I Challenge Conservative Christians

You realize, don't you, that there are many more choices than just between Christianity (i.e. Evangelical Christianity) and Atheism (as I define it, the denial of all gods)?

We are poles apart, that's true, which makes it hard to discuss these issues with Christians. It's hard to make them see what we do, or to think like we think. People who are poles apart sometimes don't even use the same language. We dispute each other's facts. We have different control beliefs. We live in different intellectual universes.

The differences might be like a mountain climber who expects some person off the street to join him in climbing up Mt. Everest, or a skydiver who does tricks who expects a novice to do the same. Such things are far beyond someone not already used to doing likewise. It takes training and work and time, plenty off it. No one can expect someone to think of doing likewise, much less do it. That person might even be scared of heights! It takes baby steps. One must crawl before he can walk. And one must walk before he can run. And one must run before he can climb, and so on.

Evangelical Christians recoil from our arguments. They don't trust us. For most of them we represent the devil. A friend of mine read my book but before each time she said a prayer that God would not let her be deceived by what was in it, and you know what, she walked away still believing. Surprise! Maybe some Christian visitors do the same whenever coming here to DC, who knows. Some come to do battle against the forces of evil. They're not open to what we have to say at all. Why? Because of the distance between us and the trust factor. They "know" we're wrong from the get go.

There's nothing that can be done about this. It's just the way it is.

I just want to remind everyone that there is some sort of continuum of beliefs and the choices are not limited to just evangelical Christianity and Atheism (as defined). There are a whole range of intermediate religious views between us. This is nothing new, of course, but a reminder of this is good. Why? Because the range of Christianity begins way over to the right, with snake handlers and the KKK (yes, they claim to be Christians), to the Fred Phelps hate group, to King James version only Christians, to Bob Jones University, to non-instrumental Churches of Christ, to Pentecostals like Pat Robertson, to Evangelical minded (who often distance themselves from others to their right), to open theists, to liberal Christians of various sorts who can be described as existentialists, mainline Christians, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong types, feminists, panentheists like Marcus Borg, Liberation Theology, and Universalists. There are Arminian, Calvinist and Catholic versions of these types of Christianities, I presume. Then there are Deists, agnostics, and Atheists. This is quite a long, varied continuum of beliefs. One could probably start out a snake handler and with more and more reading go through several of the stages of thinking over the years and became an atheist. Hardly ever does the trend reverse itself, although there are probably a few rare cases, I presume.

What happens when one thinks through a theology and moves to the left isn't usually because he read a book out of bounds of what's considered possible. I remember reading John Gibson's commentary on Genesis 1-11 and rejecting it outright because it was too far from what I would consider possible. I have now come to embrace his conclusions. The stories of Genesis 1-11 are parabolic stories, myths. As I moved from being a Pentecostal to an evangelical to a liberal to a panentheist to a deist then an agnostic and finally an atheist I would only consider those books that challenged me and they were just a bit to the left of where I was. Anything farther away than that would throw up all kinds of red flags in my head.

So, if Christians here don't want to take the Debunking Christianity Challenge because it's too far removed from what you consider a possibility due to the fact that you don't trust atheist authors, then do what I did. Read books that challenge your thinking by Christian authors outside your safe zone. Read open theist literature. Read liberal Christian books. If you're in college, study with professors who will challenge your faith.

I remember when considering which seminary to attend many people thought I should go to Cincinnati Bible Seminary rather than Lincoln Christian Seminary because the liberals were there. But I went anyway and didn't find any liberals there at all! Then I went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and was told that such a college was outside the bounds of my own denomination, so to be careful, that some liberals were there who didn't think the way Church of Christ people did. But they were conservatives after all. Then I finally attended Marquette University and I finally met the liberals. But more and more I found the arguments to the left of where I was at much better.

So here's a challenge to conservative Christians. How do you know you're right about that which you were raised to believe? Challenge yourself to read outside your safe zone. See why these authors think the way that they do. You'll find they have some good arguments. See if your beliefs can withstand their arguments. There are a host of Zondervan and Inter-Varsity Press books that have four or five views of certain issues from the millennium to women to apologetics to hell to creation to atonement theories to sanctification to salvation to the Bible, and so on. Read them all, one at a time for starters. In my case my beliefs changed in the face of these other books and articles and professors. It was slow, and I faced a crisis. But the conservative Christian arguments are less than persuasive in the Christian literature.

My challenge is for Christians to begin reading the list of books Anthony provides in this post.

The reason I wrote my book is because I could not answer the arguments of the people to my left. I am an atheist because atheists have the best arguments down the line. Atheism is the position of last resort. Once all other views are eliminated it’s the one to fall back on. I would never have considered it unless I went through several theology changes by reading authors I could trust. Try it. Challenge your beliefs, not by our writings, if that’s too much to ask. Read authors outside your safe zone. If you’re a conservative then read the books of moderates. If you’re a moderate then read the books of the liberals. If you’re a liberal, then read atheist literature. See what happens. Keep stretching your mind. Do not simply read literature that you’re comfortable with. That’s not a challenge at all. Challenge yourself. See if your present views as a conservative can withstand this challenge. They didn’t with me. I suspect you’ll find it won’t with you. Test your beliefs. How do you know your theology is correct? The only way is to test it with other authors just a bit farther to your left. This is my challenge to you. It may be the best challenge I can lay down.