Friday, March 12, 2010

Vanilla Bigots and Chocolate Bastards



Vanilla Bigots and Chocolate Bastards: On Matters of Religious Taste

When you willingly take the apostate’s path, the road less traveled by, Christians habitually try to a) re-convert you so that you may be born again (again), and upon their failure to do so they’ll either b) leave the issue alone (and try to salvage an awkward relationship which they don’t quite know how to interact in since they’ll do and say peculiar things like “Jesus forgives you for your rebellious nature; or doubtful nature, etc.” as if free thinking were some unforgivable crime) or c) they’ll opt to leave you alone and save themselves a headache (quite literally I’d imagine since God forbid they would have to think about any argument outside of their faith too deeply).

I’m not the only one who thinks this. I’ve talked to many Evangelical fundamentalists turned atheist and we’ve discussed the peculiarities of this common occurring experience among apostates. Anyone who has ever been a part of a close-knit group or clique, only to have done something to get yourself ostracized, knows the weird position this puts you in. Eventually you find out who your real friends are, as some will chose to side with your right to your opinion, while others will shamelessly hold it against you. I’ve experienced both, and from my discussions with unbelievers, I get the sense they have too.

In summary, the Christian approach to apostates is predictably: 1) Reconvert them, 2) Cautiously Interact with them and occasionally remind them of their sinful rebellion just for good measure, 3) Will opt to leave you alone for fear of contamination of ideas, and knowledge, which as Alexander Pope keenly pointed out, inevitably leads to further skepticism.

My predominantly Christian family is no exception either, as they have gone through a process of grappling with all three points. It’s as if they seem rather confused about who I am, even though I haven’t really changed all that much. I’ve simply changed my mind on a few key issues, and that’s not the same thing as becoming an entirely different person altogether. I mean, it would almost be as shocking as a Boston Red Sox fan becoming a New York Yankees fan, unforgiveable in the eyes of their piers, but relatively a non-crime. Perhaps they had their reasons for switching allegiances. Maybe they moved to New York, or perhaps they married with a diehard Yankees fan and chose to save their relationship a few less senseless sports arguments, or maybe all their favorite players were transferred. Or maybe it was all of the above?! The point is, we can’t possibly know each and every one of their reasons for making the change of heart, but they had their reasons. Surely they are the same good old people we have come to know and love.

The same is true of atheists as well. We’re still the same old people, we have just had a change of heart, and what’s more, we had our reasons for doing so.

Let’s think of it another way. If I decide one day that I prefer Peanut M&Ms to regular M&Ms, so what’s the big deal? I don’t see much of a problem. Or what if I decided after years of loving Peanut M&Ms that I was a Skittles guy at heart? Still a sweet tooth by any other name, to be sure, I’m still the same me, merely my tastes have changed. There may be a myriad of unforeseen reasons for this. Changing your treatment or opinion of me simply because I now have different views or tastes seems rather peculiar from my standpoint.

When I was a Christian I was interested in religion and religious topics. I talked about it nearly non-stop. Everyone knew how much I was into it, into Bible study, youth group, counseling at Bible camps, youth ministries, missionary services, devotional retreats, basically the whole Evangelical Christian movement. That was the sort of high strung Christian I was.

But then I allowed reason to infiltrate my personal convictions, and my religious identity was shattered, and so I had to find a whole new set of personal convictions. Atheism was the only system of thinking which left me with no cognitive dissidence. Regardless, religious history remains a big interest of mine, so much so that I was seriously considering Robert M Price’s invitation to join his Masters program in New Testament Criticism as just a side venture. (I recently had the distinct privilege and honor of interviewing the Biblical historian Price, which you can read in full HERE after the jump.) So my interests haven’t changed nearly as drastically as people think they have, merely my positions have changed, because some of the religious things I once believed, and took for granted, ring untrue.

Worse still, Christians seem to think the best way to convince an atheist that they’re mistaken is to tell them they’re wrong, and then follow up this proclamation with a slew of Bible quotes—which the atheist views as ersatz anyway, making the religious attempt to proselytize and “re-save” their wayward friends not only a misguided attempt, but frequently an obnoxious one also. 


To “save” someone implies they are in trouble, or that they are in need of a cure for a debilitating illness, and I’m sure to some Christians the critical skepticism of the Atheist may seem like such. But to boorishly offer them “salvation” is to assume they just didn’t understand what they were rejecting in the first place, more specifically it is expecting someone who has seen the logical fallacies and inconsistencies of faith for what they are to retract their position simply because you’ve guilted them into it, and that’s just condescending not to mention discourteous.

Still, there is an uncomfortable tension with specific religious family members and friends because they are all extremely pious types, as such, they *themselves often can’t help resorting to religious anecdotal stories or religious speak when conversing with me. I am constantly having to bight my tongues, as their blatant usage of religious language often trespasses (overtly) onto the other person’s position and calls for a defense of said position specifically because it is inconsiderate to assume someone else thinks like, and agrees with, everything you do. 


I imagine it would be like sitting in a room full of racists, all hooting and laughing at a very offensive racist joke, myself being horribly offended, but not being allowed to saying anything in polite defense, or if I did, they’d boo me out of the arena. When religious people say things like, “I’m praying for you…” or “Jesus still loves you…” or “Even though you’ve turned your back on God I still consider you my friend…” as well intentioned as they may be, they come off as hurtful, ignorant, and rude. If you truly cared for me you wouldn’t say such things off handedly, instead you’d ask me my opinion, why I had a change of heart, and listen to my side of things.

For example, when I was still a devout Christian I once pointed out a major Biblical contradiction in the NT to my mother, e.g. the time of the tearing of the temple shroud and the last supper happening on different days, and my mother was pleasantly surprised, and she commended me on reading the Bible so diligently! It was vanilla praise, sweet and kind, and this parental pat on the back made me feel proud to be a member of my vanilla faith. A few years later, now an avowed atheist, during a discussion of why I had become atheist I reminded her of that same Bible contradiction. This time her reaction was oddly different, instead of the good son, I was blamed for trying to stir up trouble, sew confusion, be confrontational, and I was reprimanded for not respecting other people’s beliefs enough. She said that I was hurting her feelings every time I talked like that. In my head I was like—WHAT?! Suddenly I’ve gone from Vanilla Saint to Chocolate Bastard? Based on what?

So it is a disconcerting fact, Christian will treat you differently when you are an ex-Christian who has since become an atheist. But that said, atheists who have never held a religious belief to begin with tend to get treated differently as well, I have noticed.

Pious types always seem to be perplexed as to how, or why, someone could not simply believe in God or ever have been religious, for that matter. They have it in their heads that we’re all born religious (or something). But that is categorically false. We’re born into the world not knowing anything much… everything that constitutes a notion, thought, idea, a fancy, or an opinion must be taught to us. More often than not, so is your religion,  which is likely to be the faith of your parents, which you received instruction on and were indoctrinated into as a child. 


So even though many are taught the cultish ways of vanilla aficionados, some people are just born lactose intolerant, to them dairy is obviously unhealthy—a health risk in fact, and it’s odd how in comparison, the religious just don’t seem to grasp the concept of someone not being able to buy into or even being able to stomach religion to being with.

One of the things I have surmised is that since much of what religion is, being either cultural or traditional, that to back out of it or turn away from it sometimes appears to be an act of betrayal, a traitorous act, to those who view apostasy as one turning their back on their cultural heritage. This is why I feel apostates always get the treated like criminals and enemeies of the faith where as truly non-religious types get treated like incompetent children who don’t know any better. To be a traitor is far worse, to be a traitor of the State is bad enough, but to be a traitor of everything we believe is good and true—to be a traitor to the faith in other words—well, that’s just insufferable! 


Although, it would be remiss if I didn't point out that this is strictly a religious bred prejudice. Traditionally speaking, apostates have a way of causing instability by asking the religious to stop taking it all for granted, in their tenacity they boldly defied the quid pro quo of the faith based institution. So the authoritarians came up with the religious answer to deal with this brewing of skepticism, which was to cut the head off the beast, annihilate the source of conflict, eradicate the unbeliever, destroy the infidel, and dominate the gentile. By keeping the independent thinkers oppressed, religious despots could dictate the terms of the conversation.

Disagreeing with the zealots about everything they deem as sacred and true became a crime, and to be direct, an offense religion is  still trying to punish and squash today in many parts of the world. Free-thinking and asking questions is the quickest way to shake the most ardent convictions of faith--and therefore it's the most dangerous foil to religious faith.

The most narrow minded and cruel fact is that there are too many believers don’t want to take the time to try and understand their atheist friends, family, or neighbors at all. There are a few, sure, but I’ve only met a handful. I can probably count them on my two hands. Generally, the person of faith just adheres to the tradition that all atheists are bad seeds, that the offense is punishable according to their articles of faith, and in extreme cases there are those who’d rather just write you off as a servant of Satan then have to spend ten minutes with you discussing anything of importance. 


As for atheists and skeptics who have experienced such shunning and overall demeaning dismissal (not only of their person but also their personal beliefs) I find it totally hypocritical that Christians (or any other religious person) should ever claim that we’re being too intolerant of their beliefs. We’re being critical of their beliefs, of course, but more often than not, they are well deserved criticisms at that. 

Unsurprisingly, its the religious bigots who are in the habit of being intolerant, even condescending, toward non-believers and other peoples of different faiths more so than any secular branch of non-believing libertarian. Again, this generalization fits certain fundamentalist believers and not others, but there is more than enough proof of this kind of behavior within the religious ranks. Something, which should in fact, cause atheists to get unnerved—as well as other religious members who feel the name of their faith is being drug through the mud by the sensationalist antics of the radical fringe groups of their faith—and reasonably so, I might add.

So, the question becomes, how do we remedy this underserved animosity toward unbelievers, nonbelievers, and secular skeptics? We must start by keeping the discourse going, for one, and by informing believers where we feel they are mistaken and our reasons as to why. Also by teaching the critical method, by asking believers to step into our shoes for a moment and maybe look at it all another way, perchance to gain a new perspective. Granted there are believers who will likely be hesitant to even try it, they will cling to their dogmas and shallow prejudices, but in the end they either will or they won’t choose to expand their limited field of view. And if they choose not to, then they’ve proved how blinkered they really are and how vanilla their faith truly is. It’s one thing to appreciate vanilla for all it’s worth, but it’s entirely another thing to pretend that vanilla is the only flavor in town.

For those who are bold, and wish to try out other flavors, perhaps dabble in a little Rocky Road, and who desire to get out there and enjoy the whole 31 flavors, a virtually unlimited smorgasbord of ideas, beliefs, concepts, and things to learn from, well, I am confident that all this variety will only seek to enhance one’s reflective equilibrium and bring them that much closer to discovering the truth (whatever it may be). And that’s something we can all appreciate, no matter what our personal tastes may or mayn’t be.

I Think Therefore I Blog!

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist