Before I begin, let me say this: If God serves some purpose in your life, that is wonderful. I wish you all the best. If you want to be a Christian, be the best damn Christian you can be. The question is not whether my atheism is right or wrong. For me, for my life, it is absolutely correct and no amount of scripture-quoting or bible-thumping will change that. It is a pity that the only people who don’t care if you are an atheist are other atheists.
I could talk about how atheism demonstrates the intellectual fragility of religion, about how it shows theists a different way that for many of them is frightening. Religion and a truly open mind do not mix. All of these may well be true, but they are not the real cause of the conflict between atheists and theists.
It has to do with respect. I hate to say it, respect for the beliefs of others is not something that religion teaches. It demands respect for itself, witness the way Muslims react when you do ANYTHING that they see as disrespectful to either their faith or their prophet. Never mind that Muhammad may well be a mythical figure, they defend his honor rabidly. Christians are not much better.
I imagine that it is the evangelical nature of the religion, but they can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that many of us do not need a personal relationship with Jesus because, for many of us, God doesn’t exist. Of course, it isn’t just the atheist community that has to deal with this. The Orthodox Jewish community, which is the most respectful of other faiths as long as they are not the other branches of Judaism, has to deal with Jews for Jesus, other so-called Messianic Jewish cults and other, more mainstream Christian missionaries.
The unfortunate truth is that in certain seasons these missionaries are especially active around Orthodox day schools, targeting the children. If the notion of strange adults coming around your kid’s school to try and entice your children to do something-anything-scares you, then you understand how the parents of these little kids feel. The funny thing is that if strange adults were targeting their children, these missionaries would be going out of their minds. But because they are trying to seduce these kids into a personal relationship with Jesus, it is somehow alright.
If these people had any respect for anyone else, they would never do this!
If they had the least concept of respect, this would not happen. Of course, respect would cut into their missionary activities quite a bit, which could negatively impact their bottom line. After all, religion is bigger than General Motors, to misquote Hyman Roth. Yes, religion is a business and a big one at that. If you have any doubts, pick a Christian church and drop in on Sunday. You are going to hear a lot about money. Often, it will come with a little lecture on Malachi 3, where the prophet decries the lack of tithes going to the temple. The pastor will throw that in just to motivate those who might not otherwise give. The bigger thing in many churches is seed-faith. This is a little gem thought up by Oral Roberts and it works like this: You sow a seed in this ministry and god will make it grow and you will harvest ten-fold, a hundred-fold. What a nice racket, the pastor makes the promise and it is up to God to keep it. If your seed fails to sprout, then you didn’t have enough faith. With the churches, it’s is all about the money. With the rank and file, though, it is still about the spirit.
Either way, respect for others does not play a part.
As atheists, we have to accept the idea that if these people won’t leave other religious folks alone, why would they leave us alone? They wouldn’t. To Christians we are the big score, maybe even more so than the Jew. I can tell you, getting a Jew into the church is a red-letter event for Christians. Imagine how giddy they’d be to get their claws into one of us!
They deny us because they cannot accept us. To the rank and file, their religion prevents them from accepting us because it demands a theistic world view that excludes not only atheism but often another religious expression as well. Their churches refuse to accept us because we are bad for business. For both, our atheism embarrasses them by denying the very foundation of their existence. That, they cannot respect.
It is that simple, and that sad.