Faith an Antitheist Could Like

I’m an antitheist, more so than many of the people in my social circle. I do not merely disbelieve in deities and the traditions that come along with them; I also think that other people should also disbelieve. I think that religion has, at best, severely outlived its usefulness and, more likely, has been a force for consistent ill in humankind’s history. I think them all false, and I think them all dangerous. There are some I find more palatable than others and some that are more reality-based than others, but none meet with my actual approval. I know many people who cleave to various religions and who are exemplary human beings my life is richer for including, and I know a much larger assortment of religious humans who fit in Donald Trump’s basket of deplorables. As a Taína trans lesbian, I am targeted for harms both ongoing and historic by the largest religious establishments in my vicinity, including through non-religious institutions nevertheless suffused with religious sentiment, and the entire edifice fills me with loathing; as a scientist, its non-empirical silliness me with irritated bemusement.  As far as I am concerned, the good ones are good despite their faith, not because of it.

I’m often challenged, with all of that in mind, to describe what a version of Christianity my antitheism wouldn’t encompass would look like. If indeed my antitheism isn’t driven purely by emotional antipathy, then surely there is such a version. And there is.

Modern Christian denominations derive their cultural authority from a number of disturbing sources that New Christianity would have to unequivocally repudiate. The popular discourse in much of the world gives people social capital if they are members of the dominant religion, and often equates the idea of a “good person” with a member of that faith. Christianity is guilty of aggressively and intentionally propagating this lie within Christian-majority locales, and New Christianity would have to just as aggressively and intentionally renounce it. It would have to firmly and without equivocation denounce the idea that membership in its group causes one to be a “good person,” even as it encourages its members and non-members toward goodness, even as it expels those within its ranks it discovers to not hold goodness among their priorities. Its moral ideal must, in this way, be an aspiration and not a definition or a tool for declaring non-members morally deficient.

New Christianity would also have to purge from within itself all notions of the supernatural. Not only are these notions unsupported by any available evidence, but they encourage a wide variety of errors rooted in magical thinking. They disable the healthy skepticism that protects people from a wide variety of dangerous scams, they encourage helpless passivity and acceptance in the face of hardship, and they encourage people to see the difficulties and rewards in their life as supernatural whims rather than the results of their own actions or of chance, and thus take away from people the chance to respond appropriately to the events in their lives. They encourage people to devalue expertise and forego critical thinking. Where supernatural notions connect to moral concerns, such as the idea of sin, they disconnect morality from the effects of actions on the actual, physical beings affected by those actions and instead affix it, ludicrously and hatefully, to the judgements and opinions of supernatural beings, short-circuiting moral reasoning and corrupting empathy. Even notions as seemingly innocuous as the idea of an immortal soul or special divine creation for humans have empirically ridiculous and morally horrifying implications and thus have no place in New Christianity. There will be no angels or saints, no heaven or hell, no sin or salvation, no cosmic rewards or warnings from on high, no evil spirit tempting people to hedonism and spite, no magic force giving people healing hands or granting mystic gifts to groups who avoid modern medicine. New Christianity dwells firmly in this world.

Painting of Angel holding light and an apple : Lucifer
Most difficult for real-world Christians to swallow, New Christianity must also abandon the Bible as its core. Modern Christianity relies on its connection to this ancient text and the still-more-ancient (or totally fictitious) events described therein to claim its authority. This is part and parcel of Christianity’s cruelly authoritarian modus operandi, making a historical instead of moral or empirical argument for its correctness. More pertinently, the Bible is a horrifying basis for any kind of moral or social system. Its contents in no way describe a moral or social order that would not be a violent, nightmarish, authoritarian dystopia, and can only be twisted into anything else by needlessly complicated interpretive exercises that attempt to extract modern morality from stories in which daughters seduce their fathers and fathers receive divine instructions to murder their infant sons. The most famous explicitly moralizing segments of the Bible—the Ten Commandments, the instructions of Leviticus, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s instructions to women—are utterly grotesque, describing the acceptable parameters of godly slave-trading, declaring queerness a death-penalty offense, declaring absolute parental authority over their children, mandating specific spiritual observance, declaring women wholly subordinate to men, and prescribing hellfire for supposed thought crimes. As a text describing thousands of years of development in a particular school of thought and collecting stories from a region’s history, it is fascinating; as a basis for modern life, it is criminal. New Christianity must extract from this morass what is actually useful and morally defensible, snippets from First Corinthians and Colossians and Deuteronomy and elsewhere, and complete that rather short list with the work of later thinkers, and make a new book. The text that New Christians consult to assist in their moral decisions or find out what it means to be a New Christian has no place for Moses’s injunction to take the young women of enemy tribes as spoils of war or Paul’s demand for absolute obedience. This new text must lay out foundations for a moral system infinitely superior than the grotesqueries encouraged by the Bible and infinity clearer than its rambling, incoherent predecessor, centering consent, fairness, empathy and the other foundations of an actual life well lived. The trail from the past to this newest installment must be retained for historical clarity, but must not be presented as a substitute for what New Christianity is actually about or brandished in an effort to turn ancient pedigree into modern authority. This new beast, beautiful and pure, must stand on its own.

In demonstration of a good-faith effort to expunge the horrors of the past, New Christianity must explicitly rail against the abuses justified by any and every faith, with emphasis on its predecessor. Anti-queer sentiments, opposition to bodily autonomy for people with uteruses, conversion by the sword, coercive evangelism, moralizing against consensual sex, victim blaming, unquestioning obedience, non-medical genital surgeries performed on children, not trusting children when they tell us about themselves, regarding suffering as holy, accepting a role for religious organizations in education and medical systems, and the multiplicity of abuses that comprise honor culture must all face loud, unequivocal condemnation from New Christianity even as Old Christianity continues to truck in these crimes. New Christianity must encourage its members and wield its power to try to make the world a more equitable, more secular, and more humanistic place in the face of aggressive opposition and disavowal from mainline Christians.

The rituals and rites of Christianity, the meditative introspection of prayer and high emotion of shared song, the soaring beauty of cathedrals and the universal joy of celebrating milestones together, the perspective gained from giving thanks, are all welcome here. The human need for ritual transcends faith.

If that standard sounds like such beacons of relative reasonability as Quakers and Unitarian Universalists would struggle to live up to it, then it should be clear why my antitheism encompasses real-world Christianity with such enthusiasm.

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Faith an Antitheist Could Like
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2 thoughts on “Faith an Antitheist Could Like

  1. 1

    If you’re starting over in that way, why call it Christianity or feel bounded by the Christian scriptures at all? While I in no way object to all Christians or all branches of Christianity, the core of the Christian faith and teachings is still so objectionable that, if we’re having this kind of revamp anyway and aren’t tied by culture or nostalgia to trying to recreate Christianity in some form, it would make more sense just to come up with something different and *call* it something different.

    1. 1.1

      You are correct. There’s a reason my path out of Catholicism didn’t stop at any other versions of Christianity on its way. You’ll note that my goal with this essay was, specifically, to describe what Christianity would have to become in order to not be something I thought the world was better off without, not to lay out a a separate and altogether better philosophical approach. Humanism already exists, after all 🙂

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