The Education of a Christian - John Shore

When I was a Christian I was instructed that part of being a Christian was witnessing to others, to bring them into Christ. But witnessing didn't mean going around and knocking on doors – although we sometimes did that it was seen as a little tacky in my church. Instead we were to honestly talk about our faith whenever it was brought up, and then gently pull the person into our church. I was told that the best way to bring people to Christ was to just live a good Christian life and then we just couldn't help but bring people to us.

That was a long time ago, and it happened in my own denomination. It seems to me now, as an Atheist, that many Christians have never heard this way of seeking new members. The radical evangelical Christians of today tend to use the caveman approach of witnessing. Basically they whack their their poor victims over the head with the Bible, and then drag them by the hair kicking and screaming through the church doors. And then they wonder why they get so much resistance!

Every now and then a Christian will get the swell idea that, “Hey, maybe we should listen to the people on the other side of the fence.” Well! Trying to be understanding? Reasonable discourse between people with opposing philosophies? Being kind to others? I guess I can't expect all Christians to believe in the power of acceptance and understanding – after all, the first Christian to do that got nailed to a piece of wood. I understand it messed up his whole weekend.

Still, some Christians do try, and I applaud them for that. It's a refreshing change to be talked with, instead of talked at.

I've been following one such Christian who blogs at John Shore asked a simple question of Atheists the other day about how we deal with guilt. And boy, did the Atheists come out and answer! It was wonderful to see so many caring, compassionate Atheists in the replies, and as expected to also see in contrast the uncaring, unbending attitude of a couple of Christian comments.

I recommend reading the comments – and not just because I'm one of the people commenting. Look at the acknowledgment by John that Atheists are good people too. We don't get that enough from the religious, no matter how well deserved. You can almost see the education that John is getting, and he gets a little frustrated with his own side of the camp. I don't think this means that Mr. Shore will defect any time soon, but it does seem as if the “scales have fallen from his eyes.”

And to prove a point, he goes on to make a second post where he summarizes what he's learned, which is also good reading. From his second post:
Turns out atheists are quite the … cyber-communicators.

It also turns out that atheists — or the many from whom I heard, anyway — care just as much as we Christians do about loving and doing right by others.
Curse the atheists! Why couldn’t they be the craven sensory-hounds they’re supposed to be? Must they reject God, and be intelligent and sensitive?

How are we to tolerate these people for whom toleration is a tenant?

We Christians want the atheists to come over to our side of the fence — to join us, to become one of us. They would much prefer it if we would quit wanting that, and leave them be. They would naturally prefer it if we could actually respect them for, say, their intellectual (not to mention moral) integrity — but they aren’t exactly holding their breath waiting for that to happen. Because they know that Christians believe atheists to be at best lost, and at worst damned.

And let’s face it: If you know the best someone can think about you is that you’re lost, you’re hardly inclined to, say, invite that person to your birthday party. Ever.

We need to listen to the atheists because … well, because we never do. We try to listen to them, but we fail. And we fail because while we’re listening to them, we’re secretly thinking how they really, really need to become Christian.
And it’s just about impossible to really, really think something about someone and not, in one way or another, really, really communicate that something is.

So I say: Let’s every once in a while put aside our Christian Agenda (none of us are thinking that we don’t have one too, right?), and just listen to atheists. Let’s just hear what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and why they’re saying and thinking whatever they are.
Yay John! I wish I heard those words from more Christians! I would be more willing to talk to Christians if I knew that they were more willing to actually listen to me without their own hidden agenda!

To the Atheists who responded to John's blog, I say “Well Done!” I consider it to be an accomplishment to get Christians to respond to us as people, and not as potential converts. I've seen too often where Christians equate “Atheist” to mean “Empty” - as a vessel waiting to be filled with their message. I'm tired of telling believers that I don't need to be topped off with God like a thirsty car at the gas pump!

And to those Atheists who go from here to visit John's blog, please, play nice. I know, many of us have a knee-jerk reaction to the religious, so sometimes when a religious person is actually trying to be nice (and maybe fumbling at it) we Atheists tend to get a bit snarky. Hold that in a bit when commenting on John's blog – he's just come to the realization that Atheists are people! It will take him a while to realize that we are individuals too, and that some of us (me included) have a sense of humor that is a bit, ah, blasphemous.

And to John Shore, you might not get any converts from our side of the fence, but with your attitude you'll be welcome to talk with many (most?) of us. Which is better than the caveman evangelists that usually shout at us!


John Shore said...

Lovely; lovely: Thanks for love and respect. Um. But if I could say:

I'm not about to NOT be a Christian. In that sense, no scales have fallen from my eyes. Promise. (Plus, I mean ... I'm 50. It's not like anyone on either side of this "issue" is likely to say anything ALL of us haven't heard a zillion times before, right? No new news here, is there?)

You might want to go easy on the "I understand it messed up his whole weekend" kind of jibe. That's seriously disrespectful.

John Shore said...

Oh--and no offense or anything, but don't you think the title of this post might be just a TAD condescending?

Calladus said...

Thanks for the visit John! I appreciate it.

To answer your objections -

No, I don't expect you to suddenly become an Atheist - or even ever become an Atheist. I'm just happy that you're willing to listen to people like me.

Second, this is an Atheist blog written by an Atheist / Ignostic / Secular Humanist. Although I have many Christians who read me (including a few preachers) I consider my main audience to be non believers and skeptics. As such the humor can be a bit blasphemous. If you have a problem with that then I recommend that you NOT click on the "Humor" tag to the right.

I mean, how many times are Atheists the butt of a Christian joke? Do you recognize these punchlines? "And then God said to the scientist, 'No, no, Get your own dirt!'" "Then the lion prayed, 'Oh Lord, for this meal I am truly thankful.'" "Poor fellow, all dressed up and nowhere to go."

Atheists don't respect religion, they respect individuals. John, you earned my respect, but that doesn't automatically translate to respect for Christianity.

And please, the title isn't meant to be condescending or disrespectful toward you. It is my (perhaps poor) attempt to write better blog titles.

The problem with blog titles is that they are often not Google-able in any meaningful way. A cutesy title often carries little information and cannot be looked up very easily. Cory Doctorow talks about this and recommends that bloggers pretend that they are wire-service stringers when writing a headline.

Anyone who now Googles Atheist Christian "John Shore" will now get this entry on their first page of Google results. Where if I had titled it something cute, like "Jumping the Fence" I'd only get people looking for hardware stores.

Condescending? Perhaps - but it is unintentional. Lots of wire-service headlines fall in that category.

John Shore said...

All excellent points!

Good job.

Anonymous said...

Would your description of christians using caveman like tactics to witness be anything like the Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchins approach to spreading the "atheist gospel"?

Calladus said...

Hi Geno! Welcome to my blog.

As far as I can tell, Dawkins and Hitchens have yet to wish eternal torture on a believer, a la Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Ray Comfort style.

Also, Atheists don't have a gospel. We do tend to point out where religion doesn't make sense to us, and we question the validity of religion.

And we like to point out the major imbalance in how often the Christian world view is exposed as opposed to the Secular world view. We are by far the minority opinion in a world where Christians love to be the "oppressed minority".

So to answer your question. No.

Anonymous said...

Richard Dawkin's states in his book The God Delusion (and you can hear it in several interviews on the web) that he is actively "evangelizing" people into the atheist camp. He states clearly that he knows that he cannot get the true believers but he is hoping to convince those who are on the fence AND to make those atheist who do not "evangelize" as he does to be more active and aggressive. (what are they called by the Dawkins type atheist - appeasers)

It's the same idea, each side evangelizes hard for world view dominance.

As far as wishing eternal torture on a believer, a la Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Ray Comfort style. - none of these mentioned has ever wished that on people - they have tried to save people from that!

Dawkins on the other hand thinks that those who refuse to believe in evolution are mentally ill and evil - that's not very nice.

Anonymous said...

I forgot - thank you for the welcome! :-)

John Shore said...

Hey, Calladus, just wanted to stop by and tell you what a (if I can use the word!) blessing you've been to my blog these past few days. Your posts are always so articulate, thoughtful and kind. You've just been great. (By the way! I used to live in Bakersfield. For NINE FREAKIN' YEARS!! I went to Cal State Bakersfield for three years. [And, actually, I shouldn't be snarky about the place, because my wife and I had a lot of fun living in Bakersfield. I had some really great friends there. One who particularly impressed me was Norm Prigge, a philosophy professor out at CSBU who was head of, like, The Gay Coalition of Bakersfield. What a monster intellectual that guy was; and what a great heart. Tough place to head up, like, Gays of Bakersfield, or whatever his organization was called. Really brave. Anyway. Good times. HOT times. Man, it's hot there. Well. Anyway, back to work for me! But thanks again for beefing up the whole quality of comments on my suddenly weirdly busy little blog. You da man. Or woman, maybe, come to think of it. Well. You da human.]

R. Moore said...

Calladus spoketh...

As far as I can tell, Dawkins and Hitchens have yet to wish eternal torture on a believer, a la Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Ray Comfort style

While I am sure Hitchens holds out no hope for eternal torture, he definitely demonstrated a gift for cursing the memory of the recently departed (check You Tube for his appearance on Hannity and Colmes after the death of Falwell).

I believe he said of Falwell:

He belonged on a street corner...selling pencils...from a cup!

PS I hate comment moderation.

Calladus said...


If you read my blog you'll see I didn't have a very high opinion of him either.

As for comment moderation - I'm afraid it is necessary to weed out the boobs who think a cut and paste of "You Suck" 200 times is high repartee.

Calladus said...

Perhaps Robertson, Falwell and Comfort don't wish Hell on people. They merely say that if people go to hell it their own fault.

Oh, and Falwell used to say that the Jews were damned unless they switched sides. It's their own fault, you know.

And Robertson said that Muslims were going to hell. It's their own fault. He also said that Disney Land was going to be torn apart by God for allowing in Gays, who were also going to hell for what they did.

And Comfort has said that people are going to hell for lying and adultery and hey, that's not God's fault for sure! And after his last debate with the Rational Response Squad it seems as if Comfort believes that belief in evolution will also get you sent to hell - and that's those darned Darwinists fault!

Dawkins points out that there are actually people who promote pseudoscience as truth, well, he's just a bad guy. He says some people actually believe in the pseudoscience they espouse, and point out that they are mistaken, at best, or deranged at worst.

And he points at those people who should actually know better, who are claiming pseudoscience to be real for their own selfish reasons - not because they are interested in truth. Those people are in truth evil.

Anonymous said...

The point is that when Falwell et al do their preaching, they are telling people that they are going to hell because of their activity (or whatever) but - and this is important- here is how you avoid that fate. They spent their life doing that. Whether they were right or wrong is another matter - but they weren't wishing that these people went to hell as you seemed to portray them.

When you were going through your "I think I am a Christian" phase were you ever taught to wish people into hell?

Calladus said...

No Geno, I never did. I still don't.

Let me know when you're finished with your own "I think I'm a Christian" phase, okay?

Anonymous said...

I just wanted you to understand that Christians, including yourself and those you mentioned do not wish bad on others

"have yet to wish eternal torture on a believer, a la Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, or Ray Comfort style."

Ken L. Hagler said...

I probably won't be linking to John's page but I imagine I will link to yours. Personally, I appreciate your sarcasm and wit. Reminds me of the guys over at The Wittenburg Door.

Having been in ministry for over 10 years, I've seen people leave the faith for atheism. At no point, did I ever feel the need to end a friendship. I think some of them felt the pressure that "pop-Christianity" would mean I'd be condemning of their decision.

Thankfully most have recognized I treasure my friendships including thos who are atheists. Do I pray for them and am I concerned about their futures? Yes. But it seems to me that the Christian thing to do is to show hospitality and to be authentic.

Jesus never seemed to be harsh on unbelievers but on the religious. I hope most would read your statement...The radical evangelical Christians of today tend to use the caveman approach of witnessing. as targeting one vein of the Church. If not, I hope others will recognize not all of the Church operates this way and not all clergy do either.

Calladus said...

Having been in ministry for over 10 years, I've seen people leave the faith for atheism. At no point, did I ever feel the need to end a friendship.

Ken, you're a better person than a couple of my friends. I grieve for friendships lost.