I wrote yesterday on “Christians and Atheists: Sharing One Planet, Living In Two Worlds.” Not long after that I saw Dean Obeidallah’s article in the Daily Beast, titled “The Conservative Crusade for Christian Sharia Law.” It’s an outstanding example of how not to bridge the divide between our worlds.
Near the end of yesterday’s blog post I wrote,
The second great question is, where shall we meet, we denizens of such different worlds? I suggest it is in our humanness; for we share more than a world, we share a common human condition. We know what it is to face our joys and our pains. We know particularly what it’s like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, stereotyped. In blogging that happens most often by twisting one another’s words, ignoring key points in the other’s argument, or (most egregiously of all) assuming the other side is intellectually deficient from the get-go. (Sometimes I’ll reach that conclusion eventually, but it takes a lot to get me there.) We know what it’s like not to be listened to.
Diminishing Others’ Humanness
Had I seen Obeidellah’s article in time, I might have used it as an example of the errors I’ve listed there. The whole thing appears to be an attempt to diminish Christians’ humanness.
Although in a sense they’re not the point, I’ll catalog a few of his errors very briefly:
- He misunderstands Islam and sharia. The place of religion in public life is vastly different on Islamic beliefs than in any other religion prominent in the West.
- He distorts conservatives’ intentions in our democratic process: “How many more of these laws do they want to impose?” he asks. None. We want to participate with others in bringing our values and opinions into the governmental decision-making process.
- He forgets, most egregiously, that separation of church and state (as defined in the First Amendment) grew out of Christian roots.
- He falsely bifurcates religion from public responsibility.
- He mine-quotes four Old Testament commands and one from the New Testament, implying that if Christians are given an inch, we’ll go the distance of the whole continent.
To expand further on that last point, a quote from Obeidallah:
Sure, some will say Huckabee, Santorum, and their supports don’t want to impose laws based on these extreme verses. Actually recent history tells us a different story. With each success the right has seen, they have become more embolden [sic] and pushed for even more radical laws.
Errors No Human Would Make
We could respond to this on two levels. One approach would be to rebut his errors in detail, which would be easy enough. Such a rebuttal would have to begin with this: he hasn’t got a whiff of a clue of an idea what he’s talking about. He’s blowing smoke. He’s ignorant of the Bible and of Christian theology. He thinks that men and women 3,000 years ago should have lived according to 21st century ethical principles. He thinks he understands ancient cultures well enough to judge them. He thinks Christians have never faced these questions before, never wrestled with them, never asked ourselves how they make sense in today’s world. All of that is preposterous on the face of it.
I could go on. More concerning to me than that, however, is that Obeidallah displays no interest in understanding what he’s contesting. He is completely ignoring the debater’s duty: don’t distort what you dispute.
There’s little evidence in his article that he cares; for there are no questions there. There is nothing in the form of, “Hey, what do you Christians believe about this? How do you make sense of it?” If he had asked we could have answered. That would hardly have suited his purposes, however, for that would have opened the door to the possibility that Christians might actually have an answer. It would make it that much harder to paint Christians as totalitarian monsters.
Instead he chose to demonize us.
In upcoming elections, we need to ask any candidate who cites the Bible as the rationale for their political position specifically how far do they intend to take that. At least then we won’t be surprised when they push to pass laws to silence women or stone women to death who aren’t virgins on their wedding night.
I don’t want you to be confused about what I’m saying here. This is neither about Old Testament theology, nor about contemporary political issues. It’s about Obeidallah’s intention to degrade. He seeks to make us what no human could imagine being, thereby making us appear as less than human beings. That way he can shunt us aside, perhaps to Boghossian’s “Kid’s Table” — which is (by the way) another example of a highly demeaning, dehumanizing proposal.
Obeidallah objects to what he imagines as Christians silencing women in church. His solution is to silence Christians in the public square. He displays no hint of noticing the hypocrisy.
When Atheists Decide Not To Bridge the Divide
Let me speak specifically now to my fellow believers. Christians, we have a history of meeting objections like these with reasoned answers. I endorse these sound answers, and I call on us to keep delivering them. Believe me, I’m all for reasoned answers!
There’s a strategic problem with that approach, however. Consider how quick and easy it is for an atheist to quote Exodus 35:2, and what shock value it carries. A reasoned answer, while certainly possible, takes a lot longer to explain and carries almost no emotional loading along with it. Extended, well-thought-through answers are essential in church settings, where real teaching can take place. They’re great material for books and essays. But they won’t break through the noise in the public conversation on contentious issues.
What do we have that might cut through that commotion? Recall that hypocrisy, stereotyping, and bigotry still rank among sins most people would not want to be caught committing. If we see others doing these things, and if we can call them out without descending into dishonesty, I think we should do it. I’m calling Obeidallah out for his dehumanizing, hypocritical bigotry as displayed in this article. I’m not just name-calling when I do that; I’m explaining why the accusation fits. Maybe this will get through to someone like him.
I hope at least Obeidallah might be shamed into contacting some reasonable Christian thinker and asking, “What do you mean by these things? How do you make sense of them?” Maybe then he would be more inclined to see it important to bridge the divide rather than to widen it.