I often hear both believers and atheists make comments like “Why do you even bother arguing? No one is going to change their position.” This is so crazy to hear, considering that most atheists were at one time believers themselves. Granted, a single conversation or argument is not likely to immediately change a person’s mind, but minds can most definitely change. And it is often a conversation with someone we disagree with which is the catalyst for us reevaluating our deeply-held belief systems.
I value respectful conversation with people I disagree with. Not only do I value it, I enjoy it. I enjoy having my positions challenged to see if they can hold up to scrutiny, and I enjoy challenging others. And since I spent the vast majority of my life as a believer, I find I can at least identify with the mindsets of those I am engaging with. I feel like this is not often the case when believers speak about atheists. It makes me wonder of some of these believers have ever even met an atheist, let alone held a conversation with one. And the worst part is that these misconceptions and untruths have become a huge part of the conversation about atheists and atheism in the public square.
Here is an example from a recent opinion piece in the Rockdale Citizen out of Georgia, written by a Dr. John Pearrell. Dr. Pearrell is the pastor of Gateway Community Church, and he absolutely hates it when atheists quote the Bible, since we don’t even believe the Bible is true.
I find it totally amazing that people who don’t believe the Bible will quote it to you in a heartbeat if you challenge them on something. Actually, they don’t quote it, they misquote it — but even in their misquote they are at least appealing to something they already said they didn’t believe. Talk about inconsistency.
I don’t understand why this seems to be such a sticking point for some believers. It’s really not that difficult. Yes, atheists do not believe the Bible to be the inspired word of the omnipresent creator of the universe. But believers do. And when presented with a claim from the Bible in an argument, referencing the parts of the Bible which call into question its veracity as a moral guide for all humankind is sort of a no-brainer. And I don’t know about other atheists, but I don’t usually quote the Bible. I merely reference passages. Quoting doesn’t do much good considering the countless translations and interpretations one is likely to come across. But Pearrell continues:
The two most frequently misquoted passages used by people who claim not to believe the Bible is Matthew 7:1 and John 8:7. I am not going to tell you what those say, look them up for yourselves. I want you to read your Bible — you might be surprised at what it actually says.
Pastor Pearrell might not want to tell you what those verses say, but I have no such qualms. Matthew 7:1 is “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” and John 8:7 is “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'”
I find it interesting that Pearrell thinks these are the two most “misquoted” Bible passages used by nonbelievers. First of all, these are really difficult passages. How are nonbelievers messing them up? My guess is that he means they are being misinterpreted. While this is certainly possible, I don’t find it to be that compelling of an argument, considering the fact that every Christian pastor seems to think that his or her interpretation is the absolute correct one.
I also find it interesting that he claims to hear these verses quoted the most by nonbelievers. In all of the discussions with Christians I have witnessed or been a part of, I never hear these verses being used. What I normally hear are those passages where the Bible explicitly condones slavery, rape, and genocide. I have even provided links here, lest he accuse me of “misquoting.”
Why is it that people who claim not to believe the Bible appeal to it when it suits them? Let me offer a suggestion: I believe it is because deep down in our hearts we know that there is something about the Bible that is true. God has set His truth so deeply in our hearts, that even when we deny it, even when we fight against it, we still know in our heart that there is something true about it.
Wrong. Atheists appeal to bad parts of the Bible in order to show that it is not the “good book” that believers profess. Now I’m sure that there are some parts of the Bible which are true. I, for one, agree that the Golden Rule is a pretty good moral instruction. But that says nothing about the truth or moral foundation of the rest of the book.
Think of the atheist for a moment. The dogmatic atheist is the person who says, “There is no God.” Today we find these atheists fighting vehemently against something they claim doesn’t exist.
I get the feeling that Pastor Pearrell thinks about the atheist a lot. While I can’t speak for all atheists, I will immediately point out that his definition of “atheist” is not in line with the way that most self-professed atheists use the term. Most do not make the positive claim “There is no God.” Rather, most atheists simply reject the claims they have been presented about the existence of different gods.
But it is the second part of that quote which really gets me fired up. I hear comments like it quite a bit, and its just asinine. Atheists are not fighting against the gods we don’t believe in. We are fighting against the things believers do as a result of what we consider to be irrational belief systems. We get angry when a teacher ridicules and segregates an atheist child based on her religious beliefs. We fight back when religious legislators attempt to use the government to require public schools to teach unscientific propositions like Intelligent Design. And you bet your ass we fight back against insanity like religious parents allowing their children to die rather than provide them with life saving medical care, all based on their deeply-held religious convictions.
So yeah, we do fight back. But we’re not fighting against God. We’re fighting against people who do harm in his name. We’re fighting because beliefs dictate behaviors, and behaviors have consequences in reality. It’s not, as Pastor Pearrell seems to think, because we “really think there is something out there to fight against.” Well, again, we do. People and their irrational and harmful behaviors.
When someone tells me that they don’t believe the Bible for intellectual reasons, the first question I ask them, “Well, if you did accept it, what would you have to change in your life?” It is at this point that their “intellectual” reasons find their source.
Now I really think Pastor Pearrell doesn’t actually know any atheists. We are not the moral monsters he seems to think. However, if I did suddenly accept the Bible as truth, I guess I would have to change some things in my life, like no longer being able to criticize Yahweh endorsed slavery, rape, and genocide. On second thought, I think I’ll pass.
Photo courtesy of David Goehring via Flickr.