Many of you believe yourself to be moral, upstanding members of your communities. Many of you are leaders in your communities, or respected businessmen, or perhaps even clergy.
So I’d like to ask you a “what if” question.
Let’s say when you get to be early middle aged. You have children aged, oh, about seven to ten years old.
And at that time your mother lets it be known that she is an atheist. That she does not believe there even is a god, much less a heaven or hell, or a need to be saved, or to be forgiven your sins. What would your reaction be?
(Don’t tell me this couldn’t possibly happen. Christians are surprised by this sort of event all the time. Someone whom they thought they knew well suddenly turns out to be godless. A heathen. In fact I know the grandmother this specific thing happened to, and I know where one can find lots more similar situations, albeit from the point of view of the atheist, not the surprised Christian.)
Obviously you would react with some dismay. Your mother, your own mother, will positively not be in heaven though you expect (or at least hope!) to be there yourself.
But here is my real question: If this happened (and again, don’t try to tell me it can’t, unless your mother is already dead–in which case change the question to suit), would you ostracize your mother? Try to prevent her from seeing her grandchildren? Perhaps use your kids/her grandkids to blackmail her into going to church? Spread the news to everyone she knows?
I don’t want you to tell me your answer. I do want you to be honest with yourself. Would you go to war like this against your suddenly heathen mother? Think long and hard about it, be honest. You may find yourself amongst the thousands of Christians who have faced this question without any warning whatsoever.
(It may not be your mother, it may be you are the grandparent and your son or daughter has “gone heathen” and they are raising your grandchildren and will most likely raise them as unbelievers as well. But I am going to continue to write as if we are talking about your mother.)
Agree to disagree, or go to war?
If you can honestly say that you would accept, with regret, but accept your relative’s atheism, then I offer my congratulations and thanks. The rest of this letter is not for you. You can read it if you want (I can hardly stop you) but please understand that it’s not addressed to you.
For those of you that choose war–a literal crusade–I ask you to consider the following.
Your mother is still the person she was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. She may have been atheist for years, or she may have realized relatively recently that she simply could no longer justify a belief in god and/or Jesus any more. (And maybe I just repeated myself–the trinity is tricky to talk about. Try as I might I think of Jesus and Yahweh as distinct entities.)
What has really changed? Is she now liable to murder her grandchildren? Does she no longer love them? Remember that all that has changed is your knowledge of your mother; she herself has probably not changed since before you found out she was an atheist.
But now that you know she is an atheist, she is unfit company for your children. Well then: if this is true, how on earth did she manage to raise you? Now that you know she is an atheist, you know she cannot possibly be moral, right? Well how on earth has she avoided running around on murderous rampages robbing 7-11s (or Circle Ks, or Cones or Loaf & Jugs or…), with no religious constraints on her behavior?
Is it just barely possible that people can be fit to live with, without them being Christians? Fit to do the grandmotherly thing and babysit and spoil your children? Perfectly moral even if not really believing what you believe?
Surveys show that something like 15% of Americans have no religion, and they have controlled for the Christians who insist their Christianity isn’t a “religion”; these 15 percent are not Christian. Think about that. One person in seven in this country is not a Christian. He or she may be acting like a Christian, not believing a word of it, but going through the motions. Why is that?
Well, because of people like you, who would go to war on them if they ever dropped their facade of phony belief.
Maybe you believe that forcing your version of Christianity on other people is good for them. But remember you can no more force someone to actually believe something than they can force you to not believe it. You can force them to profess a belief in Christianity. But that does them no good. Obviously dragging themselves to church to pretend to pray for years on end has not saved them, and if they remain hidden like this there is no way they will ever hear the argument that you think they need to hear, because you will not know you need to find new material.
So surely your reign of suffocating enforced conformity is not helping them be saved. If you knew who they were, perhaps you could, you know, actually persuade them.
Isn’t Jesus strong enough on this earth to handle the presence of someone who not only thinks maybe he does not exist, but might have the audacity to say so (or just have a careless unguarded moment)?
So why do it?
I’ll tell you what I think. I think for all your pretensions of respectability, for all of your upstanding position in your town, for all your leadership in the community or church, you are simply a small minded pissant bigot, unwilling to deal with people who are different from you, unwilling to entertain the possibility that they even exist.
Why? What are you so afraid of? Are you secretly afraid that they may convince you?
PS to those Christians the above did not apply to. Perhaps you could endeavor to speak out against these bigots–and their behavior–as well?