Simplistic Christianity; Simplistic Atheist: a response [GUEST POST]

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Earlier today, I posted an introductory post in response to a Facebook note by my friend Daniel. Before I posted it, I had a few friends read the post to see if they thought it would be taken especially personally and shut down, rather than promote, further conversation. They said that it was on the line, but they didn’t think it was too personal. Unfortunately, it seems I (we) were wrong.

Daniel responded in a comment, but I thought it deserved a more prominent place on the blog. I’ve included his response below, and included some brief words of clarification to his points.



While I do appreciate your taking the time to respond, I don’t appreciate the flagrant misrepresentation. The religious opinion and intellectual caliber you ascribe to me in this piece in no way reflect my actual disposition and are so off-piste that I quickly lost track of whether you were talking about me or some nondescript internet denizen with which you have passing familiarity.

To set the record straight, you do not know me personally, and you clearly know even less about my views of religion and the serious, contemplative academic respect for and to detail to which I approach the topic. If you have a question about my views on an issue, ask me. Ask me. Don’t implant your own thoughts onto my character and radiate them in a public post. It’s unprofessional and ventures headlong into character intrusion.

To avoid further blatantly misinformed opinion from surfacing, I have tremendous respect for people of any and all religious persuasion, though I may depart from them on the metaphysics of their beliefs. I am under no delusion that theism, and Christian theism, can be dismissively fit into a box rather than a broad spectrum of nuance and theological nicety. Fundamentalism is *not* the truest articulation of Christianity and in fact is the most injurious strain of Christianity in its long history. There *are* legitimate theistic views to be voiced and I can entertain and respect those voices without affirming them for myself. I do so regularly and incorporate many of these voices in both my reading list and my book reviews on various websites.

To suggest even remotely to the contrary is to paint a picture of me that not even my more distant acquaintances would recognize.

[Daniel, I apologize for any mischaracterization. As I tried to mention at the end of the post, I felt that your Facebook note did not have the tone and thought that I’ve seen you exhibit more currently. I felt like your note did meet my characterization  even if it’s not a proper characterization of where your thinking is now. In fact, I would say it’s not.]

I will respond very briefly to a few of the many misconstructions and misconstruals you’ve set down in your piece.

“The fact still remains: religion is the launching pad for Atheists.”

To the contrary, the majority of atheists are not vocal about their non-belief. Millions around the world are not raised in a religious environment and many maintain their non-belief through life. They are not persuaded by the religious institutions around them, nor do they see a need to vocalize their non-belief. Vocal atheism is a minority, and activism is warranted to keep at abeyance religious intrusions into public life and policy. Your characterization is plainly false.

[Sorry for not being clearer about this. I mean that human nature begins “religiously” and moves away from it over time. This can “fade away” even as a very, very young child. I’m not saying that every Atheist is an explicit believer in particular dogma and then later, when they’re able to fully articulate their thoughts, they choose Atheism. I’m talking about a much deeper neurological level than simply cognitive assent. I promise, I’m not saying what you seemed to think I was saying. That would indeed be silly.]

“…(it’s really a list of 20 reasons why he thinks Christianity is wrong, but that’s beside the point).”

In fact, the majority of the preceding list speaks to an interventionist conception (i.e., the god of theism), which subsumes all Abrahamic religions. Numbers 7, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 (i.e., 6/20) lay emphasis on Christianity specifically, as this is the religion in which I was raised and am most conversant. Your simplification is plainly false.

[Sorry, that was because the scope of my writing had started narrowing down to Christianity. Yeah, I know not all your points are specifically about Christianity. The emphasis of that sentence was supposed to be that I thought the thrust of your list was more a catalog of why you don’t believe rather than what would change your mind. But either way, that comment was not to speak to the legitimate substance of your post.]

“Looking at his critiques of religion, you can figure out the kind of God and Christianity he thinks he is not believing in–the kind of religion from off of which his Atheism is built.”

It’s as if you’ve never examined the very things you inveigh against. Atheism is not a religion. Atheists do not adopt missional creeds; they do not gather once a week to perform sacred rituals; they do not place unyielding faith in a static, two thousand year-old set of texts; there is no official “church of atheism” to which members pay regular tithe and offering. Perhaps Christianity was what you were thinking of there.

[This was a lack of grammatical clarity on my part. Yes, I meant “Christianity”. I meant the kind of “base” spirituality/religiousness that shapes the kind of Atheistic thinking that your post characterizes. I wasn’t saying Atheism itself is a religion. Sorry.]

“started some comment warring”

It’s as if you’ve specifically avoided reading the thread at all. In fact, there’s been no warring, and the discussion thus far has been mannerly, mutually respectful and highly illuminating.

[Again, sorry. I more meant just back-and-forth. There was one religious guy that commented and wasn’t very thoughtful, but other than that, yeah, absolutely! It’s definitely one of the most thoughtful, civil discussions I’ve seen on Facebook. Thank you for facilitating that. I honestly meant that more in a spirit of fencing among gentleman. The phrase I used carries the wrong connotation.]

You insert one out of place claim that I “oversimplify” or “misunderstand” scientific and religious terms without providing even one example.

[This is the problem with writing such an introductory post as I did. These are the things I will address in my other post, which I have outlined, but not fully written yet. That will probably come Monday. I promise, I would never intend to throw a statement like that out there indiscriminately without ever being more specific.]

In closing, this quasi-post reads like the hasty scribbles of someone exasperated on their own inability to respond meaningfully or thoughtfully to the discussion at hand, amounting to little more than a dismissive mischaracterization which gestures toward character assassination, as vacuous as it is ill-informed. I might expect far more adequate and engaging feedback from someone who has reflected in a deeper way on these matters, and this circuitous, thoughtless, error-strewn piece doesn’t come within hailing distance.

[Opening with that account of that discussion I had with my pastor, I was trying to show how your note affected me. Heck, it’s why I’ll probably end up writing several thousand words in response! It sent me researching, thinking, musing, remembering past conversations I’ve had, and wrestling with what you said. It is more blistering and cogent and fact-based (rather than philosophy-based) than most of the other similar writings I’ve read. But, with that being said, my initial critique still stands that the post represents a reductionistic simplifying of reality, truth, theology, and the world. And yes, I intend to more fully defend that statement rather than just throwing it out there. Like I said at the end: “stay tuned”.] 

– Daniel

Later, Daniel wrote this…

Even more unfortunate is that with your inaccurate criticism of my treatment of religion, you’ve only shown that you are unwilling to engage any legitimate criticisms of your own beliefs. If you cannot acknowledge that there is legitimacy to be found on both sides, then you have no real starting point for engagement.

[I hope any search for the terms “atheist” or “atheism” on my blog can show you otherwise. I have deep respect for Atheism, and I resonate with it a lot. If I were not a Christian, I would certainly be an Atheist, and not ascribe to any other faith. This fiction piece might also demonstrate that.]

For the record, I’ve received a number of messages and emails from Christian friends (and from Christians I’ve never met) thanking me for writing the piece as it has helped them evaluate their beliefs on a deeper level. It was not in any way intended as an attack on anyone’s faith but to promote constructive discourse on important questions we all consider throughout life. The fact that you seem to miss the point entirely and dive straight to attacks on my character reveals more about you than me and suggests a sign of desperation.

“They fight with the such rigor to say that modernist Christian fundamentalism has to be the truest articulation of Christianity, no matter what anyone else says. They act as if that is “true” Christianity, and so if that can be dismantled, then all is “won”. They write off dissenting, legitimate voices–or simply disregard them.”

This is patently false, and if it was not in reference to me then he should have stated so clearly.

[Well, the ambiguity in this is because I don’t know where you lie. Some of the things you say in your post, mainly the whole “House of Cards” section really does only speak to a more fundamentalistic view of (specifically) the Bible. You don’t offer any wiggle room for a more down-to-earth, historically and archaeologically consistent view of the Scriptures. Your apparent definitions of “internal consistency” and “divinely-inspired” don’t get close to how I (or most Christians in history) would use those terms. Then again, I don’t think you currently think about those things in the same way as that post represents. Do you see where I could get confused? If this statement does not apply to you, then great, it only applies to many other conversations I’ve had. If it does, then it does.]

And then he has the audacity to claim:

“So if we’re going to have this discussion, we should at least acknowledge the presence and knowledge of voices that have legitimate responses to the concerns raised in that post and others like it.”

Again, if you can’t acknowledge legitimate challenge to your beliefs, then you’re needlessly propagating the stereotype of the close-minded Christian.

[I hope the above comments and our continuing discussion show you otherwise. I’m really sorry if you feel there was anything personal in that. I strive for that not to be the case. I look forward to mending whatever offence I may have caused you, so our mental fencing among gentlemen can continue!

– Paul]


7 thoughts on “Simplistic Christianity; Simplistic Atheist: a response [GUEST POST]

  1. Pingback: Simplistic Christianity leads to Simplistic Atheism {1}: it’s our fault | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

  2. Paul,

    I sincerely thank you for your clarifying comments. For the most part, they have put my mind at ease.

    To reiterate, it’s far from clear that what I’ve presented can be so easily dismissed as an “oversimplification” of the topic or a disregard for legitimate voices. I did not strawman religion or religious beliefs in the least, nor did I cater to the platitudinous “meme-based” thinking so prevalent in atheist circles. Rather, I believe what I have laid down merits a substantive, cogent response, and to fail to acknowledge its legitimacy needlessly propagates the stereotype of the close-minded Christian. (And I don’t see even a hint of this in your first post.)

    I have high expectations, but I will reserve judgment until the time you can marshal an actual objection to what I have written.


    • “Your apparent definitions of “internal consistency” and “divinely-inspired” don’t get close to how I (or most Christians in history) would use those terms.”

      This is why I have encouraged people to follow the links provided in the note. They are there more than to just give some text a pretty blue color I promise. There is only so much you can pack into a single paragraph, and I tried hard to strike a good balance between substance and overkill. Still, the links are a fuller articulation of the arguments.


  3. Pingback: Simplistic Atheism {1}: a Reason & Spirituality that’s too small | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

  4. Pingback: A Christian & An Atheist: A Discussion [a table of contents] | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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