December 4, 2013

The Individual Christian is Not Usually the Problem

Demonstration for religious freedom
Demonstration for religious freedom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It does not bother me in the least what the individual Christian chooses to do in his or her home or church. The Christian can chose to believe as much absurd nonsense as he or she wants, can pray for whatever he or she wants, and can cover his or her home with tacky Jesus decorations this time of year. All of this falls under religious freedom, and it would not occur to me to try and stop any of it. As long as the Christian isn't harming anyone, what he or she does at home or in church really isn't my concern.

The point at which I begin to take notice is when the Christian, usually after joining with other Christians, decides to impose his or her religious beliefs on others through state power. Church-state violations are the classic example of this. The group of Christians may decide that our government should no longer remain neutral on matters of religion (i.e., secular) and should instead give preference to Christianity over all other belief systems. This is problematic and requires activism.

Another even more troublesome example involves the group of Christians seeking to enact religiously-based laws (e.g., legally prohibiting "sodomy"). This is not to say that all religiously-based laws are necessarily problematic. I think we can agree that murder should remain a criminal act, regardless of whether some want to use a religious rationale for their decision. This is what makes the anti-sodomy laws or so-called "blue laws" such good examples. The behavior being criminalized is not harmful; it merely offends religious sensibilities. The Christians who pursue this sort of thing are determined to meddle in the private lives of others, and this too should be resisted.

When the individual Christian says something stupid in public, I may laugh. I may even mock. But I do not see my goal as being one of changing the mind of that particular Christian. I have no desire to knock on his or her door on Saturday afternoon to proselytize for atheism. I'd far prefer to work on improving education, correcting church-state violations, and empowering other atheists. While I will continue to criticize religious belief, I have little need to turn the individual Christian into an enemy. Until he or she joins with other Christians and attempts to threaten secularism or legislate Christian morality, I have little reason to do so.

What leads me to write about this subject? I suppose it is because I feel fortunate to know many Christians who are good people in spite of holding beliefs which strike me as ridiculous much of the time. They value the separation of church and state, and they oppose the efforts by other Christians to legislate their faith. We may believe vastly different things about the world, with me preferring reason and evidence and them preferring faith, but that has not been much of a barrier to some worthwhile relationships.

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