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.”
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.