By Dan Barker
After Bill Lueders' well-written story about me ran in the Milwaukee Journal ["Wisconsin" Magazine, July 28, 1991], I received a lot of mail. It was nice to hear from freethinkers, some of whom already have joined the Foundation.
I also got many letters from Christians trying to get me back into the fold. Their most common complaint was regarding a comment I made about fundamentalists not being allowed to question. "You must have been raised in a strange church," one woman wrote, "because questioning is encouraged in my fundamentalist congregation. It makes our faith stronger."
I did not have the time or inclination to answer each believer personally, but I have been sending out a form letter that shows that bible believers have no choice but to suspend critical inquiry. I Corinthians 10:5 says: "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." This hardly sounds like an attitude of open inquiry.
Proverbs 14:12 says: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death." In other words, don't you dare think for yourself.
Proverbs 3:5-7 says: "lean not upon thine own understanding . . . be not wise in thine own eyes." In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus said, "Take no thought for your life . . . Take no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought of the things of itself." It seems disingenuous for Christians to claim that there is no restriction against independent thought in the bible.
After all, isn't each denomination and sect committed to a particular theology? Don't they have a "party line" that defines the true believers? (And don't they all disagree with each other about what this "party line" should be?)
As a result of Bill's story, I was invited to be a guest on "Milwaukee's Talking" TV shows, joined by Foundation member Nancy Harris, a former Catholic. On the show, she noted that as a child she was taught the Baltimore Catechism, in which you have the questions, and you have the answers, all neatly laid out--you memorize both, and that is that. Christians can talk all they want about "freedom in Christ," but those of us who were raised in the church know better. True believers are scared to death of questions. Most of them have this fear, whether admitted or not, that their children will come home for Christmas vacation after the first semester of college, having abandoned the indoctrination which was so earnestly instilled during childhood.
Another common complaint in the letters was regarding my mother's comment, quoted by Bill in the article, that after she became a freethinker, "she struck upon the joyous realization that, for the first time in her life, she could love everyone--even homosexuals and prostitutes and people of other religions whom 'Christians aren't supposed to love.' " Many Christians took exception to this, claiming that "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner."
Again, I have to question their sincerity. Does a true believer want his or her child to marry a homosexual, Moslem, or atheist? Would they vote for an atheist for political office? Would they invite them into the inner circle of fellowship at their church? Would they prefer to do business with them? They talk a lot about love, but their actions demonstrate something less. What they really mean by "love" is "concern that sinners will change their evil ways to become just like me." This is hardly love.
Besides, the bible does not support the "love sinner, hate sin" idea. II Chronicles 19:2 says, "Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee." Psalm 5:5-6 says that God "hatest all workers of iniquity . . . the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man."
King David wrote in Psalm 139:21-22: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? . . . I hate them with perfect hatred." The prophet Hosea (9:15) quotes God: ". . . for there I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more."
In Luke 14:26, the loving Jesus warns: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (A Baptist minister on the TV show claimed that I was taking this out of context, but the Greek word here is miseo which means simply "hate," not "love less than me," as some suggest.)
I know it is possible to find a few verses that say "God is love," but this only demonstrates that the bible is contradictory.
In Leviticus 24:16, the bible says that freethinkers like myself should be executed: "He that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him." Leviticus 20:13 mandates the same fate for homosexuals: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." None of this sounds much like love, does it?
My mom is right. Atheists and agnostics are not obligated to radiate "perfect hatred." Isn't it nice to be nice?