A Facebook friend recently posted a link to an article from Esquire which I found interesting. It’s an article by Shane Claiborne, who is described as a radical Christian missionary who does outreach to the poor.
What made the article interesting to me was that it was addressed to unbelievers. The gist of the article was that he was apologizing for the crappy behavior of some of his fellow Christians: “I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians.”
While I admire Mr. Claiborne’s work with the poor and underprivileged, and while I think if I met him I would probably get along well with him, his comments show a profound misunderstanding of those of us who are atheists.
It is, indeed, true that I have had unfortunate encounters throughout my life with self-professed Christians - some of whom have been the biggest assholes I have ever met. It is also true, however, that I have had the pleasure of knowing Christians who were kind, generous and willing to help others. For that matter, I can say the same thing about atheists I have known. Like any other group of people, some are cool and some are boneheads.
But to imply that “the biggest obstacle” to my finding god has been the poor behavior of certain Christians is simply not true in my case. And among the atheists whom I have known personally, this also has not been their experience.
I became an atheist after years of thinking about issues such as philosophy, logic, cosmology, science and history. Simple as that. It had nothing to do with “Christians Behaving Badly”. In my mind what one thinks of the adherents of any particular religion is a separate issue from the question of whether a deity exists.
Even if every Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist, Jew, (insert names of other religions here) suddenly became as cool as Shane Claiborne seems to be, I would still remain an atheist. And I suspect my life would be just as fulfilling as any of theirs. The reason I became an atheist is – as expressed so well by a host on the Non-Prophets podcast (whose name escapes me… sorry) – I realized it was important to me that what I believed was true, insofar as truth can be determined.
And, as I said, that’s a completely different matter than the behavior of individual members of various religions.
Shane Claiborne has done me no harm and as far as I’m concerned, he owes me no apology. I have a different view than he does on the existence of a god, but I can still respect his work with those who need it most. But it's his human compassion I admire, not his religious viewpoint.
The existence of a deity is a matter open to theological debate. The existence of humanity isn’t. I think if we can all work together – regardless of our belief or lack thereof - to help each other out in this world, things could be a lot better for us all.