You don't hear much from Paul Nelson (Paul Nelson Day), but he recently posted a bit about Dr. William Provine. It had a lot of nice things to say, but one thing struck me as a bit off. He referred to him at the most Christian Atheist he'd ever known. Now I am sure Nelson meant it as a compliment, but I have a small issue with it, and only a small issue with it.
What Nelson was talking about were the many positive aspects of Dr. Provine's character, how he had a mischievous smile, his scholarly encouragement and playful nature, how he never had any personal malice, and a winning smile. Based on what I have learned about Dr. Provine, if he heard Nelson describe him 'as the most Christian Atheist', he would more than likely take it in the spirit he would assume Nelson meant. My issue isn't so much with Nelson calling Dr. Provine a 'Christian Atheist', it's the assumption that the positive aspects of Dr. Provine's character are associated with Christianity? Really? Maybe Christian ideals, but then has any Christian, since the idealistic picture painted of Christ, lived up to many of those ideals? It brings to mind the Ghandi quote:
"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."To me, it is a huge assumption that positive character is somehow tied to someone's religious beliefs, particularly Christianity. The implication, which theists love to claim, but never substantiate, is that to have such positive characteristics, you must be a theist of one stripe of another. Which I find laughable because when you don't share the same specific church with most Christians, they look down on you and treat you like a second, or worse, class person. If you tell them you are an atheist, they practically hold-up two fingers in a makeshift cross like you are a movie vampire, Look at kennie ham for example. He seems to think the only true Christians in the world are those that agree with him! This assumption that being nice, pleasant, scholarly encouraging is somehow tied, at least in Neslon's mind, to being a Christian is what I can't buy. I have found Christians, as a group, to be remarkably close-minded, many quite intolerant, and still others as absolutely hateful. Remember the Ku Klux Klan claims to be a Christian Organization -- even though just about every Christian denomination eventually denounced them . . . probably one of the few cross-denominational agreements within Christianity.
This does tie to a common argument theists like the make about how theism is the source of all things positive in the world and how atheism is the source of everything evil. We've discussed this before when theists try and claim to be the source of morality?. Yet there doesn't seem to be much evidence to support this. The single largest religion represented in US prisons is Christianity. Everyone remember the whole pedophile priest issue? Yea, I know many theists tried to play off that these priests weren't 'real' Christians, but reality disagrees! Morality is based on behavior, regardless of the source of anything currently defined as moral. Christians like to claim the moral high-ground simply because they are Christians, but there doesn't seem to be any rationale other than wishful thinking, certainly not most Christians behavior. Yes, the Bible has a bunch of commandments listed, but did they originate within Christianity? Study up before you answer!
A few years back my wife was having knee surgery. We were in the surgical prep area for what they call day surgery. It was a round area, the center was the nurse and technicians work area, around the circle were individual curtained off areas where each patient would wait until fully prepped for surgery. All of the surgeries were considered routine affairs, non-life threatening stuff, like mole removal, arthroscopic knee surgery, even scoping. You know, pretty basic stuff. Well I was in with my wife and I was doing my best to keep things light. We were laughing and marked a big 'X' on one knee with a note "The other one!". They gave her a large bright green glass case that looked like a giant pill . . . if you know us, you could well imagine the comments we made about that thing. Stuff like that. Well, two spots down on the circle, someone else was in for minor surgery and they had many more people than could fit in their curtained area, so they spilled out a bit. They were all praying, doing some hymns, and I guess they brought their preacher in with them. If I hadn't known it was minor surgery, I would have thought a funeral was going on there. After a while a nurse came in and said "The people down the way are complaining because they can hear you guys laughing. It's disturbing their prayers." I don't know what specific strain of Christianity they were, but apparently the kind that didn't have a sense of humor. We thought about laughing harder and louder, but decided to remain at the level we were at. I was there to maintain my wife's spirits, I did think it was rather rude of them to not allow me this freedom. I was sorely tempted to complain about their loud depressing praying and especially their singing . . . which was pretty bad . . . but unlike my Christian neighbors, I was apparently raised better . . . . thanks Mom and Dad!
I had a conversation along these lines recently with a . . . shall we say rabid . . . Christian. When I attempted to make my point, he pointed to all the things Christian organizations have done, like feeding the hungry, opening up hospitals, running orphanages. I asked if any other groups, theist and non-theist, do any of those same things? He unhappily conceded that they do. My point is that as a SOCIAL organization, theist or not, groups can choose to do a great many good things, but claiming some moral point because your group does some good things seems a bit of a reach to me.
Dr. Provine's behavior was not a result of being a Christian, or even emulating a Christian, as Nelson seems to want to believe. It is a result of the nature of his upbringing and decisions he made for himself when determining how he should behave under any particular set of circumstances. Apparently Nelson's upbringing and decisions are to make assumptions about other people. Wonder what he thinks of me? LOL!