December 10, 2007

Why Focus On Christianity?

There are some things I do reasonably well but quickly responding to e-mail from readers is not one of them. I enjoy hearing from readers, and I do generally respond, but it often takes me awhile to do so. In this post, I want to address a thought-provoking e-mail I received recently because the question, why I choose to focus on Christianity here, has come up before and will probably continue to do so.

The e-mail posed a couple excellent questions:

  1. Why do I focus this blog on Christianity? Is it simply because this is the most common religion in the United States where I live, or do I have other reasons?
  2. Wouldn't the blog be more effective if it were framed as a broad defense of reason which responded to religion in general instead of focusing so much on one specific instance of religion (i.e., Christianity)? After all, there are many religions across the world, all equally deserving of being labeled as mythology.
I think my e-mailed response to this reader may have been something of a cop-out because I focused too much on his first question and not enough to the second. Let me see if I can do better here.

Why Focus on Christianity?

I started Atheist Revolution primarily to focus on Christian extremism in the U.S., so it is fair to say that my somewhat limited focus was intentional. I observed that the dialogue on religion taking place in the U.S. was increasingly dominated by talk of Islamic extremism and that my neighbors were content to ignore the pervasive Christian extremism which influences U.S. politics. This struck me as hypocritical. How can we continue to point the finger at the evils of Islamic extremism while ignoring Christian extremism? The problem was one of religious extremism in any form. When I started this blog, I did so to call attention to this hypocrisy by highlighting Christian extremism.

The other important reason for my focus does involve my background and where I now live. I was raised in the Christian religion, so I have much more familiarity with it than any other religious tradition. I know what it did to me, and I have seen up close what it has done to many others about whom I care. In addition, I live in a country where Christianity is the dominant religion, both in terms of the manner in which it has influenced the shared history of our citizenry and in its current numbers. As someone who lives not just in the U.S. but in the so-called "bible belt," Christianity is something I encounter every day. Moreover, much of the Christianity I experience here is of the fundamentalist variety. When I feel that my face is rubbed in a pile of fundamentalist Christianity almost ever day, I suppose it is natural that I would rail against it!

Lastly, the primary culprits of discrimination against American atheists are Christians. Thus, I see Christian extremism as being a greater threat to my way of life than other forms of religious extremism. If I lived in an Islamic theocracy, I expect that I would feel very differently. Instead, I am distressed over the increasing control of the U.S. government by Christian extremists. They seem determined to take us on a dangerous course in order to fulfill the end-times prophecies in their bibles.

Why Not a Broad Defense of Reason Opposing All Religions?

I agree that I probably do not spend sufficient time on other religions or on more general defenses of reason. I suppose the flippant response would be that the damn Christian extremists are so busy with their craziness that I'm over overwhelmed just trying to keep up with them! Even though there is more than a kernel of truth in this statement, it would be a mistake to ignore other religions and to avoid mounting a general defense of reason.

It pains me to see idiocy on display in the Muslim world just as it does in my own country. I worry that some of the more outrageous restrictions on civil liberties which occur in Muslim countries make theocrats in the U.S. drool with envy. I also worry about the threat of other forms of religious extremism on global stability. I suppose what I keep coming back to is the idea that the U.S. could serve as a model of rationality and human decency if we could just manage to rid ourselves of our own problem with religious extremism. If we were able to do this, discarding Christian extremism and embracing reason, I would be able to shift my focus completely. Until then, I do not want to fall into the trap of attacking extremism abroad while ignoring it at home.

Nevertheless, this reader was absolutely correct that a broadly applicable defense of reason should be a goal to which we atheist bloggers should aspire. All religions can be considered equivalent in terms of their veracity, or lack thereof. Reason is under attack from many places, all of which represent serious threats to our future. Even as I continue my focus on opposing Christian extremism, I recognize the value of balancing this with the broader considerations of other world religions and the manner in which they challenge reason.