Sunday, May 23, 2010

Talking With Christians

You may be surprised to hear that I have religious friends. Yep, and some occasionally read this blog. I have a few on Facebook and this post is about a civil conversation and an exchange of ideas I had with a buddy who is a Christian.

I have a few policies about talking faith with friends. The first is not arguing with them about the existence/nonexistence of God. Nope, I'm not going to change their opinion by a head to head argument. What I do talk to them about is the role of the Church in a free society - like the separation of Church and State.  Even if we don't agree on the God thing there is a chance that I can persuade them (even if it's only a bit) to my point of view (which is the right one of course).

The subject in question is the ongoing clusterf#ck in the gulf of Mexico known as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion. My Facebook friend John (not his real name) commented on it.

John: Another day, another 77 thousand barrels of oil into the gulf, ruined ecosystems, fishermen and tourism out of business, and 25% of the ocean life in that area is dead or dying. If there is one thing we are good at, it is messing up God's gifts to us. Dear Lord, please help us get this thing under control, we obviously can't do it without your help. I'd like to blame BP or the government, but aren't we all really responsible collectively for this mess? Help us to reach across the tables and find the solutions that only you can put there for us. (If you believe that only God can help us, please post a prayer today in your status. If you don't pray, now is a great time to start).

Me: Time for everyone to ditch the SUV's, lower the temperature in your house in the winter (mine is 65), and not buy McMansions.

- It's easy for Atheists to get "hooked" onto the theistic stuff and get into a confrontation about God. I try not to. Our society's addiction to fossil fuels is the source of many problems (propping up despotic regimes, the obvious environmental disaster, and involving ourselves in oil wars), that's what I wanted to talk about.

John: I agree. and for the record trying to sell my semi-big house to downsize, and I keep my temp at 64 in winter and 74 in summer. I would love to buy a jeep or camaro, but the mileage is HORRIBLE.

- See? We are on the same page. A normal person may have left it at that. I am not that guy. A common misconception amongst theists is that Atheists are not overly concerned with morality. This is not the case.

Me: John, this isn't an atheist poke you in the eye thing either, are any of the Churches down there talking about conservation as a moral issue?

John: I only go to one, but I'm pretty sure we've talked about it in the context of "responsibilities" and "taking care of each other."

Me:  Do you support my idea that if a Church is not talking about fossil fuel addiction then it's not doing it's self assigned job (supporting/teaching it's congregation about taking care of each other).
It would be like a Church not talking about other societal ills like Meth addiction.

-This is me being an asshole, by the way.

John: I don't think a Church has to talk about every societal problem specifically, or even if they could. I certainly don't think it's necessary to tell me that if I see someone beating on a child for example that I need to intervene. What is right and what is wrong is, for the most part common sense. Where it's all muddled up is when we all start ... See More worrying about who is to blame rather than putting our heads together to do the right thing. Obviously, we humans aren't doing a great job of that right now, hence the need for prayer and divine intervention. I don't mind debating this more, but please send your debates to my mailbox and I will respond. This thread was to provoke prayer, not critique the role of a church.

Me: Hey, I sent a message on the above topic. To clarify, I wasn't arguing against the existence of the church in general (an Atheist argument), rather I was commenting on the proper role of it as a societal institution. Seeing that we all live in the same society I say it's fair game (much like what the proper role of government or business) for an open discussion.

John: but it wasn't the topic of this thread, you can start a new one on that topic and I will happily join in. I respectfully request that the thread be brought back "on topic" and yes, I helped get it off the tracks.

Afterwards, we did get into a more in depth discussion about the Church's role as a moral agent in the world. I pushed my point that the Church should speak out against fossil fuel addiction otherwise they aren't doing their self assigned job  (shepherding their flock).  It's strange that I was arguing for a church to be playing an active role in society, but if churches had decided ten years ago that energy conservation was a moral problem then we may not be in such a big mess.

Ultimately, the conversation was a limited success. I was able to press my point and maybe place a kernel in my buddy's mind about speaking out against fossil fuel addiction in his church.

Limited success is all you have...

in Purgatory.


  1. Hmmm...

    I don't think its a good idea to encourage using the pulpit for any purpose other than its primary one - directing people to mumble pointlessly in praise of nothing.

    Asking people to form political opinions according to church opinion is often one of the big, big, biggest problems we get from the church. Take any hot moral/political issue as an example and you may see my point.

    Statements like "God wants you to do x y and z" is what makes the church a dangerous institution.

    Rather, encouraging people to use their heads and not their hearts (filled with Jebus) for problem solving and keeping that practice exclusively as an out-of-church responsibility is best. I think it would be better to spread the word to theists that the wise thing for them to do at church is to bow, kneel, pray, or turn cartwheels as often as the scripture asks, but DON'T draw conclusions or seek answers to real world problems. Save thinking about that stuff and its decision making for elsewhere. The church is not the place for it.

    I do not see the possibility for any good coming from encouraging people to "learn" practicality according to how the church chooses to teach it. After all, churches have chosen to teach some far out wacko stuff in the past... so let's not encourage anyone to listen in the future. We might all be better off for the change.

  2. Well, if I was down South in the the 1950's I think I'd make a faith based arguement to friends who were Christians against Jim Crow. If I was in the South in the 1840's I'd do the same kind of argument against slavery.

  3. Hmmm, well I was thinking about this while eatiing my oatmeal and maybe I'm wrong. If anyone else has an idea about this leave a comment.

  4. It's a short jump from "support such-and-such policies enacted by the government" to "support so-and-so for Congress!" so I see how it's tricky. At the same time, I think it's stupid to imagine that religious leaders don't have any influence on people's daily actions and how they see the world. If what they're telling people now is, "Pray and everything will get better because God is a magical genie who grants your wishes" ... I would rather them say, "God wants you to turn off your lawn sprinklers so this summer drought won't be as bad" or "God doesn't want you to buy an SUV if you never drive on rougher terrain than the roads to your office and the grocery store." That would at least make things a little better here in the real world.


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