Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Doubting bad faith

Oodles of Christians think that people who aren't believers are undereducated or deluded. When they deal with people outside the church, they often treat non-believers as if they are intellectually dishonest; it's assumed that non-believers don't believe in God because they don't want to: they don't want someone bigger than them, they don't want someone more powerful, they don't want someone that they would be dependent on.

I'm sure there are people who don't believe in God for dishonest reasons. Most people who don't believe in God probably disbelieve for terrible, vile reasons. (Of course, by the same token, I'm sure that a lot of impostor believers find it trivial to claim to think something, but are terrified by authentic belief in God. Wheat and tares.)

It's dangerous and condescending to assume that all non-believers are inauthentic. Some people who don't believe that God exists truly want to believe, it's just impossible.

Other authentic doubters are cautiously avoiding bad faith, or ardently fighting it.

I suppose that my first atheist friend was Luc. I had met other atheists before, but Luc was the first one that I had a lot of deep conversations with. He wasn't just a non-believer, he saw American Christianity as a basically dangerous force, one that was destroying Palestinians.

Luc did more to inspire me to read the Bible than any Christian ever has. I grew up with daily Bible reading as a pretty good measure of whether one was serious about Christianity. The virtues of study were touted to me. With all that pressure, I found the Bible intolerably boring to read.

Luc, though, had clearly read the Bible cover-to-cover a few times, and could quote not just the famous verses that I had memorized in Vacation Bible School, but verses like the weird one in Exodus about how bad it is to cause a woman to miscarry.

Luc knew the Bible better than I did because he cared about the Palestinians. He saw that a lot of Christians in America were supporting Israel because that was what someone told them that God wants them to do. They would ignore violence against and starvation of civilians, even women and children, as a result. Instead, they would wrongly accept this inhumanity as God's will. (Please, please, don't mention Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles to me.)

This is bad faith: to not ask hard questions, fearing the answer. Bad faith isn't necessarily about spirituality. I used to frequently overdraw on my debit card because I didn't check my bank balance because I was afraid it would be too low. It was lower after the overdraft fees. That was bad faith.

Luc was angry at sweet praying grandmas who give candy to kids at church, but who would support violence. Luc obsessed over the Bible because he figured that arguing with Christians who were ignoring violence was the best thing he could do to help kids in the Middle East. I'm sure he would have liked believers to give up on theism altogether, but he would have been content with believers pondering questions of right and wrong. Do grandmas really want kids to die?

I don't know that Luc was a perfectly authentic doubter. I'm sure he had frail reasons for non-belief, too. Even so, he picked at a problem that he saw as urgent and diabolical. Luc helped me, a believing Christian at the time, to see and care about a major issue of injustice in the world. (Honestly, I haven't done anything practical to help Palestinians, but I would have gone for years without even caring about the violence in the Middle East if not for him, and his atheism contributed to his sensitivity to that problem.)

Actually, I'm pretty sure that Luc was a rather inauthentic doubter. The believers that were blindly pro-Israel made the mistake of following an impostor Christianity, but Luc made the mistake of giving up on belief because of his disdain for that same impostor.

Believers need atheists like Luc, because sharp atheists notice hypocrisy and confusion that would otherwise be ignored. Instead, people like Luc get chased away because they're talked-down to and dismissed as deluded; it's assumed they're arrogant—to say there is no God! Luc, and atheists like him, need Christians, too, Christians with open minds and thick skin (a lot of these atheists are arrogant). Maybe Christians can give their atheist friends a better God to not believe in.

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