People often talk about what the religious and nonreligious have in common; usually in an attempt to bring us all together in one big “it’s a small world afterall” sing-a-long. I am actually a huge advocate of interfaith dialogue and engagement, especially when it includes atheists and agnostics. But I would like to take a look at what atheists and Christians SHOULD have in common but usually don’t because Christians have fine tuned their skills at entirely missing the point of their own religion. It is in this gap where most of the conflict occurs.
In other words, the things atheists usually criticize Christians for, are the things Christians would agree with if they understood their own religion well enough. If Christians better understood their own theology and behaved accordingly, it’s likely they’d have more in common with atheists than simply a desire to feed hungry children.
Evangelical Christians in “the west” generally collectively care about the following:
- Outlawing abortion - The passion for “the unborn” amongst evangelicals is quite strange until you realize how much easier it is to protest abortion than figure out how to care for the millions of undernourished, abused and/or otherwise at-risk women and children around the world. It’s much easier to point a finger at a woman and call her a murderer than it is to have the really difficult conversations. I’m a feminist but I actually do not think abortion is benign and I don’t necessarily think the answers are always easy. But to fixate on this issue as a badge of religious honour is just strange to me - it was for me even when I was a Christian. A staggering level of intellectual dishonesty is required to suggest the issue is as oversimplified as the religious like to paint it.
- What women wear and how they behave - slut shaming is pretty much required behaviour amongst evangelicals. Defining and itemizing what girls should wear in order to be modest and to “protect their brothers from sinful lust” takes up an inordinate amount of blog real estate (and paper, back in the good ol days). I think a good 60 percent of my time in youth group was devoted to this issue. The rest was set aside for the next little gem:
- With whom/at what age/how often people have sex - homosexuality, premarital sex, promiscuity...evangelicals are truly fixated on sex. It’s actually quite creepy. They spend a lot of time talking about it and shaming people who do it wrong.
- Heaven and Hell - believe it or not, the Bible is not very authoritative on this issue, and Judaism, from which Christianity sprang, actually rarely speaks of the afterlife. And yet, entire branches of ministry (even seminary degree programs) are devoted to convincing people hell is a real place where they will spend eternity if they don’t “get saved” and that heaven is perfect and you’ll go there as long as you do whatever your branch of Christianity demands.
- Anyone not like them - also known as, THE WORLD. “The world” is basically everyone who hasn’t “accepted Christ as their Lord and Saviour”, which, interestingly, typically includes Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians even though those brands of Christianity far predate protestantism. “The world” is blamed for everything from rock music to apparently, a general hatred of all things good. We hate babies, marriage, truth, light, love, grace, forgiveness...and probably puppies, cotton candy, rainbows and laughter. “The world” is a scary place filled with scary people. If a Christian gets too involved with the world by going to a public university or, GOD FORBID, dating a non-Christian, they’ll lose their faith and go to hell. It’s understandable why this phrase is used so often and feared so greatly.
- Right-wing politics with an imperialist bent - ever since the 1980’s, American evangelicals have been pushing religion through political channels, most notably, the Republican Party.
The above list is a far cry from what Jesus and the early faithful taught and what is included in the New Testament of the Bible. It’s also a far cry from what actually MATTERS in our lives day to day. However, a careful and complete reading of the Bible and the arc of the narrative therein would indicate the following are instead the things Christians should care about. They’re also things most atheists I know care about:
- Caring for the poor, widows and orphans, the outcasts and the outsiders
- Feeding the hungry
- Rebelling against the religious elite and fundamentalist wackos
- Rejecting fraternization of religion and politics
- Living peaceably with one another and encouraging global peace instead of infighting and war
- Making decisions for today instead of obsessing about the afterlife - about which very little (if anything) is known and about which we really have no control
There are Good Christians
In fairness, there are many groups of Christians in America, Canada, Europe and elsewhere, who ascribe to the above values and promote them passionately. There are entire denominations that have remained loyal to these values since the early days of Christianity. It is my relationships with these people that gives me hope in positive interfaith collaboration.
However, it’s everyone else who makes this whole “it’s a small world after all” love fest exceedingly difficult. Here’s hoping the evangelicalism of my childhood continues to shrink.