Recently I attended one of our many campus Christian groups’ weekly meetings. Their fliers announced a new series of theirs, “Why I’m Not a Christian.” Other atheists and I figured we’d be good and helpful community members and attend so that they wouldn’t have to resort to strawman arguments. After all, who better to give reasons for not being Christian than people who aren’t even religious? However, we quickly realized that our services would not be required. Help far greater than we could offer would be needed. The cult leader seemed to confuse reasons people actual give for not believing with reasons you should totally be okay with your own fallibility as a human: ironically the topic was hypocrisy.
While most would point out Christian hypocrisy in their selective use of the Bible, ignoring the teachings of Jesus, or various other failures on the part of Christians to uphold their own theology, the charge is oft against the validity of a Christian argument for social legislation, not a reason for not believing. The speaker instead, chose to reframe the argument as, ‘people aren’t Christians because Christians aren’t perfect individuals.’ His lecture then trended into a selection of Biblical passages demonstrating Paul’s struggles to do good. The effect of this lecture was to explicate the text in a manner to deny the agency of Christians in the struggle to do good. The person is a neutral vessel where God and Satan struggle for influence. The result is a reaffirmation of the self-deprecating and diminutive nature inherent in a lack of agency. The Christian’s lack of agency means they are powerless to resist these temptations, resulting in a lack of worthiness, for which they must consistently be forgiven.
On a more practical level, the display was overly filled with sentimentality. There is no cause for this deprecating belief structure other than a refusal of the self to examine one’s situation. The woeful nature calling for pity to be taken on the individual is a false emotion. Indeed, the emotional appeal in Christianity is always one of sentimentality not of sentiment because there is no external agent, nor metaphysical actor to take pity on the state of humanity. John Gardner, speaking on fiction writing, regards sentimentality as a “fault of the soul.”[i] Indeed, an apt metaphor for the situation. Atheists, meanwhile, are accused of lacking emotion, when what is really lacking is the sentimentality so prevalent in Christian belief. By recognizing the agency over their own lives, atheists draw their emotions from a real relationship with their lived experience—insomuch as the relationship recognizes the lack of a metaphysical controlling agent. Atheists are happy, sad, grumpy, overjoyed, not because of an imagined pity, but rather real pity or forgiveness. When an atheist cries in joy, it’s not because of an imagined agent and thus the experience lacks the overly noticeable sentimentality wrongly identified as a real display of emotion.
[i] Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. 115. Print