Guest Post at FriendlyAtheist.com

On Sunday, my friend Hemant Mehta posted a challenge, asking progressive Christians to show their support not only for the LGBT community, but also for equality, under the idea that our actions need to match our language.

I happily retweeted his comment, but I have noticed that whenever I (or any other progressive Christian friends) speak about something less orthodox, our faith is called into question. Not only by the more traditional evangelical set, but also by many within the atheist community.

I mentioned this to Hemant on Twitter and he thought it might be an interesting guest post for his site. So I did just that.

Head over to Hemant’s site and give it a read. And to anyone visiting from Hemant’s site, welcome! Take a look around and say hello. (And thank you, yet again, to Hemant for allowing me an opportunity to write at his site.)

  • EivindKjorstad

    It’s nice to meet Christians who can be allies at this specific area. That, as you say, recognize love as the highest law and support the obvious and straightforward right of every adult human being to fall in love with, and marry, whomever they want. (well, that assumes the other part is willing of course, but that issue applies to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike)

    There’s no such thing as one single “real” christian faith. Instead every person can (should!) make up their own mind, infact that’s one of the reasons there’s hundreds of distinct christian churches, that disagree about all sorts of things. (the christian church in Norway has openly lesbian bishops, to name but one example)

    The problem is that most of these defend their arbitrary discrimination of groups they dislike with: “the bible – the never-changing eternal perfect truth supports this”, when I counter with: “No, your arbitrary -interpretation- of the bible says that, other people reading the same bible, land at very different conclusions” I’m seldom met with any understanding at all.

    Thus we’ve got a large and diverse group of christian churches, many of which claim that their arbitrary interpretation is obviously and clearly the -single- correct one. This is obviously nonsense, but there you go.

    I wish more churches would openly admit that their teachings are arbitrary, that they are subject to change, and that their moral choices are *theirs* and not (as they currently typically claim) the only choice possible from reading the bible.

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I too would like to see “clearly says” struck from all discussions about the Bible. It’s an ancient document from many authors & interpreted numerous times. We can’t “clearly” interpret the American constitution that is 200 years old & in English. So yeah.

      • EivindKjorstad

        Thanks. Awesome !

        You see, I happen to think that people that discuss, negotiate, talk, reason, argue – in good faith are able to resolve most conflicts and defuse most stand-offs.

        But there’s a problem. If one of the sides claim that their opinion isn’t their *opinion* but instead the never-changing eternal word of God, then there ain’t much to discuss. Since they claim they didn’t decide it in the first place, they also, logically, does not have the power to change their decision.

        Let me make a practical example. If you say you’d like for us to have *steak* for dinner today, while I would prefer *pizza*, we can talk about it, and odds are that we’ll manage to find some compromise that satisfies us both. (perhaps we’ll have steak today, and pizza tomorrow)

        But if you claim that the eternal never-changing word of God demands that you eat -precisely- steak every day – then I have a very hard time compromising with you. Instead I’m forced to either accept your wish wholesale, or else, to refuse to accept it. But in both cases, no compromise is possible. (or atleast it’s a lot HARDER)

        I see many such examples in the world today. For example, one main reason why the future of Jerusalem is so problematic when it comes to creating peace in the region, is the fact that both sides in the conflict say that their claim isn’t merely their opinion or their wish, but instead the command of God himself.

        I think we need *more* negotiation, and *more* people taking responsibility for their positions. And I don’t think anyone can (or should!) get out of that responsibility by saying: “I’m only following orders!”, because then my next question would be: if you disagree with the orders, why do you follow them ?

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    I read your piece at Friendly Atheist.  I think you raise very relevant points and I agree with you.

    Here’s the problem as I see it.  The most vocal populace of atheists (the people who can be found at internet forums, conventions and rallies) tend to hold the destruction of religious institutions and religious belief as their primary objectives.  They focus upon LGBT issues because at this time in history, LGBT rights are widely opposed by actively practicing Christians in Western nations and other forms of religion in non-Western cultures.  If this were not the case, vocal atheists wouldn’t be nearly so engaged with LGBT issues.  They might lean toward supporting LGBT rights, but the issue wouldn’t be splashed across atheist blogs and publications.

    Hence, if a particular approach doesn’t support the destruction of religion, the most vocal parts of current day atheism will tend to ignore the effects of their tactics upon tertiary progressive issues and instead, they will craft their approach to those issues in such a way that religion is further destabilized.  If this means that LGBT issues might be harmed in the process, it doesn’t matter because they tend to see religion as the primary source of oppression in the world.  LGBT issues might take a hit right now, but everyone will be better off when religion is dead… or so they claim.

    I have recently come to recognize this as an LGBT person, and I now understand that the alliance between vocal atheists and LGBT activism is more a marriage of political expedience rather than a true alliance.  Supporting LGBT rights happens to support the goals of the mostly heterosexual populace of atheist activists. If it didn’t, they would care far less than they currently do.

    This is part of a long and growing list of flaws I have come to witness in the atheist movement.  These are among the many reasons why I now refuse to call myself an atheist and refuse to provide aid in the efforts of this social movement.

    Nevertheless, I hope that your words will change the approaches of the atheists reading your article.  I’m not optimistic, but it’s still good that you have put forth your perspective. You have my support and thank you for your efforts on behalf of LGBT people.

    • Vad

      I’ve noticed this, too, to some extent. I think a lot of atheists DO support LGBTQ people – and many are LGBTQ people themselves, myself included. But I do agree that most of the pro-LGBTQ discussion from atheists online comes with anti-theist rhetoric. I’ve noticed the same thing when it comes to anti-sexism, where some atheists focus only on sexism within religion to show how bad religion is. But they then seem extremely dismissive of the views and values of religious women, like saying that women who choose to wear hijab are brainwashed and can’t really “choose” to wear it. Which I see as just another form of sexism, so I really have to doubt their commitment to anti-sexism. Sometimes it seems that they are only interested in it to the extent that is serves anti-theist goals.

      I’m sorry to hear that you no longer identify as atheist. I’m also very at odds with the “atheist movement” and a lot of atheists (as they represent themselves online), but I also want to continue identifying as atheist because a) it’s an accurate description for me and b) so that the anti-theists aren’t the only representatives of atheism. Kinda like how I don’t want all the liberal Christians to renounce their Christianity and leave the religion to the conservatives. 

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

        i agree; it’s a marriage of political expediency. so? that’s how things are done in real world politics. and yes, there are many, many LGTBQ atheists. come to a gay blog some time; we’re legion. we care about both issues equally. and as a militant atheist, i will admit with pride that yes, the destruction of organized, funded religions is my ultimate goal. i have no problem with spirituality. worship as you please, it’s no skin off my nose. but organized religion to which people give money and select social and political leaders who have an effect on all of us is, as you all would say, “sinful” and “evil.” my favorite bible quote will always be “pray in secret.” when that is the case in this world for everyone, i will shut up about it. 

      • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

        You’ve nailed why I still use the Christian label even when I regularly disagree with many in my own ranks. I don’t want those to be the only Christian voices. And honestly, sometime you can’t speak to “your own” as well if you don’t even call yourself one of them. You can speak with more authority to atheists because you ARE one. That kind of stuff matters.

        Thank you for your comment!

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I’m always hopeful that at least someone will rethink the way they interact with others when I write. I don’t necessarily think people will change their minds, but I do hope for better conversations. I think we can do THAT.

  • http://philgroom.wordpress.com/ Phil Groom

    “I have noticed that whenever I (or any other progressive Christian friends) speak about something less orthodox, our faith is called into question”

    As you say; either that or, as I have been on numerous occasions, accused of not taking scripture seriously: one must always remember, apparently, that there is only One Way of reading the Bible and that is according to the dictats of Evangelical Thought Police…

  • Vad

    Also here from Friendly Atheist. I liked your post and really agree with it. (Although just yesterday I saw a post there that was arguing that Catholics that don’t believe in transubstantiation aren’t “real” Catholics… disappointing.) I don’t think it helps anyone to accept conservative evangelical Christianity as the measure for “real” Christianity. I also wish that atheists were more willing to work with liberal Christians on the issue of LGBTQ acceptance, rather than denigrating the religious aspect of the work they do. If we’re going to work for LGBTQ acceptance, let’s focus on that, not on convincing Christians to become atheists. >.< 

  • JustAnotherAtheist

    I read the article and posted a comment, I thought that to get you to see it I should probably post it on here, so here goes:  

      
    With all due respect, you are saying: “I am prepared to be judged by Christians (which aren’t supposed to judge) but I do not want to be judged by atheists!”     
        
    That seems a bit silly, especially when the Christians and atheists are telling you the same thing. Within all groups of people will be those that judge. If you are uncomfortable with being judged then you know that something somebody is doing is wrong.  
      
    You are not righting any wrongs by feeling bad about being judged. If you want to right wrongs stand up to both those Christians and the atheists and explain your point of view.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

      me too. here’s what i posted over there, Ms. Wright. i’m bookmarking your blog and adding to my blogroll, too. thank the atheist buddy of yours for the traffic. ;-)

      Ms. Wright, that was refreshing in its clarity and ethical strength (ethics are for atheists what “moral values” are for Christians). I thank you, as a queer person, for your support. You have mine, in the sense that I am always respectful with people I believe embrace the positive and only positive elements of Christianity; it seems you are. I also defend you guys in some of these atheist hellholes when my fellow ungodly say you don’t exist. ;-)However, I am also a scholar of religion and I have heard this argument in many forms, and it fails at a fundamental level in terms of logic, example and history. The short version is that very few people who can’t “come out” as you put it, right now, in favor of gay rights and equality in general, never will. I have no interest nor do I think it a useful application of time and effort to coddle them because their faith is not strong enough to realize what you have: if religion is any good at all, it is because “love is the highest” commandment. Any person who can’t say all beings are equally deserving of love, freedom and opportunity has, in my opinion, a problem. I also think that you should more closely examine the tenants of your faith. Ask yourself honestly about its history, about how different beliefs and creeds have risen and fallen, no pun intended. Your faith is an ancient one, and the farther back you go, the more you realize that what defines “a Christian” has changed and warped and been destroyed and reinvented so many times that it’s ridiculous to say that any one of them is “right.” So if an atheist wants to say “she’s not really a Christian because she believes _____,” be that believer pro or anti gay rights, that atheist has just as much reason, history and logic as any believer to say so. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Intellectual Christians such as yourself often stumble with this point. But there is no one always-valid definition of “Christian.” There never has been.Finally, as both an atheist and as a person who has a great deal of archaeology and scholarship behind this opinion, let me say that I cannot believe that an historical “Jesus Christ” ever existed. I am happy to share with you my own opinions on the origins of the Christian faith at another time. I say this to you not to denigrate your faith and belief nor to insult you. Instead, I hope to open your mind, as I suspect it already is, to the notion that Christianity is a constantly evolving *idea* in the minds of humanity, and you are your “own god,” if I may blaspheme. I admire you for what you are doing, because it is people like you that bring glory to your faith, so much more than a being whom very few can honestly claim to have spoken with and been guided by, if any truly can.

      • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

        Thank you for your comment & your kind support! 

        I think that in the vast majority of cases, you’re absolutely right that people would rather hold onto their bigotry and particularly as a gay woman, I don’t think it’s your job to sift through who is worth the effort. I have seen conversations result in change, but they are definitely not the norm. 

        And I am definitely open to conversation any time, though email may be a better medium for that. You can reach me at alise.writes at gmail. (FTR, I do have an atheist husband, so I’m not coming at this with no background. And I don’t say that to be condescending, only to give you a little info on me!)

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      I don’t mean to say that I’m okay being judged at all – I’m not. It’s more surprise than anything. 

      And honestly, I thought that writing this piece was doing more than simply “feeling bad” about being judged. I state very plainly that judgment is NOT an acceptable excuse for bigotry. But I don’t think that makes judgment acceptable either.

      • JustAnotherAtheist

        Rereading my comment, I probably came off cold. I’ll start by saying that it’s great that you support gay rights.  

          
        I didn’t say you were OK with being judged by Christians, just that you were prepared for it. Whilst you are very understandably surprised that atheists are giving you the “no true Scotsman” argument (usually given by Christians to atheists about “bad” Christians), I just want to bring to your attention (even more) that there are people in every group that will judge you. You are obviously a level-headed person, so I wanted to point out that this was another way you could look at it.  
          
        I don’t want you to shy away from writing other articles about this sort of thing. You will always receive backlash, look at it as a way to explore your thoughts even more, and even though I don’t know you, I’m proud of you for exploring and expressing your beliefs. Keep at it.  
          
        The last point – you can’t expect atheists to make it easier for Christians to come out. The oppose religion, which is largely homophobic. If you come out as pro-gay rights, they are obviously going to ask you how you can support a largely homophobic organisation. Besides, why would a Christian come out as pro-gay rights to atheists, they aren’t coming out as atheists, just a brand of Christian. What they really need are sensible Christians condemning homophobia far far far more loudly so that they feel supported by other people of their faith, so keep at it.

        • Pseudonym

          I think you raise an important point here, which was also made by Dan Savage. Neither Dan Savage nor Hemant Mehta are the ones who need to know that you’re pro-LGBT rights. It’s Christians who need to know it.

          But I don’t think that’s the point that Alise was trying to say. What atheists (who don’t already realise it) need to realise is when an atheist calls people like Alise or myself not a “true Christian”, it’s not us they’re hurting. It’s the cause of LGBT people they’re hurting.

          That cause is not furthered by their allies squabbling with each other over whose self-identity is more philosophically tenable.

          I don’t think that anybody is telling anybody else to hold their honestly-held opinions, but the least we could do is not make it an issue when there’s pressing work to be done together.

  • http://www.fatherhoodetc.com/ David Ozab

    Already posted this on FB: Great post—depressing comments. It’s such a shame. I know several atheists and they are without exception respectful, compassionate, and all-around decent human beings. We disagree over one very important thing, but we can still talk civilly and be friends. The ones I’ve met on comment boards, however, come off with rare exception as arrogant jerks. And it’s not atheism that’s the problem: it’s the internet. Lots of Christians come off as jerks too (and the worst of those seem to be my fellow Catholics). It really gets to me how we can’t treat each other the way we would want to be treated. Again, this isn’t about atheists in general or the Friendly Atheist blog in particular. It just seems that in the shared anonymity of the Internet we’re forgetting our common humanity. I wish that would change, but I’m not sure it ever will and that saddens me.

  • Scot Danner

    If some atheists are bashing you for your stand on gay rights, shame on them. As an atheist with several Christian clergy in my family (Anglican vicar, Catholic priest, Pentecostal minister) I make a point of noting that many Christian denominations support gay rights, as detailed in this handy chart:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominational_positions_on_homosexuality#Summary_of_denominational_positions_in_North_America_and_Europe

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      FTR, I don’t feel bashed or attacked (for the most part). I just don’t like the idea of folks saying who is and isn’t a Christian. It’s the same way I get annoyed when I see Christians say “you’re not a real atheist because you don’t put yourself as a 7 on the Dawkins scale.” That’s stupid. If someone says they’re an atheist, then they’re an atheist. It’s not bashing, but it’s not really respectful either, and I don’t get it.

      • JustAnotherAtheist

        I think it’s more because there is a clear definition for atheism. Don’t believe in gods? Atheist! 

          
        There is no clear definition for a Christian or criteria to be a Christian, and many Christians do not meet the requirements for being a Christian by the Church that they, themselves, belong to. There are also many possible definitions for the same thing.  
          
        Just trying to explain why, in my opinion, people are giving you the “no true Christian!” treatment. I’ve commented enough for today. Thanks for being so accommodating and actually replying to questions.

  • Deepak Shetty

    First let me say that it is nice to read about Christians who can come out in support of progressive causes as you have done.
    Second any criticism towards you is well unfortunate but c’est la vie.

    So let me ask you – Suppose someone tells you he is a Christian – but lets say he believes in let’s say getting even, fighting wars , killing people (innocents are acceptable collateral damage) – doesn’t really forgive other people etc etc – would you say he is a follower of Christ? Is he a “true” Christian? Would you call him that?

    If yes – then the term is meaningless , why adopt it?
    If not – then how have you come to the conclusion of what being a Christian is or is not?

     

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      If someone says they’re a Christian, I’m disinclined to say that they’re not. I will disagree with them on their interpretation of various Scriptures (in the way that many of my more conservative friends disagree with mine), but I won’t say that they’re not Christian. 

      I don’t think that makes the term meaningless any more than it’s meaningless for Dawkins to say that he won’t definitively say that there is no god. He calls himself an atheist. That’s enough. 

      • JustAnotherAtheist

        Alise, atheism and agnosticism is not the same. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. A gnostic person claims to know something for sure, an agnostic person believes that the supernatural cannot be known. It’s a common misconception but please make sure you remember it because people (including myself) find the distinction important.  

          
        Dawkins does not believe that there is a god/gods, and makes the point that we cannot know for sure that there is no god/gods because (using some definitions of god), god is a being that we cannot detect (because he is supernatural). How can anyone know for sure about the supernatural?! I agree with him on this.  
          
        So, to answer Deepak Shetty, what qualifies someone as a Christian? Also, I think that some people here are trying to get you to say that “all Christians are good”, so in your reply it would be helpful if you specified whether Christians (according to your definition) can be bad people. Finally, is your definition of a Christian the same as the Church’s, why?  
          
        Please answer the three questions. I still think you’re awesome for doing this.

        • Deepak Shetty

           

          I think that some people here are trying to get you to say that “all Christians are good

          Not my intent :) . However all of us have some idea about what a particular word means and reasonable people could agree on definitions (Even if there would be exceptions).
          I can call myself the smartest,most charitable ,most handsome etc etc and perhaps only my mother would agree (or maybe not.) – it sure wouldn’t go unchallenged – but evidently a religious label like Christian must not be questioned.

          • JustAnotherAtheist

            I didn’t mean you! Should have made that clearer, apologies!

          • Deepak Shetty

            Ah ok – your response looked like we have similar views so I wasn’t sure.

          • VorJack


            but evidently a religious label like Christian must not be questioned.

            For me, it’s a question of authority.  I’m not comfortable telling all the Unitarians – millions of them, with a history that goes back 500 years – that they’re not Christian because they don’t match up with the conservative Evangelical definition of Christianity.  I’m not comfortable telling Catholics that they’re not Christian because they don’t look at the Bible in the same “common sense” way that American Protestants do.

            There’s so much diversity amongst Christians, today and in the past, that I don’t think we can use a simple definition.  I think we may be stuck with a “family 
            resemblance” method, as from Wittgenstein.

          • Deepak Shetty

             

            I’m not comfortable telling Catholics that they’re not Christian because
            they don’t look at the Bible in the same “common sense” way that
            American Protestants do.

            I think a closer analogy is – is a Roman Catholic a roman catholic if (s)he believes the Vatican has no authority and its teaching are all bunk and (s)he is going to believe whatever the heck (s)he wants?

            Its not a question of what you feel comfortable with – I dont really want to criticise Alise or Unitarians either – but I think its important enough to explain the criticism.

            The criticism isn’t you aren’t a Christian – its why are you using that label for yourself? For e.g. if you dont believe in the divinity of Jesus – then why call yourself Christian? Surely you would have read other philosophers and other good people – you probably agree with some of their teachings , you probably disagree with some -there are other good people who have taught much the same as Jesus is supposed to and who predate him (the golden rule)- some of the most famous episodes related to jesus (e.g. let him without sin cast the first stone) are later additions to the bible so there is a good probability that this story is a made up episode.So why Christian? Why arent you also a Buddhist (he has plenty of good stuff) and a Vaishnavite (also some good stuff there) and also a Mohammedan (Also some good stuff).

            In a lot of cases the answer turns out to be because you stand to lose a lot socially if you say you aren’t a Christian – but thats also a reason why you should stand up and say you aren’t if you really aren’t.

          • VorJack

            We’re gone get narrow here, aren’t we?  Oh well.

            I think a closer analogy is 

            *shrug* Sure.  This is where we run into the problem that all traditions are variegated.  There are elements in Vatican II that would allow a layperson to go their own way and still call themselves Catholic.  The current administration isn’t happy about them, but they’re on the books.

            And despite its reputation, the Church has been tolerant of heretical notions in the past. Granted, they tried to steer such people into monasteries, but the principle is there.  Bottom line: the idea that Catholicism is X is always gonna be flawed.  You can always find substantial exceptions to any rule.

            why are you using that label for yourself? 

            A good question to ask all those Unitarians.  My guess is that the answer boils down to the fact that the traditions of Christian are broader than a bullet point list of “fundamentals.”  There’s more there – tangible and intangible – that people like and like to identify themselves with.

          • Deepak Shetty

            Which traditions? You have the same issue – exchanging the word traditions for fundamentals  has the exact same problem.
            Or perhaps Christians see themselves as Humpty Dumpty.

            ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose
            it to mean — neither more nor less.’

            ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

            ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

      • Deepak Shetty

        If someone says they’re a Christian, I’m disinclined to say that they’re not.

        This seems to be a matter of principle for you – but it’s not logical. A philatelist cannot say he doesn’t want to study stamps. Can you say you are a Christian if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, don’t accept any of his purported teachings ?
        Words are used to communicate – If a particular word can mean something and can mean its opposite then why adopt it? So if being a christian means you have to turn the other cheek as well as that you have to exchange an eye for an eye how isn’t it a meaningless term? In the end you’d have to say Im a liberal , pro equality , pro womens right, pro choice, pro secularism person – in which case the Christian is superfluous.

        I will disagree with them on their interpretation of various Scriptures

        Oh ofcourse. But you don’t really know if your interpretation is what Jesus intended – but then again maybe Jesus doesn’t have the final say on who or what gets to be a Christian huh.

        Dawkins to say that he won’t definitively say that there is no god.

        Umm you need to read up some on this matter- You do know that you can be an agnostic atheist, don’t you? Can Dawkins call himself a Christian by the way?

        • Pseudonym

          Words are used to communicate – If a particular word can mean something and can mean its opposite then why adopt it?

          I don’t think we’re talking about one meaning and its opposite here. We’re talking about multiple shades of meaning.

          Almost all non-technical words do not have a unique, unambiguous, binary-testable meaning. Wittgenstein, considered the father of modern semantics, first pointed out in detail when he tried to define the word “game”.

          It’s easy to spot a “game” when you see one. But it turns out to be very difficult to come up with a definition which clearly includes pretty much everything that we mean by “game” and excludes pretty much everything that we do not mean by “game”.

          There are the obvious: board games, card games, the Olympic games. They have clear rules, winners and so on. But you don’t need a winner to be a game; consider non-competitive games such as hacky sack. So we might try to define it in terms of “play”. So what about war games, or mind games?

          In the end, Wittgenstein came up with a notion for semantics which linguists still use to this day: words denote prototype categories. This is a game, and this is a game… and anything like them are also games.

          Part of the problem here isn’t the fault of language, it’s the fault of reality. Reality is what it is, and any attempt to impose a linguistic ontology on top of it is going to be approximate at best.

          Biologists can’t even agree on what a “species” is! Is it even possible to agree on a precise definition for an umbrella term for a family of socio-religious movements, with 2000 years of history behind it, and which has been subject to modification, branching, fragmentation and re-amalgamation countless times over that history? Seems doubtful.

          But you don’t really know if your interpretation is what Jesus intended [...]

          Sometimes we can. It’s the sort of question that only quality research can answer.

          Think of all of those historical/cultural/linguistic arguments that you may have used yourself, like that event X couldn’t possibly have happened as reported in the gospels because of historical evidence Y. It was almost certainly a Christian who did the hard work to obtain that historical evidence, and made that argument first.

          Liberal Christians (not forgetting Jews, of course) deeply care about this, which is why it’s us who do the scholarship or fund the scholars who poke holes in the Bible. It’s our own researchers who are the Bible’s best critics.

          Of course, the work doesn’t end there. Even once you know what Jesus or Paul intended, there’s still the question of how to apply it. When the framers of the Constitution of the United States wrote “we the people”, they meant white male landowners, but we don’t necessarily want to apply it that way today.

          Can Dawkins call himself a Christian by the way?

          If he honestly felt himself to be a Christian, and honestly wanted to use that word to describe himself, then he can do that. Without changing a single one of his beliefs about the existence of deities.

          In fact, I’d welcome it, given that it would probably mean that he’d stop painting “all religion” with such a broad brush. FWIW, I wish Sam Harris would acknowledge that his “neuro-Buddhism” is a religion, too.

          • Deepak Shetty

             

            We’re talking about multiple shades of meaning.

            Really? Jesus is God and is not divine at all.
            One must not kill – but one must kill non-believers
            Would Jesus turn the other cheek when confronted with say Nazi’s or he wont.
            Jesus would totally be for women’s right and he’d be totally for them to be submissive to their husbands
            Jesus loves gays but he would vote against gay marriage.
            If you look at this and think that this represents multiple shades of meaning instead of diametrically opposite positions – well what can I say?

            It was almost certainly a Christian who did the hard work to obtain that historical evidence, and made that argument first.

            Sure. So?

            then he can do that.

            “can” ? The question is would we be correct in criticising him.
            Again If I honestly believe that I’m the smartest person on the planet will you let that pass without comment (in which case you should listen to what the smartest person has to say!). You only make this exception for religious labels.

          • Pseudonym

            Sorry, I may not have made myself clear, or I may have misunderstood you.

            The “multiple shades of meaning” comment, as well as the discussion of semantics in the wake of Wittgenstein, is entirely about the definition of the word “Christian”. That is a word that, like almost all non-technical words, defies a simple definition which includes mostly everything that is clearly “Christian” and excludes mostly everything that is clearly not “Christian”.

            If I misunderstood what you were trying to say, I apologise.

            You only make this exception for religious labels.

            Not at all! I apply it to pretty much everything that has to do with personal identity.

            Take ethnic identity as an example. I have a good friend who was born in Malaysia, whose family has been in Malaysia for probably five generations, and who to my knowledge has never visited China. She refers to herself as “Chinese”. Who am I to argue with that?

            I could make the same argument for sexual identity, or gender identity. If you honestly think you’re genderqueer, I think you have a right to call yourself that.

          • Deepak Shetty

             

            She refers to herself as “Chinese”. Who am I to argue with that?
            It depends on the why – perhaps she identifies with some traditions. However if you also add that she has no knowledge of anything related to China – then yes she would be wrong.

            Who are you to argue that I’m wrong by the way :) ? Your defense fails because then you can’t tell me anything either.

            If you honestly think you’re genderqueer, I think you have a right to call yourself that.

            Anyone has the “right” to do that – we arent calling for bans. Are they correct however?
            Again the analog is a person who likes people of the opposite sex, is attracted to them , decides to call himself/herself gay.

            Do the following convey any meaning to you
            “I am playing a game”
            “I am a Chinese”
            “I am christian”

            If the answer is yes – then you too have something in mind for the word Christian . if the answer is no then the word has no purpose.
            For me personally a Christian must
            a. Believe in most(but not all) of the teachings attributed to Christ
            b. Must believe Christ possesses some sort of supernatural attribute  (otherwise Christian becomes a secular term – which it isnt)

            A corollary is because everything the person knows about Christ is directly or indirectly related to the Bible , this person must also believe the Bible is somewhat accurate(but not necessarily all of it) when it comes to Christ.

            I would think that someone who doesn’t satisfy this can be questioned on why he uses the term Christian for himself

          • Pseudonym

            Replying here because your other comment was illegible because of spacing.

            The friend in question obviously has Chinese ancestry. I hope that was clear from the context. Kind of like how Irish Catholics are usually not Irish in the legal sense.

            Who are you to argue that I’m wrong by the way :)

            That depends who you mean by “you”.

            If you mean me, Pseudonym, then I’m nobody. Unless it’s my identity that you’re talking about, in which case I am the person who knows more about my identity than anyone else, and hence am the best person in the world to say you’re wrong. Identity is the most personal thing there is.

            By the way, I recommend studying some linguistics if you ever get the chance. Semantics, in particular, is a fascinating field.

  • http://sarahoverthemoon.com/ Sarah Moon

    Alise! I was planning on writing a post just like this but hadn’t gotten around to it. Great minds, great minds. But yeah, I get so fed up with the idea that secularism is the only way to fight injustice in the world. There are Muslim feminists who are gaining rights for women in the most patriarchal of countries, and there are LGBT affirming presbyterian groups that do more for LGBT rights than some secular groups (I did research on The More Light Presbyterians, who supported the inclusion of trans people in the 2007 version of ENDA while the HRC did not). Also, let’s not forget that for decades, Western science was used to support homophobia as well. It’s not just religion that is sometimes a tool of oppressors. Secularism has also been hijacked in the past (and present) by oppressors to support bigotry. Both sides need to be vocal about defending the oppressed and opposing the oppressors that use their world view for evil. 

    • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

      Oh, I think you might still have a good post there! I know I’d like to read your take on it!

    • Critic

      “Science” was not used to support homophobia; science, at the time, deferred to Christianity as a moral guide.

      Secularists aren’t the only people fighting injustice, that’s true.  What I think you haven’t necessarily thought about is the fact that uncritical thinking and social hegemony are the primary driving forces behind bigotry.  The authority of science has often been used to support bigotry, but what has never supported bigotry is empirical evidence.  Meanwhile, what has ALWAYS supported bigotry is the locally empowered faith.

      Anti-theists don’t think the solution to this issue is to just promote a progressive faith.  We think the solution to most of these problems is to promote empiricism, critical thinking, and the will to challenge authority.  We think rather than trying to convince the entire Muslim world that being a good Muslim means respecting women (good ****ing luck, by the way) it is in every way better to encourage people to question the bullshit in their religion, and that requires, as a matter of principle, we question the bullshit in yours.

  • Pingback: Picking and Choosing, Loving Your (LGBT) Neighbor, and the 76 Things Banned in Leviticus

  • Pseudonym

    Hi, I’m also here from FA. I also wanted to thank you for your post. I’m a fellow progressive Christian, having been brought up in a neo-orthodox-to-liberal church. I share your frustration with atheists adopting fundamentalist premises, as well as counter-productive attempts to divide the allies of LGBT people against each other at a time when we need each other more than most.

    I’ve posted quite a bit in the comments to that piece trying to correct what I see as misunderstandings of what you wrote. I hope I didn’t misrepresent you in any way.

  • Deepak Shetty

    yikes. if possible please delete my last response to pseduonym. It seems to have messed the site