Two Worlds, and How Not To Bridge the Divide

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.

Comments

  1. Ray Ingles

    He forgets, most egregiously, that separation of church and state (as defined in the First Amendment) grew out of Christian roots.

    Kind of a bent branch, there. (E.g. numbers 77 and 78 here.) Astronomy grew out of astrological roots, and chemistry grew out of alchemical roots, but that doesn’t mean that alchemy and chemistry command respect thereby.

    His solution is to silence Christians in the public square.

    Where does he say that? I missed it in that article.

  2. Ray Ingles

    I’m calling Obeidallah out for his dehumanizing, hypocritical bigotry as displayed in this article.

    Can I call out Holopupenko and JAD for their dehumanizing, hypocritical bigotry as displayed in their comments?

  3. Holopupenko

    @2:

    No, you can’t call anyone out on anything out because–as you agree and per your own words–you have no objective basis for doing so. If you claim a subjective basis, then everyone will collectively yawn…

  4. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    You can call them out if you have reasoning behind it, yes.

    Your bent-branch reasoning is bent. Christianity still supports a proper separation of church and state.

    Perhaps I put words in Obeidallah’s mouth about silencing Christians in the public square. This article is so confused about so many things, though: he’s distorting our message badly; he’s sounding a completely overblown alarm against our “imposing” our ways on others; and he’s complained about our raising “religious, not public policy, objections to the government funding birth control,” as if there were something evil about raising religious objections. From that last bit alone I think it’s quite likely he would like to silence religious expression from the public square. From the whole article, it’s clear he wants to distort our position so badly that the real message can’t be heard through the noise.

    So with those qualifications, I stand by my position.

  5. Ray Ingles

    Holopupenko –

    No, you can’t call anyone out on anything out because–as you agree and per your own words–you have no objective basis for doing so

    I’m beginning to think you’re trolling me. Quote my “own words”, or go away. Explain away these words, while you’re at it.

    So far as I can tell, you seem have a fixed idea of what atheists believe, and are simply unable to assimilate the notion that there might be other possibilities. Assuming you’re not actually trolling, that is. Either way, I’m starting to feel sorry for you.

  6. Post
    Author
  7. Ray Ingles

    Tom Gilson –

    Christianity still supports a proper separation of church and state.

    Ehhhh… sort of. It’s hard to find anything in the Bible affirming freedom of speech, or religious tolerance. Islam at least has some notion of allowing some other religions to be practiced, if in a restricted and discouraged way.

    (Or so many other fundamental concepts of US government, like trial by a jury of one’s peers, presumption of innocence, freedom from cruel or unusual punishment, freedom from involuntary self-incrimination, freedom assembly, or the notion that the power to govern resides with the governed and is granted by them to elected officials. But those are kind of side points to separation of church and state.)

    he’s sounding a completely overblown alarm against our “imposing” our ways on others

    The battle over same-sex marriage does not seem to be going the way of the traditionalist Christians in the U.S., but that’s a fairly recent development. (There are churches that are willing to solemnize same-sex marriages. I think they feel discriminated against when people pressure the law not to accept them.)

    Me, I look at things like the Russian laws against ‘gay propaganda’, or the law in Uganda that looks like it’s going to get passed. Then I look at the Christians in the U.S. who’ve lobbied for those laws, and praised them, and I have to admit I do wonder what they’d like to do here if they got the chance. (Actually, I don’t have to wonder.)

    …I think it’s quite likely he would like to silence religious expression from the public square.

    You quote him as saying “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.” Asking for people to publicly explicate their positions is ‘silencing’ them?

    Disagreeing with and disapproving of “religious objections” is simply not the same thing as ‘silencing’ them. You disagree with me plenty, but are you silencing me thereby?

  8. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Ray, your knowledge of the history of the development of modern liberal democracy is nothing short of stunning. The depth of your understanding of Christian theology is, too.

    Are you familiar with the doctrine of the creation? Incarnation? Crucifixion? Do you have any idea how that blossomed over time into the belief that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”? Do you know anything about how the early church led the way in bringing slaves into leadership (women, too, in case that question comes up).

    Are you aware of the history of the Magna Carta, and its principal author?

    Are you serious about calling Islam more freedom-oriented than Christianity?

    Are you not embarrassed at yourself for pronouncing an opinion when you could have asked for information instead? For there are people here who know what the Bible says, after all, and how that played out in history.

    Do you not get the error in the word “imposing”? What’s hard about it?

    Can’t you recognize the rank stereotyping that runs through an article called “The Christian Right and Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill”? Don’t you see that the author is making Obeidallah’s mistake? What if (believe it or not!) the Christian right didn’t uniformly support bills like these? But no, “They all look the same to me,” is the unspoken mantra of the anti-Christian lobby.

    Aren’t you embarrassed to echo such bigotry?

    I get that we disagree on whether Obeidallah wants to silence Christians. I might be wrong on that. I could live with that, with a little embarrassment of my own over the error, but nothing like what I’m suggesting you ought to own up to.

  9. Larry Waddell

    You know a really good book that might help our atheist friends in their argumentation (at least in understanding the Christian worldview, the theology on which it is built and the history on which it stands) is by Mary Poplin. The title is “Is Reality Secular: Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews” Veritas Books.

    If atheists really want to have accurate information about Christianity from which to argue this book would be very helpful. While it is overtly Christian, it is written by a former secular humanist Marxist. She explains the Christian worldview and other opposing worldviews that she at one time or another embraced prior to coming to faith. She gives a brief but accurate breakdown of Christian theology and history in a approachable way that would help those who oppose the faith avoid the errors that often get made by distorting what Christians believe. Theses errors get made because either the atheist really doesn’t know what Christianity has historically taught or because the atheist intends on erroneously presenting Christian thought as a way of silencing an opponent.

    Just a suggestion.

  10. Ray Ingles

    Tom – Bringing slaves (and, arguendo, women) into leadership of Christian churches does not in any way support the notion that other churches have rights to exist and the government shouldn’t interfere with that, or the notion of ‘freedom of speech’ (Indeed, when it comes to women, it’s fairly easy to argue that they shouldn’t have freedom of speech in a church.

    Are you serious about calling Islam more freedom-oriented than Christianity?

    No, because I never said that. I noted one specific point where Islam has a form of explicit freedom of religion. Which is one of the two specific freedoms (speech and religion) I was pointing to. I can find nothing in Christianity that even approaches the supposed Voltaire quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Any system of thought that defines the concept of ‘blasphemy’ is fundamentally out of alignment with that.

    What if (believe it or not!) the Christian right didn’t uniformly support bills like these?

    Then asking candidates (among others) about it would be a good way to find that out, wouldn’t it? I note the comments in the link you posted; there wasn’t exactly universal agreement on the ‘odiousness’ of the bill.

    Let me note that I didn’t talk about all Christians, or even all Christians on the political ‘right’. I specifically singled out “the Christians in the U.S. who’ve lobbied for those laws, and praised them”. If you can find any example of me claiming that all Christians in the U.S. did that, I’d be very interested – and ashamed – to see it. I don’t recall ever claiming that, because I don’t think that.

  11. BillT

    Then asking candidates (among others) about it would be a good way to find that out, wouldn’t it?

    And this, of course, wouldn’t be anything like asking them “when they stopped beating their wife”.

  12. John D

    Does mr obeidallagh not know Christ forgave the adulterous woman? He didn’t demand a stoning? We are of the new covenant . Such blindness on obeidallah’s part is typical of hypocritical liberalism . Hatred of Christ is all I see from that part of the divide. Repentance is needed . Harsh? No .

  13. Ray Ingles

    BillT –

    And this, of course, wouldn’t be anything like asking them “when they stopped beating their wife”.

    Michigan used to ban liquor sales on Sunday morning outright. About three years ago the state finally allowed businesses to buy a special license to sell liquor on Sunday morning, though not all communities even now allow it. “Blue laws” based on religion – indeed, based specifically on Christianity – are nothing new in the U.S. It’s OK to ask someone when they stopped beating their wife… if they actually have beaten their wife.

    Plus, I believe I’ve established that there do exist Christians who want to pass laws like those in Russia and Uganda. So yeah, I’d like candidates to clarify “specifically how far do they intend to take” “amend[ing] the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards”.

    I do not assume that all Christians are like that. But even in Tom’s link, John Mark Reynolds concedes that “American Evangelicals have some obligation to comment” on such things.

  14. Pamela

    That article makes me want to cry. It makes me want to just close my doors and let “them” have “their” way.
    I won’t participate in government like every other group gets to.
    I won’t share my beliefs and values publicly, like every other group gets to.
    I will abstain from voting, lest anyone think I’m imposing my values on them.
    I will not be part of the dialogue of ideas.
    I’ll be careful in public to only read my Bible on a tablet so no one can see it.
    I will simply let society go it’s way and stop caring about my fellow man.

    And I will keep Jesus to myself and let everyone else find Him, or not, on their own.

  15. Sault

    ” His solution is to silence Christians in the public square.”

    From his article:

    “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.”

    Yeah, he’s totally trying to shame and silence Christians, instead of suggesting that people just ask questions. It’s not like he’s speaking about a very specific subset of right-wing conservative Christians instead of every Christian everywhere. I mean, he’s totally telling people that they can’t participate politically and can’t read their Bible in public.

    Now, I’m reasonably sure you aren’t advocating arresting judges who don’t espouse fundamentalist Christian views, right?

    Oh, then maybe he’s not talking about you.

  16. Post
    Author
  17. Post
    Author
  18. Sault

    So he’s biased against Christians, so even though he’s just asking people to ask questions, it really means that he’s trying to silence Christians. And maybe keep them from reading their Bibles in public, as Pamela claims.

    Why am I surprised that you hand-wave away an example of a conservative Christian calling for judges to be arrested if they don’t conform to Judaeo-Christian values (“the source was distorted” aka ad hominem), and continue to attack a commentator for wanting people to ask questions?

    I can only imagine that you must self-identify as the right-wing conservative Christian that Mr. Obeidallah is warning us about. Perhaps he is misrepresenting this group that you are a part of, but it doesn’t make you look any better by misrepresenting him in return.

  19. Pamela

    I didn’t make any claims. I stated how the article made me feel, along with other articles and many atheists who comment on Christian blogs.

    I weary of the attacks on what people THINK Christianity is. I weary of the gross misrepresentations of Christianity and Christians in general. I’m tired of being told what I believe without being asked what I believe. I’m tired of being told not to even talk about my moral code by people who are forcing theirs on me. I”m tired of seeing comments by atheists, on Christian sites, telling Christians to stop shoving religion down their throat. I’m tired of being told to “judge not” by people who don’t know what that passage means (or don’t know the difference between discern and judge). I’m tired of having Levitical law thrown at me. I’m tired of seeing words like “conservative” and “fundamentalist” thrown around as insults by even other Christians. I’m tired of seeing Christians in the media being asked questions and then being slammed by the questioner for giving an honest answer to the question. I’m tired of being told that, by default, any opinion I have, based on my worldview, is wrong.

    I’m just so tired of trying to love people who hate me. I wish Jesus had said, “now that you’ve heard, go home and pray and don’t worry about anyone else.” I so wish He hadn’t said “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” or “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.” He says His burden is light but it certainly doesn’t feel light when the vitriol is being piled on.

  20. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Sault, it’s not “hand-waving” when I tell you that your example of “arresting judges who don’t don’t espouse fundamentalist values” is distorted. It’s a matter of pointing out an error, explainable through intentional distortion, with the effect that Gingrich was presented as if he held beliefs that he probably does not in fact hold.

    Meanwhile the source I’ve been quoting could hardly be distorting his own views in the same way.

    (I tire so of these false comparisons and analogies.)

Comments are closed.