you have well described, which trumps tradition with individual, personal religious experience. Instead, I come from a long tradition of those called the “radical reformers” (or “Anabaptists” or sometimes “Mennonites”) who were very critical of Christendom (from the time of emperor Constantine on), which wed Christianity with political power, thus leading to many of the ethical pitfalls described by others in this thread: misogyny, homophobia, violence, etc. But, while the radical reformers were critical of Christendom, they didn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Instead, they took the life and teachings of Jesus himself as definitive of Christianity, in which they found a solid basis for egalitarianism, social justice, and nonviolence. Such a biblical hermeneutic is fully aware of the so-called “texts of terror” (or other colorful descriptions of those texts offered on this blog), but it views the Christian scriptures as a product of both divine revelation and human culture. And, since the cultures from which the scriptures were written were often mired in patriarchalism, violence, xenophobia, etc., it is no surprise that some of that is reflected in the scriptures. Thus, taking both the divine and human elements into consideration, one can distinguish between the redemptive elements and the regressive elements without simply “picking and choosing” parts of Scripture one likes and discarding the rest. Of course, biblical hermeneutics is a very complex subject that I am not doing justice to in this short post. But I hope that I’ve said enough at least to explain how one can be fully and truly Christian–in the most basic sense of the term, i.e., a follower of Jesus Christ–without taking the entire Bible to be a “timeless and perfect” text and thus without blindly endorsing many of the unethical practices described therein. For more on such a redemptive hermeneutic (also sometimes called a progressive or Christocentric hermeneutic), see John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus or Willard Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation, for starters, both written by Anabaptist theologians. Finally, I don’t expect that one who doesn’t believe in God will find the above explanation compelling, what with its talk of divine revelation in Jesus, etc., but hopefully it will contribute a bit toward greater mutual understanding. Peace.

  • Neil

    As for the pope, come on now…he may have never, ever uttered the phrase “true catholic” but that is irrelevant quibbling.  He does have the power to kick people out of the official, worldwide organization of which he is the recognized head if he thinks you’re not living up to the rules laid out.  Those kicked out may think that they are the “true catholics” in their own or god’s eyes, but they have an uphill battle making that claim stick in any meaningful sense for anyone but themselves.   Christianity in general has more wiggle room.

    Example:  I am an amateur musician, and I like to believe that in a way, as a fan and supporter and critic, I am like a “spiritual” member of my favorite bands.  But I sure don’t expect others to see it that way, and I’m not counting on any album credits or royalty check anytime soon.  It’s as valid a “feeling” as any, but only in my own personal experience.  You can ask poeple to listen and try to understand, but you can’t expect automatic precedence over the majority of others’ experiences. 

    As in my other comments, I still wouldn’t bother to try to define someone else’s concept of christianity or catholicism for my own purposes, but if they want their interpretations to carry any weight in a larger discussion, they have some ‘splainin’ to do.      

  • Pseudonym

    What did Alise ever do to you?

  • Pseudonym

    He does have the power to kick people out of the official, worldwide
    organization of which he is the recognized head if he thinks you’re not
    living up to the rules laid out.

    Actually… I’m not sure if that’s true.

    I’m not a Catholic and never have been, but if you’re referring to excommunication, I understand that is not kicking people out, as you put it. It’s more like limiting their access to church services.

    Someone who is excommunicated is still encouraged to go to mass, for example. But they can’t take part in the sacraments.

    There used to be something called “anathema”, but it was effectively abolished in 1917, and practically abolished by Vatican II.

    So it’s possible that the Pope does retain that power, but there hasn’t been an official mechanism for him to do it for at least 50 years.

  • Neil

    nicely done, Ian.  I’m not trying to nitpick the writing or thinking skills of the christians who have commented on this thread, but this is the first comment that I’ve seen that lays out the problem so well, and doesn’t just jump to the claim “That’s not MY Christianity” without even attempting any explanation. 
    I see another side to the same problem…I think that christian/atheist discussions are fun, enlightening, useful, and necessary.  I wish more christians would share the reasoning they use, or at least give a better account of their experience that leads them to a liberal approach.  And I wish that more atheists were interested in addressing the issues as they come up in such discussions, instead of  pressing a logical point that most christians simply won’t think applies to them.  Some atheists here have seemed a bit gung-ho in trying to get people to admit that their faith seems to have immediate logical problems.  But at the same time, when pressed, the christians do seem unwilling to get to the nitty-gritty of what they really believe and perhaps more importantly, why they believe it. 
      As a lifelong skeptic who was raised vaguely christian, turned liberal christian, turned “don’t give a shit agnostic”, turned vocal anti-religious atheist, I really like seing the conversation happen, involving people of differing outlooks.  I can see a lot of my younger self in the comments from christians, and that’s not a bad thing…just a bit vague, defensive, and unfocused.     
    At the risk of encouraging comments as long and boring as my own, I would like to see more of the christian commenters engage themselves in the discussion, instead of  just denying being a fundie then moving on.  While I realize that many millions of people are fairly rational, liberal christians like I think Iwas, I think that they could do a better job of examing their beliefs, and honestly reporting their findings.       

    I would love to read another guest post by Alise that goes a bit deeper.  Maybe she could respond to some of the issues raised in the comments here. 
    I would ask any liberal christian:  How do liberal christians really justify ignoring what the bible clearly says and/or what a majority of christians have traditionally preached on a large number of moral, sexual, and social issues?  How can you get past the inconsistencies while maintaining belief?  Specifics,please!  How do you justify it to yourselves, and to other christians who disagree?            
    More importantly to me:  How willing are you to work with us heathens on political issues?  Are you willing to be a  Secularist, which so many great Christians and atheists and others have been?  Are you willing to vocally oppose your brothers and sisters of the faith, and visibly side with non-believers on political issues?  I can guarantee you that most atheists that I know or interact with online are perfectly happy to  work with you.  We have no choice – moderate and liberal christians are now the “silent majority” in many places in the world…so why not take the chance to speak up?                    

  • Neil

    nitpick: elude, not allude. 
    Props: Both of your points are spot on and also the second one made me laugh a hearty laugh.   

  • It’s really not difficult to understand that doing “gymnastics” i.e conveniently ignoring some of the bible’s many contradictions does not equate to not being a true Christian. She never claimed to be able to define a’ true’ Christian. There is no set of requirements a person can meet where they shift from a rainy-day Christian to a ‘true’ Christian.

  • “But yeah, I get so fed up with the idea that secularism is the only way to fight injustice in the world.”

    It’s not the only way, it’s just by far the best way when the central texts of major religions are so misogynistic and homophobic.

    I have no idea what you’re going on about with using secularism to support bigotry. The only time secularism steps in against religious people is when they are seeking to discrimine against a certain group or people, or are trying to use their faith to get special privileges, such as wearing an item of jewelry like a cross in violation of health and safety regulations.

    This is not bigotry. And if you’re trying to allude to secularism oppressing homosexuals…do you even know what secularism means?

  • And where did their biased opinions come from in the first place? Most likely religion. The bible and other sacred books are what have been deeming women, LGBT and black people as inferior for thousands of years, not science.

    The whole point of science, when practised correctly, is to analyse results without bias or preconceptions.

  •  You lost me at claiming Reason was a foundation of Christianity.

  •  This is a MUCH better response than the posts I’ve seen so far which do not go beyond the surface.

    But without taking the bible as some sort of sacred text, I fail to see where there’s any basis for Christianity. It’s just a bunch of baseless and pointless superstition of an ancient people without the claims put forth in the bible which has no relevance to modern society.

  • I hold plenty of beliefs that aren’t popular, thank you. I defend them pretty regularly and I’ve lost friends & family over them before. I’ve never closed my mouth when I’ve been given the option to keep quiet about saying what’s right. It’s not much to ask of people.

  • I don’t want to beat a dead horse into the ground, so I’ll say (hopefully) just one last thing and then maybe we can call this thread done:

    It’s not difficult to see the implied value judgment in saying that those who approach the Bible with nuance and subtlety (or “do gymnastics” as seems common parlance around here) should give up Christianity since there isn’t much that’s recognizably Christianity anymore, as Ibis states above. That, to me, sounds a lot like saying “true” or “real” Christianity = fundamentalism and progressive Christianity has deviated from the true faith. But if that’s not how her argument is supposed to be understood, that’s fine. I just fail to see what her argument would be at that point. 

    Moreover, all this talk about the Bible “contradicting” itself seems to be a category mistake, as though the Bible was written as a philosophical syllogism or algebraic proof. The reality is that the Bible was written by dozens of authors in multiple languages and genres over the course of a millennium or more. Of course there are going to be competing ideas at play. It’s primarily a narrative of a people as they grow and develop in their understanding of themselves and their God. Narratives have twists and turns and don’t always describe just the good stuff. 

    Was it Walt Whitman who said, “I contradict myself? I’m a large man; I contain multitudes!”

  • Thegoodman

    Some, myself included, seem to be bothered more by salad-bar Christians like Alise than by hardcore Christians who take the Bible literally. I think they (religious people) are all delusional and cling to childish beliefs, but at least the hardcore ones go all in. IMO, Alise is just going through the motions of Christianity for reasons unknown to me and is doing it half-assed. I have less respect for her beliefs because she appears to be making them us as they suit her. Her post seems to be asking why she can’t get more support from the Atheist community when she tries to support human rights, my answer is that she belongs to an organization that actively opposes human rights so her words lack conviction. In my eyes, a person’s level of Christian dedication is a binary scale. She is a Christian.

    If I were a Nazi for a while and came to the realization that most of my Nazi brethren were hateful and the ideas of the Nazi party were different than my own, I wouldn’t start a new denomination of Nazi-ism and try to convince people of how happy-go-lucky we are and we should all be friends, I would simply stop calling myself a Nazi.

    If she truly cares about the rights of women, the LBGT community, or non-Christians; she should renounce her faith. I know this is counter productive to the whole “Friendly Atheist” idea, but I just read this page, I am not a friendly Atheist.

  • McB

    You seem to think the main purpose of Christianity is supporting gay rights. Isn’t it spreading the good news that Christ died so that people can be forgiven for their sins, and be freed from bondage to all their sins?

    It seems implicitly that you have already abandoned Christianity for an arbitrary secular cause, and that that cause trumps whatever Christianity might say about sin, or about what is central to Christianity.

    Perhaps you need to rethink what is most central to your belief system.

  • Pseudonym

    You’re more or less correct; a better translation would be “foundation”.

    I don’t want to get into the theological detail here, but in essensce, Paul is not defining faith, he is detailing what he thinks are the effects of faith.

  •  Pseudonym, after I put your latest claim to rest, will you do me a favour and simply ask yourself these questions: “What if I’m wrong?”, “How do I really know that?”, “Is it possible I could be wrong?”, “Is it possible I have an unconscious bias in my thinking and/or memory?”

    Because I do this *all the time* to myself. It’s a great way to detect and weed out unconscious biases, and a great way to remind myself to double-check the reality of the situation before I make potentially false/mistaken claims.

    And, given your track record on this thread of finding quotes to support your position, I think that would serve as some objective evidence for you to ponder, “If I was wrong about those quotes, maybe I was wrong about the other stuff I read that I thought was saying ‘they aren’t real Christians’ at the time. After all, every human on the planet has biases; maybe this is one of mine.”

    Let me quote (actually, re-quote, since I’m getting it from what *you* already quoted, but didn’t notice) A.C. Grayling:

    “Now, ***if*** that’s real religion, that’s honest religion, the world is very much better off without it.  And ***if*** the world is much better off without the true and the honest form of religion, why not put the hypocrites in with them, too?” ~ A.C. Grayling

    I highlighted the important, overlooked words in that quote.

    A.C. Grayling, a professional philosopher — well-immersed in logical arguments and their various modes of reasoning — is making a *hypothetical* argument.

    *If* X, then Y.

    In symbolic logic form, his claim is of the form:

    X ==> Y.

    You are saying that he is arguing X. In symbolic logic, that would be of the form:


    I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but

    “X ==> Y.” is not logically equivalent to “X.”


    A: “If it is raining outside, then I don’t want to go to the beach.”

    B: “How arrogant and presumptuous of you to argue that you know for certain that ‘it is raining outside’!”

    A: Umm, I’m not. It’s a hypothetical.

  •  “By building an argument which is a ‘real Christianity’ is what I say it
    is argument (in this case it is having what Dawkins considers to be
    consistent theology, presumably).”

    I think you need to stop *presuming* and look squarely at the words themselves, rather than glossing over them with ‘presumably’ goggles clouding your vision.

    The argument is not ‘Xianity is what I say it is’. You cannot quote Dawkins saying that, because he doesn’t say it. That is *your* presumption being read into the text.

    Dawkins says he is judging their *hypocrisy* by *their own* theology. Not his. *Theirs*. As they themselves claim it.

    If you cannot see that, again, I’m sorry, but I cannot cure your biases. Only you can do that. I can only point you to the actual words that are written, rather than the words you think are there.

  •  “Where do they state this centerpiece, and claim it is the center?

    Can we have some actual quotations, please? I *predict* not.”

    Ian. Please. Think about it.

    The claim is that Dawkins argues that people are not real Christians. I have not made the claim. Pseudonym made the claim. And now it seems like you are trying to defend the claim.

    But *I* have not made the claim.

    The burden of proof is on the one who makes the claim. I hope you are familiar with this basic rule of discourse.

    I’m not going to do your research for you, because *I don’t have the burden to prove anything*. Just like atheists don’t have to prove that God does *not* exist. Or do you think that they do? (That would surely be telling.)

    I am simply rebutting the evidence that was put forth to me. I find it wanting. I find it a little bit ‘convenient’ that the all important context was snipped off from the beginning: “What hypocrisy.” This is a quote mine. Unintentional or not, it was presented in a way which was not representative of Dawkins’ actual argument as *he* originally published it.

    Given this context, I see zero reason to pursue this further, unless *you* try to defend the argument. That is entirely up to you, but I’m not going to do your homework for you.

    I repeat: Burden of proof not met. Obvious quote mine is obvious. Feel free to provide more convincing evidence if you can find it.

  • Pseudonym

    The claim “Christianity isn’t true” makes as much sense to me as “the wearing of hats isn’t true”.

    Your assumption is that there is some fixed set of testable beliefs which must be accepted as true otherwise the person is not “Christian”. Liberal Christians do not accept that premise.

    Liberal religion (be it liberal Christianity, liberal Judaism, the atheistic forms of Buddhism or what have you) is invariably not something that people believe, it’s something that people do. It makes no sense to call that “true” or “false”.

  •  So in other words, you admit that your memory of the quote was biased?

  • Pseudonym

    I think most atheists identify with the LBGTQ community – whether we are ourselves queer or not.  We share a lot in common, and to be fair – to an atheist, those labels are entirely unnecessary.
    Why should I care WHAT genitals you have, let alone what you do with

    What may not have occurred to many atheists is that liberal Christians also share a lot in common with the LGBT community, though for different reasons than atheists.

    We liberal Christians tend to focus on the importance of good relationships, and if for you that means intimate same-sex relationships, then more power to you. We also have this overwhelming urge to come to the aid of anyone who is oppressed, whether it’s the poor or the outcast. Homosexual people happen to be in that position at this moment in history.

    We also share a lot in common with atheists, such as being in favour of secular government and good-quality science education.  Our common ground with atheists and secular humanists is something that more of us would realise if we did more transfaith dialogue.

    But here’s the thing: The fundamentalists, the religious right, the theocrats… they hate all of us. They are our common adversary (the Hebrew word for “adversary” is “satan”, by the way), and probably the most dangerous force facing all of us. The last thing we should be doing is fighting each other.

  • Pseudonym

    I would agree that the majority of Christians do believe in a kind of literal second coming.

    The vast majority of progressive Christians (if the church I grew up in is anything to go by) either don’t believe it, or don’t think it’s important enough to care about one way or the other.

  • If you mean check my privilege to not be preached to by Christians in atheist spaces, then yeah, I’ve checked myself right off this blog.

  • Ian

    “Dawkins says he is judging their *hypocrisy* by *their own* theology. ”
    No, he’s judging them hypocritical based on *his assumptions about their theology*. He provides no evidence that they hold these views, nor that the views are contradictory, nor even if they were that this would ‘deny’ their theology, as he claims it does. 

    So his call of hypocrisy is just the same as the call of hypocrisy against the OP. They both start with the assumption that they know enough about the person’s theology, and what a correct theology should be like, to make that judgement, without giving any evidence that they do. As such Dawkins is a prime example of the OP.

    I think you should read my use of ‘presumably’ in my comment again. It was an aside unrelated to my argument , and thus your response seems rather bizarre, as if you didn’t understandd the argument I was making. Which, in my book, is ultimately the responsibility of the speaker.

    So I get you’re big on blustering about other people not meeting the right standards of evidence, and not reading what is written, but you’re not very good at recognizing both traits in yourself. This, I suspect is common to all of us, but hypocritical when you make a big point of condemning others on that basis. And those biases in you, as in me, nobody else can cure.

  • Ian

    Can I say that reading anything in one word per column seems to me a greater immorality than even quote-mining (please disable this feature, or limit its depth!). So Thaumas, I might not manage aesthetically to recurse another set of replies. Which I suspects probably indicates my concession, or some such. Hey ho.

  •  “He provides no evidence that they hold these views”

    He *defines* who he is talking about. I don’t think you understand this point.

    Who *specifically* are the ‘they’ you are saying are the victims here?

    Can you please identify any Christian who Dawkins is talking about (by their inclusion in his definition as per his argument), and who he is simultaneously saying ‘is not a Christian’? A single name would suffice, with a link/quote to their stated theology. Even a person from ancient history would suffice. Please show how this person(s) matches his definition of the theodiceans he is targeting.

    If you cannot do this, then you have failed to demonstrate that Dawkins is calling any Christian ‘not a Christian’ solely by his own standards. It’s really that simple.

  • kaydenpat

    Apart from homosexuality, what other sins do Rightwing Christians decry?  It seems that Conservative Christians are only focused on homosexuality and not on other sins.

    Further, you should accept the fact that you don’t get to define Christianity to only include people who believe as you do.

  • I used to have a Darwin fish on my car, before I swapped it out for a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

    I’m puzzled by your statement about them. The Darwin fish is pro-evolution; it has nothing to do with the bearer thinking that all Christians are creationists. However, the types of Christians who put Jesus fish on their cars are, at least in my neck of the woods, likely to be creationists.

    If someone is insulted by a Darwin fish, I’m afraid I’d have to tell them to get a thicker skin. The religious double standard is terrible in our country. Christians can put all manner of bumper stickers and symbols on their cars, erect billboards, display messages on church signs, and no one ever calls them out on it. No one tells them they’re arrogant or presumptuous, or worries that they might be hurting the feelings of non-Christians. Yet if an atheist expresses an opinion that gods aren’t real, it’s perceived as an insult. That’s religious privilege for you. The majority can do what it wants, but the minority is expected to keep silent.

  • catalinda8

    I’m an atheist, and I’m relieved to hear from a Christian who isn’t bigoted and hateful — so you’ve got my support! Although I’m not a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Buddhist, etc., I believe that one’s life journey is very personal. As long as no one tries to impose their belief system on me, especially as far as who is going to “hell” or who isn’t, then I don’t see why we can’t all walk in this world together. Frankly, I think Christians who think everyone else needs to live the way they think they should must have very weak faith indeed. Daniel walked through the lion den because of his strong faith, but a fundie Christian is up in a lather if a couple of men he doesn’t know and will never meet are getting married? American Christianity, at least what’s making headlines, seems to be in quite a state of disrepair. But as I said, glad to hear there are some left with compassion and common sense. Peace!

  • The bible is only ‘evil’ when one takes it as the perfect, infallible truth… like any religious text. 
    When read with the understanding that it was a book created combining somewhat relevant stories from the past few thousand years, written by people trying to understand God-it becomes simply a book with many inspirational passages.

    At the time of composition, both orally and literally, the idea was that God needed to be more fierce than the gods worshipped by local tribes-as such God often took on a very violent nature. Such was the way of story writing at the time.

    But there is also many, many beautiful phrases and passages of grace, forgiveness, love, wisdom and more. 
    The core part of the bible that talks about the most condemning bits is in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and quite old. 

    Likewise, the other often considered damaging writings are written by others (Paul for example – someone who never even actually met Jesus)… but NOT accredited to Jesus.
    Many people who consider themselves Christian follow the words of Jesus and not the words of those who proclaimed to spread his teachings later. Jesus taught many good things, as ‘wisdom teachers’ are prone to do. And as humans do, they portray it based on their own biased understandings-just like I’m doing.

    The ‘book’ is not evil, but ‘evil’ people use it to propagate their hate, while ‘good’ people use it to find inspiration in the passages and the life of Jesus.
    (I will add that while I enjoy the wisdom of many religions, I am not Christian-it is in fact due to the idea that Christians are all fundies, and in fact crossing paths with so many fundies, that makes me far too uncomfortable to ever label myself as such-rather I am a seeker of Wisdom)

  • How are you, completely narrow-minded and unwilling to explore the differences between believing in God and some Christians’ extreme fundamentalism, any different than those extreme fundamentalists??

  •  So you’re all going to pretend that you’re not being snarky and sarcastic? That you’re not talking to Alise as though she’s an ignorant child? That’s not happening??

  • In this exact way, right here! By being exactly as narrow-minded and unbending as fundamentalists, you make it harder for Christians like Alise to say, “I believe in God AND I believe in keeping God out of secular law.” You’re never going to outlaw Christianity, and you’re not allowed to try. So, just like fundamentalists, you HAVE TO ACCEPT the fact that you must share this country with people who have different belief systems than you. (And before you have a semantic aneurysm, “no belief” is a still a belief system.) As long as no laws are made based solely on religion, then you’re stuck with us. And SUCK IT UP.

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