Atheists and christians – does it have to be war?

I have several times blogged on how christians and atheists relate to each other on the internet, because I think courtesy is better than rudeness, and attitudes on both sides can be improved.

So I was interested in christian author Benjamin Corey’s thoughts on this.

Building bridges?

In a recent blog post (S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)), Cory (pictured above, with his anonymous friend who is also pictured on Corey’s blog) outlined four statements he finds atheists often say that he thinks are both untrue and unproductive. He said he would prefer to build bridges than argue

He admitted that “My tribe makes bridge building hard because we’ve got a pretty decent sample size of obnoxious people.”, and said he spends a lot of his time “trying to clean house on my side of the fence”. But, he said, both sides have “rabid fundamentalists”.

Corey’s four wishes

Please stop saying or insinuating that we’re a bunch of uneducated or unenlightened idiots.

There are idiots in both camps, but calling all christians uneducated is as much a baseless assertion as christians saying all atheists have no morals. It is hard to respect people who make such sweeping and unjustified generalisations.

Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists.

Some christians and some atheists read the Bible with pedantic literalism, but many christians and most scholars don’t. Not understanding how scholars approach difficult passages and issues that we want to discuss is just ignorant.

Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.

Whatever you think about christian belief, it is obvious to anyone that it is in a different category than fairy tales. Atheists think both are untrue, but they are still very different.

Maybe lay off the whole, “religion hasn’t done any good for humanity” type of argument, because it’s obnoxiously untrue.

Corey, supported by many studies, points out that often religious people lead the way in social welfare. He says: “the idea that religion makes or has made no positive impact on society is ignorant and lazy thinking.”

Why be polite and reasonable?

Corey suggests finding common ground might be a more fruitful exercise than arguing, and may make for a better future for us all.

Get with the program?

Corey may be described as a “progressive” christian – one whose beliefs are “characterized by a willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity, a strong emphasis on social justice and care for the poor and the oppressed, and environmental stewardship of the Earth.” (Wikipedia)

I don’t know if I’d call myself a “progressive christian” or not, but I tend to agree with Cory much more often than not. I agree with all his points here, but there is one aspect where we may not see things the same.

I am interested in discussing the evidence for, and truth of, christian belief – hence this blog. I’m not sure if Corey thinks this is important, and may prefer to find common ground on social justice issues rather than discuss evidence, arguments and truth claims, whereas I think both are important. Discussing of competing truth claims will likely have an edge to it, but that is when courtesy is most important.

But I still think he is right overall. The world would be a slightly better place if christians and atheists were more courteous on the internet, and in daily life.

Winning people by scorn?

I’ve heard both atheists and christians justify discourtesy on the grounds that scorn is more likely to help a person change sides that polite discussion of evidence.

But what is this saying about our commitment to truth and evidence?

Atheists generally pride themselves on rejecting beliefs not based on evidence, so how can they use other methods to try to sway people to their view? There is a contradiction here.

Christians using scorn is even more inconsistent. We are supposed to respect all people as being made in the image of God. We are commanded quite clearly in the New Testament to speak politely and gently to believers and unbelievers alike.

I suggest that if we rely on scorn and invective to try to persuade those holding opposing views, we are undermining what we supposedly stand for, whichever side we represent.

Do you agree?

The graphics are taken from Corey’s blog.


  1. Excellent post, unkleE! It probably doesn’t surprise you that I agree with virtually everything you said here. I also agreed with 3 of Corey’s points completely, and I mostly agreed with the 4th. I do happen to think that religion and fairy tales have some points in common. But I can see how describing religion in such a way would be offensive to Christians and probably not very helpful.

    I think that atheists and theists can find many points of agreement, and even when they don’t, they should try to be courteous of one another. As an atheist in the Southeastern US, I’m more concerned with pushing for more acceptance of non-Christian viewpoints in society, than with dissuading people from their beliefs.

  2. Hi Nate, yes, it doesn’t surprise me. I am wondering if I can put together a companion post on things christians say that unnecessarily upset atheists. I imagine if you wrote something on that. I’d probably mostly agree with you too.

    I am aware of the situation where you live from previous comments you have made, but it is a very strange situation to me, because I think there would be nowhere in Australia where that would be an issue. I find it strange that christians believe God tolerates all sorts of stuff and people he doesn’t approve of, but they don’t always think they should be like God in that regard.

  3. Hey Eric – I agree 100%. And it’s not only the use of scorn by atheists that is troubling, it’s the argumentation that says “whatever it takes to get people out of religion is justified”. The whole non-historic Jesus thing on the internet is case in point (as we’ve seen on another blog post which had 100’s of comments 🙂 ). This ends justifies the means thinking goes against the honest search for reality that many people who aren’t believers are passionate about. And not to mention many of us don’t even want to “get people out of religion”.

  4. Thanks Howie. I have come across christians who say their rudeness to non-believers is done out of love, to help them realise the errors of their ways, and like you say, I think that is “ends justifies the means” thinking – and I don’t think it ever works.

  5. Nate drew my attention to this post. I stopped following your blog some time ago. But I still follow Ben Corey’s blog religiously.

    I agree with Ben’s points. I think I commented on that post at the time that he made it.

    I am wondering if I can put together a companion post on things christians say that unnecessarily upset atheists.

    Maybe start by looking at your own posts and commenting practices.

  6. Hi Neil,

    I’m sorry you feel negatively about my ‘posts and commenting practices”. I certainly try to live up to the aspirations in this post.

    But I am always willing to learn and improve. So I wonder if you could offer me a specific example that would illustrate where you believe I go wrong? Thanks.

  7. I would have to reread lots of your posts and comments to find an example.

    You don’t actively attack atheists the way that some do. But you seem to inject too much religion. Sometimes people just want to have a person-to-person conversation, but you often seem unable to leave out the religion bit.

  8. G’day Neil, thanks for replying. I’d be happy to be given an example, but I’ll leave that up to you.

    I’m glad you think that I don’t actively attack atheists – I certainly try not to attack anyone, or say anything too personal, just discuss ideas.

    I’m a little surprised that you think I “inject too much religion”. After all, this site is called Is there a God?, so it would be false advertising if I discussed something else.

    But in a sense I agree with you. Setting up a christian website (or an atheist one for that matter) almost inevitably leads to an unnatural conversation. It isn’t how we generally begin conversations in real life. Often I do try to “defuse” the discussion a little and relate on a more human level, but you’d be surprised at the responses I often get – I have been accused of being “too nice”, of trying to twist the conversation for some subtle ends, of avoiding answering questions the questioner thinks I may find difficult, etc. So it isn’t easy.

    To some degree, I think it is up to the visitor to set the tone they want the conversation to take. I have a guest book for less pointed or argumentative comments, and perhaps I should set up some pages for more friendly discussion. I’ll think about how I might do that. Thanks.

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