September 13, 2020

Overcoming Anti-Christian Bigotry

angry argument

Between the ages of roughly 17 and 24, I would have been quick to agree with anyone who suggested that Christians were stupid for believing what they claimed to believe. If someone claimed that Christians were delusional, I would have agreed. I probably believed these things, at least to some degree; however, I was doing a lousy job of critically examining my beliefs. I was convinced I was right and was content to leave the critical examination to those I thought were wrong (e.g., Christians).

What I needed at this time in my life was someone who would push me to examine my beliefs. For example, I needed someone to point out that every single member of my family and most of my friends was Christian. Were all of them stupid and delusional? If so, what did that say about me? Had I had someone push me in this way, I think they would have gotten through to me and made real progress. I was reachable; I just wasn't doing the kind of thinking I needed to be doing on my own. Prior to 18, I did not have any contact with other atheists. Between 18 and about 23, I had contact with other atheists but almost all of them held the same views I did about Christians. When that started to change as 23 neared, it did not take me long to modify many of these beliefs.

Of course, what I am referring to should be acknowledged as anti-Christian bigotry. I held bigoted attitudes toward Christians. I made unwarranted generalizations about Christians simply because they were Christian. I thought and said plenty of stupid things at the time because of this. Had social media existed in those days, I have no doubt that I would have used it to express bigoted attitudes aimed at Christians just like we see many atheists doing these days.

The answer for me was not the sort of angry call-outs and public shaming that are so popular today. Not only do I not think that would have worked, but I suspect it would have backfired and strengthened my bigoted attitudes. I probably would have dismissed that stuff as evidence of "weak atheism." What worked was meeting other atheists who were more open-minded, tolerant, and accepting of people with whom they disagreed. Interacting with such people showed me that there was no reason atheism had to include anger and bigotry toward Christians. It also helped that some of them were willing to gently encourage me to examine some of my previously unexamined beliefs. When I'd spout anti-Christian bigotry, they'd express surprise and initiate a calm discussion. This allowed me to take a hard look at my beliefs without getting defensive, and the change came quickly.

None of this means I didn't hold on to way too much anger even past 24. I did, and that was much harder to get over. But the anti-Christian bigotry was surprisingly easy to overcome once I started examining it. I quickly realized that some Christians were stupid in the same ways some atheists were stupid but that many Christians were far from stupid (or delusional). My relationships with Christians improved. They had always been there, but by bigotry sometimes got in the way. As I replaced my bigoted attitudes with more tolerant and reality-based perspectives, I could recognize Christians as equals and appreciate them in ways that had sometimes been difficult.

When I see atheists today expressing anti-Christian (or anti-Muslim bigotry) on social media, they remind me of my old self. I have little difficulty understanding where they are coming from because that used to be me. I remember the anger, the self-righteousness, and the unquestioned conviction that I was right. I don't pity these atheists or look down on them; I see them as going through a process they probably need to go through. I hope they will eventually discover that the bigoted attitudes are not necessary and that setting them aside will probably be beneficial to them. I am careful not to call them out or initiate angry arguments with them, but I do sometimes try to gently challenge some of what they express in case they don't have anyone else to offer alternative points of view.

One of the things I come back to whenever I think about this subject is the question of whether bigotry is something we should all seek to avoid regardless of its target. I believe this is the case. That is, I think we should seek to avoid bigotry because bigotry is a problem no matter where it is aimed. That means I'm not inclined to oppose anti-atheist bigotry only to decide that anti-Christian bigotry is acceptable. Neither are acceptable because bigotry is not acceptable.