Posts Tagged ‘Bible Belt’

Why So Negative?

December 8, 2014

The American Atheists are launching an advertising campaign in the heart of the Bible Belt. Like many such campaigns,this one is being described as “controversial” and “provocative” in the media. Here is one account in the Telegraph.

Atheist activists are taking their campaigns to the Bible Belt this Christmas with a provocative billboard campaign that is expected to stir controversy in America’s religious heartlands.

The giant advertising hoardings in the Tennessee cities of Memphis, Nashville, St. Louis and Fort Smith, Arkansas show a mischievous-looking young girl writing her letter to Father Christmas: “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales,” she writes.

The advertising campaign by the American Atheists group will run until Christmas Eve and is the first time the group has aimed its anti-God adverts directly at residential religious areas, having previously targeted urban audiences in big venues such as Times Square in New York.

“Today’s adults have no obligation to pretend to believe the lies their parents believed. It’s OK to admit that your parents were wrong about God, and it’s definitely OK to tell your children the truth,” said David Silverman, the group’s president, as he launched the campaign.

In a sign of the hostility the adverts are expected to generate, American Atheists said that it had failed secure a single billboard site in Jackson, Mississippi after leasing companies collectively refused to offer space, fearing a community backlash.

“The fact that billboard companies would turn away business because they are so concerned about the reaction by the community shows just how much education and activism on behalf of atheists is needed in the South,” added Danielle Muscato, the group’s spokesperson.

And yet, somehow their idea of education and activism seems to be intent on driving people away by being as offensive as possible.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Don’t call me a fairy tale! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do many atheists seem to feel the need to deprecate the religious faith of others?  I think part of the reason lies in the nature of atheism. As atheism is the absence of belief in a deity, atheism is an inherently negative belief system. An atheist argues against  belief.

If I were to preach Christianity, I have a positive message to proclaim, the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I do not need to disparage other religions as fairy tales. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his Mere Christianity,I do not even have to believe that all other religions are completely wrong. I can find truth and even virtue among people with very different beliefs and traditions from my own. I can praise the Muslim for his piety in praying five times every day or the Buddhist for his cultivation of compassion. I can find common ground with which to spread the message of Christ. Consider the way in which Paul spoke to the Athenian philosophers.

18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teachingis that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:18-31)

Notice that he did not tell the Athenians that they were superstitious idol-worshippers. He complimented them on being very religious and explained that he knew about the god they worshipped in ignorance. A Christians can conceivably approach the believer of any other faith in a similar fashion.

An Atheist really cannot. In order to be an atheist, a person has to believe that the follower of any religion, whatever its beliefs and practices, is a a deluded fool who believes in fairy tales. Even if an atheist concedes that a believer might be doing some good, feeding the hungry or caring for the sick, he has to believe that that the believer is likely doing good, not for the sake of goodness in itself but only to to please an imaginary deity. The Atheist cannot meet the believer halfway. He must believe that he is right and everyone he meets who happens to be a believer in any religion, in other words the majority of the people he comes into contact with, are simply wrong. This is not a belief that lends itself to feelings of charity and tolerance for the beliefs of others. In fact, that may be the source of much of emotional appeal of Atheism, the heady, gnostic feeling of possessing superior knowledge, of being in the know while others are so ignorant.

What ever the truth might be, this negativity is part of the reason I am not am Atheist. For myself, I prefer a positive to a negative and to build rather than tear down.

The Party of Jesus

November 30, 2014

A friend posted an interesting link from Salon, Why Conservative Christians Would Have Hated Jesus, on his Facebook page.

Jesus never could have been the pastor of a contemporary evangelical church nor a conservative Roman Catholic bishop. Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics thrive on drawing distinctions between their “truth” and other people’s failings. Jesus by contrast, set off an empathy time bomb that obliterates difference.

Jesus’ empathy bomb explodes every time a former evangelical puts love ahead of what the “Bible says.” It goes off every time Pope Francis puts inclusion ahead of dogma. It goes off every time a gay couple are welcomed into a church. Jesus’ time bomb explodes whenever atheists follow Jesus better than most Christians.

Put it this way: Godless non-church-going Denmark mandates four weeks of maternity leave before childbirth and fourteen weeks afterward for mothers. Parents of newborn children are assisted with well-baby nurse-practitioner visits in their homes.

In the “pro-life” and allegedly “family friendly” American Bible belt, conservative political leaders slash programs designed to help women and children while creating a justifying mythology about handouts versus empowerment.

In “God-fearing America” the poor are now the “takers,” no longer the “least of these,” and many conservative evangelicals side with today’s Pharisees, attacking the poor in the name of following the Bible.

So who is following Jesus?

Confronted by the Bible cult called evangelicalism we have a choice: follow Jesus or follow a book cult. If Jesus is God as evangelicals and Roman Catholics claim he is, then the choice is clear. We have to read the book–including the New Testament–as he did, and Jesus didn’t like the “Bible” of his day.

Confronted by bishops protecting dogma and tradition against Pope Francis’ embrace of empathy for the “other” we have a choice: follow Jesus or protect the institution.

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…” Jesus undermined the scriptures and religious tradition in favor of empathy. Every time Jesus undermined the scriptures (Jewish “church tradition”) it was to err on the side of co-suffering love. Every time a former evangelical becomes an atheist in favor of empathy she draws closer to Jesus. Every time Pope Francis sides with those the Church casts out he is closer to Jesus. Every time conservative Roman Catholics try to stop the Pope from bringing change to the Church they are on the side to those who killed Jesus.

These are all valid points and it may well be that Conservative Christians do not follow the teachings of Jesus as well as they ought to. Nevertheless, I believe that liberal Christians would hate Jesus more. Jesus had very strict views regarding marriage, divorce and adultery. He opposed divorce with the sole exception of sexual immorality. He taught that even looking at a woman with lust was adultery. (Matthew 5:27-32) Jesus almost certainly would have opposed the concept of same se marriage. (Matthew 19:3-9)  Actually, when Jesus”undermined” the Jewish Scriptures it was more often in the direction of greater rigor. Jesus loudly condemned the sophistries and the technicalities of the Pharisees. (Matthew 23:13-36)

Jesus did not preach any sort of post-modern relativism. He confirmed the authority of the Law and the scriptures ( Matthew 5:18)and when he did make alterations, he did so under his divine authority. He taught that the truth is real and that he was the Truth. Jesus did not preach that there are many paths to salvation but that He was the only way the Father.(John 14:1-6) Jesus forgave sinners, but he insisted they give up their sins. He did not tell the adulteress to continue her lifestyle but to go and sin no more. (John 7:53-8:11) Most liberals would condemn Jesus as being judgemental, narrow minded, prudish, bigoted, homophobic, and possibly racist. (Matthew 15:21-28) They would prefer the Jesus of the Jesus Seminar over the Jesus of the Gospels.

I am not arguing that Jesus is a conservative, liberal or anything else. The issue here is that people have been trying to recruit Jesus into their party, whether political or religious denomination, since the beginning of Christianity. Paul wrote about this very problem in his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians. Jesus is not a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal, a Catholic or Baptist. Jesus is Himself. He is not asking to join any of our parties. He wants us to join His party, and He insists that once you join, you put His party ahead of any other concerns.This means,among other things, that if another member of the party emphasises different aspects of His teachings than you do or if they serve in a different fashion than you, you ought not to argue or boast over who is the better servant. We all have our orders.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Don’t try to define Me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


But, we ought to be sure we are following orders from the right source. The only information we possess about the life and teachings of Jesus are the Gospels. Our guide, or orders, on how to behave as Christians is the Bible. The writer of this article seems to be deprecating the role of scripture.

“Worship in the Spirit and in truth,” is not about a book, let alone “salvation” through correct ideas or tradition. For people who call Jesus “the Son of God” you’d think they would also reject the veneration of the book he’s trapped in and church dogma that has crucified him again each time a gay man or divorced couple are refused the sacraments.

Evangelicals struggle to conform Jesus to a book, not the other way around. And the conservative bishops have aligned themselves with the American neoconservative wing of their church against not just the Pope Francis but against the emancipating logic of Jesus’ empathy time bomb. If Jesus isn’t the “lens” evangelicals and Roman Catholics read the Bible and their traditions through then whatever they say to the contrary they do not really believe Jesus is the son of God.

At present, scripture is the only way we can come to know who Jesus really is and what He expects of us. Naturally, we should take care, when reading the Bible, not to allow our own preconceptions to cause misunderstanding, and we should always consider the historical and social contexts. But, if we try to go beyond, or even against, the Jesus of the Gospels, we may find ourselves serving an imaginary Jesus. This has also been a problem throughout the history of Christianity among many denominations. If the Jesus you worship happens to be a Republican, Democrat, Catholic, American either White or Black, New Age hippie, environmentalist, capitalist, communist, or any other faction, then there is a real danger that Jesus is imaginary. You had better read the Gospels to find the real Jesus. Don’t worry. He is patient and really wants you to find Him.

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