Several years ago, we had some landscaping work done in our backyard. It cost us way more than we’d budgeted and the landscaper left the yard in a shocking mess. We were financially stretched, overtired, overstressed and the yard we had wanted ‘improved’ looked like a bomb had hit it. The job was still unfinished, and I was at my wit’s end.
Soon after, we dropped in on some friends of ours. They offered us morning tea and asked how the ‘work’ was going. I promptly (and embarrassingly) burst into tears.
The next day, they arrived with a car and trailer loaded with a mower and garden tools. They said, “Just here to fix the yard.”
I said, “Oh, really? Oh, th-th-thanks! Just a minute, I’ll go and get my shoes on ….”
“No, you are not to help. We’re going to do it. You just stay where you are.”
And these two (not young) people pitched in, did a day’s work and transformed our construction site debacle to a beautiful garden.
Our friends are devout Christians – Seventh Day Adventists. They know I’m an atheist, they loved my Dad and knew he was an atheist, too. Not once, in all the years we have known them have they ever tried to press their faith on us. I know they would say their motivation to help us came from their religious convictions. But, I think even more highly of them than that – I believe they are simply good people and would have done the same thing regardless of whether they were religious or not.
Nevertheless, this was Christianity in action. Two people living out the conviction of their faith to love their neighbours. In this case, we were the fortunate neighbours, but it could have been anyone else. The point is, their Christianity is used positively – to help, not to hinder; to ease pain, not to cause it.
I am not anti-Christian. How could I be? Members of my own family and some of those I love most are Christians.
While I don’t accept that loving your neighbour, treating others as you wish to be treated, feeding the poor and providing hospitality to those in need are exclusively ‘Christian’ values, I do genuinely appreciate it when I see Christians putting these values into action.
In fact, wherever Christians are making a positive contribution to the world, I am happy to applaud it. If they are genuinely helping people, seeing to their real needs, and doing so with no expectation of obtaining converts but simply to live as they believe Christ did, then who am I to argue? The fact that I think this is a human, rather than a Christian impulse is immaterial. Good is good and as long as the result is happier, healthier people in a more loving, tolerant world, I’m good with that.
So, no, I’m not ‘anti-Christian’. What I am against, however, is the kind of ‘corporate’ Christianity that does ‘good’ with an agenda. The agenda may be to convert, to impose Christian views on those who don’t share them, to swell congregations (and church profits), or to gain political power and influence. Doing good with ulterior motives is pretty poor behaviour, in my view.
This is the kind of politically pragmatic Christianity that decides not to oppose civil rights for homosexuals so they can later crow that they’re not ‘anti-gay’ in opposing same-sex marriage – “Just look how magnanimous we were in giving them the same civil rights as other citizens.”
That’s not doing good – that’s engaging a cynical, political strategy.
I am also ‘anti’ Christianity that does real harm. When Christians tell people in third-world countries that condoms cause AIDS, or they tell frightened women with unwanted pregnancies that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer – then I get cranky.
When Christians weigh the shocking human cost of not granting full equality and acceptance to gay, lesbian, transgender and transsexual citizens against their religious dogma – and choose in favour of their dogma – I don’t just get cranky, steam starts coming out of my ears.
And when Christians are not content with ruling their own lives, but begin to intrude on mine and the lives of those I love – I rise to take action.
By all means choose not to end your life prematurely if your religious convictions dictate this. But do not impose a long, lingering, painful, undignified death on me and mine, because you have some religious conviction about the ‘sanctity’ of life.
Do you want your children to have a Christian education? By all means send them to a religious school or enrol them in Sunday school or a Christian youth group. Have the damned pastor over to morning tea every Saturday if that will help. But don’t put your chaplains into secular public state schools with a view to ‘discipling’ the children of ‘unchurched’ parents. That is crossing the line.
My late brother was a Christian. When he was very ill and disabled and staying at our place, he expressed a wish to go to our local church. I rang them up, talked to the pastor, found out when and where the service was held and (with some difficulty) delivered my rather ‘wobbly’ brother to the door. Then I sought out someone who could keep an eye on him during the service and morning tea. Later, I came back and picked him up. He was astounded that I would do this for him when I was so ‘anti-Christian’.
Why would I stop someone going to church if that’s what they want to do? Why would I discourage or inhibit that in any way? My aim is not to tell people what to believe. I have little interest in that.
Let me tell you what I’m ‘for’. I am ‘for’ love, happiness, equality, justice, tolerance, laughter, caring, hospitality, hugs, honesty, sharing, supporting, helping, compassion, empathy, selflessness and leaving the world a better place than you found it – oh, and chocolate, I’m definitely in favour of chocolate. That’s what I’m ‘for’. And if Christians want to draw on their faith to help them work towards similar goals – they’ll find a staunch ally in me.
But, when they come with hidden agendas, self-interest and dogma to the fore. When they come not to help, but to convert, impose or ‘occupy’. When their actions cause hurt, pain, anguish or death – then they will find me fighting against them with every resource I can bring to bear.
So well said Chrys. Yes those pesky so called “Christians” with agendas make all our ears steam. Keep up the good work.
Great words Chrys, I can’t find anything there I don’t agree with.
This is my philosophy also, but better expressed than I ever could. 🙂
Great post, Chrys.
I don’t have many Christian friends left – almost everyone wandered off when my life went pear-shaped and I am leery of fundamentalists now anyhow. But one of my two closest friends considers herself a bible-believing Christian.
I adore that woman. What I love and respect about her is her integrity and kindness, her intelligence and honesty, her sense of humour and her generosity of spirit. The fact that we can still be friends now that I have left the fold without religion touching our relationship tells me that it’s who she is that makes her so fabulous rather than her faith. Another clue is that of all the hundreds of Christians I’ve known, she is in a class of her own.
When I left Christianity, I’m sure she was afraid for me and I didn’t make it easy for her at first – my head was full of rage at the monstrous god-machine that almost destroyed us. But I’ve learned to have those conversations with others and I think we’ve weathered the worst of that storm.
I tell her about you, Chrys. I think that as she sees me building relationships with atheists like you who are intelligent, gracious and non-judgemental, she is becoming less fearful about the non-believing world I’m living in. And who knows, maybe she or others I loved in the church will feel emboldened to come out because they see the possibility of finding a new life without total condemnation from those on the other side.
Anyway, just wanted to say, you’re doing a great job of valuing people while disagreeing – and even vehemently opposing – their views. Heeey….maybe you’re pulling off a secular version of hating the ‘sin’ but loving the ‘sinner’ 😉 Go, you!
– If that incident had happened to me I would have been extremely uncomfortable.
– If they are going to do a spontaneous day’s work then it should be for people without enough to eat.
– You can hate religion without hating the religious.
“If they are going to do a spontaneous day’s work then it should be for people without enough to eat.”
Life’s not like that Martin. For everything you do there are other things you are not doing. To remain an effective person your priority of concern may be world > community > family > self but your priority of action within that framework needs to be the other way around for purely practical reasons.
You are in effect condemning them for not being effective enough without knowing if there were even any opportunities for them to do so or if they even do do so as well.
Martin, I’m sorry you feel that way. I was extremely uncomfortable, but also very grateful. Neither of us was well at the time, and this was an incredibly generous gesture.
I think it’s all very well to say they should have ‘fed the poor’ instead of helping us, but I don’t think generosity necessarily works that simply. They helped us at a time when we really needed it. In turn, since, I hope we have also helped them – although I genuinely don’t think I can ever do enough to repay them fully for their efforts that day. I don’t inquire into my friends’ other activities, but if they weren’t involved in some kind of third-world charitable work I’d be extremely surprised.
We’ve also tried very hard to ‘pay it forward’ so, when we see someone in need, we try to help where we can. Not because we feel obligated, but because it is the right thing to do. We don’t have the resources to ‘feed the poor’, but we do what we can with what we have. That’s all anyone can ask, I think.
Perhaps the people we help will also ‘pay it forward’ and if the ripple effect continues, the poor will be fed, even if we didn’t provide for them directly.
“If that incident had happened to me I would have been extremely uncomfortable.” This is the sad result of the breakdown in community. People have become un-used to helping their neighbours, and so find it difficult to accept the same help. There are seasons of need in everyone’s life, and when strengthened by help, we can, as Chrys says “share it forward”.
“If they are going to do a spontaneous day’s work then it should be for people without enough to eat.” What a ridiculous criteria for acts of kindness. So should we stop entertaining sick children in hospital if they are not terminally ill? Never help a struggling mum carry her bags unless she’s already dropped her shopping? Not speak to an elderly neighbour if you know they had relatives visiting last week?
“You can hate religion without hating the religious.” That’s exactly what Chrys was saying!
Im over the whole christian thing you can find good hearts in this earth without having a status of a christian. My childs father is a pastor weve been seperated for yrs, and hes neglected him for years because hes so busy with the church everyone thinks he s so great, Im the non christian single parent making sure my child has everything he needs and I love him to the ends of the earth, so while hes preaching the so called word of God his son is fatherless only yearning 5 mins with him, Go Figure,
Ive known many churches that have done nothing but destroy families, God is love you do not have to attend church to be a godly person, they seem to be the messed up ones. I give to those in need, committ to my family, because Im a great human being!!!
There are lot of people like your husband – neglecting close family while off “do-gooding” – or being seen to do-good – for others; or who have a public perception that is out of step with how they are with close family.
My thought exactly, I am in admiration of your ability to write with passion, articulateness and fairness. I have recommended you to all my like minded friends, and hope the word keeps on spreading.
Annette, I read your comment on my phone when I was out having lunch with friends. It made me quite emotional and I did that funny fanning your hand up and down in front of your face, thing.
I don’t write for praise, but what I do attracts a fair amount of flak – and I’m only human. So when someone takes the time to tell me they appreciate what I do, it really does mean a lot to me.
Thanks and hugs – and thanks to everyone else on this thread who has said nice things!
(And those who’ve been snarky – thanks to you, too – at least you’ve taken the time to read what I’ve written and maybe you’ll think about it.)
Nicely said, Chrys.
How come you don’t put as much energy into attacking Islam as well? Islam states that gays should be executed. Christians may not “accept” many aspects of gay culture, but so do many atheists and agnostics, not on religious grounds, but social or moral grounds.
Michael, that’s an excellent question. Thank you for asking. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this and I’m happy to provide an answer.
I am not superwoman. I cannot fight on all fronts. However, I live by the maxim, “All that’s necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke doesn’t say good men have to everything – just something – and that’s what I try to do.
Let me put it this way. Imagine there’s an economist working her butt off to solve economic problems in third-world nations. Her expertise is in debt reduction. Would you stand this person up and say, “Well, why aren’t you working on climate change? Isn’t that just as important?” The fact is, the economist is working in the area in which she has expertise. Just because she doesn’t branch out into climate change doesn’t mean she thinks it’s unimportant – but there are climate change experts dealing with those issues. Besides, if the extends herself to work on climate change (an area in which she has no expertise), her work on debt reduction will suffer. Where are her talents best applied?
I have very little knowledge of Islam. Further, (apart from some fringe radicals) I don’t see the Muslim community in Australia trying to impose their religion on the rest of us. Yes, there is some kind of push to introduce some elements of sharia law. I’m uncomfortable with that, but one of my (atheist) lawyer friends tell me a lot of the media reportage on this is a beat up. I know even less about the law than I do about Islam, so I leave it for people with the appropriate expertise to fight out.
Generally, I think the Muslim community in Australia is moderate, respectful of other religions, and content to be able to practice their own religion in peace.
Certain elements of Christianity, however, are intent on ‘Christianising’ Australia, are not tolerant of others beliefs – or even of other Christian denominations. They have a stated objective, not just to participate in our democracy, but to exercise a ‘disproportionate impact’. They are not content to have government funded religious schools for their children. Instead, they want to put their chaplains and SRI teachers and trojan horse religious programs into secular public schools to recruit the children of ‘unchurched’ parents into their churches – and use our taxes to pay for it! I do not see Australian Muslims doing any of this.
So, the intrusion of Christian dogma into Australian politics is the area where I concentrate my limited amount of time, energy and talent. That does not mean that I think Islam – particularly in other countries – is not responsible for some terrible atrocities. But, I simply don’t have the power or the resources to ‘fix’ this.
Instead, I work in an area where I think I can have some positive impact. Hopefully, that frees up others with more talent, time, expertise and resources to work on solving the problem of international Islamic oppression.
I am a middle-aged woman in not particularly good health. I care for an 87 year old mother and (at various times) her coterie of elderly friends. There is only so much I can do. Instead of criticizing me for what I don’t do, perhaps you could consider acknowledging that, at least I make an effort to do something. I’m not spending my days watching Days of our Lives and complaining that someone should do something.
Michael, I appreciate that Islam may seem a bigger problem to you that Christianity. Perhaps it is. I expect this is where you direct your time and effort. I’d be delighted if you could refer me to your blog or any published articles you’ve written against Islam. Or perhaps you’ve formed a lobby group to counteract the intrusion of Islam into Australian society and politics? Just point me towards the website you’ve developed. Are you working on a conference or seminar to bring the dangers of Islam to the attention of the Australian public? Let me know when and where it’s on and I’d be delighted to promote it for you through my network. Perhaps there is some issue of Islam you’ve found that breaches Australian law and you’ve worked to raise funds to mount a court case against it. Tell us about your efforts in this regard, Michael – I know we’d all be interested.
And Michael, when you demonstrate to me just how much time and effort you put into fighting against Islam, I promise not to post a snarky remark on your blog asking why you’re not fighting against Christian fundamentalism in Australia as well.
Michael, if you believe Christianity is unfairly under attack, then try to give valid arguments in defence, instead of saying “go and pick on someone else”. If someone is accused of GBH, they will not avoid prison by telling the judge and jury to go out and deal with murderers. If they have a valid defence proving they didn’t do it, they will.
Thanks for such a clear explanation of the difference between how you relate to people, their beliefs and their behaviours. This discussion is very dominated by declaring things upside down and back to front. “I don’t believe in christianity and I am against religious oppression” is not the same as “I hate christians”.
Another example of this kind of strange inversion is the attitude by many in Australia that, by preventing religious oppression we are taking away the right to religious freedom. Look at the crazy reporting and feedback regarding the removal of the requirement to say The Lord’s Prayer before assemblies at Edgewater Primary School (http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/lords-prayer-rejected-by-primary-school/comments-e6frg15c-1226141916195?pg=1).
In that article the headline says the prayer was “rejected”. In other papers and media it has been reported that the prayer has been banned. People are jumping up and down about religious freedom and all sorts of silliness. All that has really happened is that a state school has stopped imposing a religious observance on its students. This is not banning, and is not a result of hating christianity, it is respecting the religious freedom of students and their parents.
I love the way you write. I love the way you express yourself and clearly declare your understanding of the truth of real humanity and how we can be of a betterment for it.
My dad was a ‘devout’ Presbyterian. My mum was baptised C of E but always attended the Presbyterian church and was fully active in it to support my father in his faith. She never felt she ‘belonged’ but did all that she felt was ‘right and good and true’ to show her belief in Christianity. When she was dying ( complications of MS) she was scared and sad that her ‘faith’ did not measure up to my dad’s. I sat for many hours hearing her fears and mistaken ideas of Christian judgement. I tried to glean what she believed then simply sought to support her in her need for faith and reassurance. When she died dad found the Presbyterians ‘wanting’ and promptly declared he would become an Anglican. I was happy ( when he asked) to attend the new church with him and support him in his quest to be a ‘convert’ to Anglicanism.
I was there when the bishop of the area came to confirm new members into their congregation, including my father.
As dad became more confused with aging and dementia he asked me for support and help. I happily and lovingly gave it and when requested attended church with him and ‘discussed’ the sermon of the day. (When I say ‘discussed’ I was careful never to overstep the mark of disrespect for his Christianity).
As he sunk into alzheirmers he realised that I had indeed a few years before declared my ‘atheism’ to him out of respect for him. He asked me once about it then insisted for the rest of his mentally aware life that I was NOT an atheist as I was ‘too good’.
My brother who lived a fair distance from us used to visit and being a ‘sometime’ Christian would also ( and still does) declare that I am NOT an atheist as I am a ‘nice person and was good to dad’.
I used to stand my ground on these declarations but do not do so any longer.
If it gives Christians a feeling of relief and reassurance to declare an atheist NOT an atheist then it is little enough of me to keep my own counsel.
So having explained all this I just wanted you to know, Chrys, that your philosophy written so well here, speaks for me.
Well said Chrys and as a Secular, Cultural, Catholic I agree. I think Chocolate is important too. Remind me to tell you how caring Christians once tried to take over my business once. They were so lovely about it.
Thank you Chrys, for this. You’ve pretty much said all I’d have liked to say myself -but much more eloquently. The only thing I disagree with is your peculiar beliefs about chocolate! ;o)
@Alison: “If it gives Christians a feeling of relief and reassurance to declare an atheist NOT an atheist then it is little enough of me to keep my own counsel.”
I know exactly what you mean – and have done very much the same thing myself. My mother was a lifelong, and very devout Christian; it caused her much grief that two of her brood (my older brother and me) escaped the fold. When my brother died, she was doubly grief stricken because he died an atheist, but she gained great comfort from a dream she had, in which she believed he’d visited her to give her reassurance. How could I denounce that? When she herself began to descend into dementia, her greatest pleasure was to hear me read the bible – the Psalms, and the gospel of Luke in particular, or to listen to me sing the hymns she’d taught us all as children. It gave her great comfort, I think – and was a thread that helped keep her wandering mind in contact with reality.
@Cushla; How similar your story resonates. My father loved music and singing. Whenever I came into his room at the Aged Care Facility his radio was always playing his taped recordings of “Sentimental Journey”. He found great solace in “Songs of Praise” every Sunday on the Telly. When he would visit us for the day after he had been to church I would make sure it was on when he walked through the door. My flesh would crawl sometimes at the sight of ‘good Christian whilte English folk” sitting and praising their Lord around Great Britain, but I would busy myself with getting lunch for dad.
When we discussed his funeral I helped pick out his favourite passages of the Bible and his favourite hymns. It did help that I had read the Bible three times throughout my own journey to ‘enlightenment’ ( aka atheism).
If it had been belief in angels, spirits or Buddha I would have done the same.
I feel a fellow traveller here on these pages.
I’m anti-christian. The whole religion thing is built on a lie that distracts people from living full and happy lives. I don’t know the motivation of your gardeners, it certainly is a nice gesture.
My question is, did they do it because they think it would get some brownie points with their god? Probably. They may never say so, but if it’s the ‘christian’ thing to do, then that’s not so good. I’d like to think we help each other because we can, not because some deity has promised us a reward and if we behave in certain ways we get that reward.
I’m happy for people to believe whatever they want. I’m not going to tell them to stop, but I am going to call religion for what it is. A self-deception that doesn’t allow people to grow as people.
Good blog, that’s for writing it. More to think about.
Thanks Bruce. Is hard to know what people’s motivation is, but I hardly think they’d imagine they were going to get too many brownie points from god for helping an atheist activist (and yes, they know what I do). I know these people well, and I think their motive is truly just to live as they think Jesus wanted them to. I have really never met two people more selfless. I hold them in great esteem and admiration.
I think you can be anti-Christianity without being anti-Christian. Also I think what we’re really against is the harmful actions of people who use ‘divine approval’ to justify their actions.
Would anyone really have any great problem with Christians if they observed their own beliefs without pressing them on anyone else, recruited by example rather than by proselytising, paid their own way rather than drawing on government resources to finance their ‘good works’, put their money into helping the needy rather than building grand edifices, and spent their time simply selflessly ‘doing good’ rather than ‘moralising’?
Few people had any problems with the Salvos before they started getting ‘corporatised’ and taking on some of the worst elements of fundamentalism.
Would we have a problem if Christian lobbyists tried to influence parliament to give more money to the poor, welcome more refugees, house the homeless and protect the rights and equality of all Australian citizens – regardless of their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation? I guess what I’m saying is that if Christians emulated the best characteristics of the Jesus character portrayed in the New Testament would we be spending our time opposing them? I think the answer has to be no.
So it’s not Christianity or Christians ‘per se’ that I have a problem with – my concern is with what certain Christians and Christian organisations do – especially when they use sophistry to suggest that harmful, bigoted, nasty, narrow-minded, lying, prejudiced villainy is ‘good’ because that’s what the Bible/God tells them to do.
I’ve always appreciated that your objections are solely when religious beliefs / practices impact you – you don’t go around making fun of religious beliefs or doctrines or the people who hold to them simply for cheap laughs as some are wont to do.
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