Courageous Christianity

The “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta has had a stab at defining “courageous Christianity” while calling for more Christians to act with courage. He’s writing in response to the stupid Qu’ran burning stunt. He thinks it’s easy to condemn the loonies but hard to speak out on unpopular issues.

I think his list is pretty dumb. We already have a definition of courage that I think works pretty well.

Here’s how I reckon the Bible defines courage (from Matthew 10, John 15, 1 John 3)

32“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

John 15

12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command.15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

And 1 John 3

11This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Here are Hemant’s items:

It takes real courage to:

  • to stand up in your church and say you proudly support same-sex marriage.
  • to tell a group of anti-abortion protesters that you are a Christian who supports a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
  • to tell your campus Bible study that you had pre-marital sex, that it was fun, and that it didn’t ruin your life.
  • to teach others that there’s nothing wrong with masturbation.
  • to fight against abstinence-only sex education.
  • to throw off that “purity ring.”
  • to publicly express doubts about your faith and admit that Christianity doesn’t have all the answers it claims to have.
  • to tell your pastor that he’s completely wrong about Creationism or Intelligent Design and that evolution is supported by all the available evidence. It also takes courage to educate other church members on the matter in defiance of your church’s teachings.
  • to tell street preachers and testifying co-workers that people are tuning them out, not converting to Christianity.
  • to remind any proselytizing superiors in the workplace that they’re out of line and you’ll report them if they continue doing it, even though you share their beliefs.
  • to be the first in line to defend atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, and any other frequently-defamed minority groups when someone in your church spreads lies about them.
  • to let your children decide for themselves what religion (if any) they want to belong to.
  • to admit the Bible is full of glaring inconsistencies.
  • to put your faith under the microscope of logic, reason, and demonstrable evidence, and to admit that if/when the evidence directly contradicts your faith, faith should lose.
  • to apply the same standard of reason and evidence to your religion as you apply to every other religion.
  • to admit that what you once thought was a miracle was really just a coincidence.
  • to realize that Christians are no more moral than people of other faiths or no faith.
  • to say that an atheist won the debate you just watched.
  • to recognize that churches are really businesses.
  • to walk away from a church you’ve gone to your whole life because you no longer agree with what the pastor teaches.

What does courageous atheism look like from a Christian perspective. Here’s my list.

It takes real courage to:

  • actually try to grasp what it is the people you deride believe before deriding their beliefs. Engage with the philosophy and theology of your opponents before writing it off as “a pile of woo.”
  • accept that Christians believe something that effects how they are to live and their sexual ethics and definitions of sexual morality.
  • allow Christians the freedom to participate in public debate on the basis of their convictions – provided they are not suggesting that you also be governed by convictions based purely on a faith you do not share.
  • acknowledge that your beliefs or lack thereof about the best way to understand the world is based on presuppositions taken on “faith” in your own personal observations.
  • acknowledge the good that religion does for the world, don’t just focus on what you perceive are negatives.
  • encourage religious friends, before trying to deconvert them, to live their lives as Jesus did – sacrificially serving others out of love.
  • find tangible ways to support the good work of church groups and charities without having to distance yourself from the institutions.
  • admit that it is possible to arrive at a position of religious faith using reason and logic (just not naturalism) and that fundamentally it’s a question of approaching the question of our existence from different presuppositions, both valid.
  • limit your definition of religions – like Christianity and Islam – by how they define themselves, not by how people who claim to follow them define themselves. It might be enough to be born in Scotland to make one a Scotsman, it’s not enough just to call yourself a Christian to make you a Christian (you actually have to follow Christ, which means following his teachings).
  • try to understand, with particular reference to Christianity and the Bible, that what you see as “contradictions” can usually be acceptably explained by theological thought from Jesus’ own mouth, the teachings of the New Testament, and Christians throughout the last 2,000 years. Your “contradictions” aren’t new. They’re your misunderstanding of the Bible not ours.
  • admit that some of the voices of the “new atheism” are insubstantial and filled with bilious ad hominem attacks that have no place in civil debate.
  • admit that atheism, in and of itself, does not contribute to one’s morality but that those convictions are often culturally inherited, and often this is an inheritance that can be traced to a Christian framework.
  • try to understand the things you disagree with – like being against the termination of unborn children – as a moral call based on legitimate concerns and presuppositions.
  • try to understand that for those of faith that faith has a role in shaping behaviour and moral frameworks, and that it is natural to want to share that faith.
  • accept that evangelism is part and parcel of most religions (and even atheism) and see discussions in the public sphere or workplace as something you can opt out of rather than something that shouldn’t happen. Participate in the discussion with your point of view by all means – but don’t push questions of significance to the fringes for your own comfort.
  • To affirm the freedom of Christians to disagree about your definition of concepts and constructions like marriage and morality – while rightly upholding the separation of church and state.


Mario says:

i got linked in here, its a long post but i think Hermants has a point. Its really, “stand up for what you believe is right, not what the church thinks is right” and “accept the faults of your belief when and if they are made apparent” which is certainly forms of courage. Whereas your list starts shaky (more a list of humility) and waffles off to “sir/madam, you do not understand the mysteries of faith which are revealed only to us” to the end.

In whole, i find your “try to understand” business extremely unhelpful. It comes from a place in your mind where you think Christians hold the Truth and the others do not. I don’t know Hermant or what he/she knows, but it is certainly possible to understand all that you beseech him/her to understand and still stand by that list as an example of courage.

I think its important to approach a clash of ideas with humility, i refer you to your points on courage 1, 4, 13 and to some extent 9. Its important both sides do this, because it’s hard to engage in civil discourse over issues when it sounds like you think the opposition are a bunch of ignorant ninnies.

Perhaps though, i have misread your tone which is entirely possible over the intertubes.

Nathan Campbell says:

Hi Mario,

Thanks for commenting.

“Whereas your list starts shaky (more a list of humility) and waffles off to “sir/madam, you do not understand the mysteries of faith which are revealed only to us” to the end.”

Can you point out the bit where I waffle?

“In whole, i find your “try to understand” business extremely unhelpful. It comes from a place in your mind where you think Christians hold the Truth and the others do not.”

Yeah, I think we might have our wires crossed here. I’m suggesting that problems atheists often raise with Christianity are based on their dismissing of Christianity as a pile of woo before actually looking at what people are actually believing. So when atheists say “the Bible is contradictory” normally it’s a basic misunderstanding of the New Testament/Old Testament and how they relate to each other in the Christian faith. It is not contradictory for us to eat pork and prawns while suggesting that homosexuality is sinful behaviour that is not pleasing to God. For example. It’s not a question of “truth” – it’s a question of trying to actually grasp where other parties are coming from before dismissing them. That takes courage. Even for those atheists who have grown up in a religious context they should do the people they are debating with the honour of asking how they resolve tensions, rather than assuming that the tensions can not be resolved.

Your next paragraph seems to back up my stance. I don’t think atheists are ninnies. In fact, if you read carefully what I’ve written you’ll see that I think they start from a presupposition that is equally valid, but different (ie we look at the world and assume a creator, the atheist looks at the world and assumes we should understand it in a framework of scientific naturalism).

I simply think that most atheists think that most Christians are ninnies. And I think that thinking otherwise would be an example of courage for an atheist.

Mario says:

the major crossing of wires is what u consider courage is what i consider humility, which is to me is a separate concept i.e. it takes courage to be brave (standing up for your convictions) and takes humility to be humble (admitting you in all likelihood are not correct). If i parse Hemant’s list correctly, he never implied Christianity as a pile of “woo”. He calls for admission of inconsistencies, application of unbias reason and critical thinking. Maybe he implies…

As i said, your plee for Hemant to understand implies you presume he does not and that irks me. I don’t know if he understands the different between OT food laws and sexual immorality, but he might. Either way, it does take real courage to “to stand up in your church and say you proudly support same-sex marriage (if you are so convicted)” because some Christians think that if one did understand all there is to understand one could never possibly reach the conclusion of being for same sex marriage. There is indeed courage there, Hemant is not wrong. In my reading, his spiritual understanding of the nuances of OT/NT law seems irrelevant to the statement.

I could go on, but i shall leave with a bit of your advice, perhaps we should look for the good in his statements, not focus on what we perceive as negatives. He’s not completely right on all accounts, but he’s far from being completely wrong or ignorant (not that you think he is).

Nathan Campbell says:

I would suggest my definition of courage in the post is similar to Hemant’s in that it is based on speaking out against the incorrect consensus view of your philosophical peers.

I think Christians and atheists often get stuck in a bit of a feedback loop – where only listening to their own voices ends up amplifying them past reasonable levels. I think Hemant’s list (and I agree with some of his points – use the search thing up the top to see what I’ve said about gay marriage in the past). But I think, based on one of his posts a couple of days ago, that he equates atheist courage with trying to deconvert theists, while I think it’s equally courageous to try to address the negative way atheists talk about those they disagree with on the internet.

Nathan Campbell says:

“woo” is also a pretty common representation of religious or supernatural beliefs on the Friendly Atheist – I’m a regular reader there, so perhaps I’ve brought some preexisting knowledge into this post and my reading of Hemant’s post.

Mario says:

well indeed i claim ignorance on any previous discourse some1 linked my in so i haven’t exactly been following. I believe that feedback loop you are talking about is called group think.

an interesting thought “deconversion”, yet a non threatening one. For God chose his people, his efforts to deconvert people is seemingly theologically futile. Let us not scurry around as if we believed a man could steal from God’s flock so easily. In fact, i welcome the challenge. Normally you couldn’t get in within three feet of an atheist to talk about God, and this one is coming to our door?

let’s just not be negative back, i mean i agree with some parts of his list and so do you, so let’s not open with “I think his list is pretty dumb” cos that certainly puts us on the backfoot.

I wonder what an extremist atheist would be like?

Nathan Campbell says:

So basically what you’re saying is you’re defending a guy you don’t know and haven’t read from another guy you haven’t read, and assuming you know where both of us are coming from.

You still haven’t really pointed out where I’ve started shaky, waffled, or suggested that it all boils down to not understanding the mysteries which are revealed only to us. That’s certainly not how my list ends. I’ve got to ask if you’ve actually read the list of things I wrote – which I don’t think necessarily fits any of your descriptions.

I also don’t think any of the items on my list qualify as “negative.” Perhaps read them as calling for atheists in the blogosphere to move away from ad hominem attacks and base caricatures and into actually engaging with ideas they disagree with. That’s what I think courage looks like.

I think it’s a bit preposterous to get the direct antithesis of one group of society to redefine courage for their opponents – especially if it ends up looking like “you are courageous if you just act like us.”

I’ve got to admit to being slightly puzzled as to where your objections are actually coming from.

AndrewFinden says:

Mario, you write:

it does take real courage to “to stand up in your church and say you proudly sup­port same-sex mar­riage (if you are so con­victed)”

Would you say that it also takes courage for a church to stand up in their society and say they do not support same-sex marriage (if they are so convicted)?

Mario says:

i suppose i assumed that you both have the best of intentions. i took the post, as you say, and played the ball. I did mention this in my very first post that i was a random, i gave you the very grain of salt to take my post by. In essence i am an unknown, and no need to get frustrated about. None the less, i will refrain from posting from this last post on.

so firstly, I thought i explained the waffle with the whole courage/humility cross wire. it seems to be a fundamental disconnect between our conversations. I do not think the antithesis of one group of society gets to define courage for all. Generally, a dictionary is good, so lets say courage is as “a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger or pain without showing fear”. I take randomly from the tail end of your list “try to understand that for those of faith that faith has a role in shaping behaviour and moral frame works, and that it is natural to want to share that faith.” if i were to compare that to say the definition of humility “a disposition to be humble; a lack of false pride” which one rings more true? which character are you trying to encourage? do you see where i am coming from? I hope that explains what i meant by waffling. Not to worry, it was my misunderstanding, i apologise.

as to your negativity i was directly referring to the quotation i quoted. I didn’t mean to say that your own list was negative or dumb because it is quite the opposite.

I don’t see it as them saying we should act like them but a reminder on the importance to be aware and combat the positive feedback you spoke about. I believe this is what he’s original post was about, a fellow Christian who did not heed words such as to be the first in line to defend Muslim, to put your faith under the microscope of logic, reason, and demonstrable evidence, and so on. He has lost his way and now feels burning the Quran is a fantastic idea…

My objections is that, Hemant’s or the direct antithesis of one group of society has made some good points on countering positive feedback, i.e. it’s not a dumb list whether they understand what you would like them to understand or not. Perhaps it would have been more concise to say that then this protracted debate.

none the less, i have enjoyed butting heads with you nathan

Mario says:

AndrewFinden: indeed i would.

“provided they are not suggesting that you also be governed by convictions based purely on a faith you do not share.” –Nathan Campbell