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8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Cause Their Followers to Become Agnostics or Atheists

Here are some top ways Christians push people out the church door or shove secret skeptics out of the closet.

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5. Disgusting and Immoral Behavior.  The priest abuse scandal did more for the New Atheist movement than outspoken anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens ( God is Not Great) , Richard Dawkins ( The God Delusion) , Sam Harris ( The End of Faith ) or Bill Maher ( Religulous) ever could. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your point of view) Bill Donohue of the Catholic League seems to be doing everything possible to fan those flames: On top of the abuse itself, followed by cover-ups, he is now insisting that the best defense of church property is a good  offense against the victims, and has vowed to fight them “one by one.” 

The Freedom from Religion Foundation publishes a bi-monthly newspaper that includes a regular feature: The Black Collar Crime Blotter. It features fraud, drug abuse, sex crimes and more by Protestant as well as Catholic clergy. The obvious purpose is to move readers from  religion isn’t true  to religion isn’t benign  to religion is abhorrent and needs fighting . Moral outrage is a powerful emotion.  

6. Science Denial.  One of my former youth group friends had his faith done in by a conversation with a Bible study leader who explained that dinosaur skeletons actually are the bones of the giants described in early books of the Bible. Uh huh. Christians have come up with dozens of squishier, less falsifiable ways to explain the geological record: The "days" in Genesis 1 were really "ages." Or God created the world with the fossils already in place to test our faith. Or the biblical creation story is really sacred metaphor. But young-earth creationists who believe the world appeared in its present form 6,000-10,000 years ago are stuck. And since  almost half of the American public believes some version of this young-earth story, there are ample opportunities for inquiring minds to trip across proto-scientific nonsense. 

Like other factors I’ve mentioned, science denial doesn’t just move believers to nonbelief; it also rallies opposition ranging from  cantankerous bloggers to legal advocates. It provides fodder for comedians and critics: “If the world was created 6,000 years ago, what’s fueling your car?” It may produce some of the most far-reaching opposition to religious belief, because science advocates argue that faith, even socially benign faith, is a fundamentally flawed way of knowing. The Catholic church, perhaps still licking wounds about Galileo (it apologized finally in the 20th century), has managed to avoid embarrassing and easily disproven positions on evolutionary biology. But one could argue that its atheism-fostering positions on conception and contraception similarly rely on ignorance about or denial of biological science -- in this case embryology  and the basic fact that  most embryos never become persons.   

7. Political Meddling. If you look at religion-bashing quote-quip-photo-clip-links that circulate Facebook and Twitter, most of them are prompted by church incursions into the political sphere. A spat between two atheists erupted on my home page yesterday. “Why can’t ex-Christians just shut up about religion and get on with building a better world?” asked one. “Why can’t we shut up?!” screeched the other. “Because of shit like this!” He posted a link about Kansas giving doctors permission to deny contraception and accurate medical information to patients.

I myself give George W. Bush credit for transforming me from a politically indifferent, digging-in-the-garden agnostic into a culture warrior. He casually implied that, when going to war, he didn’t need to consult with his own father because he had consulted the big guy in the sky, and my evangelical relatives backed him up on that, and I thought, oh my God, the beliefs I was raised on are killing people. The Religious Right, and now the Catholic bishops, have brought religion into politics in the ugliest possible way short of holy war, and people who care about the greater good have taken notice. Lists of ugly Bible verses, articles about the psychology of religion, investigative exposes about Christian machinations in D.C. or rampant proselytizing in the military and public schools –all of these are popular among political progressives because it is impossible to drive progressive change without confronting religious fundamentalism.

 
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