The Religion Newswriters Association Conference wowed me pretty early on. As I walked around the main room and started to get my breakfast, someone at the podium started to speak. I didn’t hear any kind of introduction, but the guy seemed interesting enough. He was clearly an evangelical and pretty early along said some obviously inaccurate things about atheists. But about twenty-five minutes into his talk, Dr. Russell Moore said the strangest thing I have ever heard a Christian say.
Dr. Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of The Southern Baptist Convention. Try to say that ten times fast. This group actually sponsored the breakfast so he pretty much had a captive audience of breakfast eating and coffee drinking attendees for his talk. The guy must have really wanted get his message to everyone at the conference because in addition to his captive breakfast talk, everyone at the conference received a free copy of his book, “Onward: Engaging The Culture Without Losing The Gospel.”
His lecture started off talking about how atheists own the culture and how atheists no longer fear coming out of the closet as atheists. I almost choked on my bagel when I heard him. It was particularly interesting since Sarah Morehead from Recovering From Religion was there. When she tells her coming out story there is rarely a dry eye in the room. While my coming out story wasn’t all that traumatic, many atheists experience all kinds of threats and hatred just for mentioning their lack of belief in deities. The discrimination doesn’t end at coming out either. Many atheists risk the loss of their jobs, family, and friends just because they lack belief in a god. So when this guy says that we own the culture and that we no longer fear coming out as atheists, it just sounds like he has a really bad case of Christian Persecution Complex. But that wasn’t the strangest thing he said that morning. Not by a long shot.
During the Q&A, one of the reporters noticed that he uses the word “strange” a lot when describing Christianity. She asked him to clarify what he meant by that. He gave a pretty lengthy answer, but this part of the answer really stood out to me. It stood out so much that I took the liberty of transcribing it from the online audio because I really wanted to make sure he said what I recall him saying. Yup, he said it and here it is (emphasis mine):
“I talk about it in the book, having a conversation with a woman, a liberal talk show host, who said, ‘you know, I just don’t get why you people believe what you believe about sex inside of marriage because I don’t know anybody who believes that.’”
“And I said, ‘well, I understand that, but you need to know that we believe stranger things than that.’ We believe a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse. You know, that’s strange and it is seen as strange in the New Testament itself, which is why when Mary tells Joseph she’s pregnant his response is not ‘well it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’ His response is to assume that she’s cheated on him because he knows how babies are conceived. The message of the Gospel is a sign of contradiction to every human culture and every human institution and I think we need to reclaim that.”
I think Christians need to reclaim that too. I would love it if Christians took a tip from this guy and admitted that their beliefs are in fact ridiculous. Imagine if a preacher told his or her congregation that they believe “a previously dead man is going to show up in the sky on a horse.” That’s something I tell Christians all the time. Although in fairness, I leave out the “horse” part because that would be a little over the top and I doubt most Christians even believe that. I would be accused of mocking a straw man of Christian faith. But not Dr. Russell Moore — Nope, he went full fundy on this.
Just a few weeks ago in an e-mail correspondence with WHYY’s Chris Satullo, I had described Christianity as a ridiculous belief system and he was terribly offended by it. In the context of the e-mail, it was more of an aside, but Satullo focused in on it and even labeling anyone using such language as “militant atheists.” Now a prominent Christian is promoting the view that Christianity is a ridiculous belief system.
I have always said that as an atheist, I support the right of everyone to believe whatever ridiculous belief they want and long as it doesn’t harm others. If Tom Cruise wants to believe an evil galactic overlord is bombarding his body with thetans, that is his right. It’s a pretty ridiculous belief and it harms a lot of people and that is where the law often has to step in, but don’t pretend that Christianity with its virgin birth, blood sacrifice, and zombie savior are any less ridiculous. Dr. Moore may hold a great many insanely strange and ridiculous beliefs, but at least he is sane enough to recognize that fact.
- Can atheists use ‘The R-Word?’ (examiner.com)
- Tom Cruise, Scientology, Christianity, and Hilarity (skepticink.com)
- Atheism 101: Does it take more faith to be an atheist? (examiner.com)