Thursday, January 15, 2009

We're all bozos on this bus.

Atheists, True Believers, everybody.

Yall are gonna have to forgive me for treating with dreary seriousness something started by a comedian.

I'm talking about the pro-atheism ad campaign, in which a lot of people apparently had nothing better to do with thousands of euros than fund atheist messages on public bus flanks, which kind of tells you where I'm at.

I actually see the intended pointed-but-gentle humor in the bus campaign, but what I fear some of the contributors do NOT see is that they've escalated this culture war. If they do see it and it's what they meant to do, fine, freedom of speech and all that. They have a right to annoy me, despite the fact that I have not attempted to annoy them by proselytizing. It's understandable that those who are fed the bleep up with the evangelical version of Christianity...

(God, I get so tired of trying to remind people that it's only one version)

...anyway, it's understandable that they'd take off the gloves and say "Two can play this game."

But despite the amiable tone of the ads, and the careful insertion of the word "probably," i can't help but think it's a deeply stupid mistake. The people who built the bandwagon may be pretty lighthearted about it, but the jumpers-on are less so. Their outpouring of contributions sure looks like it has struck a nerve. An angry, "Let's take this outside!" nerve.

Ad-proponents could certainly point out that Christians dish out the proselytizing, so it's bloody well their turn to take it.

But evangelicals aren't the only ones who'll take it. Just as atheists who've never tried to inflict their views on others have been plagued for years by buttinski Believers who want them to change, so will we believers who've never supported proselytizing get our beliefs ridiculed. Wars always inflict collateral damage. Always.

What, exactly, makes the message telling us Believers that we're misguided and that belief impairs enjoyment of life (huh?) less condescending than the Christian message telling atheists that they're misguided? How does this atheist proselytizing help end the intrusiveness of proselytizing?

It perpetuates it. It rebels against an evangelical attitude problem --"The Smart Enlightened People Must Educate the Silly Dimwitted People!" -- by doing the exact same thing.

Did the Christian evangelicals start it? Did those who opposed the Christian Right's public intrusions fail to speak up? Is the atheism campaign a gentle one compared to the Christian Right noisemaking?

I won't attempt to answer those questions ("us" and "them" is as old as human consciousness) because even if every one of them merits a resounding "Yes!" payback takes things in the wrong direction. By saying, "If you do it then we'll do it," they have just acknowledged that proselytizing is a swell idea.

It means we've all retreated to the defeated position that my right to freedom and respect for my belief depends on the society around me thinking like I do. It follows that we each therefore need to try to remake society into one in which our beliefs are the default setting. May the best Force win. It's innocuous and vaguely amusing in its early stage, and that remaking of society into "correct" thinking isn't real obvious, but the sides are lining up.

Think about it. If you really do believe that it's not, and cannot be, a personal matter, that the community must establish a position on the God question, and that you must fight to make sure it matches yours, OK, your delight in this ad campaign is right on the money.

Make no mistake about it : it is your war, not ours. That term "you" will now embrace atheists and fundies. You've both decided to fight for converts. Me, I'm not ready to give up on freedom of thought. Real freedom, you know, freedom in which we all quit smirking or sneering at each others' beliefs.

But if you don't believe the game must be played and won...?

If you realize that recruiting, whether for Jesus or for physics-is-God, is by definition intrusive....?

If you still want humankind to outgrow evangelism...?

IMO this ain't the way to do it. It's a Three Stooges sketch. It's starting with a funny nose-tweek, but the stakes will inch higher, bones will crack. It feels like it's bringing balance but it's really bringing escalation.

Personally I think it's a monumental waste. That 200,000 bucks is globally tiny, and might not have changed the world. It won't rebuild a bombed-out city. It would feed X-number of hungry children for X-amount of time, then the problem would remain.

But it won't stop with that 200,000. And the evangelical effort will rise to meet it.

This is one battle that really really ought to have heeded the old poster:

What if they gave a war and nobody came??


Catherine said...

I agree that the war is ridiculous. No one ever converted anyone to anything by ridiculing their beliefs. And beating people over the head with an idea or belief is no more effective an approach than ridicule.

But then where does the Great Commission fit into this? Because Matthew 28:19 quotes Jesus telling his disciples to teach all the nations and baptize everyone in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Pretty inclusive -- all the nations, and everyone. Can we simply say that Jesus was speaking for that time only and not for now? I don't think so -- I think we have to say that this Commission was meant to flow down through all Christian believers throughout the centuries. Christians today clearly still have a purpose and it is to teach people about God.

How then can a Christian follow the Great Commission and still respect the beliefs of others? Can it be done? Should it be done?

I believe Christians should make their beliefs known – but attitude is all important here. An “in your face” attitude or a defensive attitude, both of which characterize far too many Christians today, will always be counterproductive. If we are to persuade someone to look at Jesus Christ, we will never accomplish that with snarky sarcasm. If the message of Jesus Christ is important, then it should be presented as such, with due respect to the person who is hearing it.

I can see why people look at Christians with dismay these days. But the Great Commission still stands, however flawed our approach.

Maybe what we should be praying for is an attitude change on the part of those who are trying to tell the world the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus took a strong tone against the religious establishment but he drew in everyone else with gentleness, kindness, and straight talk. Perhaps if we did the same, the Christian culture wouldn’t be perpetually locked in a culture war and might, instead, do some good in this wounded world?

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

After i published this entry, it occurred to me that some explanation of my views on the call to spread the message is called for, and i even started a rough draft. 8~) It will be posted!

My problem is right now i'm working on a deadline and need to put the novel first for the next couple weeks, but i'll need breaks and want to try to do justice to the Commission issue.

In response to your earlier question -- i did not hear from our friend in Israel until this morning(!) and that was too brief to really be an update, except that she's OK!

More coming....