Friday, 5 February 2016

Dear Atheist, here are ten things that I want you to know…

I have always written posts directed at Christians but today I am doing something a bit different, this post is for the atheists, the agnostics and the others out there who do not share my faith in Christ. There are a few things on my mind that I have being wanting to share with you, some things which I feel are important for you to know about me and others like me. This list could have been longer but ten points seemed like a nice round number to go with, so here they are:-

1 – Not all Christians think that you are terrible people.

I know that you have experienced some ‘conditional friendliness’ or ‘conditional love’ from Christians and that the smiles and attention we gave you stopped the minute that we realized that you were not buying what we were trying to sell to you. I know that many of us have looked down our noses at people who sin differently than we do. I’m sorry. I have come to realize that there are fantastic people out there who do not share my faith, charitable, trustworthy people who do good things just because they can and with such people it is a pleasure and honor being your friend.

2 – We don’t all assume that we were appointed to be the morality police of the world.

So there was this guy named Paul who is kind of a big deal for us Christian folk. He wrote a bunch of letters that made it into the New Testament; one of those in particular was written to some believers in a place called Corinth where he addressed a sexual no-no that was going on, the kind of thing that one would expect to see on the Jerry Springer Show. In his address Paul makes a statement about the Churches duty to keep itself pure but at the same time remarks that we are NOT to judge what people outside of the Church get up to. It boils down to him saying that if you want to call Jesus Lord then one should submit to Him in all things but we should not force or coerce other people into living the same way. Actually, the early Church (and Jesus) had no intention of ever using power to control other people. It’s a far cry from today’s politics I know but it’s kind of the heart of what Jesus taught.

3 – We don’t all think that “Left Behind” was awesome.

A lot of people believe that God is going to one day make all the Christians suddenly disappear, planes will fall out of the sky, empty cars will be cruising down the highway and pets will be left without anyone to feed them and this will all happen during the Blood Moons in September 2015. Oh wait a minute, we missed that one, I believe that it has been rescheduled for sometime in March this year...

I must admit, I’m a bit of an agnostic myself as to how all of this is going to conclude one day. I grew up with the dispensationalist theology as described above, something that was only conceived of in the 18th century. It’s kind of hard to see things in a new way when it has been ingrained in you for decades but for now let me just say that not everyone believes and teaches the same stuff about the rapture, not everyone believes that the next President of the USA will definitely be the anti-Christ, many people believe that the Book of Revelation was fulfilled in 70AD already (along with some glimpses in the final chapters about how everything eventually ends as well). I will however be very surprised if I one day find myself rising through the clouds with Nicholas Cage on my left and Kirk Cameron on my right.

4 – We don’t all like Donald Trump.

Really, American presidential hopefuls and Jesus couldn’t possibly be anymore different. Many evangelicals cannot seem to see that but I hope that you can. Some of us don’t even think that Christians should have any business in politics. Jesus never went after Caesar's throne because He was not interested in Caesar’s kingdom. He never accepted Satan’s offer to have power over all the kingdoms of the earth because He was never interested in ruling the kingdoms of the earth. Some of us think that what the early Church believed and practiced was something resembling Christian Anarchism. A non violent, non hierarchical, community focused people whose allegiance was not to a flag, currency or country but to Christ alone. But back to the Trump statement, have a look at this short, funny video illustrating just how far apart the 'American Jesus' is from the Jesus of the gospels.


5 – We don’t all think God wants to torture you for the rest of eternity.

I have visited a few atheist websites before; I have noticed that people are not offended that Jesus hung out with the social outcasts or that He befriended people of no reputation. No one seems upset that He turned water into wine (though they are skeptical that it happened to say the least), no one is offended that He healed sick people or that He preached about love, forgiveness and showing mercy. You probably actually liked it when he got up in the faces of the religious peoples. What people do seem to be offended by though is the kind of things that offend normal people, like torturing people in fire forever and ever.

You would be right in pointing out that if I say the word ‘love’ then ‘eternal conscious torment’  is probably not the first thing that pops into anyone's head. The popular concept of hell as most people believe in it only really became the majority view in the Western church around about the 4th and 5th Centuries AD. I would submit that most people hold to it only because they are unaware of other options (apart from Universalism maybe). In short, let me just say that the idea that the soul is immortal is not found in the Bible but came through a Platonic influence that crept into the Church. My personal persuasion is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish (think about that word) but have everlasting life (in contrast to that other word). He is the savior, the rescuer and the life giver as opposed to the destroyer and the torturer.

6 – We don’t all think that God killed God to save us from God.

One of the other favorite critiques of Christianity on atheist websites is regarding the Penal Substitutionary view of the atonement which is the most popular theory of our day about why Jesus had to die for us. In plain English, this view says that man sinned and God had a dilemma, He was angry and needed to serve out some retributive justice but because He loved us, He instead sent His own Son to die in our place (killing the innocent and letting the guilty free does not sound like just judging to me). So God who cannot freely forgive under the demands of His own justice, killed His own Son instead, thus satisfying His wrath that we might get off the hook.

This view of the cross is rightly judged as barbaric and completely misrepresents the actual meaning of the cross. There is so much to be said about it that I am currently writing a book about it. It pits Father against Son, it makes the cross a fix for Gods anger rather than about something man needs. It likens God to the pagan deities of old who demanded child sacrifice to appease their wrath and on and on we could go. For now, all I want to say is that you are right to reject this god, He is not the God of the Bible. He is one that emerged out of 16th century reformed theology.

7 – We don’t all believe in church

I use church with a small ‘c’ here as I am referring to the system that developed under Constantine in the 4th century, flourished under Roman Catholicism and underwent some minor changes under Protestantism. I firmly believe that Jesus never intended on starting a religion of His own. He never tickled people’s ears; He never registered a nonprofit, tax exempt ministry, He never built a place of worship or told His followers to do likewise. He never mentioned a special day when His followers should gather together, sit in pews and sing songs or that the congregations should be split into classes of lay people and clergy.

The early Church were a simple bunch, they met in each other’s homes over dinner time as often as they could where they shared life together. It was more of a family experience than a religious one. Now you and I can both agree that the little ‘c’ churches do some good in the community, the good ones provide all sorts of services to the community, from soup kitchens, to counseling centers and so on. I’m not saying that churches are necessarily bad, just that they are abiblical and that one does not need organized religion to be a Christian.

8 – We don’t all worship the bible.

All Christians recognize the Bible as inspired and we all like to study it and talk about it but we don’t all necessarily see it with the same eyes. It might surprise you to hear that some of us acknowledge that there are some numerical inconsistencies and historical contradictions in the Bible (much of the atheistic research into this has being very helpful). Some of us recognize that there are stories in the Bible which are not meant to be taken literally, the poetic and apocalyptic genres are rich in symbolism.

More importantly than this though, not all of us read it in a flat, 2-dimensional way. There are many of us who are as equally appalled as you are at some of the violent and discriminatory things contained in its pages. Here is the thing, those of us who believe that Jesus is the clearest portrait of God there is believe that the revelation of God in Him carries more weight than anything else we might read in the Old Testament. Jesus was well known for flipping people’s perceptions on their heads. He rebukes His disciples when they suggest pulling an ‘Elijah’ by calling fire down from heaven to consume their enemies, instead He tells His followers to love their enemies. He rebukes Peter for using a sword on another person. He calls out the religious leaders on their false piety and tells them that going through all of the ritualistic religious motions only served to blind them of who they really were. He challenges people to be merciful, forgiving and loving. Inspiration and inerrancy are topics for another time and another place but suffice it to say that you get biblians and you get Christians and telling them apart should be rather easy to do.

9 – I’m sorry

Where do I even start, on behalf of all of us I apologize for Christian TV, especially the people with nice suites and fancy hair that we call televangelists. I’m sorry that when guilt trips stopped working that we promised financial blessings to get a tithe of your income out of you. I’m sorry for the hate we have fostered and the hurt that we have caused you, for unanswered prayer, and all of the shaming. I’m sorry that we have subjected to you to an entire genre of awful CCM artists but hey, you guys have Nickleback on your side so I kind of feel that we are even on that last one. Mostly, I’m sorry that when life happened you felt God was nowhere to be found in your darkest hour. My guess is that this is probably the number one reason people have for rejecting God. It's something I would rather chat about one on one over a cup of coffee though than over here.

10 – Jesus does not equal religion

I know it’s cliché and religious Christians say it all the time but following Jesus really is not akin to religiosity. Since this post is more apologetic than evangelistic let me just say that more often than not I agree with you about the Christian religion. If you take one thing away from this post I hope it is a recognition that most of your issues with Christianity pertain to the church and the ugly things done in its name but not to the person of Jesus Himself. I don’t think that I have said enough to convince anyone that my invisible friend is real and that He defeated death when was He arose from the grave. But if I can cause you to consider that much of what is commonly held against Christianity probably does not reflect what the Bible and early Christians actually believed, that these things were later add on's that distorted the original message, then perhaps I have won a small battle.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Peace.

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