Friday, January 1, 2010

If God be for us, what is forbidden?

Romans 8:31-33 says:
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
I've often thought of these verses whenever I hear about the latest hypocrisy and theocratic nonsense to emerge from the fundamentalist Christian set. To believers and to atheists, they have two very different meanings. For most of the believers I know, it's a source of comfort. It means that no matter what the world throws at them, God will be on their side, offering defense and protection. It's reassurance that God is obviously willing to do anything to help them out, since he's willing to sacrifice his son (himself) for our sake.

As an atheist, I read it differently. It's essentially saying that anything a believer does is justified and above repute; that since God is the one who justifies actions, non-believers have no right to question anything a believer does. I'm pretty sure that some believers see it this way, too - specifically, the kind of hardcore fundamentalists who are just slightly closer to the sane end of the spectrum than Fred Phelps.

Take, for example, Mission:America, an organization with a focus of reforming America according to Biblical principles - part of what is known as the Dominionist movement. On their "To Christians" page, in the middle of a lengthy screed denouncing American Christians for their tolerance of homosexuality (and feminism, and paganism, and pornography, and violent media, and......), they say the following:
And the big question is: why do you let the world define what's right to do? What will be "accepted" or not? What is "hate" or not? This defense of inaction completely undermines who Christ is and what God is able to do. Such cowardice should make us tremble. For God would not only be with us if we tried to talk some sense into the world, He is just as able to judge each Christian and the society we live in for our disloyalty and cold-heartedness. I believe right now, He is doing just exactly that.
Emphasis added. By the way, when you see this kind of Christian talking about "the world", they're not just talking about the people of the world. They're speaking in the Biblical sense - that the world is materialistic, sinful, fallen, and disgraced; that it is in the grip of Satan, which is the justification for disregarding its opinion.

They believe that God must approve of what they're doing, and as a result, they simply don't care what anyone thinks of them. This is an incredibly dangerous mindset. Not only are they dismissive of anyone who disagrees, but they almost seem eager to redefine hate to be "whatever we don't like". Nowhere in this message is even the barest semblance of Christian humility. These people believe that they know the mind and the will of an omnipotent, omniscient being, and that it agrees with them and will justify any action they take.

Recently Linda Harvey, the founder of Mission:America, posted an article called "The Top 10 Ways to Make Kids Truly Safe in 2010". The list begins somewhat well:
Let’s teach our children to refrain from honoring oppressive, liberty-denying practices and beliefs. Children should be civil to all, but refuse to be manipulated...
Which I think is fantastic. But, of course, it continues.
...into “respecting” Islam, praying to Allah, etc., no matter how many points it counts on the social studies/diversity unit test. They should urge every girl they know wearing a hijab to remove it and no longer submit to a system of subtle bondage. They should share the Gospel of Jesus Christ deliberately with every Muslim they know— and make sure these lost kids know that Christians believe in a loving God who gives us free will.
Sigh. The rest of the list isn't much better. It's a full menu of shameless bigotry, hatred, and intolerance, all in the name of "what's right". And, of course, since they think God is on their side, nothing is off the table.

But how can we deal with this? Nothing we say will change their minds; they've already made that perfectly clear by saying that they won't let the world define things for them. Even other Christians likely won't be able to reach them, since they think that most Christians have lost their way and should conform to their example. We're talking about people who are infinitely immune to criticism. Essentially, their dogma is a religious conspiracy theory. They're the only Enlightened Ones who see the Truth Behind Everything and have to strive to bring the Blinded Dupes into their fold. Any argument against their position is seen as evidence that they're right.

The best approach that I can think of is to forget working directly with them and work on bringing around anyone who might be tempted to buy into what they're saying. Over on Hemant Mehta's fantastic blog, Friendly Atheist, a commenter said:
Don’t hold your breath. People who think of their god as a “shepherd” are going to act like sheep.
I wouldn't paint with such a broad brush, honestly. Unless we make them aware of people like this vile woman, they likely won’t even know this sort of thing is going on. Her viewpoint is not mainstream in Christianity, from what I can tell. Most people have never heard of her or the damnable things she’s said, so it’s not exactly fair to condemn them for their ignorance.

The problem for us isn’t that they’re not speaking out – the problem is that we have to figure out a way to make them aware without being dismissed as anti-Christian. I’d bet that the vast majority of Christians, being the silent moderate majority, would likely vilify her as well. I know that when I was a believer, people like this made me just as sick as they do now, only for different reasons (e.g., they were misrepresenting Christianity). I just didn’t think they were significant enough to bother with; either that, or I just had an abstract idea that people like this existed, rather than concrete examples.

But this kind of apathy isn't acceptable to me now. I can't silently sit by and let bigotry go on unchallenged. This is a war for the minds of the world, and the less we do, the more minds they'll win. The bottom line is this: Mission:America is a hypocritical, bigoted organization that distorts the book it claims to revere to make it work for their purposes (moreso than most believers). They simultaneously claim moral superiority and an immunity to judgment. As a result, they have no moral basis for anything they claim, and reasonable people everywhere should be insulted that such people think they know what's best for our children.