Alert reader Sigmund spotted Karl Giberson going into tut-tut mode at the HuffPo, criticizing atheists for their profound ignorance of religion. LOL! Doesn’t Karl know that on average we know more than the faithful do about faith? (Be sure to keep up with Sigmund’s Sneer Review website, too.)
Uncle Karl on what atheists need to do
For those of us who frequent the online skeptical community it is sometimes easy to forget that many people see the world, not through the lens of reason and evidence, but through that of authority and orthodoxy. This kind of worldview, particularly when associated with the more fundamentalist religions, views everything in terms of black-and-white certainties. For such individuals it is preposterous to question whether their God is real. To these folks, nonbelievers who reject this God do so because they simply haven’t thought about it enough—either through being unfortunate enough to grow up in a region where the Good News has not yet reached, or through some willful act of immature rebellion. The idea that someone might have thought long and hard about religion and come to the conclusion that it is false never seems an option.
A prime example of this kind of thinking is on show in a new Huffington Post (where else!) article by former BioLogos director (Uncle) Karl Giberson: “Take an atheist to church.” Giberson’s theme is simple. Atheists are mistaken about religious people and indeed about religion in general, for the straightforward reason that they know too little about it.
“Atheists often talk about religion like scientists at the Center for Disease Control talk about plagues and epidemics — unambiguously bad things that we should work to eliminate.”
Although there may be more than a grain of truth in that particular analogy, it is an imperfect one. The gnu atheist position is generally not one of prioritizing the eradication of religion. Instead it can be better viewed as the public promotion of evidence-based policies and the restriction of religious actions to the private domain. A better analogy for religion as seen by the gnus is perhaps something akin to a sexual peccadillo. If you want to indulge in it in your own private life then fine, go ahead. Just don’t force the rest of us to join in.
Giberson clearly views atheists’ position on religion as the product of ignorance.
“Atheists, however, speak with great confidence about the evils of a religion that they seem to have encountered only in headlines — a terrorist incident here, an assault on evolution there, a new survey connecting religiosity to young earth creationism, and so on. Religion as practiced by ordinary people is nothing like these headlines.”
He seems particularly annoyed with atheists’ portrayal of the religious:
“What I am not OK with, however, are the mean-spirited caricatures produced by people who have virtually no real experience with religious people, beyond reading about them in headlines. I don’t recognize these religious people.”
I guess Uncle Karl has never been to Cranston.
For Giberson, atheist’s lack of knowledge about religion can, however, be easily rectified through means of directly introducing them to church life.
“Atheists should go to church and do some research if they want to keep talking about religion.”
So we need to hush up about religion unless we go to church? But which church, Karl? There are just so many from which to choose!
“I would like to invite atheists to join me at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Quincy, MA — or whatever church is convenient — and spend a year doing research into what real life religious people are like — the people who are not in the headlines. You may be surprised to discover that we don’t all think the same.”
Apparently, once we learn about ‘real’ religion, we will suddenly realize that religious people are not all the extremists that we’ve mistakenly assumed.
“None of us have ever bombed an abortion clinic, or held a sign protesting gay marriage. In fact, our fellowship includes openly gay Christians. We are worried about climate change, widespread lack of healthcare, and the excesses of the Tea Party. In these and other ways, we find common cause with many of our fellow citizens, both believers and atheists.”
Well, if Giberson’s own church truly promotes freedom of choice for women and marriage equality for all, they will indeed find some common cause with atheists. Where Karl is likely to find disagreement, however, is with the brand of mainstream Christianity in which many churches seek to impose their opposition to these policies on the rest of the population, whether we agree with them or not.
Unsurprisingly, informing atheists that they are ignorant of religion is not getting much traction in the comment section below Giberson’s article. Giberson’s tactic is having the equivalent effect of turning up to face the lions at the Coliseum while wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress. As can be expected, Giberson’s entire thesis is getting eviscerated by atheist after atheist pointing out that, far from being ignorant of religion, many atheists have plenty of experience of churches. Indeed it was the experience of going to church and reading what the Bible actually says that turned many of them into atheists in the first place!
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It’s hard to understand the point of such an article other than as an act of singing to the evangelical choir. Giberson must surely know that many atheists come from religious families. He must also know that atheists in general are more knowledgeable about religion than most religious people.
If Giberson isn’t simply trolling, and if he really does think atheism’s opposition to religion is primarily the result of ignorance, then I would have one suggestion for him. If he truly wants to talk to atheists in his church, he could try asking his fellow congregants what they really believe. If it’s anything like the kind of church that I attended for sixteen years, Karl is going to find plenty of non-believers already there.