The question in this post title is one of the questions that bugs me oh so much when it comes from anyone – but especially from a Christian.
My friend Donny posted a link on his wall to an old post from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Not even halfway through the article, the author succeeded in irritating me by asking:
What makes Dawkins and Hitchens so fascinating, however, is not so much the tightness of their logical argumentation or their marshalling of empirical evidence, but the force and power with which they make their cases against religion. Why spend so much time proving the nonexistence of something? Why not do something more constructive with life? Why not build bridges or run marathons or even collect string? Devotion to the debunking of that which does not exist is a strange and parasitic activity. After all, I don’t believe in unicorns or the tooth fairy, but I really do not have the time or the energy to write long books articulating my position and ridiculing those who hold such beliefs.
Not only is that ridiculously condescending, but it’s also so full of hypocrisy that it seems Christians just can’t see.
Donny asked me to explain it because he couldn’t see it. I answered:
You spend all (or most) of your time going around the country speaking about something you are passionate about. About something you believe in so deeply that it is fundamentally a part of who you are.
Dawkins and Harris and Hitchens (when he was still alive) do (did) the very same thing. Yet, it’s somehow wrong for them to do so?
How do you not see the hypocrisy there?
That explanation did nothing to persuade him of the hypocrisy of his perspective, so I further responded:
And that baffles me. Truly.
Prominent atheists are trying to change the world. (Hey, isn’t that what you’re trying to do?)
The thing is, atheism doesn’t want to take your beliefs away from you. There are two things happening in the secular movement. First, the movement as a whole simply seeks to make it okay for me to not believe. There are those who believe that because I am an atheist, I am not American. There are those who believe that this country should be governed by Christian beliefs and the Bible. The secular movement seeks to stop that from happening by making the government separate from religion, providing freedom and equal footing for everyone. Most of the Christian community does not seek that (though some do).
And secondly, many atheists believe that religion causes harm to society. And they write books about it to raise awareness about it. There are those who wish to eradicate religion because they believe the world would be a better place without it. They look at religion and see children dying because the family refused medical treatment in lieu of prayer and faith healers. They look at wars that have been fought over religion. They look at the way homosexuals are dehumanized and belittled by many as a result of religious belief. And rather than remain silent about it, they stand up and say something about it.
How is that a bad thing? Why does that not make sense to those of you who choose to dedicate your lives to teaching and converting people to believe in something no one can see because you believe it makes the world a better place?
And once again, he still couldn’t see it. I really don’t know how to explain it any further. The conversation degenerated from there into a discussion about whether or not wars are really fueled by religion and how many people have died as a result of atheist regimes – discussions that are easy to get caught up in but have little to no bearing on the question at hand.
The fact of the matter is that Christians look down on atheists for standing up for what they believe is right. And until they can see that they are seeking to silence a group of people who employ some of the same methods as Christians (ie speaking publicly, writing books, creating groups on campuses), they will never understand why I look at the conversation and see hypocrisy.