|"Christian" hate group leader Tony Perkins.|
If the Catholic Bishops, their Evangelical Protestant allies, and other Right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.Testimonials at sites like ExChristian.net show that people leave religion for a number of reasons, many of which religious leaders have very little control over. Sometimes, for example, people take one too many science classes. Sometimes they find their faith shattered by the suffering in the world – either because of a devastating injury or loss in their own lives or because they experience the realities of another person’s pain in a new way. Sometimes a believer gets intrigued by archaeology or symbology or the study of religion itself. Sometimes a believer simply picks up a copy of the Bible or Koran and discovers faith-shaking contradictions or immoralities there.
But if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along. They may turn a doubter into a skeptic or a quiet skeptic into an outspoken anti-theist, or as one former Christian calls himself, a de-vangelist.
Here are some top ways Christians push people out the Church door or shove secret skeptics out of the closet. Looking at the list, you can’t help but wonder if the Catholic Bishops and their Evangelical allies are working for the devil.
Gay Baiting. Because of sheer demographics, most gay people are born into religious families. In this country almost half are born into Bible-believing families, many of whom see homosexuality as an abomination. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or non-religious communities.
Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the Church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. . . . . Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church.
Prooftexting. People who think of the Bible as the literally perfect word of God love to quote excerpts to argue their points. . . . They then proceed to quote whatever authoritarian, anti-gay, or anti-woman verse makes their point . . .Suppose such a Christian gets 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). . . . 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.
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.
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. . . . . Between 1991 and 2011 the percent of women attending church in a typical week dropped by eleven points, from 55 to 44 percent.
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.
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.
Science denial. . . . . 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 6000 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 (they apologized finally in the 20th Century), has managed to avoid embarrassing and easily disproven positions on evolutionary biology. But one could argue that their 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.
Political meddling. . . . 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.
Intrusion. . . . Catholic and Evangelical conservatives have made a high stakes gamble that they can regain authoritarian control over their flocks and hold onto the next generation of believers (and tithers) by asserting orthodox dogmas, making Christian belief an all or nothing proposition.. . . . the more they resort to strict authoritarianism, insularity and strict interpretation of Iron Age texts, the more people are wounded in the name of God and the more people are outraged. By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition – they force at least some would-be believers to choose “nothing.” Anti-theists are all too glad to help.