A few days ago, I was watching a Christopher Hitchens video. In it, a Christian asked him why he spoke out like he did against Christianity’s overreach. Right then, I realized that vocal non-Christians get asked that a lot. Christians certainly ask me that question! It’s one of their favorite silencing tactics! So today, I want to talk about why I speak out like I do. Spoiler: It’s because of love.
That Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
To start, let’s get this out of the way: the question itself is a silencing tactic. It’s meant to cow the person doing the speaking. It’s meant to make critics doubt their own right to speak.
Non-believers often compare their position in these cases to the little boy in the old story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In it, a young child finally speaks the truth about the emperor parading around in what everyone insists is a fine new suit of clothes. The boy refuses to play along with that charade. He speaks the truth–and at first, he gets in a lot of trouble over it!
In similar fashion to the emperor’s sycophants, toxic Christians ask dissenters and critics, “Why do you have to talk about this great moral wrong you perceive?”
Like it’s optional for us!
By asking this question, they reveal that they care more about the fact that someone’s called attention to their wrongdoing than they care about the wrongdoing itself. And I don’t think anybody else misses that fact.
Toxic Christians tend to circle their wagons and shoot the messengers whenever something’s brought up that harms their credibility.
They sure don’t ask such questions to someone flattering them! I have never once heard a Christian ask one of their big leaders, “Dang, man, why do you have to keep talking about the inerrancy of the Bible? Why do you have to keep talking about Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life?”
No, this question only gets asked of dissenters, and only about subjects the privileged person doesn’t want to hear discussed aloud, and only issued to someone who is challenging the privileged group’s dominance. It’s an attempt by someone in a privileged group to maintain dominance and privilege by shutting up any critics, and nothing more.
So I reject, utterly, the implication that it is a question that holds any power over me. Far from shutting me up, these Christians remind me of why I speak out and of the necessity for doing so.
These Aren’t the Reasons.
I think it’s important to cover what are not the reasons for why I do what I do.
I don’t set out to deconvert anybody from Christianity itself or any other religion, or to proselytize for my own way of thinking. I think that both of these acts are disrespectful, and ultimately I think that the religious label one slaps across one’s ideology is not any kind of predictor of how that person will behave toward others. How we treat other people is way more important than whether we call ourselves Christians, atheists, pagans, Jedi, or anything else.
Knowing that someone’s Christian tells me nothing about what they’re like as people. Telling me you were a Southern Baptist might tell me a bit more, but it still wouldn’t be definitive. Even within the fundiest of all fundie churches, one can find people of all persuasions.
By contrast, if you told me that you were pro-choice, or an MRA, that might tell me where you stand regarding other people’s rights and how to treat other people. However, it wouldn’t tell me much about your religious label!
So I try not to police people’s religious labels or try to talk them out of holding whatever label they wear.
Trying to Be Polite.
Nor am I being difficult for the sake of being difficult. Like most other dissenters, I speak because I genuinely see a need for someone to point out that the Emperor is naked.
That said, I try to be polite.
I don’t normally invade Christians’ forums or groups to showboat my disbelief or rile people up unnecessarily. Similarly, I wouldn’t go to a church service and spend my time pointing and laughing! I try to be respectful when I’m a guest in other folks’ “homes,” be those homes virtual or real-life.
When I participate in Christians’ blogs, I always remember that those blogs are their “homes” online. Thus, I try to conduct myself according to their rules.
In the same way, I have some very sharply critical things to say about Christianity, but I try to carefully separate out just what kind of Christian I’m talking about and not to take potshots at the people who I know are trying to rescue the religion from where it’s heading.
First: An American Taliban.
So having covered the non-reasons for speaking out, what are the actual reasons for doing so?
First, because for the last thirty or forty years, Christianity have run roughshod over society. In the process, they grabbed quite a bit of political and cultural power for themselves.
And we let them do it, largely because most of us still subscribed to Christianity. Many of us still thought that Christianity was a moral system that was ultimately beneficial. But we were wrong.
As Christianity’s more extremist elements continue to wreak havoc, it’s becoming more and more clear that no, actually, Christians are not a moral powerhouse. They do not possess a superior sense of morality that non-Christians simply can’t access.
I’ve watched toxic Christians turn America from a land of opportunity and freedom into a dysfunctional, dystopian near-theocracy. The only force that seems even vaguely capable of halting their breakneck destruction of liberty and revision of history itself–is vocal dissent and peaceful opposition them, expressed to the limit of the law’s allowance.
Second: Christians Abdicated the Job.
Second, I speak out because Christians themselves are not speaking out (or doing so effectively anyway) against the extremists and abusers in their culture, and even the well-meaning ones among them are certainly not stopping those extremists and abusers from exercising control over the conversation.
As Hemant Mehta says frequently over at Friendly Atheist, we simply cannot trust Christians to do the right thing without being compelled to do it. They will lie, break the law, cheat, steal, vandalize, threaten, coerce, and even murder to get their way. Nobody within their tribe can stop them–even if they try, which they don’t.
So it falls to dissenters to do what Christians themselves either cannot or will not do.
Indeed, it is almost always dissenters who debunk the various urban legends Christians spread about students stopped from praying (which didn’t happen, but that sure didn’t stop Faux Noise from making a HUGE stink about it) or supposedly kept from holding prayer meetings at a private home (haha no, that wasn’t at all the case; rather, he seriously violated safety codes by building his church without zoning permission).
Christians themselves refuse to do it, but they sure get mad when others do their job for them.
Third: A Growing Danger to Democracy.
Third, I speak out because Christians, as a group, are trying their hardest to enshrine their privilege and dominance into law. If they were just keeping to themselves and not bothering anybody, nobody would care about them.
When’s the last time you worried about what Hellenic reconstructionist pagans were doing? Probably never, if you even knew such a group existed at all before I mentioned them just now! They don’t try to strangle government or force anybody to live any particular way.
But we have to be concerned with speaking out against Christians because Christians dominate government at every level. They act like they know better than the rest of us how we should live. Our dissent focuses not on Christians’ private lives but on stopping them from stripping rights from others.
Without dissenters there to tell the truth about their persecution fantasies, these Christians would feel a lot better about forcing their religion on the rest of us. By showing the truth about what they’re trying to do, we help stop them.
Fourth: Educating the Ignorant.
Fourth, Christians often don’t realize what the arguments are against their faith system. They may not even realize that such arguments even exist.
I’ve often talked about Christians as living in a bubble–a very thick one that keeps them from fully seeing, hearing, or engaging with the outside world. They generally consider it a point of pride that they are totally cut off from that outside world. They perceive that world as a threat and a danger to their faith. Indeed, they regard as dangerous even learning about the Theory of Evolution.
And in decades past, effective arguments against Christianity were difficult to find and disbelief was deeply stigmatized. Then, it was a lot easier for Christians to believe–as I once did–that there just aren’t any arguments against Christianity.
When a Christian is aware of and understands the arguments against Christianity’s various claims, that person is much less likely to fall into extremism. But they have to know those arguments exist first, and they will not learn those arguments from their tribemates.
Myself, as a Young Christian.
Indeed, you might have noticed, friends, that a lot of the things I talk about on this blog are things I wish I’d known as a young Christian.
Often I find myself writing to 18-year-old me, telling her what I wish someone had told her, showing her the things I wish someone had shown her. Nobody showed her those things. She didn’t even know they existed. She believed what she was told, because she had no reason otherwise to disbelieve. Her authority figures taught her that Christians were good people, so she believed that. Her entire tribe believed Christianity improved people and societies not because they do, because they don’t, but because literally nobody said otherwise.
That doesn’t mean she didn’t eventually figure out the truth. It just took a lot longer. Young Cas had to invent the wheel from scratch herself. She had to claw her own pathway up out of the pit. She didn’t even know that many others had already accomplished these tasks.
Now things are a lot different. Thanks to the internet, you can find debunks to common Christian claims within moments. Any child with a smartphone can learn the truth in moments during a sermon! Before, ignorance was the default; now it is a choice, as the saying goes. Now when we see some hugely-ignorant Christian making hugely-ignorant claims, it’s going to be a very young Christian who still exists within the bubble, like the Idaho teenagers who created that “The Thaw” video. And their ignorance brushes up against reality much more readily and quickly than it ever did before.
A Brightly-Lit Path.
See, thanks to dissenters, the wheel is right there, the path lit by lanterns placed there by the legions of ex-Christians who’ve gone before today’s seekers. Now disbelief is less stigmatized; now Christian dominance is less assured and more questioned.
The culture wars that Christian leaders created and then banked on to bring people back to the fold has backfired. Their churches hemorrhage members faster every year.
And it all happened because dissenters spoke out and were willing to say loudly and publicly that the Emperor was naked. As Christopher Hitchens said in that video, his goal is not to take away toys, but to make Christians aware that not everybody wants to play with the same toys, and to stop them from trying to force him to play with their toys. He wants to stop them from enforcing their toys into law and teaching their playtime games to children in science classes.
Ultimately, I do what I do because I love humanity. I love it so much that I will not rest while people are hurting in it. The lies Christians tell can cause serious and real and lasting harm and damage to people. I know.
And dissenters weren’t out there crying aloud in the wilderness, Christians wouldn’t even be aware of the breathtaking scope of the lies involved.
The awesome part is that it’s not just atheists who are dissenting out of this love, but also–sometimes–loving Christians themselves.
The Source of Love.
Unlike the Bible’s god, I try to help as best I can when I see someone in pain.
And unlike way too many Christians, I actually know what “love” really is and what really constitutes “hurting.”
When I was Christian, I contributed to that pain–and did almost nothing to alleviate it. I feel a keen responsibility now to do better than that.
And so I speak.
I speak because of that crazy little thing called love.
And I won’t stop, no matter what Christians who are “just asking questions” try to zing me with. I won’t allow them to shut me up.
For next time, we’re going to take a look at the latest round of excuses Christian leaders are offering for why their religion is losing ground so hard. We’ve talked about this topic before, but this is one of the wildest, most self-serving, most blatantly dishonest dish of porridge I’ve seen in quite some time, and they were dumb enough to commit these excuses to (digital) paper–whoopsiedoodle! Join me next time for another round of Christian Leaders Sticking Their Heads in the Sand, and a thorough debunk of yet more lies.
The Emperor’s still naked, folks.
And I’ll keep saying so until it stops being true.
Tangential Postscript: I hate it when I’m right, especially when it comes to right-wing conservative fundagelicals trying to revise history about Biblical slavery. Also, I swear I didn’t see this piece about a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ slaver until after I’d already begun writing the last piece about slavery. Wow, talk about timely!
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(Cas tidied up this post on February 14, 2019.)