What Atheists and Secularists teach us

Welcome back.

Here are two must read articles. Both are from the UK. The first is an obviously anti-faith and anti-America editorial published in the online version of The Times. The fact that it so biased against faith is why it merits consideration by those of us who want to understand the people we’re trying to reach.

The second article is from another British newspaper, The Guardian. It is written by an atheist who argues for the moral superiority of the average believer over the average atheist and is among the best short pieces I’ve read, as much for the main point as for the vantage point is gives believers to the intellectual challenge of atheism.

Both writers oppose faith and draw opposite conclusions about the merits of the function of faith within culture. What do you think? Sit back. Read the articles. Enjoy.

Article #1] Devout democracies more dysfunctional than their more secular counterparts.

Article #2] Devout people morally superior to their atheist counterparts.

into the mystic…

Alex McManus

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19 thoughts on “What Atheists and Secularists teach us

  1. Alex, this gives a good insight into culture we face in the UK. The press is almost universally hostile to Christianity. I was surprised by the article by Roy Hattersley, as he was a former deputy leader of the labour party and no great friend of the church. He has however taken to writing biographies recently and has written one about John Wesley and I think one on William Booth, I wonder if his attitude has softened somewhat after looking at these men and the impact they made on their culture? Which leads me to the other article.
    The first article is the usual bias affair, but there are some questions we can’t ignore. I do wonder why in the UK in Ulster (N. Ireland) where there are more evangelical Christians than any other part of the country there is also such extreme violence and lovelessness as well??? I don’t know if its true but I am sure I read somewhere that Dallas Texas has more evangelical churches than any where else in the States but has amongst the highest murder rates and no less rates for dishonesty. How do we explain this? Is it that the non-Christian part of the population are particularly bad or is there something deficient about evangelical Christianity today that it is not making a social impact like it did in Wesley’s and Booth’s day? No answers, just questions!

  2. James those are great questions! I used to live in Oakland, California. The inner city was extremely dangerous. I used to deliver milk to the schools there and I once got a gun put to my head on a Kindergarten play ground. But I also remember there being a church like every couple of blocks. I remember asking, “Where is the power of the church in this community?”

  3. I wouldn’t want to dismiss the apperant disconnect between the church and charity/morality in society, but this quote really stood out to me in the first article:

    Many Americans agree that their churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical world.

    The hostility toward faith (and the U.S.) can be understood when this is the moral arrogance associated with our nation. If we (Americans) want to be a ‘city on a hill’ then we have a long way to go before much light can be seen.

    But, I’m not sure the city metaphor should be applied to any one nation. The ‘city’ is the church. The United States is not the Body of Christ. Is this mostly American Patriotism being confused with Christian Spirituality?

  4. Alex,

    In think that both articles show the confusion over the role of faith and the faithful in society. In all honesty, it’s nothing new to history. G.K. Chesterton faced the same kind of viewpoints (from both sides) in his day. The only surprising viewpoint is that the rejection of a truly humanistic worldview would be so despised in a nation like England, which prides itself on tolerance. Hopefully, the author is part of a cynical minority.

    On a side note: it seems to me that the evolution debate is very old. It has been THE predominant theory taught for wave after wave of university grads within the last several decades. The fact that masses of educated people (those same grads!)would so obviously question that which is deemed by educators to be unquestionable seems a slap in the face to the common man. It is interesting that humanity as a whole has to a large extent rejected macro-evolution as a theory. The post-modern era certainly doesn’t embrace the “need to know” as it did before. The educated have discovered just how ignorant the educated can be.

    Getting back to the point of Christian light and salt, the fact that this is age-old (is religion beneficial or harmful to society?) tells me that Christians are doing something right, but Christian culture is doing something disasterously wrong. Are we too “light” on people, once they are converted? I wonder at times if our willingness to engage the lost (non-judgementally) shouldn’t be coupled with a willingness to get more judgemental with the saved. Paul certainly talks about this extensively, as does Jesus in Matthew.

    I’m not certain that Christians are the most unwilling to change society, particularly because it was we who historically took up the role of societal change in the first place (the whole notion of liberation theology has sprung up to explain the way Christianity helps society).

  5. Well don’t both those get you thinking. The question that came to my mind: Is America REALLY a Christian nation?

    It seems to me Roy is seeing the Christ inside. He is able to see there’s something different about believers. But it also seems he has had his fill of religion. He’s seen enough of the junk that goes on to know he doesn’t want any part of that. But this different kind of life… He doesn’t say it… but what he describes is the glory of God shining through believers, and that’s what it seems he wants.

    Hey went on to say “It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity à la carte.”

    I think that is actually part of the problem that Ruth Gledhill talks about in her article. You can try and fake it. Try and act Christian. But you on your own simply can’t do it. There are a lot of people playing church, people who profess faith and yet don’t allow the kingdom of God to live through them. Many times in those environments it sets you up for failure. They focus so much on the rules, the do’s and don’ts that it makes being a Christian seem impossible. I think this type of Christianity also leads to rebellion.

    So why in the areas of the largest Christian influence is there also the highest crime, teen STD’s… etc. (and has anyone actually verified this to be true?) I certainly don’t know, but it could be… whenever you begin to do a good work for Christ, the enemy wants to do an equal and opposite work. It could just be the physical outward signs of a much greater spiritual battle that centers on those areas. Much of it could also be the rebelliousness I mentioned earlier.

  6. It seems to me that the religiosity of our nation is what is being questioned. I have a question as well. When did transformation take a backseat to religion? That is where the problem lies and it is a problem. I would tend to agree that there is a certain cultural and moral arrogance in our nation masked behind religiosity. I believe we are sometimes held captive by our freedoms and abuse the gifts we have given. However, the cultural Christianity that exists in our nation does not always reflect the life transformation that takes place when a person actually follows Jesus. It is a shame that the Christianity most people see is culturally founded and not necessarily authentic. I think with those that have not experienced this transformation, it is hard to distinguish between the loud obnoxious religious voice and the voice of the true church. I can fault no person for being deceived by this voice. Looking from the outside in, it doesn’t look all that appealing.

  7. Alex,

    While I’ll admit to the author’s apparent bias in the first article, I think he raises an important question about our Christianity.

    I remember reading something by Brian McLaren that made me think about the potency of Christianity. I think he was quoting someone else (?) when he wrote that in a pluralistic society, a religion’s worth is measured by its value to its non-adherents. If our Christianity is not making the world a better place to live, then we should be examining what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it. Sometimes people on the outside see it more clearly than we do…

    Keith

  8. Is the U.S. a Christian nation? No. God, for most people, is a comforting idea taken down from the shelf on Sundays, dusted off and admired for a few minutes, and then put back on the shelf.

    To be a follower of Jesus means getting down and dirty with him, in whatever form that might be for one’s life. How the people who do that affect society is unpredictable but they’re certainly not invisible.

    People walk into churches for a reason. They want something to eat. Most often, it’s bait-and-switch: it looks like bread from the ouitside, but once bitten it turns to stone… or air. Still, the idea of church adds a glow: “I’m a Christian because I go to church.” God is left out of the system.

    To face the real, living God of the Universe is frightening. It doesn’t work very well unless one is convinced of forgiveness, and that’s something none of us has experience with. In my life, only God has truly forgiven me. Everyone else remembers all the mistakes.

    Who needs forgiveness? Everyone, but only those who know this will allow God’s touch, and it’s usually only when they’re going down for the last time, circling the drain, that they finally open up to that touch. Churches are there to soften the blows, pad the existence, and keep that dire drain-circling from happening.

    No knowledge, no forgiveness, no faith. We have endless distraction instead of nighttime wrestling Jacob matches with God.

    I honestly don’t know how churches can foment a truly lively Christianity. New ideas are almost instantly surrounded by weeds and choked out. But neither of these articles is very accurate because they start from the wrong assumption that people who call themselves Christians really are.

  9. “It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity à la carte. The Bible is so full of contradictions that we can accept or reject its moral advice according to taste.”

    Wow, that is EXACTLY what I used to believe. I could have written that. I even used the a la carte metaphor frequently in spiritual conversation. Of course, “christian” in this sense is an adjective more than a noun; sort of like “gentleman”. A “gentleman” used to be a very specific thing, a member of the landed British gentry, regardless of how the man behaved. But over time it took on a nice polite adjectival sense, and suddenly anyone could be “gentlemanly” and even “a gentleman” without any land or title to his name.

    Same with “Christian.” In common english today, it is an adjective meaning (according to my dictionary) “respectable, decent, humane”. Sure, the dictionary also mentions “a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ” and nine other usages, but we run the risk of relegating all that to etymological trivia unless we who cling to God’s truth also find the passion that accompanied that truth, the passion that set the early apostles afire.

    Thankfully, that fire is not lost. Roy Hattersley also admits that “men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles, do not go out with the Salvation Army at night.” Cristianos primitivos are out there, labeled “barbaric and superstitious” and worse by secular atheists, but I’d rather be counted among them than labeled “decent, respectable” by my ambient culture.

  10. wish I had time to contribute more on this one but don’t at the moment so I’ll just pass on a link to another article that feeds into the “is America a Christian nation?” question. It is aptly entitled The Christian Paradoxand appeared in the August issue of Harpers. Its worth a read, McKibben articulates the problem well, and it is even more interesting that it was published in the extremely “secular” liberal-leaning Harpers. (in the interest of full disclosure I should confess that I’ve been a subscriber to Harpers for five or six years now.)

  11. Alex – I am SO disappointed I won’t be able to join you next week. As an Orlando resident I was REALLY looking forward to coming to the meetings, but have another appointment I have to go to . . . Any chance Orlando will be back on your schedule again in the near future?

    Mark

  12. Great articles. Very prodding into the nature of faith and its influence in our world. I’ve recently discovered your journals “Into the Mystic.” Very interesting work, and I thoroughly enjoy your writing style. You’ve peaked my interest in this “Mystic Nation” that may or may not exist.

    Keep up your search, and I’ll keep my eyes open as well, learning to “see” all that’s around me.

  13. I only read the 1st article…It’s hard for me to believe that got printed. Since when is America a Christian nation? And when are we allowed to just lump all people in to one category??? The article for me is worth a giggle…Thanks for sharing it.

  14. Interesting to see Nathan contrast (perhaps accidentally) the “Mystic Nation that may or may not exist” with this topic, of whether or not Christianity/judeo-christian faith is a positive or negative social force… and incidentally whether America really is a “Christian nation”.

    America certainly exists. Evidence abounds! Even nomadic Central Asian tribesmen who have never seen an ocean have no doubts about the existence of America, and probably have an opinion about whether it’s a Christian nation or not (and about whether that’s a good or bad thing).

    All of this highlights the importance of the mystic tribe of Christ. Nathan’s casual comment here is the hinge on which this whole thing turns: are there really citizens of heaven living as expatriates on earth? Does the Mystic Nation exist?

    Let’s prove it.

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