July 23, 2006

An Open Letter to Christians

Jesus is So Cool
Jesus is So Cool (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dear Christian,

As an atheist (i.e., one who does not share your belief in god), I will not pretend to have a comprehensive grasp of your beliefs and how they guide your actions. I find the concept of the Christian god to be logically incoherent, and I worry that your embrace of faith opens the door to the denigration of reason. I fear that a future of religion will be a future of continued intolerance and conflict. I could say more about the reasons for my lack of belief, but that is not the purpose of this letter.

I am writing to express my confusion over how many Christians seem to act contrary to the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible. Christian extremists such as Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson preach intolerance and hatred. And sadly, they are not alone. I cannot reconcile their message with what Jesus is reported to have said. But the problem goes way beyond these extremists. The policies of the Bush administration and many in Congress who were elected largely by pandering to Christian voters cannot be reconciled with the core themes present in the words of Jesus (e.g., concern for the poor, contempt for those who amass material wealth while neglecting the less fortunate, social justice). Jesus had far more to say about how the poor should be treated than he did on subjects like abortion or same-sex marriage.

Doesn't part of being a Christian imply agreement with the words attributed to Jesus? In fact, aren't his words supposed to be a guide for action? Can a reasonable person argue that he was anything but clear about the value of the poor and how they should be treated? This seems so obvious, but those in the U.S. who proclaim their Christianity the loudest seem to act contrary to these teachings (e.g., favoring large corporations over the working poor, refusing to raise the minimum wage, cutting taxes for the wealthy, preemptive war). This seems like hypocrisy to me. Does it seem that way to you?

When you say that you are a Christian, what does that mean to you? Does your definition include acceptance of the core themes present throughout the words of Jesus? If so, does your definition also include acting in accordance with these themes? You see, part of my confusion is based on my observation that many of my fellow atheists act in a manner consistent with the teachings of Jesus while many self-proclaimed Christians do not. Granted, we atheists would probably say that our actions are based on secular humanism rather than biblical teachings, but the result is often similar. Moreover, it is rare that I see organized groups of Christians denouncing the Christian extremists who spread hate. This gives non-believers the message that more Christians agree with the extremist agenda than may be the case.

As a secular humanist, I believe that the eradication of poverty is a necessary goal in the pursuit of social justice. This position seems more than compatible with Jesus' teachings; it seems like one of his central themes. I certainly don't speak for all atheists, but I would welcome an ongoing dialogue with Christians who agree with Jesus. As for those who call themselves Christians while ignoring or acting contrary to Jesus' core teachings, I hope you will join me in speaking out against them.

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