Straw Men Arguments Don’t Work for Atheists Either

Here is yet another moment in which an atheist makes clear that he is just a fundamentalist:

The old wheeze about “We just believe in one less god than you do” had one merit: it did not try to project upon Christians what we supposedly “actually” believe and therefore was not guilty of arrogantly attempting to read our minds. That’s why it worked. It told us what the atheist did not believe, but remained circumspect about what Christians did believe. It played defense, not offense. I could respect it as a polite form of argument, even if I did not buy it myself.

But the meme above is what you get when atheists–often ex-Christian fundamentalists who have lost their faith but not their simple-minded arrogance–decide to play offense and make a dog’s breakfast of the argument by their unimaginative inability to think any Christian ever thought about other religious traditions in any way except the way their own simple-minded Fundamentalism taught them to think. They were raised to suppose all religious believers but themselves were stoopid. They still believe exactly the same thing, just about Christians as well. There has been no growth in humility, just an expansion of pride. It is not lovely and not attractive. It wears this face:

This is the face Phil Plait (himself an atheist) is addressing in his invaluable talk (despised by guys like the one in this picture) “Don’t Be a Dick“.

The reason the above meme is dickish is simple: Not all Christians are Fundamentalists. Indeed, only a tiny percentage of Christians are fundamentalists. And that is why lots and lots of pre-Christian mythology and stories about the gods were preserved–by Christians–and why Paul, though a fierce critic of pagan religions since he was both a Jew and a Christian–could also tell the pagans of Athens:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your poets have said,
‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Ac 17:22–31).

That’s why C.S. Lewis (and millions of other Christians) could say without controversy (except from Fundamentalists):

“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.” – Mere Christianity

There is nothing in this that is not also affirmed by the Catholic Church in Nostra Aetate and Unitatis Redintegratio.

Atheist creators of memes like the one above, being largely fundamentalists, really are committed to the notion that nearly everybody who ever lived is stoopid and they alone are smart. That they project this arrogance on all Christians only reveals their affinity for the tiny segment of Christians who are Fundamentalists like themselves.


2 Responses

  1. I have seen that argument many times, and I think at its heart is more a disagreement of semantics than philosophy. Ask the atheist: What do you mean exactly by “God?” Nine times out of ten, I find that if I listen, I have to admit, “You’re right. I don’t believe in that either. We agree. The thing is: As a Christian, that is not what I mean by ‘God.’ ”

    And then real discussion can begin. But Mr. Shea is right: Most fundamentalists (both Christian and atheist) aren’t really interested in honest discussion. They are more interested in scoring points and spearing straw men.

  2. I think you’re being a little bit too harsh.

    Fundamentalist Christians might be a minority, but they do have an outsized influence on culture and politics, especially within their political in-group. Add to that the fact that many right-wing Christians are for all practical purposes, almost identical to fundamentalists, while they only engage in the aesthetics of the denomination they nominally belong to.

    Given the way nearly half the US electorate has normalized xenophobia and religious bigotry, and incorporated them as part of what it means for them to be a Christian, is it really that surprising that other people are left with that impression of Christianity?

    So, while I think you are correct to point out the inaccuracies about the underlying assumptions of these memes, you’re biggest problem is not that that some atheists believe in them, its that far too many Christians do as well. If anything, its the latter that leads to the former.

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