Worlds & Time

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Understanding Christians and Everyone Else Too

I used to deal with lots and lots of Christians online. I was a moderator for one of the largest atheist message boards and dealt with the largest group of Christians there. I'm also a member of the largest "Christian" message board. Depending on your definition of Christian, obviously.

Renaissance Guy: We do not believe that Christians are good and other people are bad.

Great. That's definitely one of the biggest issues that I've had with Christians over the years. People like Angel4Truth, Emmy, angellica, or ShieldOfFaith absolutely believe that Christians are the only good people. It's really hard to evangelize when you've already set yourself up as perfect and morally superior.

I guess the question that I have for you is: When do you believe that you are saved? (Slactivist's answer is "About two thousand years ago" but his answer avoids a serious theological question that is absolutely necessary to answer before discussion about Christianity between believers and non-believers becomes possible.) When you become a Christian, are you wiped of any desire to sin? Do you stop sinning? Because if you believe this to be the case, the conversation ends. It's obvious that Christians do sin, that they are sinners. They are not more perfect than we are.

There is also the problem of pride, however. It isn't just the attitude that "we know what sin is" but "we know what's best for you." The former is not necessarily harmful during communication but the later is. When you are required, as you have previously said that you are, to tell people they are sinners you are absolutely a member of the later.

As an atheist, I know what's best for you. It's to give up Christianity and learn the Truth. Capital T, Truth.

Notice how your eyes glazed over during the first sentence in the previous paragraph? How you suddenly find me pushy and stupid as soon as I implied that I know what's best for you? And using Truth with a captial T? Ludicrous. How do I know? I'm just an atheist . . .

Right. That's also exactly how I feel when you tell me your Good News with the knowledge that I need to hear it.

The problem is that I have heard it. I know the Bible. Not as well as you, but better than a lot of Christians and I'm definitely familiar with the basic theological arguments and the story contained within the Gospel.

Let's bring this back on track. I said there was a problem of pride and it's the same problem of pride that Chick tracts have: If you assume that your audience isn't familiar with Christianity, you've already lost most of them by failing to understand where they're starting from.

You might be shocked at how many Christians came to the atheist message board where I moderated and thought that posting the story of Jesus would convert people. Or that letting us know that we're going to Hell would suddenly make us realize that we need Jesus in our lives.

I've previously mentioned that there are people that have seriously made me reconsider my atheism. Not a single one of them ever got me to that point by starting by telling me that I am going to hell. Or that Jesus died for my sins.

Rather, they listened. They realized that I am human and have human wants and needs. They listened to me and when I talked about my life they empathized. When I was lonely they were there, when I was sad they were sad, when I was happy they were happy.

They talked about their beliefs too. Never requiring them, never asserting primacy, but offering them up the same way that I would try to talk about atheism: this is what I believe and this is why I believe it.

I think that my point in all of this is that to understand non-Christians, Christians have to understand that to a certain extent we do understand them already. The difference isn't that great. The gulf between us is not vast. In most cases it's only a thin holy (or unholy) line.

I want to go off on a bit of a tangent now.

This is related to the treatment of gay people by "Bible-believing, orthodox Christians."

If you really do accept that all Christians are sinners, then accept that all gay people are sinners as well. They're just not lying about that particular sin. If Christians aren't led away from temptation when they become Christians (and they aren't) then it won't change homosexuals to become Christians. They'll just be gay Christians now, and they'll still have the same problems, inclinations, and sex drives as they did before. Only now they'll be saved in Christ.

It's fairly obvious to me that if becoming a Christian doesn't grant super powers, then one of the sins that homosexuals are going to have to have forgiven is the fact that they're going to be homosexuals. They can try to be the best people in the world and some gay Christians are going to choose a life of celibacy (I'll point them out, if you email me) but there are always going to be gay people for whom celibacy is not an option, just as there are Christians who can't live with celibacy.

So, they've got two options: monogamy or promiscuity. It makes me wonder when these Bible-believing, orthodox Christians are so weirded out by the fact that some people sin in this way that they will actively oppose these people from trying to form stable unions. If you're going to try to prevent sinners from getting married, don't you think that there are a lot of heterosexuals that they should be worried about first?

But they're not. They blithely vote against gay marriage, pat themselves on the back, and then go on to say that they can't support sin when in fact they just did. Support of gay marriage? It's a sin. But opposition to gay marriage also supports sin: more sins.

And to those that want to claim that marriage is a Christian institution that shouldn't be changed? The Jews are over there. Go talk to them about that.

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  • But they're not. They blithely vote against gay marriage, pat themselves on the back, and then go on to say that they can't support sin when in fact they just did. Support of gay marriage? It's a sin. But opposition to gay marriage also supports sin: more sins.

    One of the most orthodox, Bible-believing conservative Christians I ever encountered once spent 10 minutes ranting angrily at me about how in a meeting of the elders, his local church had decided formally to refuse to support gay marriage and to expel from church membership any member who got married to someone of the same sex. He was furious for precisely the reasons you outline: he genuinely believed, and therefore felt it was clearly better for two gay men, or two lesbians, to commit to each other in monogamy (and church membership) than be treated as outcasts for wanting to do so and possibly end up sinning worse - in his eyes - by promiscuity or leaving the church.

    And he ranted to me - an atheist! - because he could literally find not another conservative, Bible-believing Christian in his congregation to support him.

    I never met him again, but I've thought about him often since: about how very, very few people who identify themselves Christians who "love the sinner, hate the sin", who claim they want to support lesbian and gay people... actually mean what they say.

    C. S. Lewis, I think, from what he wrote in Surprised by Joy; this man; a very small handful of others over the years. When something like this comes up, and they show that they actually believe - they end up getting shunned by the unbelievers who form the comfortable majority.

    By Blogger Jesurgislac, at 7:23 AM  

  • As both of us know, expelling people from the church is the best way to make sure to make sure that they know that Jesus loves them, even if they're sinners.

    By Blogger Spherical Time, at 1:20 PM  

  • SphericalTime said: [quote]Great. That's definitely one of the biggest issues that I've had with Christians over the years. People like Angel4Truth, Emmy, angellica, or ShieldOfFaith absolutely believe that Christians are the only good people. It's really hard to evangelize when you've already set yourself up as perfect and morally superior.[/quote]

    I do not believe that at all. Thank you for misrepresenting me. Ive had about 3 or 4 direct conversations with you over about 5 years.

    I understand that my conservative stance on gay marriage causes you to do it though.

    "There are none who are good, no not one. " this is what I believe.

    Im really at a loss as to why you are mentioning me at all as we have had no conversation for some time now and the last thing i said to you was that i am sorry if anything i have ever said hurt you and that was certainly not my intent, but things like this will certainly not make me believe that homosexual unions are ok with God.

    Your being gay does not though make me see you as any less than a person like anyone else and homosexuality is just one more sin amoung many others and its certainly not my focal point.

    You do not know me at all. Nor have you even tried to. When did we talk last? 6 months ago or longer?

    What a chance find this was!

    By Anonymous Angel4Truth, at 9:27 PM  

  • Perhaps I'm confusing you with someone else, Angel. I have a bad memory for names.

    By Blogger Spherical Time, at 12:22 AM  

  • This is a little off-topic, but here goes.

    Okay. As far as I can tell the prohibition of homosexuality grew out of the notion that buttsex equals sodomy, in the Biblical sense. The Bible says some really harsh things about sodomy, like that people who do it will burn in the lake of fire created for Satan and the fallen angels. (Ironically the "lake of fire" is not the punishment listed elsewhere for human sinners. They get darkness and weeping, not fire.) However, the Book of Judges describes what the men of Sodom did wrong--I think the story starts in Chapter 18.

    An angel, disguised as a man, comes to the city. Lot (the good guy) offers to shelter him in his home. Late at night an angry mob of local residents come to Lot's house and demand he turn the stranger over to them for a gang-rape. Lot refuses. They threaten to burn the house down. Lot offers them either his virgin daughter or his concubine instead. The mob agrees. So Lot shoves the concubine out the front door, the angry mob gets their gang-rape, and they leave the woman half-dead on the front doorstep in the morning.

    So. What was the bad thing the Sodomites did? RAPE. They were trying to rape a man, true, but in the Bible story they didn't even do that. They didn't especially care whether the victim was a man or a woman, as long as they got to use sex as a weapon to injure and degrade someone.

    The only other Biblical injunctions I can remember against consensual male-male or female-female sex occur in Leviticus. The Jewish book of the law. Which Christians don't follow anyway.

    So yeah. If mean "Christians" start hassling you about gayness, lay that one on 'em. I haven't been a Christian myself in something like a decade. So it's entirely possible that if I'd read the Bible more often in the interim I would have found more things that totally refute my argument. But at least the first few times, they won't be expecting it. You might even trick them into treating you like a human being for up to five minutes!

    By Blogger Fiat Lex, at 11:43 PM  

  • Well, Fiat, that may be God's own truth, but that isn't the way that most Christians view the matter.

    There is another fairly explicit prohibition against gay sex given by Paul in . . . Romans? I'm sure that a Google search would find it. That's actually the one that most Christians harp on, although the Leviticus one sounds better and looks better on a sign.

    By Blogger Spherical Time, at 2:04 PM  

  • You're right; I found it. Romans 1:21-32. According to those verses homosexuality is a divine punishment for the worship of idols. And apparently leads to all other forms of wickedness.

    Goddammit. Dogmannit. I mean, it's Paul saying this, not Jesus, and I've got very little use for Paul in general so I'm not too surprised. Doesn't help steer conversation trolls out of the hate zone, though. Gaah!

    I rant now with rage. I apologize in advance for my spewings if they displease.

    There's always pointing out the hypocrisy to fall back on. Like that guy, whatsisname--he was on Oprah not too long ago? Big time pastor who lied for years about his sneaking off to gay prostitutes and doing meth?

    Ah, wait, that's right. Christians don't have to listen to words or actions, only Bible verses. Although there's some spicy ones about judgmentalism and hypocrisy in Romans 2. Maybe we could use those? No wait, they won't listen to those either. Because "the devil can quote Scripture".

    Any why are us nonbelievers disallowed from using even their own source text to defend ourselves from them? Because humans are weak and powerless pawns of mighty spiritual forces! So every person is merely a walking sock puppet for the will of either God or Satan. Hence everything we say isn't actually our own opinion. It's the devil himself using our lips to spew soul-destroying lies into their holy little ear-holes.

    By Blogger Fiat Lex, at 6:27 PM  

  • Don't apologize to me for ranting, I'm just as pissed at Paul as you are. Pauline Christianity is the basis for lots of the nasty crap in Christianity in general, it sometimes seems.

    Ted Haggard was the meth and gay prostitutes guy.

    And yeah, it ticks me off when non-Christians are dismissed because they aren't Christians.

    By Blogger Spherical Time, at 9:12 PM  

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