2012-11-29

On Atheist Fundamentalism and Christmas Wars


That's right folks: The Holidays are here again, and with them comes yet another round of the Christmas wars! Today I read a nice article summarizing the current battle lines for public displays of religious affection all over the country. And, upon reading the stories about how anti-religious groups are trying to shut down governmentally-sanctioned religious displays and events, I am struck by just how angry and determined many of these anti-religious groups are. And I don't actually blame them for the anger. There are very many people who have been mistreated in the name of God, and it is only natural to want to lash out. It is logical to want to shut down a force that you believe to be detrimental to the healthy functioning of society.

I get it: Religious people (and institutions) have hurt you, demeaned you, marginalized you, and in some cases abused you. Now it is time to silence religion so it does not happen to others. But is all the anger and bitterness and constant ideological war working for you? Is it working for the health of our society? Is it working for our children?

One of the most sure-fire ways to create a disdain for religion in the hearts of young people is for their parents (or other dominant "elders" in their cultural world) to embrace a particularly "fundamentalist" version of the religion: Harsh, hateful, closed-minded, and narrow. I think it is safe to say that, in modern religious cultures across the world, there has been a significant amount of the "youth demographic" who have abandoned religion for more secular ways of pursuing life. I can think of cases I have known or read where this applies to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.

Up until now, Atheism/Secularism has not had a large enough demographic to see if the same will happen to their younger generation. But there are anecdotal incidents which show that this might happen, such as the son of militant atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who became a Christian largely to flee from the secular fundamentalism of his mother.

The sustained anger, bitterness, and vitriol witnessed by these "Atheist Fundamentalists" is just the mirror image of the angry, bitter, vitriolic versions of religion they are rejecting. And may I add: Rightly rejecting. If God is Love, as witnessed in Jesus, and taught by the best of human religious traditions, then God cannot be the hate that is preached by the worst exemplars of human religion. And that God of hate is rightly rejected, even if not immediately replaced by a better image of God.

The modern atheist movement is fueled by scads of people who have rightly rejected the hateful God of their elders, but have never replaced that God with a better God. The problem is, they are so filled with anger and bitterness at that God that they have simply shifted where their own hate is focused. As a result, many have become as shrill and judgmental as the religion they abandoned.

For instance, it would be one thing to have multiple "constructive" holiday displays in one venue. We could imagine a scenario where there is a Christmas creche celebrating Jesus, a Jewish Menorah in celebration of Hanukah, a Bodhi tree celebrating the Buddha, and a display of animals or a statue celebrating Darwin. Each of these constructs something of positive value that shows forth something valuable in their own cultural tradition.

But, if a group only desires to do "destructive" displays, it shows a pathology in the group-think. One does not have to put down others to show what is good, true, and beautiful in one's own community. A Christian group does not have to put up a Holiday display that proclaims all non-Christians are going to hell. A Jewish group does not have to put up a display condemning Gentiles. A Buddhist group does not have to put up a display that says all non-Buddhists are non-Enlightened. And an Atheist group does not have to put up a display saying that all religious believers are idiots at best, evil at worst.

I wish in this "culture war" we would learn the difference- on all sides- between constructive, affirming ways of exploring our beliefs and ideas VERSUS destructive, bitter ways of forcing our ideas and beliefs on others.

Back to the point: I am going to bet that, in the households of angry atheist fundamentalists, the seeds are currently being planted which will lead to a boatload of conversions to other religions by their children. The type of anger and bitterness described by this article is not a healthy spiritual or psychological environment to raise kids in. They will eventually reject it too. And perhaps, sadly, in 30 years or so we will witness a whole genre of re-conversion stories about people who found religion and are mad as hell at their parents for being mad as hell at religion because their grandparents were mad as hell at people who were not religious.

Or, conversely, perhaps in 30 years we can learn to learn from each other. I guess it is our choice.

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This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.