A recent story in Baptist Press (archive) caught my eye with a reference to a self-proclaimed nontheist. It seemed like such a strange way to refer to someone who holds no religious beliefs or affiliations. That observation led me through a rabbit hole of evangelical contempt for non-believers. When their religion’s fraying at the seams and there’s no way in sight to regain their former power, these self-proclaimed Christians just can’t help but tear down their tribal enemies.
(This post first went live on Patreon on 11/29/23. Its audio ‘cast should be there by now too!)
A self-proclaimed Christian seems upset at what she calls a ‘self-proclaimed nontheist’
Today in Baptist Press (archive), the official news and propaganda site of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), we find a story about real religious liberty. A nontheist, James Tosone, filed suit against the state of New Jersey for forcing elected officers to swear a religious-based oath to enter office. This oath was required by law. Rather than deal with a lawsuit that they’d almost certainly lose, the state’s legislature recently and quietly changed the law regarding the wording of the oath. Now it can be religious or not, as the officer wishes. I wish more states had a similar care for irresponsible usage of taxpayers’ dollars!
In response to that change, Tosone and his lawyers voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit (archive).
As senior staff writer Diana Chandler tells us, only a few states still specifically use “religious tests for candidacy and elected office.” If you’re wondering, the last standouts are: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.
It’s an interesting story despite its total lack of external links. (Here’s one from the New Jersey Monitor (archive) about the change.) Given the sharp rise in religiously-unaffiliated people in America, and evangelicals’ increasingly desperate grabs for temporal power, we’re going to see more of these stories in the years to come.
What caught my eye here, though, was her description of the person bringing that lawsuit to New Jersey. She called James Tosone a ‘self-proclaimed nontheist.’
That is such a strange description, ‘self-proclaimed.’
The language we use tells on us in so many ways
Maybe it’s because I’ve been writing for a long time, so I notice people’s word choices in writing more than others might. Or maybe, as a none(-of-the-above) myself, I notice how religious people describe people like me.
Someone who calls a female doctor a “lady doctor” is saying something about how normal and acceptable they think female doctors are. That’s a doctor, full stop, not a “lady doctor.” But the person describing her is calling out this one doctor as very unusual in their little world.
Similarly, when someone calls someone else’s identity ‘self-proclaimed,’ it often means they don’t think the identification is valid. Everyone’s religious views are self-proclaimed, including Diana Chandler’s. We ain’t born, any of us, with birthmarks telling our parents what religion we’ll be when we grow up! Though some of us grow up in a religion and feel railroaded into it, most of the time our affiliations are something we choose to proclaim of our own will.
That said, consider the following terms:
- The self-proclaimed President of the United States
- A self-proclaimed author
- Self-proclaimed therapists
In every case, a self-proclaimed identity is invalid and/or dubious. Nobody else is proclaiming it, only that person!
In Diana Chandler’s mind, something like that happens when she encounters this New Jersey nontheist. I can’t speak for her, of course. But I can say that from the outside, it sure looks like she doesn’t think James Tosone’s identification is valid.
Notice how the term appears, or doesn’t, in each of her recent stories:
- The Christians in Sudan do not get called self-proclaimed (archive). Nor do their Muslim oppressors.
- John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace,” however, has a ‘self-proclaimed’ past involving unapproved sex (archive). One wonders idly if this guy’s a hero of hers, so she doesn’t like to think of him as being so sinful.
- Neither ‘practicing Christians’ nor non-practicing ones (archive) in another story get described as ‘self-proclaimed.’
When looking over her general body of work at Baptist Press, we discern that, indeed, Diana Chandler uses ‘self-proclaimed’ to mean invalid and/or dubious. In almost every story, the term is negative and pejorative in nature.
Now we have a new question to ask.
Why wouldn’t this self-proclaimed Christian believe a non-religious person’s stated identification?
Self-proclaimed evangelicals don’t like thinking that atheists really exist
In recent months, we’ve talked about evangelicals insisting that atheists don’t really exist. We’ve also talked about evangelicals’ various willful misunderstandings about atheists. And we’ve even talked about the hilariously bad advice evangelical leaders give about recruiting atheists.
A nontheist isn’t necessarily an atheist, of course. Nontheism doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of religious affiliation, either. Jason Tosone could be into nature spirits, for all we know, or a Zen Buddhist. All we know of his religious opinions and affiliations is that they don’t involve gods.
But to an evangelical, that identification still constitutes a thrown glove, a declaration of tribal war. It might as well be atheism.
And their Dear Leaders keep telling them that atheists don’t really exist.
To really recruit scads of people, contempt and disrespect is obviously the best strategy possible
Even nowadays on the Christianity subreddit, atheists still ask Christians why they’re so hugely dismissive and contemptuous of atheism. That atheist writes:
Atheism is a simple non-belief in gods. That’s it.
Yet Christians say we have faith in stuff anyway.
Commenters very much agreed with this assessment, too, whether they were atheists or not. One person replied:
Religions inoculate themselves against apostasy and skepticism by demonizing former adherents and non-members as evil, twisted, delusional, deranged etc.
In this way, atheists are especially painted as denying the truth rather than acknowledging the possibility of disbelief, a faith unraveling concept.
Thus, it’s not surprising when existing members regurgitate cultish tropes. It’s a clear sign of brainwashing and indoctrination.
All of that’s the truth. Another linked a YouTube video with this comment:
Cosmic Skeptic covered this topic in a discussion a while back. For most Christian perspectives, if even one non-resistant non-believer exists, well that’s a problem. Supposedly this God loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with each and everyone of us. So if even a single non-resistant non-believer exists… then their entire perspective on God must change.
A self-proclaimed Christian tradcath (traditional Catholic, often embracing Latin rites, usually vehemently opposed to Pope Francis) loftily replies to the YouTube linker that “people are not problems,” which garnered this response from an agnostic atheist:
I say “I honestly looked for God, and I could not find him”
The bible says “seek god, and you will find him”.
Now you have to pick one to believe. Either your Holy Text is fundamentally incorrect about a pretty major tenet of faith, or I’m being dishonest about my attempts at finding God.
It’s no surprise that believers immediately choose the second option.
It’s an interesting thread, since that subreddit isn’t at all composed only of evangelicals and other right-wing Christians. There’s even a Christian Universalist running around in it with a few interesting things to say about their quirky take on Christianity.
These other Christians drown out the occasional obvious evangelical asking “are they really Christians?” and incompetently cold-reading the original poster (OP) by asserting that OP must have some secret desire to believe in Christianity. When one arrives to completely confirm OP’s characterization by insisting that atheists can’t possibly really exist, it barely arouses interest from the group at large.
When push comes to shove, some evangelicals tacitly admit that atheism is indeed possible
And yet, we can contrast that Reddit thread with an opinion post from last month’s Christianity Today (archive).
In it, historian Daniel K. Williams writes about the “inner atheist” in even the most fervent evangelicals’ hearts. He makes a lot of bad apologetics arguments and eventually decides that very moving Christian writings from centuries ago trump all the contradictions to Christianity that our modern world offers without effort or ceasing. In his conclusion, Williams simply asserts (without supporting) that proper and sufficient Jesusing will totally erase all doubts:
In the end, what we know is Jesus—and if we build our belief upon him, we’ll have the foundation we need to quiet our “inner atheist.”
Amusingly, one of the related posts linked in that one addresses the apparently-common phenomenon of not feeling different (archive) after one’s conversion and baptism. Williams wrote that one as well, incidentally, which might explain why it ends with a nearly-identical unsupported assertion about Jesusing being the fix for everything one feels is suspicious or off-kilter about Christianity.
Evangelicals are also happy to lay claim to that still-oh-so-trendy past (archive) as a real live (GASP) atheist (archive) in their conversion testimonies. As long as atheists are the tribe’s Enemy Number One, that testimony will remain popular. It’ll start sounding fusty and quaint, though, once the tribe inevitably latches onto a new enemy du jour. Just ask all those Christians who crafted Satanic Panic testimonies to take advantage of the tribal enemy of their own day.
So atheism is fine, as long as it is corralled and resolved in the correct ways. It’s atheism-as-defined-by-evangelicals, rather than anything I’ve ever seen in actual atheists. But this poor strawman is much more easily defeated by Christian blahblah.
Ultimately, the ‘self-proclaimed’ label is a deliberate tool of disrespect in evangelicalism
For the rest of the evangelical tribe, those people who reject belief in gods—be they nontheists or atheists—remain solidly in the ‘self-proclaimed’ section of their minds. It’s like they can’t possibly stop insulting their tribal enemies and insisting their tribalistic teachings about atheists are actually true, like this weirdo pushing yet another bad attempt at the already-bad Pascal’s Wager (complete with false dilemma!):
So the self-proclaimed atheist faces a choice, if they are honest with themselves:
Option 1: There is no objective right and wrong. Just subjective preferences.
Some of these hypocrites even threaten their tribal enemies. Here’s one who really needs to work on his threats:
That the self-proclaimed atheist is allowed to even draw a breath to exhale blasphemies against God is a temporal manifestation of mercy. There is still time to repent. [Twitter hypocrite @ChrisLarson, 7/26/22; archive]
You can just about taste his outrage that tons of people reject his claims and bat away his grabby hands. How dare they.
In truth, if Heaven contains people like these two Christians, then I’m glad that I won’t be going there. No real god of love and mercy would ever condone this behavior or want it in their afterlife. These two ought to feel thankful that Hell doesn’t exist, because if it did then they would stand at more risk of going there than any of the people they hate so much.
A quick open letter to self-proclaimed Christians:
I wish I could tell them all:
Look. We get it, evangelicals.
You hate and despise all those who reject your claims about your god. You’ve got no idea how to talk to us. You’ve no idea what we’re even like because all you know is what your Dear Leaders teach you about us. None of it’s true, however. If truth meant as much to you as you claim, you’d have figured that out years ago. But you continue to push the same lies, year after year.
We see why, too. It very clearly feels good for you to think of your tribal enemies as stupid and evil and inferior. You don’t want to think that there might be very good reasons for rejecting Christianity’s various claims. You prefer thinking that only dumb dummy doofuses reject Christianity.
Once your enemies know what you know, they will embrace your beliefs. Or they’ll reject those explanations. After all, they’re just dumb—and fundamentally, constitutionally incapable of accepting the capital-T Truth laid out before them, as writer Tim Barnett claimed in 2019 (archive) on the evangelical blog Stand to Reason. But even rejection is a win-win for you. Failure only maintains your false beliefs about your tribal enemies.
Of course, I know it’s no use to tell them anything. I know. Their leaders have painstakingly taught them all kinds of ways to negate and ignore the input of those they claim to want to convert.
The situation as it stands now and probably forever
Evangelicals remain hopelessly unable to address atheism in a meaningful, loving, and respectful way. It says a lot about the validity of their overall claims about their god and religion, but they can’t help it. No matter how hypocritical it is, they keep abusing their enemies. But then, their need to feel superior and important has always meant more to them than obeying Jesus.
That’s why my #1 reason for rejecting Christianity will always be the behavior of actual Christians.
It’s really that simple. As a group, they simply don’t act like they really take their beliefs seriously.
Some disbelievers go for the religion’s total lack of real miracles. And that’s fine, it’s certainly another point against Christian claims. That’s not my thing, though. Miracles can be doctored from almost anything. Our senses can easily fool us. And we don’t know everything about the universe yet.
A far better reason to reject Christianity is right here in front of us—in the form of self-proclaimed Christians who can’t help constantly showing their true colors of hatred, xenophobia, and cruelty.
Jesus told his followers in John 13:34-35 that everyone would judge Christians’ claims by their behavior.
And sure enough, that’s exactly what we do! It isn’t our fault that evangelicals don’t like the conclusions we draw from their behavior.
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