8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Cause Their Followers to Become Agnostics or Atheists
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Many liberal or modernist Christians see the Bible as a human document, an attempt by our spiritual ancestors to articulate their best understanding of God through the lens of imperfect human cultures and minds. Suppose such a Christian is confronted with a verse that says, for example, Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man (Numbers 31:17-18), or No man who has any defect may come near [to God in the temple]: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect,... (Leviticus 21:17-23). He or she can simply shrug and say, “Yeah, that’s ugly.” A couple of years ago a group of liberal Christians even kicked off an Internet competition to vote on the worst verse in the Bible. Their faith doesn’t stand or fall with the perfection of the Bible. Biblical literalists, on the other hand, give someone like me an excuse to talk about sexual slavery or bias against handicapped people in the Bible – in front of an audience who have been taught that the good book is uniformly good. For a wavering believer, the dissonance can be too much.
3. Misogyny. For psychological and social reasons females are more inclined toward religious belief than males. They are more likely to attend church services and to insist on raising their children in a faith community. They also appear more indifferent than males to rational critique of religion, like debates about theology or evolutionary biology. I was interested to notice recently that my YouTube channel, Life After Christianity, which focuses on the psychology of religion gets about 80 percent male viewers. Women are the church’s base constituency, but fortunately for atheists, this fact hasn’t caused conservative Christians to back off of sexism that is justified by – you got it – prooftexting from the Old and New Testaments.
Evangelical minister Jim Henderson recently published a book, The Resignation of Eve , in which he urges his fellow Christians to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. According to Henderson, old-school sexism has driven some women out of Christianity permanently, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who stay, it means that many are less enthusiastic and engaged than they would be. Churches rely on women to volunteer in roles that range from secretary to director of children’s programs to missionaries. That takes a high level of confidence in church doctrines and also a strong sense of belonging. Biblical sexism cultivates neither. Between 1991 and 2011 the percent of women attending church in a typical week dropped by 11 points, from 55 to 44 percent.
4. Hypocrisy. Christians are taught – and many believe—that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it. But the added pressure on those who call themselves the "righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.
People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” – who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture—have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.