Guest post by Logan. You can read his blog at Life After 40: Reflections on Life and Faith After 40.
I heard today that Christopher Hitchens died on this date [December 16] back in 2011. I was technically still a Christian at that time. But today, I am very grateful for the impact that Hitchens made on me, my oldest son and the world. He is missed.
The year was 2009. I discovered that my oldest son had bought and read Hitchens’ book entitled God is Not Great. As a Christian, I was offended. “What!? How dare this man write a book with such a title!” I also certainly didn’t like the notion that “religion poisons everything”.
After discovering the book in my son’s room, I lightly skimmed it but I was literally too scared to seriously read it. I feared for my soul and the potential influence of the book.
So what did I do?
Using a poor attempt at humor, I printed up a fake book cover entitled “Atheism, And the Morons who believe it” with a fictional author name of “I.B. Wright”. I put the fake cover over a Scott Adams’ book (probably a Dilbert book).*
I wrote something stupid on the back page cover too, a feeble attempt to support my revised book title. I left my creative work in my son’s room for him to admire.
So what happened?
My son took a picture of my handiwork and posted it to the atheism group on reddit.
His post got over 1000 points, which in the Reddit world, is quite a lot. I didn’t know about the Reddit posting for quite a while, but after discovering it and reading through the comments, I was skewered. Severely. And rightly so.
The text I put on my back cover said: “In Mr. Wright’s latest book, I.B. shows that God is truly good and that through His son, Jesus, the world was rocked by a mere three years of ministry that culminated in Christ rising from the dead, which skeptics have been unable to disprove or rationally dispute.”
I look back on all of this with embarrassment. Unfortunately, indoctrination shuts off critical thinking, and I was very indoctrinated during my early years. I’m just grateful now that my son didn’t hide his change in beliefs and that eventually, I broke the spell. And as Christopher Hitchens said so well, religion poisons everything.
Tonight I will raise a glass to the late Hitchens.
* It was ironic for me to use a Scott Adams book since Mr. Adams is an atheist (which I didn’t realize at the time).
Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
— Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great
The anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not yet to receive baptism. I answer: That reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things but — more frequently than not — struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.
— Martin Luther, Tabletalk (Page 120)
This is the one hundred and twenty-second installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.
Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Dead and Gone by The Iron Boot Scrapers. Dead and Gone is a tribute to the late Christopher Hitchens.
Recently, a new reader sent me several questions she would like me to answer. Her questions and my answers follow.
How do you help a loved one even if you still believe? I am okay with my husband not believing in Christianity, and I want to be supportive, even though I remain a believer. I still love him and don’t want anyone shoving religion down his throat.
This is an interesting question. I think this is the first time a believer has written me to ask how best to help his or her unbelieving spouse, Usually I get emails from unbelievers who need help as they try to live with spouses who are still believers.
The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are really are okay with your husband’s unbelief. You say that you love him, and I am sure that you do, But, do you love him enough to grant him intellectual and psychological freedom? You don’t mention the sect that you are a part of, but if you are part of a Christian group that believes in eternal punishment and hell, you must be honest with yourself about whether you are really okay with your husband dying without becoming a Christian and going to hell.
Each of us should grant our significant other, along with family and friends, the freedom to walk their own path, even if doing so results in those we love end up far from where we are, Sadly, many unbelievers aren’t granted this freedom, and their spouses subtly attempt to evangelize them or coerce them into attending church. I know countless unbelievers who attend church every Sunday because it keeps peace in their families. These unbelievers suffer silently because of the love they have for their spouses, children, and extended family, While doing this is laudable, it does force them to surrender their intellectual integrity for the sake of others. Many unbelievers can’t do this, and often their marriages do not survive.
I encourage you to let your husband know that you really do want him to be happy. Make sure he understands that you want him to be intellectually honest and true to self. Of course, your husband should desire the same for you.
How do I deal with uber-religious family members and friends? How do I protect him from those who will try to force him to reconvert against his wishes?
First, your husband must be willing to stand his own ground. You mentioned in your email that your husband is “a real people pleaser.” Predatory Christians love to target people who are not assertive. These evangelizers will likely view your husband’s easy demeanor and politeness as openness to their preaching. Either your husband must avoid those who see him as a prospect for heaven or he must develop the necessary intellectual skills that can be used to combat their evangelizing efforts.
Second, You could tell family members that you don’t want them trying to convert your husband, that you are fine with his unbelief. Those who refuse to do as you ask are bullies. Personally, I would cut such bullies out of my life. Life is too short to allow religious zealots to treat family members as people in need of fixing. Those who value their beliefs more than having a personal, loving relationship with you and your husband are people not worth having in your life. Religion is by design divisive. All religious sects believe they have the truth. When a group believes they are the depository of truth, this necessarily means that they view others as inferior or in need of “correction.”
It is crucial that you and your husband have an open, no-subjects-off-limits discussion about his lack of belief, your belief, how best to live life in a way that grants both of you intellectual and emotional integrity, and how best to deal with evangelizing family members who don’t respect either you or your husband. Remember, if they respected you they wouldn’t continue to preach, witness, and evangelize. Sadly, many Christians believe that obeying what the Bible says or what they think God has told them is more important than respecting the personal space of others.
How can I get some good information about the truth behind Christianity from the atheist perspective?
Here are a few books that I would recommend for you to read:
In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families by Dale McGowan
Atheism For Dummies by Dale McGowan
The Evolution of God by Robert Wright
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer by Bart D. Ehrman
Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman
Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails by John W. Loftus
The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails by John W. Loftus
The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion Is True by John W. Loftus
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
I encourage you and your husband to read these books together and then discuss them. And when I say “discuss” I mean have open, thoughtful, calm discussions. The goal is not winning an intellectual battle or converting the each other to a different viewpoint. Both of you must come to terms with what you have learned. When confronted with new facts/data/evidence/information, it is important to honestly and openly wrestle with what you have learned. Sadly, many people, when confronted with new knowledge, try to make it fit previously held beliefs or they ignore it hoping that the problem is just a lack of understanding. Many religious people are taught to never question or doubt. When confronted with contradictory or conflicting facts, such people dismiss them and run to the house of faith. DON’T do this. Be intellectually open and honest, doing business with each new bit of knowledge as it is presented.
Doing what I have prescribed here can be dangerous and disconcerting for believers. In your case, as the believer, you have a lot more to lose than does your husband. What will you do if, after reading these books, you conclude that your religious beliefs are false? Are you willing to join hands with your husband in unbelief? Perhaps your beliefs will survive. I know a few believers who have read some of the books mentioned above, yet they still believe. All of them would say that reading these books radically changed how they view Christianity and unbelievers. All of them left Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Conservative sects, seeking out inclusive sects that don’t neatly divide the world into two groups: saved and lost. Are you willing, based on what you have learned, to seek out a more friendly, inclusive expression of faith? Unitarian Universalists, for example, would gladly welcome both you and your husband into their churches.
I hope my answers to your questions are helpful. If I can be of further help, please let me know. I hope you will continue to read my blog. I think you will find that many of the readers of this blog understand your struggles, having once walked similar paths.
In response to a letter I wrote to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, an elderly local Christian sent me the following letter:
Please reconsider. Even if we choose to believe there is no hell, doesn’t make it so. I saw the pictures of flowers you posted and it showed how you enjoyed them. In Hell, you will never be able to enjoy anything. There will only be torment forever and ever. I don’t want anyone to go to that place and certainly God does not want that for you either. When you truly come to know Jesus, you will gladly and willingly surrender your all to Him and following His commands will not be burdensome to you. It will just flow out of your heart of love for Him.
Perhaps you were a religious person who never truly had a relationship with Him. I beg you – please reconsider before it is too late for you. He loves you so much. The precious blood of Jesus was shed for you, don’t let it be in vain. What about your wife, children, and grandchildren? If you die and go to hell, you will regret that you had a part in taking them there with you, and you will want someone to go and tell them the truth.
Please reconsider. Count the cost. This life is so short, but eternity is forever. Wouldn’t it be better to endure this life and all it’s problems with Jesus, than to be in hell for eternity and have to bow down to the authority of God anyway? I pray God give revelation to you and your family regarding heaven and hell. I say all this in the love of Jesus. I know this will be considered as evangelism, but please read it. I pray you make the right decision.
Let me summarize. Why should I become a Christian?
- I love flowers and there are no flowers in hell.
- Because I was a religious person who never really knew Jesus.
- So I don’t have to be accountable for my wife, children, and grandchildren going to hell.
Is this the best that Christianity offers theses days? As the writer said:
Wouldn’t it be better to endure this life and all it’s problems with Jesus, than to be in hell for eternity and have to bow down to the authority of God anyway?
My answer is no. I would rather endure this life and all its problems without a deity, knowing that when I draw my last breath I have lived my life well and that I can, with peaceful assurance say, this is enough.
I have no doubt that the person who sent me this is sincerely concerned for my spiritual welfare. Been there, done that. Christians need to understand that I am an intractable atheist. Arguments like those found in this letter are shallow, contradictory, and easily refuted. Better for this man to seek after those who have some interest in the Christian message . There is nothing a Christian can say to me that is going to make me suddenly see the error of my way and cause me to repent. Experts have tried, but here I am, wallowing in my depravity, enjoying my last few moments on earth before I step out into eternity and join Hitch in hell.