Hating on Christianity has gotten old.
I know that many of you believe that hating on Christianity at any chance you get is justified. And to be fair, we are given no shortage of chances. “But Jesus Camp!” you think. “The Westboro Baptist Church! Women’s rights! It’s all their fault!” Maybe you heard “religion is the opiate of the masses” once and thought it was cool. Maybe you’ve read some Kurt Vonnegut.
I get it. I think discrimination masked as benevolence is unacceptable, too. Add to that list the teaching of creationism as “science,” the “divine injunction” to police women’s bodies, and all versions — including Richard Dawkins’, by the way — of summer camps that brainwash children. To be clear, I do not support those things, either. But, as simple as this may sound, it must be remembered that not all Christians believe those things. Thank the lord.
This is an injunction against the mass proliferation of stereotypes, and against fighting fire with fire. Many atheists are forward-thinking people, so I know that putting a reminder out not to stereotype doesn’t seem like it’d be necessary. But unfortunately, it is necessary. Not all Christians believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that science is just a “test,” and that gay people deserve to burn in hell. These are simply small factions of Christians who get the most airtime, because let’s face it, in our rationalist, materialist, sexually liberated age, the absurdity is so exceedingly easy to mock.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with calling bullshit where you see it, but the problem is that the media-endorsed, right-wing, fundie spectacle has colonized the popular imagination to the point that we immediately associate these flagrant stereotypes with Christianity itself.
Consider Mike Huckabee’s recent comments on the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting. On FOX News, he claimed that the absence of God in public schools was to blame for the tragedy: “we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” and went on to ask, “should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
Absurd? I certainly think so. But that’s not my point.
In response to the article, all of the outraged, commonplace reactions surfaced:
Pagan606: “ Wow! Where was your god when all those people lost their lives?”
themateos: “This is the reason I don’t go to church. What arrogance.”
Valleypeach: “Huck, I am sure the teachers at Sandy Hook were PRAYING that day. Yet it did not save the children.”
All of these posters are obviously disenchanted about religion. But before we take yet another opportunity to denounce religious belief … who is Mike Huckabee again? Oh, a former governor? Why do we allow a former governor’s outlandish comments to hold a place in our public discourse at all? Because that is exactly what we’re doing when 52,723 of us “recommend” such articles on Facebook. I am sure that some of these shares were from people who agreed with Huckabee, but at least in my own circle, the intent seemed to be to make him an object of public ridicule. I think making people the object of public ridicule can be productive — remember Todd Akin? And how he lost the election? — but this guy has no real power. Let’s not give it to him by popularizing comments like this.
All of the religion bashing that goes down on the internet, aside from negatively affecting the public image of Christians — of whom, like it or not, there are still many — has another more deleterious consequence. It distracts us from having real — and by that I mean civil, respectful, and informed — conversations with one another, conversations that could be predicated on shared values rather than points of disagreement.
Of course, it is much easier to give in to anger, spite, and blame than it is to be curious about, rather than antagonistic towards, wildly divergent belief systems from your own. It’s much easier to share a meme which already confirms your belief about something than it is to question that belief. But this needs to change if we are to ever have bipartisan agreement at home or diplomacy elsewhere in the world.
If atheists and Christians are to hold one value in common, it should be a shared respect for civic discourse. This includes knowing how to communicate with your fellow human being respectfully, and sharing an “agree to disagree” cosmopolitan philosophy.
If we can’t come to agreement about the existence of a higher power, at least we can set some ground rules for how we treat each other here on earth. Ridiculing others for their deeply held personal beliefs is not cool, it’s arrogant. Assuming you know a person’s entire worldview because of what you saw on TV is not hip, it’s ignorant. And bashing religion—instead of engaging directly with religious individuals themselves — amounts to no more than an empty critique, because the truth is that there is no monolithic, univocal entity called “religion.” There are human beings, and there are beliefs, many of which have been derived from institutions made up of … you guessed it, more people.
I am not so naïve to assume that bipartisan agreement can be achieved simply by listening to the other side. I also do not think that civic discussions always lead to changed mindsets. But at the very least, treating others civilly and refraining from stereotyping can lead to more peaceful coexistence. Not in some heavenly afterlife or idyllic liberal utopia, but right here, right now, on earth.
–By Amy Shaw