When Atheists Criticize Religion, We’re Not Arguing Against This August 9, 2013

When Atheists Criticize Religion, We’re Not Arguing Against This

I frequently get complaints from Christians who read this site that I spend too much time focusing on the “wrong kind” of Christians. If only I would listen to their pastors or consider their idea of who God is, I would have a very different impression of Christianity.

That’s the same sort of argument Tiffany Gee Lewis makes in a horrible article for the Guardian, the subtitle of which is “I wish I could invite the world into my church meetings, especially those who find little redeeming value in religion.”

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The people in this stock photo don’t need God to help each other out. Neither do you.

Lewis writes:

As a counselor in my congregation’s women’s society, we have stewardship over a group of women 150-strong…

I have been in this (unpaid, unsolicited) position for two years. We’ve helped two women through cancer, one who made it and one who didn’t. We organized four funerals, carting in hundreds of sandwiches and desserts. I’ve chopped vegetables for a woman who couldn’t wield a paring knife and taken women to our food shelter where they can get a month’s supply of food.

None of us are saints. We come to church with our own set of baggage: greed, envy, anger, depression and laziness. We can be close-minded and belligerent. Sometimes we drive one another crazy. But we keep coming back because we believe, and that belief translates into action.

… and we can stop there.

Her argument is that she has a group of friends with whom she has something in common. They care for each other very much and help each other through tough times.

All of that is great. None of that has anything to do with God, not really. None of that offers definitive answers on unanswerable questions based off of some holy book.

It is something atheists can do — and, in fact, have done — for each other, the only difference being that our bond is a non-belief in God.

But none of that stops Lewis from complaining about atheists who, by the way, have no problem with what she’s doing:

Faith has become an easy target for the ills of the world. We can look at riots in the Middle East, at the continual tension between Palestinians and Jews, at the Evangelical minister who throws a heathen blanket on unbelievers, and say, “If we would all give up this fallacy that there is a God, the world would be a more peaceful place.” We could all beat our swords into plowshares and hum solstice songs around a campfire.

Here’s the truth about believers: we don’t live in Oz, happily following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City where some man posturing as God speaks behind a great curtain. We see the same shadows as the godless and wrestle with the same beasts. When we’re pricked, we bleed.

Ugh, this piece is just all over the place… Lewis is arguing that atheists criticize religion (for legitimate reasons, I might add), and that somehow applies to her support group for women.

The moment she starts telling them to pray to God for healing, I’ll criticize her. But when she’s organizing funerals, making food for women who need it, and helping people move, there’s nothing to complain about. She’s just being a decent person.

Dare I say it, she’s just being a Humanist.

That shouldn’t stop atheists from pointing out that people do awful things in the name of religion. (So much for the idea that religion automatically makes you a better person.)

It shouldn’t stop us from pointing out that religious people believe in nonsense and those poorly-thought-out beliefs can sometimes lead to awful policy decisions.

If more people did what Lewis did and formed a community for the sake of bonding with other humans and helping each other out, that would be wonderful. That’s not what anyone is criticizing when we criticize religion.

We go after bad ideas, not good actions.

You wouldn’t know that, though if you saw the headline of the article (which I know Lewis didn’t write):

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“Where the Godless Don’t Go”? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Of course we “go” there. The only difference is we don’t rely on anything supernatural to motivate us.

Lewis continues:

Religion has made me, a wholly selfish person, into someone who cares about something bigger than myself. I don’t drop to my knees every morning in some blind fanaticism, but to say, “God, I am at your service.” For the faithful, we choose to see God in everything — the first crocus of spring, the curve of a young child’s face. We hear his voice, not in a burning bush, but telling us how to parent a challenging child or help a friend. We gather with other like-minded believers. We are fallible and sometimes frustrating individuals, but the level of service, support and love I have not seen replicated through any other social service, community group or government program.

Then look harder.

I’m glad her religion has made her less selfish. But some of us, believe it or not, care about other people because it’s just the right thing to do. We don’t need God to give us a nudge in that direction.

Here’s what I’m wondering: If Lewis stopped believing in God, would she still be involved with this kind of group? If not, what does that say about her ethics?

Lewis could be doing everything she already does without God. Instead, she chooses to give God credit for her hard work — and then has the audacity to whine because atheists criticize her muse.

It’s an insult, at the very least, if not downright slander to suggest we don’t do the same damn things.

Atheists don’t have a problem with what Lewis is doing, even if she was inspired by her God. We welcome those actions. We only wish people like her would realize they could drop the middleman out of the equation and everything would work out just the same.

(Image via Shutterstock)


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