“The archenemy of Christianity”
I’m tickled by this gem of a quote from Salon in an article about islamophobia in New Atheism.
As a phenomenon with its roots in Europe, atheism has traditionally been the archenemy of Christianity, though Jews and Judaism have also slipped into the mix.
“Archenemy” is a bit dramatic, isn’t it? I mean, there have been a lot of Christians who have proclaimed a lot of archenemies—from the diabolical to the schismatic.1 Sure, “I don’t believe” is tautologically inconsistent with belief. But not liking something I like or not believing something I believe isn’t enough to make you an archenemy. That would be like saying that people who don’t care about baseball are the archenemy of the sport.
Some people believe one thing. Others believe something different. And sometimes, for a variety of reasons, it’s really important for people that others believe what they do. And sometimes people decide that being a complete jerk about something like that will maybe help them feel better about being unpersuasive. Without minimizing the significance of people’s beliefs or the tensions that differing beliefs can cause, we can certainly acknowledge that this alone isn’t enough to get us to “enemy” status, let alone “archenemy.” It’s more of a “friend we sometimes disagree (who is maybe sometimes a jerk).”
If we can look past the intrinsic comedy in words like “archenemy” or “archnemesis”,2 we could ask why Christians would find threatening about atheists, new or old. About three quarters of Americans identify as some variety of Christian. Something like 4-7% identify as atheists. How shaky do you need to be in your own beliefs that the knowledge that a small minority of people disagree with you is threatening? And how oblivious would you need to be to other, bigger movements that really can be harmful to Christianity?
If I were making a hierarchical list of enemies for Christianity, I would put Christians in spot #1. (Not all Christians, just the kind that see Christianity as a cultural litmus test to determine who it’s okay to do horrible things to.) I think spot #2 goes to Christians—but just the kind that see Christianity as a civic religion that establishes a national and political identity but doesn’t ask anything of its adherents. Spots #3 and #4 go to the Christians who believe that the first priority of faith is personal perfection and that we’re excused from living out that faith until we’ve solved all of our own problems and to the Christians who think that good actions and supporting good policies can take the place of personal transformation. If the list went on, I’d get to materialism, inequality, and pride. Atheists would eventually clock in somewhere between credit card debt and people who don’t vaccinate their children.
For those of you who are New Atheists and feel that it’s your job to be Christianity’s #1 enemy, I’m not saying that you’re bad at what you do. I’m just saying that being a decent person and being passionate about what you believe in does not put you high on my list of problems in the world.
Somebody might reasonably point out that at various points in history Christians have done a terrible job relating to people with different cultures or beliefs. This is true. It’s also true that many people proclaiming themselves Christians have committed some atrocities in the name of Christianity. There are also still a lot of Christians who are saying and doing some pretty reprehensible stuff that’s really hurting people. While I don’t think that this bears directly on the questions of Christianity and New Atheism, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge. ↩
The Archenemy has all the malevolence of a regular enemy—but now comes with a patented arch support for extra diabolical effectiveness. ↩