I have great sympathy for my atheist friends. (Indeed my own "theism" is somewhat complicated... as complicated as Christian theism must be by the confession that the human being, Jesus of Nazareth, is revelation of God.) Though it'd be a waste of time to pretend that I am not a theist, I have great respect for the convictions many atheists hold. Often, at the heart of their conviction is lament over the historically destructive presence of religion in the world. Though the strictly philosophical and scientific arguments against the "existence" of "a deity" rarely resonate with me (perhaps because, ironically, they are so abstract that they obscure the concrete and lived experience of people who speak of encountering God), I can empathize with the rage against oppressive religious hegemony and "theistic" contributions to dehumanization and marginalization.
I get it.
And I definitely get the frustration with obnoxious "Christian" proselytization and plain-old-bad-theology. I understand the allergy to "hell" narratives wherein Christians take it as acceptable (palatable, even!) to believe God would torture someone for all eternity because they refused to bow down and say a prayer. I get that!
But an obnoxious atheist is about as frustrating as an obnoxious Christian.
I have a friend on Facebook who used to be a Christian. I started following her blog years ago before she "converted" (is that the right word?) to atheism. I liked her because she was critical of the caricatured Christianity of the religious right and the neo-Calvinists (you know... people who are so ridiculous that they make it hard for Christians to be Christians... people like John Piper...). Then when she decided that it was silly for her to continue calling herself a Christian, when she realized that she didn't "need" God to be a good person (why was that ever the claim in the first place?), she decided that she was an atheist.
Fine. Again, I get that.
But then what was before a criticism of bad theology became a representative for all theology. All she really did was expand the caricature of Christianity to include all Christianity.
If you read her posts and look at her Facebook, it will be apparent that she thinks Christianity is backward and false. But what is defined as "Christianity" or "religion" for her is not the Christianity of most of the world. It's the Christianity of that crazy corner of the United States that still believes that God is a tyrant and that global warming is "liberal propaganda." You'd think, from most of what she says, that Christianity is a religion of conservative, homophobic, gun-toting, white men who think God sends people to hell if they're not religious enough. But that's not descriptive of Christianity, not real Christianity (I realize that there are some who actually fit the description of the caricature... and I don't mean to say that they're "fake" but they are not "real"--they don't get to represent all of us). By attacking the caricature and saying that she's attacking the real thing, she comes off as obnoxious as the people she's criticizing. It has become difficult to continue following her on Facebook.
In attacking only an unthinking Christianity, some atheists reveal themselves as unthinking atheists... and the two are equally bothersome... especially when they are constantly proselytizing. An unthinking atheist is just as annoying as an unthinking Christian.
Atheists have a right to revolt against Christianity. The atheist perspective has certainly been marginalized in this country as a certain kind of "Christian" experience has been privileged (this is a problem for all of us). So I am not accusing anyone of reverse-discrimination. But I do want to politely ask my atheist friends to stop beating the straw-man. Stop allowing unthinking Christianity to speak for all Christianity. It makes you look as foolish as your adversaries.