At first glance it seems strange that Atheists don’t like Christians. We are involved in global and local charities. We have been involved in all of the major social reform movements in America including abolition, suffrage, worker’s rights and union formation, civil rights, and even Black Lives Matter. The Christian list of great social, political, and economic achievements and contributions stretches all the way back to the Roman Emperor Constantine. I could go on but we get it, and most of us already know this.
What we want to know is why don’t the Atheists like us very much?
There is the obvious part where they think we are wrong about our theology, that is we are wrong for even having a theology. But if that were the only problem Atheists had with Christians then you would expect their attitude to be more of disinterest and less anger.
Now what I intend to do is explain why Atheists don’t like Christians, and I want to do this while being fair to Atheists and Christians. Of course my reasoning won’t cover all atheists or even all kinds of atheism. However, after a few interviews I personally conducted, some interviews done online, and my own anecdotal research of various atheist blogs, I have been able to come up with a kind of outline. So here they are, in no particular order, the major problems Atheists seem to have with Christians.
- We can be jerks
- We constantly make the appeal to authority
- We use the Bible for everything
- We put natural science in second place
- We make lots of money
- We have a rather troubling history
Problem 1: Christians can be mean
Atheists don’t always like debating us whenever we insinuate that they must be monsters with no moral sense. For that matter we are not always so fun whenever we belittle, berate, and badger a person until they just can’t take it anymore. Yes, Christians have a reputation, perhaps deserved in some cases, for being bullies. We can be extremely hostile to people who aren’t in the club. Of course if Atheists could see how hostile we can be to people who are in the club they might like us even less.
But let’s be honest about this one for a second, Christian bullying tends to come from a place where Christians wield their social and political influence to get what they want. This happens with every major social institution and is evidence of Christianity’s place of prominence in our culture.
Obviously we know better, and we do try to do better. Many Christians are not bullies, but the impulse to bully seems to flow quite naturally from the discovery that we have power and we can use it to get our way.
It’s also not so strange that Christians in China or Pakistan don’t have this reputation. You tend to be nicer when you are in the minority or when you aren’t in the government’s best graces. So good news Atheists, this one comes from a place of social privilege and is definitely something we can fix.
Problems 2 and 3: The Christian relationship with authority
This is probably just one that must stay at an impasse. To be Christian basically means that we submit ourselves to the authority of Christ and his teachings as we believe them to be revealed in the sacred text of the Bible. So we are not going to give this up, and we will continue to submit to the authority of Christ and the doctrines we glean from the good book.
Atheists struggle with this one because sometimes we seem to wield the Bible like a weapon. But since we already covered that in problem one then the real issue here is how can we, who call ourselves Christians, just submit blindly to authority?
This is especially troubling since almost all atheists claim that they accept no authority except for those which can prove and demonstrate their claims.
So how about it? Well it’s simple, we think our authority is the right one, and we think everyone must submit to an authority in some cases. If you want more you will have to delve into our theology, but this is basically one we can’t budge on. Though we aren’t being irrational, our reasons are just based in theology rather than science.
Problem 4: Science plays second fiddle
Here is another impasse, but which is easy enough to explain. Christians accept the findings of science, insofar as all truth is God’s truth, except in cases where science contradicts proper Christian teachings. In such cases Christians reject science in favor of Christian doctrine.
This may seem irrational but it follows quite clearly from our submission to the authority of Christ.
Of course the clever Christian also thinks such conflicts are rare and that most of them can be resolved by a better understanding of how theology and science actually correspond rather than conflict.
Problem 5: We make a lot of money
Christian churches and various Christian non-profits occasionally boast some pretty high numbers in terms of profit margins. And although there are many poor churches and many poor priests Christianity has nonetheless earned a reputation for being a bankable religion. We have a long history of this, and we have numerous present day examples of very rich Christians.
The conflict for Atheists comes from the fact that we Christians style ourselves as charitable, and indeed it is supposed to be one of our most defining virtues. Yet we don’t pay taxes and we also enjoy a few other legal exemptions which contribute to our bottom line.
There’s no downplaying this, this is one of the greatest and most damning critiques of the Christian church. Our founder was poor, as were his disciples. The virtue of Christian charity is one we have preached since the beginning. And yet throughout our history we have often lined our own pockets in quite troubling ways. From indulgences for giant churches to “seed money” for private jets, Christians really need to stop doing this.
If we aren’t putting our money back into helping our community and our world then we are wasting it on our own vanity. Here Christians should be able to agree with the atheists that this is not what we are supposed to be doing.
Problem 6: The long and troubling history
So yes Christianity has only been around for about two thousand years. It has also had a rather strict moral code for that entire history. And despite this code, Christians have been responsible for some terrible things.
This includes, but is in no way limited to – Holy Wars, Slavery, Misogyny, Racism, Imperialism, and the list just goes on.
We don’t have a good response for the things on that list except to say this.
We Christians apologize profusely for the evil we have wrought upon the world. Our Lord and Savior did not teach us to do these things, but rather they stem from our own wicked desires for power, wealth, and earthly honor. We pledge to not repeat the mistakes of the past but to step forward and truly dedicate ourselves to eradicating the evil that our Christian ancestors put into this world. We acknowledge that other people have reasons to also feel ashamed, but this shame is ours and we carry it to remind ourselves of the difficult path we walk.
Ultimately we hear you Atheists, and we can’t stop being Christian but we can at least try to give Christianity a better name.