John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Atheism on Steroids

I am a live and let live kind of guy. I can tolerate a wide range of opinions. I have friends who are crazy liberals and friends who are crazy conservatives. I enjoy the company of libertarians and libertines alike. When they ask me my opinion, I’m glad to tell them what I believe and why. But I don’t go door-to-door looking for non-Christian people to persuade.

There are some who have suggested that, if I really believed everything I claim to believe, I should be barking at people on the street corner, pleading with people to repent. Sack cloth. Ashes. All that.

I’m just not sure that God wants me to harangue people like that. I suppose you could make a biblical case for it if you pull out some of the behavior of some of the Old Testament prophets – bearded performance artists who were more likely to run naked through the streets than appear at your local church’s volunteer appreciation banquet.

I’d counter that the prophets weren’t trying to persuade their unbelieving friends and neighbors to make an initial commitment of faith to God; they were calling other Israelites to live out their covenantal commitments to God with greater integrity – and quickly, before YHWH sends a horde of pagan warriors to round up the women and children.

So, instead of going door-to-door through the church directory pantsless (after all, God hasn’t spoken that kind of direct message to me yet), I’d rather try to have some sensible, productive conversations with regular, non-church-going folks.

But I’ve run into some problems trying to get some of them to talk – especially the ones who say that God doesn’t exist.

Well…that’s not exactly true. It’s not that they won’t talk as much as it is that they won’t listen. I sometimes wonder if what I feel when I try to talk to an atheist is what a lot of non-Christians feel when they try to talk to us. Except, I can’t imagine saying the kinds of things about them that they’re saying about us.

For example, if I, having never met you, said that you are psychotic or accused you of child abuse, that would probably reveal more about me than it would reveal about you. If I went on to suggest that you and your kind act like battery acid on our society, poisoning and corrupting everything you contact, you might take offense. If I continued by suggesting that I might be well within my rights to kill you as a form of pre-emptive self-defense…well…you might want to have a word with me, right?

Or run away.

Or punch me in the face.

Of course, you wouldn’t punch me in the face. You probably haven’t been in a fistfight since you were a kid. But you might want to. You might have to suppress the urge.

Think I’m exaggerating? Here are just a few quotes from the recent slew of anti-God screeds that have found their way into your local bookstore.

Sam Harris, The End of Faith: “We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When their beliefs are extremely common, we call them ‘religious.’ Otherwise, they are likely to be called ‘mad, psychotic, or delusional.’ While religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.” (p. 72)

Christopher Hitchens. The title of his book alone is enough to let you know how he feels about us. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion: “Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas – no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no God-given license to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.” (pp. 325-326)

Another from Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: “Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.” (pp. 52-53)

Welcome to the world of the new atheists. These are not your grandfather’s atheists – the old guard who might have looked at you dismissively and joked about you behind your back as you dressed in your Sunday best and attended the church of your choice on Sunday mornings. No, atheism, like so many things these days, is new and improved. It’s more aggressive, more in-your-face. It’s “X-treme Atheism!” It’s atheism on steroids – complete with the short-tempered bursts of rage that are usually thought to be religiously inspired.