June 5, 2009

What Do Atheists Think of Christians?

Anacampseros subnuda var. lubbersii flowerImage by Martin_Heigan via Flickr
We humans are social creatures, and part of what that means is that we find others' opinions of us to be relevant. Anybody who tells you that they do not care what anyone else thinks of them is either a liar or operating on an entirely different plane from most of humanity. Maybe that is too strong a statement, but you get the idea. Most of us care, perhaps even too much, what others think of us. We may pretend otherwise as a form of self-protection, but others' opinions of us typically matter at least to some degree.

It is normal to be curious about what others think of us. Having this information helps us navigate our social environments. It seems that we atheists rarely have to wonder what some Christians think of us because we are often told exactly what they think of us. But how about Christians? It is only natural that some Christians might wonder what we atheists think of them.
My church says that all atheists think Christians are stupid, and that they hate us all. Is that true?
I make no claim to speak for all atheists, but I will provide my response to this question below and let my readers (most of whom are atheists) add as they see fit in the comments.

What Do I Think of Christians?

For starters, it is difficult to answer such a question because I recognize that Christians are a diverse group and that there is little I can say that would accurately apply to all of them. Under this broad heading of "Christian," one can find everything from liberals who read their bibles as loose metaphor and attempt to model themselves after the positive deeds attributed to Jesus to bible-thumping extremists who seek to overthrow our secular democracy and replace it with precisely the sort of Christian theocracy which America's founders took such great pains to avoid.

In many respects, I have more in common with some progressive Christians than I do with neo-conservative atheists. In fact, the vast majority of my friends are Christians. It would be easy to indicate how I feel about them - I like them very much, but that is not the question.

To get at what the individual asking this question is probably after, I almost have to construct an artificial sort of Christian, one who has only those characteristics shared by all Christians. This poses a problem because each time I think I am close to such a construction, a Christian or two drops by to shoot it down. From what they have told me, not all Christians believe in a personal god intervening in human affairs. Not all believe in the divinity of Jesus. And so on. I suppose I should conclude that the question is unanswerable because Christians refuse to specify the essential features of Christianity. Of course, that strikes me as a bit of a cop out and probably not what the questioner is after.

Let me try this: What do I think of someone who believes that supernatural entities (e.g., gods, demons, angels, etc.) exist and have an important role in human affairs? I think they are wrong. Specifically, I think they are making a mistake by believing rather extraordinary things without sufficient evidence. By definition, this makes such beliefs irrational. The individuals who hold such beliefs may be quite intelligent, but these specific beliefs are not rational. Moreover, starting with a set of beliefs without sufficient evidence (i.e., faith) and then imbibing it with a moral quality so that those who share it are "good" and those who do not are "evil" is very dangerous. That is, this is not merely irrational belief but the sort of irrational belief which can have a seriously destructive impact on humanity.

Do I think that all Christians are stupid? Of course not! Many are far more intelligent than I will ever be. Do I hate all Christians? Of course not! I've already explained that nearly all of my close friends are Christian. The same is true for my family. Even in the abstract, it makes no sense to say that I hate anyone I've never met.

I find it unfortunate that a church would spread such lies. Then again, it has been my experience that some Christian churches are convinced that this is the only way they are going to be able to retain members. Perhaps they realize that Christians who meet happy, well-adjusted atheists may realize that a life free from superstition is not only possible but can be quite meaningful.

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