I recently discovered a blog on Patheos from Christian Piatt, a self-described liberal Christian. One of his articles (the link is above) caught my attention and got me thinking (which is always the best kind of essay). It was written from the perspective of someone still within the faith. I felt the need to write a response from my own perspective, chiefly as someone who was once a believer and has now moved over to skepticism and atheism. The ten choices are Piatt’s but the responses are mine.
1. Everything happens for a reason. We live in a universe with laws of probability, of chance so to speak, and sometimes the most unlikely event occurs. Humans seek to give meaning to seemingly random events. It makes it easier to digest horrific life events like rape or murder. Easier does not equate to more true, however. This cliché asks us to accept that there is some grand design to all the suffering and joy in life. In the end, it’s a hollow comfort.
2. If you die today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity? No, I don’t. And quite frankly, neither does the speaker for that matter. Belief is not the same as knowledge. The implication here is two-fold: first, the speaker is making a positive claim that they possess information the rest of us don’t; and second, the question is a not too subtle appeal to emotion, particularly fear. When you’re peddling fear as a driving force behind your faith, you’re already on shaky ground.
3. He/she is in a better place. Platitudes like this may sound comforting but they place the focus on the deceased rather than those left behind. Like the previous cliché it also has the implication of revealed knowledge. It sounds emptier still when the speaker knows little or nothing about the deceased.
4. Can I share a little bit about my faith with you? This one makes my skin crawl when it enters a conversation, especially if it comes out in the first few minutes. This phrase stinks of cheap salesmanship, like a telemarketer calling with their script of canned replies and bullet points. The assumption that the speaker has something everyone else secretly wants also reeks of unhealthy arrogance.
5. You should come to church with me on Sunday. Evangelism is part of religion in general but it is a divine edict for Christianity. I tend to look at church as a type of entertainment venue, like movies and theater: more butts in the seats means more cash in the coffers. I often saw a predatory angle to church invites when I was a believer where they would be used to show off and gain standing in the church for bringing a wayward soul to the flock.
6. Have you asked Jesus into your heart? One of the things about Christianity is that it often comes back to appeals to emotion. The heart does nothing but pump blood. Because the entire house of cards is based on faith (rather than evidence), appeals to emotion are fairly common and completely overused. By combining emotion, reason, and evidence, one finds all the tools they need to reach concise conclusions.
7. Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior? There is that passage about “the way, the truth, and the life” but this smacks of totalitarianism. It reminds me of a remark made by the Architect in The Matrix Reloaded: the majority of people accepted the Matrix provided they were given a choice. Humans tend to lean more towards figureheads making decisions for them, both because it’s too hard to make all the big decisions ourselves and because we want someone to lay the blame on when things go bad. I despise dictatorships, especially ones sold with smiles and empty promises with no evidence.
8. This could be the end of days. As of this writing, I’m 33 years old and the year is 2013. In my lifetime there have been 54 separate instances where the world was supposed to end and didn’t. If Christians ever wonder why atheists like me don’t take them seriously, this is one of the reasons. And because the “evidence” for these decrees is flimsy at best, people have given up homes, livelihoods, even their lives. It also leads people to think that they don’t have to plan for the future or preserve the only habitat in our solar system that can sustain us.
9. Jesus died for your sins. Let’s forget the argument of what should and shouldn’t be considered a sin for a moment. Instead, let’s jump into the moral cesspool of human sacrifice for vicarious redemption. I’ve always found it funny that other religions who used human sacrifices (like the Mayans, for example) are considered barbaric while the central thesis for Christianity is the brutal torture and murder of a supposed demi-god. If your religion is based around divinely-sanctioned, scapegoat murdering, you may want to reconsider how moral that religion really is.
10. Will all our visitors please stand? When I was still searching for a spiritual belief system to cling to, I would visit other faiths and churches. Not all of them would do this but those that did made an already nerve-wracking experience downright excruciating. Rather than making a newcomer feel welcome it can instead have the effect of making them feel more isolated.
These clichés are not the only ones. There is a second list of ten clichés Piatt wrote of and I’ll be going over those in another essay. I find these statements and questions grating at times. Believers who want to have a serious conversation with non-believers (or bring them to church) should avoid these as much as possible.