July 25, 2006

Opening a Dialogue Between Atheists and Christians

I was recently contacted by Steve from HarvestBoston, a Christian blog. Far from condemning me to hell, he expressed interest in a Christian-atheist dialogue. Steve asked if I would be willing to write something that he could share with his readers in which I explained my belief that many Christians were Christian in name only, failing to act in a manner consistent with the teachings attributed to Jesus. He thought it would be beneficial to his Christian readers. I agreed, and you can read his post here. I encourage you to visit and share your perspective with his readers as well as contributing to the comments here.

This experience confirms a few things I have long suspected. First, atheists and "real" Christians (i.e., those who attempt to follow the core themes contained in the words attributed to Jesus) have quite a bit in common. Of course, we disagree on the god question, but our similarities should not be overlooked. You see, Steve agrees that too many Christians fail to follow the teachings attributed to Jesus. He too perceives this as a problem.

Second, productive dialogue between atheists and Christians is possible. We cannot rightly expect every Christian to condemn us, and Christians should be able to expect some measure of civility from us. I am not saying that we should water down our critique of religion; I am saying that considering all Christians as "the enemy" is counterproductive.

Third, I am gradually coming to believe that, at least for me, religion and politics are inseparable. By this, I mean that any critique of religion that is broader than the usual philosophical arguments against it invariably turns to politics. The claim that religious belief is destructive in the modern world brings us to foreign policy. The suggestion that many Christians have abandoned a central theme of their bible, namely how the poor are to be treated, brings us to domestic programs. The issues about which we atheists are deeply concerned are nearly always political (e.g., abortion, church-state separation, stem cell policies, etc.).

Atheists and Christians can (and should) work together toward many important political goals. Our motivation for improving our world may differ, but our goals are often similar.

Postscript: Don't worry, I'm not going crazy here like a certain other (raving) atheist.

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