Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

S%#t I Wish (Some) Atheists Would Stop Doing (And Saying)

As a Christian, I can admit that there is a reasonable argument for being an atheist, but here's a few things I wish atheists would stop doing.

So you’re an atheist.

Great. I’m a Christian.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have an issue with you. Some of my best friends are atheists, and over the course of the last few years, I’ve been purposeful about building bridges with the atheist community– because you know what? There’s a lot we actually have in common when you move past the question of the existence of a divine being.

Now, I get it. My tribe makes bridge building hard because we’ve got a pretty decent sample size of obnoxious people. Trust me, they bug the daylights out of me too. In fact, I make my living by writing about all the things they’re wrong about (which means I never have a slow day).

But here’s the deal: While I’ve focused near-exclusively on trying to clean house on my side of the fence, I have to be honest– your team has rabid fundamentalists, too. And those folks? Well, they make it hard even for a liberal Christian like myself to find common ground to work from.

So for any of my atheist friends out there who’d like to do what I do– change your own culture from the inside out, here’s a few things I wish you’d get your folks to stop saying (or doing).

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

I’m not arrogant, but I have a hard time engaging in dialogue with an atheist who begins the conversation by stating or acting like we’re uneducated, unenlightened idiots simply because we believe in God, in some form or another. Do we have idiots in my camp? Sure thing– but it’s not a belief in God that makes them that way, just like it’s not a lack of belief in God that makes some of your folks ignorant or obnoxious.

Let me give an example: when you paint us all with this broad brush and assume negative qualities about us simply because we are theists of some sort, it feels the way I imagine you feel when you hear a theist explain that you have no morals because you’re an atheist and thus have no foundation for morality.

It’s just dumb to make such sweeping assumptions about an individual human being based upon where they stand on the God vs. no God question. You don’t like it when we do it to you, and it is equally as off-putting when your peeps do it to us.

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

I get it– there’s some weird stories in the Bible. Plenty of verses to make fun of. But I just want to bang my head into the table when I see some of my atheist friends quote some of these Bible passages as if the only way to read them is the way a fundamentalist would read them. It is amazing to me the way both conservative fundamentalists and many atheists insist on reading and interpreting the Bible with the same rigid literalism that takes into account almost nothing regarding literary genre, authorial intent, context, original languages, etc.

If you want to bring up issues with the Bible, have at it– but at least read a bit of scholarship on a passage before quoting it as if you understand exactly what it meant, what it means, and how a good Christian should apply it. That’s the type of unenlightened, ignorant nonsense that fundamentalists do with the Bible, and I know you’d hate to be associated with them.

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

I’m not sure the best way to break this down, but here’s my beef: following the religious/ethical views written by Moses (Torah), or the teachings of Jesus (love your neighbor, love your enemies), is not the same thing as going to Disneyland and believing that Mickey is actually a real-life talking mouse. It’s not the same thing as believing that there actually was an old woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children that she didn’t know what to do.

Religious/ethical beliefs and fairy tales are not same thing. Every time I hear this “fairy tale” insult my inner Samuel L. Jackson voice kicks in and screams, “It’s not in the same ballpark. It’s not even the same $&#@ game!” (Pulp Fiction reference for you.)

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

I get it, we religious people have done a lot of douchey things in the course of history, but that’s not all we’ve done– and to make a broad and obnoxious statement as if we have never contributed to the good of society as a result of our religious beliefs is just ignorant nonsense. In fact, in many eras it’s been religious people leading the way.

Put a list of names of charitable organizations into a hat and pull one out– there’s a pretty good chance that organization is actually a religious one, because religious people are among the most financially charitable from all categories. Modern hospitals? Those were largely Christian endeavors. Orphan care? That’s largely a Christian-led movement. Relief work in countries affected by famine and natural disasters? Throw a dart and you’ll land on a religious organization leading the way in places others don’t go.

I’m not even going to list all the good that’s done in the name of religion, because you have google and a brain. But suffice to say, the idea that religion makes or has made no positive impact on society is ignorant and lazy thinking.

So, back to the beginning: you’re an atheist and I’m a theist. That doesn’t mean we have to be natural born enemies. In fact, I would argue that both sides have reasonable arguments for why they believe what they believe.

When we move past that, there’s a world of commonality just waiting to be discovered– because a human being is infinitely more than what they believe or don’t believe about God. People are complex and cannot be reduced to assumptions or stereotypes without completely dehumanizing them.

But to discover that– to get to that place where we can see the humanity in one another, and begin finding areas of common ground, we need to stop viewing the other as if they represent the worst their tribe has to offer. Both sides have their fundamentalists and antagonists, but they don’t represent the whole of either of us.

Not every Christian is Ken Ham building a modern ark to transport dinosaurs. Not every atheist is Richard Dawkins or the anonymous internet troll who dehumanizes people of religion while acting as if they are morally superior.

I’ll keep working with my tribe to try to reform it from the inside, but these are just a few things I wish we could dial-back within your tribe.

If we work on individually reforming our own cultures, we just might find a different future for all of us.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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49 Responses

  1. It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to
    be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or
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  2. One thing I wish Xtians would stop doing — using the term “fundamentalist” for atheists. There’s only one fundamental in atheism — not believing in gods. In that sense, we’re all “fundamentalists” so using the term to separate types of atheists is meaningless. What I think Xtians really mean here is “atheist assholes”, so just go ahead and say “atheist assholes”. It’s OK.

    As far as the other stuff goes:

    #1, done.
    #2, frankly I say cherry-pick away as long as you pick the cuddly stuff and not the clobber stuff. But I have to admit I also think those who claim that if you can’t interpret a supposedly sacred text literally then it’s useless as instructions from a god have a point.
    #3, the philosophical stuff is not a fairy tale, true, but the rest of it — c’mon.
    #4, done. But you understand that “done” is on a personal level. As for “changing our culture”, well, see AKFletch below.

  3. I have no problem in people being spiritual and even believing in some higher power but why this obsession with Holy Scripture? People who quote scripture are the ones who infuriate me. What kind of moral superiority does that nonsense give you? I might just as well quote Nietzsche back at you as if it conquered all argument but Im not that stupid. Scripture is what gives all the ammunition to the extremists in every religion. Why cant you just be satisfied to follow Christ’s teaching if that’s your bag, instead of beating us over the head with a lot of irrelevant words written a long time ago by ignorant old men.

  4. Hi Benjamin – Thank you for writing this, and I hear you about the sneering.

    I, myself, treat Bible verses in a literalist, fundamentalist fashion in my articles ( precisely because fundamentalists do, and I’m trying to create cognitive dissonance about that approach by showcasing some of the ugliest verses in the Bible. These texts tend to be morally repugnant when treated as timeless prescriptions and so call into question the inerrancy of the whole text. Exposing why biblical literalism is morally untenable allows people to move in a variety of directions that include both atheism and more open, inquiring, humble, scholarly forms of Christian faith.

    Regarding fairy tales, my understanding is that most fairy tales have deep roots–sometimes even predating the written word– by contrast with Disneyland which was constructed as a self-aware fantasy land. So, again I wonder if the problem is largely one context (how we use the term “fairly tale” in the vernacular, and one of tone.

    1. Valerie, I would appreciate your critic in a literalist, fundamentalist fashion on the verses in the New Testament relative to the Spirit of truth: John 4:23, 14:17, 15:26, and 16:13.

      I went out to your webpage and couldn’t find anything relative to this relationship with and in God.

      Thank you.

  5. Thoughts & Prayers for your butthurt feelings. If you pray hard enough maybe your skywizard will make the free thinkers vanish

  6. hey snowflake, have you tried prayer?

    Maybe your all-powerful gawd can make the mean non-believers stop hurting your feelings

  7. Let’s be fair. Not all, not even most Christians are unenlighttened, unintelligent, or uneducated. Neither are most atheists. But some Christian arguments for the existence of God are so fatuous that this insinuation will be apparent in any criticism. E.g. christians who insist on young earth creationism and build Ark Encounters are displaying their ignorance without humility and are appropriately called ignorant and willfully blind to reasoned discussion. If you think the Ark Encounter is stupid and embarassing, attack it, don’t attack Atheists who also find it alarming.

    “Please stop insisting that we read our Bible like right-wing fundamentalists”
    No one should assume this, but right-wing fundamentalists exist, and will be criticised as such. This group is not small or marginalized and there is no need to treat it like a fringe.

    Your belief system is a series of folk tales and traditions that involves the supernatural. This is very similar to fairy tales. Yes it is in the same ballpark. It is fine to have a worldview informed by the Bible and other folk tales. Indeed, many of us look to old stories for moral norms, this is why we tell them to children. We do not think your religion is like going to Disney but for what it is, selecting a series of old stories that have supernatural involvement and telling each other that these stories are true and informative for human society.

    Sure, it is obviously wrong to say that Christianity or Islam or Hinduism has never done anything good. But it is also true that Stalinism and Maoism did some good things. The question is, what good and bad things are attributable to the ideology?
    The issue with religion is that it claims that all these charitable works would not have occured if the participants had not been religious. This may be the case. However, there is nothing particularly religious in the charitable works.

    For example, a purely religious activity would be Catholic Mass. Only a priest can do this, and the eucharist and so on is distinctively religious. I.e. there is no secular way to do it, if there is no religion, Mass cannot happen.

    But healthcare, feeding the hungry, providing shelter and so on can be done just as successfully by atheists, Christians, Maoists. You can argue that there would not be as much engagement with the populace absent religious justifications, but I dispute that. In my case at least, the religious aspect of many charatible organizations is a barrier to my donating to them.

    On the whole, many atheists, myself included are embarrased and speak out against ad hominem and other irrelevant attacks on the religious.

    But don’t pride yourself on being an enlightened intelligent Christian that just happens to have a different worldview that just happens to be informed by a particular tradtion. Either you believe that in some real way, a man named Jesus actually was God, was killed and survived his own death, or you don’t. This is essentially the dividing line between atheists and Christians and really should be focus of discussion.

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

    Apologies. What, then, is your preferred term for, “believes in voodoo”?

  9. Great article, thank you. I have never met, or read anything by, an atheist that I didn’t agree with. I also don’t believe what many atheists don’t believe. And I’m not an atheist. What I have not encountered is atheist thinking that engages significantly with Aristotle on actuality and potential and Being, or with John Scotus Eriugena, or with Paul Tillich or with Karl Rahner’s transcendentalism. Like you, Benjamin, neither have I come across informed atheist engagement with the panoply of scholarly biblical criticism. That’s a pity. However, I warmly appreciate atheist debunking of infantile ‘folk religion’ masquerading as Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc. religious faith. Religious communities need strident atheism to keep us honest. Here’s a tongue in cheek suggestion: maybe the Church should introduce an ‘Appreciate Atheism Sunday’ into the Christian calendar. Both sides could benefit.

    1. The reason you don’t find many atheists engaging with Aristotle, et al, is that until there’s some evidence for, or even just a really good reason to believe in, the supernatural there’s no point to all that yadda yadda, unless you’re just into mental masturbation. And some people are, I’m not knocking it, but it’s not for everyone.

  10. I respect your right to believe whatever makes you happy. And I will keep my mouth shut most of the time.
    I think religious people are delusional (they believe in and talk to imaginary people), silly (no pork, no meat on Friday, no working on Sunday) and sometimes misguided and cruel (God hates fags, kill the infidel).
    And until some proof is presented, I doubt I will change my opinion.
    As to the state of my “eternal soul”? WTF is that? There is no proof that anything like ” soul” even exists. If you have proof otherwise, I would very much like to view it.

  11. So much wrong here, but Drew below pretty much nails it.

    The nicean cherry picked , many times translated, collection of folk lore that is the bible is either in your personal head ,the world of god or it isn’t. You need to actually READ it. From the beginning and read what it says. not what your religion tells you they think it says.

    and then ponder that if you had been born in Pakistan i would be saying the same thing to you about the Quran, in india about the Mahabharata .

    But seriously it from cover to cover, you will be ahead of 90% of your faith in that at least. 🙂

  12. If you accepted your bible as the word of god and stopped making excuses for your god’s obvious anti-moral actions leading Isreal into the promised land – maybe we’d stop telling you to read your bible. But you guys seem to have the ability to ignore what you don’t want to consider. Cognitive Dissonance.

  13. “Please stop referring to our belief system(s) as fairy tales.” Do you believe in Odin sacrificing his right eye to gain wisdom for the world? How about creation living on the back of a turtle? Probably, you think of these examples as myths or fairy tales. We aren’t comparing your belief system to Mickey Mouse: we are comparing it to the more than 3000 god systems that have existed in civilization. But YOURS is the real god, right? Without evidence, all you have are stories; and stories without evidence are fiction. I can’t see calling them anything else. Sorry the truth hurts your feelings.

  14. Put yourself in the shoes of the people who wish for the complete obliteration of christianity, those people who have been hurt, wounded so deeply by religion (like myself, being a trans woman who grew up in a faith healing pentecostal church) we would like nothing more than to see it snuffed out.

    It is not that it has done no good, but its masters have treated us, those sex and gender diverse people, as disposeable collateral for the sake of normality for two thousand years.

    Once upon a time, the violent christianity you speak against used to be a non-aggressive faith like your own. Never again should we let it meet power. Never again should we let it be proselytised and distributed.

  15. Point 1 – Sure, not all religious people are ignorant or uneducated, but there’s a reason that, in general, religiosity declines with higher education levels.

    Point 2 – If you’re picking and choosing from what’s in the book, how do you get to decide what parts are ok and what parts aren’t? If it’s divinely inspired, aren’t you stuck with the whole thing? If it’s really the word of god, is it really your place to interpret it to fit your own agenda? How is that different from fundamentalists interpreting the same words to fit their own agendas?

    Point 3 – Nope. I’ll keep calling things untrue as long there’s no proof to back them up. Crystal healing, ancient mythology, vaccines causing autism, the Tooth Fairy, and modern religion can all sit in the same BS bucket together.

    Point 4 – Religion’s done plenty of good for the world… In the past. Now, it’s a burden on the shoulders of humanity preventing further progress. It separates people and makes them intellectually lazy.

  16. I’m going to make a small criticism and suggestion to Dr. Benjamin Corey. It was a mistake to put a photograph of Dr. Richard Dawkins as his illustration for a post asking atheists to stop saying all Christians are stupid, all Christians are fundamentalists, religion does no good, etc. First, because Dr. Dawkins doesn’t say or do those things, and always makes a point that he’s not. We atheists know that, we don’t think of him that way, we admire him for his outspoken counterapologetics. On the hypothetical scale of doing stuff, he’d maybe be somewhere in the gentile middle.

    He’s not a good example then of the extremes of thoughtless vitriol and cluelessness. So by using his photo and comparing him to Ham, you’ve ended up shifting your argument so that it looks like you’re complaining that arguing against the existence of God has to stop.

    I think it would have been better if a stock photo of “raging man/woman” had been used instead.

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