Christians vs. Atheists in the Billboard Wars

In several large metro areas of the United States, atheists’ billboards have popped up.  Among the messages are ones like, “Don’t Believe in God? You are Not Alone”and “You Know its all a Myth.”  One location is just outside the Lincoln Tunnel.  Others have been put up in Bible Belt locations like Alabama and Texas.

Churches have responded.  They have put up competing billboards with Christian messages.

It is too early to tell whether either group’s billboard advertising will make any difference.  But, one can speculate and so I shall.

Atheists have done little or no advertising during the entire  history of the United States.  Christian churches, on the other hand, have lots of it.  Every church steeple is an advertisement. Churches buy advertisements in media just like other businesses.

Prayers to Jesus in front of a million people at public meetings every day is another form. When a President says, “God bless you and God bless America”, most assume he is referring to the Christian God.  It is another free ad.

The problem with the Christian advertising is something we would call in economics, diminishing marginal return.  If McDonalds, for example, tripled its advertising budget, it would not triple its sales.  That is because it advertises so much already. The extra ads will not do as much good as the previous ones did.

The percentage of people who say they are Christians has stopped rising.  This is spite of the huge amount of advertising.  It seems like Christians have reached market saturation.

Whether atheists numbers continue to rise we will find out in time.

Christianity Is So, Well, Tribal

This is a critical thing to say.  But, for the most part, it fits today’s conservative wing of the Christian religion.

To be tribal is to circle the wagons, make judgements about the other tribe and lob insults over the fence to them.  It is to believe that our tribe is good, the other tribe is bad.

One place the script plays out is in the belief that there is a satan.  The other tribes are infected with satan and unclean. 

It also involves being judgemental.  How the other tribe looks and how its members act is subject to our judgemental scrutiny.

That current Christianity follows tribal customs is not surprising.  It’s instructional manual, the Bible, was written at a time when the world was still made up largely of tribes.  The Bible refers to these tribes.  They believed the earth was flat and never traveled more than a few miles from where they were born.

The problem with holding on to these tribal beliefs is that members now can visit the other tribe.  What they are finding is that the other tribe is not as bad as portrayed by local tribal mythology.  Technology has brought the younger members in contact with the other tribe and there is intermarriage.

The Bible is filled with tribal rules and tribal lore.  This includes ideas like we should not eat certain foods at the same time, women are the property of men, the sun revolves around the earth and, of course, the vague reference to gays. 

The sooner we leave all this behind and deal with the world as it is today, the better off we will all be.

The Bible as Theater

In my amature opinion, there are three general ways to read the Bible.  One is the “literal” way where it is viewed as written by God and there are no contradictions or inaccuracies.  Another is the traditional seminary way, that the Bible is read in the historical context of those times.  A third, and maybe not entirely different from the second, is to read the Bible as fictional literature. That is, as traditional story telling not unlike theater.

I’ve read three books by authors who believe the Bible’s authors intended it to be read as fictional story telling.  Two of them are Christian ministers.

None of these authors majored in theology.  All had backgrounds in literature, theater or television. 

If you come from a background in literature, they argue, you immediately recognize in the Bible  signals of fictional writing.  The Biblical stories are not told in the manner of a historian relating the events.  Instead, they began by setting the stage.  A dilemma is presented.  Then, the hero enters with great flourish and carries the story onward.

These authors do not see the Bible as a set of rules to be followed.  Instead, especially the Christian pastors, see the fictional stories as making points to guide readers along a spiritual path.  In fact, they believe that reading the Bible as a set of laws, written by flat-earth men, does a great disservice to the faith.

To read the Bible as literature would make Christianity more interesting to many people.

Why Are All Christians Painted With An Evangelical Brush?

Some folks who criticize my writing are people who have the same views as mine on most issues.  They are Christians who share with nonbelievers concern about social justice, gay rights and women’s rights on the abortion issue.  Their comments go something like this, “I have the same problems you do with the right wing of the faith.  I am not one of them.  So why do you lump Christians like me in with the ones I could not possibly agree with?” 

Their criticism is valid.  The problem comes from the vast arena called communications.  One of the oldest rules in the media is that stories which confirm sterotypes make great news item. 

Some examples of Christian sterotypes that have been in the news recently are Terry (burn the Korans) Jones, the late Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard and  Fred Phelps.  These are all representatives of the Christian right, but they have come to represent “Christians” in general.  

The Christian right’s anti gay rights and anti women’s rights are out of step.  I think youth are leaving Christian churches in general because the faith is associated with its right wing, not its left.

It was not always this way.  The Catholic church some decades ago carried the image of social justice.  Today it’s activities toward social justice are virtually never mentioned they do not match the current sterotype.

It will be hard to change the current Christian sterotype because the large demoninations have, within themselves, both left and right wings.

Christians Are Atheists, Part II

A while back, I wrote a blog that explained what atheists and Christians have in common.  They are both atheists in their attitudes toward all the gods that have ever been worshipped, except one.

I made  an estimate that there have been  about 2,000 gods.  Comedian, Ricky Gervais, now uses the number 2,798 as the number of gods, close to my guesstimate. The percentage of agreement between atheists and Christians is 99.9996%.

Pointing this out is not a pointless exercise.  It is a teaching moment.

Christians can easily fathom, I am certain, that the other 2,800  gods are ones that exist only in the minds of those who worship them.  I would guess a Christian would see this as so apparent it should be considered self evident.

If Christians do see these other gods in the way I have described, they should understand atheists.  Atheists see the Christian god as also existing only in the minds of its worshipers.

As we know, however, the relationship between some atheists and some Christians is not all that warm.   In frustration atheists say, “Why can’t Christians see that the Christian god is no different than the other 2,800 gods and does not exist outside the mind?”

Christians are just as frustrated.  “Why can’t atheists understand that our God is different than the other 2,800? Our God exists outside the mind. It’s so obvious.” they say.

The fact remains their agreement is at 99.9996%.  They should be able to get along.

Should I Be More Politically Correct?

Sometimes, I have a hard time showing respect for other people’s views. That is, I can’t be politically correct.  One place I struggle to be political correct is when someone says, “In my religion, those people are an abomination. They are sinners. I’m a Christian and the Bible gives me no choice on this.”

The Bible has been used so many times as a mask for prejudice it’s easy not to take it seriously.   Let’s start with race.  A Southern Governor used to keep Bible verses in his desk and show hand them to people to prove he was right about segregation. 

The Bible was used to “prove” that Jews were inferior.  It has been, and continues to be, used to “prove” that women are inferior.

It was used to “prove” that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. There are so many reasons in the Bible to justify killing people that one writer penned, “You can kill just about anyone for just about any reason, and still go to heaven.”

I’ve heard Bible commentators say, “Just because some Christians were wrong in the past does not mean we are wrong today.”   That is like saying court testimony from a known liar may not always be a lie. 

It would be easier to be politically correct if the Bible had not been wrong so many times.

Faith Inflation and the Marketplace for Religion

We know the Christian faith and other faiths offer an afterlife.   Could it be there will be “price cutting” among the faiths–each offering up a better salvation and a lower price to get in?  It’s already happening.

The Muslim faith offers a good deal to men who want to blow themselves up.  It is many virgins in the afterlife.  I don’t know if they have a comparable offer for gay men.

Recently, what is called the  “emerging church” has lowered the price of entry.  If offers salvation to everyone, regardless of their sinful past.  Since all of us do at least a little sinning, this lower price on a ticket to heaven would be attractive.  Young people are buying up this offer and finding homes in these emerging churches.

All of this price cutting makes one curious as to why the percentage of people who drop out of the market entirely is growing?  Those are nonbelievers, the most rapidly growing segement of the “faith” population. 

I have my suspicions why this is happening.  It is a quality control issue. 

Concepts of an afterlife are based on something written a couple thousand years ago by people who believed the world was flat. Customers expect an updated product today. 

And, when the price is a requirement that one believes gays ruin straight marriages and women do not have brains enough to make moral decisions on their own, potential customers just walk away.

P.S. Thanks to all my blog readers from Bismarck who came to my talk today. It was fun to meet you.

The Clobber Scriptures

These are the six or seven scriptures that are used to label same sex relationships as sin.  They are used to clobber gay people.

None of these scriptures is crystal clear as to what, precisely, it being discussed.  Books have been written and gazillions of hours have been spent discussing what the passages may, or may not, have been referring to.  I don’t have space to go into these arguments. It just seems to me that the passages do not rise to a level of clear condemation.

What interests me are the implications of using these scriptures.  A book by Jay Bakker I’m reading says, “For conservative Christians, homosexuality has become a rallying cry and recruitment tool…For nonChristians it is an equally blunt instrument: a single-issue indictment of the church, one that makes a mockery of all the Christian talk of love and understanding.”

Just today on is an article by a Christian who trys to explain the difference between how Christians politcally see themselves, and how the rest of the country sees them.  Christians see themselves as a group who loves, helps and votes to put these concepts in place in government.  NonChristians, however, as a result of the anti abortion and anti gay activities, see Christians as just another self interest voting bloc. 

The point is that the imagery of faces twisted in anger in front of women’s clinics and preaching about the clobber scriptures is not done without some consequences.  When Christians need political friends for reasons even more important than gays and abortion, there might be nobody home.

Isn’t it Possible You Are Wrong?

That question is asked of me more often than any other.  Probably every atheist and religious skeptic fields that question. Isn’t is possible there is a god?

I’ve seen the famous author Richard Dawkins  (The God Delusion) in person and in videos. He must be asked the question over 100 times a year.

The quick and easy come back is to ask the questioner whether it might be possible that he himself might be wrong.  There never seems to be a responce from a true believer.

The real answer to the question uses up nine pages in Dawkins’ book.  It is not so simple. 

Part of the answer is that, yes, I could be wrong.  A Christian could be wrong.  We could both be wrong. But what do each of us perceive the probabilities are that we are wrong? 

The deep Christian may be 100% certain there is a god.  The agnostic may be 50-50. But, Dawkins, the world’s most famous “atheist” says he is between 99.0% and 99.99% certain there is no god.  He has seen no evidence, but, as a scientist he knows he cannot say it is certain there never will be any.

There is a further complication. Is it possible that someday science might discover a godless origin of the universe? Or, is that impossible?  Dawkins refuses to believe it is impossible.  It was once deemed impossible to put a man on the moon, he notes.  Opening up that possibility changes the argument.

Actually, the question is a silly one.  No scientist would ask another scientist that question.

In the Emerging Church, Sin is Gone

If you are worried about sins you have committed, you need not anymore.  And, if you are like me, and are more interested in the sins of other people than you are in your own,  that sin is gone as well.

In the parts of the emerging church I am aware of, there are neither sermons nor judgements about sin.  Jesus does not make judgements about your sin and others are not to do so either.

That is not to say the word sin has vanished.  It is that sin is a self contained loop.  If you sin, you harm yourself but Jesus makes no judgements about it. What is considered “sin” seems to be behavior that is self destructive or harmful to society which returns to harm the individual. The church is not directly involved.

This concept is quite refreshing because it is much like how a nonbeliever would think about good and bad behavior. Nonbelievers see good behavior as that which is not self destructive and that which makes current life better for some or all and ensures a viable world for future generations. Bad behavior is just the opposite. 

Like all Christians, the emerging church people have scriptures to justify their views on sin.  I’m not going to list the scriptures here because they would be challenged by others and, in my view, are not important anyway.

What is important is that believers and nonbelievers come together to build a sustainable society with some degree of common purpose.  It seems like this might happen.