Controversial bishop John Shelby Spong recounts being the victim of fundamentalist Christian anger, especially when one such reader said he was “praying that the next plane I took would crash, carrying me to my grave. The next time I boarded a flight I felt I should stop at the front of the plane and say, “Folks, there is something you need to know before this plane takes off.” If I did so, it might result in a wider seat selection. I wonder, however, at the incongruity of that letter writer who sincerely believes himself to be a Christian and yet somehow does not calculate the fact that his prayers for the early demise of someone he abhors might also require the sacrificial deaths of a planeload of supposedly innocent people” (1).
Similarly, the New Atheist writer Sam Harris, as Albert Mohler notes (2), claims that he is under persistent death threats from evangelical Christians, and thus he can’t release any personal information about himself. For that reason neither he, nor his publisher, nor anyone else is very clear about many of the particulars of his life. If Harris shares with us his unfortunate experience of attacks then how much so would it also apply to Dawkins and other widely reads atheists? I am sure that they also have their stories to tell of how professing Christians, who have pledged allegiance to Jesus (thus are standing in as representatives of Jesus), have been unpleasant & antagonistic towards them too. It is not only evidence of an inconsistent Christian unable to live out his doctrinal values but it also something I’ve found to be quite unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because it undermines freedom of speech. And if the Christian wishes to know what people of other faith systems believe (the atheist included), and also why they do not believe as the Christian does, how is the fundamentalist Christian helping in achieving that? Severing this connection could very well kill lively (hopefully cordial) debate that we so desperately need (especially if we’re willing to defend Christian truth, as the scriptures instruct) in our contemporary marketplace of ideas and ideologies. It is this attempt on the part of fundamentalist Christian that has “increasingly resulted in an anti-intellectual approach to Christianity” (3). It is likewise evidence of a fearful, weak, watered down version of Christianity, and here I think Christian apologist Nick Peters captures this saying: “If I was a Christian who only read what I agree with, that would be a very scared faith I had. That’s why I read non-Christian NT scholars and atheists regularly” (4). In other words, Peters is saying that to maintain a vibrant, robust faith we need to protect the freedom of speech for those who do not profess our beliefs. Not only should we protect their freedom of speech, but we should also interact with their content, arguments, data, and positions. Only then can we feel rationally justified in our beliefs because we can then know that our system can withstand intellectual assault, and therefore I must agree with Peters.
And thus I believe Spong rightfully notes that this religious anger is anathema to the Christian ethic of love: “Yet that is the nature of religious anger. Once again, the words spoken and the deeds proposed are simply not in touch with the gospel of the God who so loved the world and who, in the person of Jesus, invited all to “come unto him”” (5). It would be wise if we wish to represent Jesus on Earth to represent his ethic. The Christian, very much like was the nature of Jesus, doesn’t need to agree with others to show love and compassion. But this religious anger, as Spong correct notes, dished out so forcefully is simply the product of “fundamentalist religion” manifesting from a “deeply insecure and fearful people.”
On this note we’re bound to disagree with a great many people since we all hold beliefs that are exclusive in nature. It’s inevitable, we have beliefs that will forever be incompatible with others. In my case I strongly disagree with the likes of Harris and Spong on a great many fronts but, at the very same time, I don’t ever wish ill fortune for them. To do so is simply nasty, unacceptable behaviour. We should never let disagreement turn to hate.
1. Spong, J. 1991. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. p. 19 (Scribd ebook format)
2. Mohler, A. 2008. Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists. p. 49 (Scribd ebook format)
3. spong, S. 1991. Ibid. p. 24.
4. Nick Peters in the comment section of Five reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
5. Spong, J. Ibid. p. 19.