Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Churching the unchurched


I just finished leafing casually through Inside The Mind Of Unchurched Harry And Mary: How to reach friends and family who avoid God and the church, by Lee Strobel, a self-confessed lapsed atheist. As the title suggests this is a manual for saving your average poor unhappy atheist from his or her own bad self. So, what's the buzz, I'll tell you what's a happenin'.

First off, let's discuss Lee's style. It strikes me as being in a 'neighbour over the fence' conversational style. It seems to me that Lee is trying to show that he's not that boring old-style religious stereotype that atheists are so wary of. Lee is more of a coffee and doughnut kind of guy you can talk about movies with. This style is lost on me since when someone I don't know comes on too 'buddy buddy' I just wonder what he's trying to sell. Sorry Lee, it's just the way I'm wired (we'll call it 'free will' if you like.)

Next, Lee's methodology. He has divided the first few chapters with his own observations of "unchurched" Harry or Mary ('unchurched' is the term used to describe someone who chooses not to go to church and has, in fact, turned their face from god, sorry, God, since the other ones apparently don't count), and how a well-meaning Christian could respond to these observations. Lee was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune "back in the day" so one would assume that his observational skills would be pretty good. Maybe not though. Lee's "unchurched" are a confused bunch. They don't want to, or "can't" believe in a god, but they want their children to have "religious training". They themselves mainly don't know what they believe in. Frankly it is hard to believe that Lee was ever a card-carrying atheist (and I never did see him at any of the meetings.) Also, his responses to some of his observations can be kind of odd (almost as odd as many of his observations are.) "Observation #12: Even if Harry's not spiritually sensitive, he wants his children to get quality moral training." From a church? Please. The condescending "I guess you are just not ready to accept God into your life" attitude (that's right, or gremlins or yetis or little green men from Mars), hating gays and believing that your "unchurched" friends are going to burn in Hell for eternity is not "quality moral training". Then there's "Observation #14: Harry is proud that he's tolerant of different faiths, but he thinks that Christians are narrow-minded." This one is my favourite because Lee's response is that Christians are not narrow-minded, then he goes on to show just how narrow-minded they are. One story is of Lee speaking to a young Hindu man, who was quite willing to accept Jesus as the son of god, since (as Lee writes) Hindus "have millions of gods" and they would "be glad to add Jesus as one more." So it seems that Hindus are open-minded and tolerant, but Lee didn't want anything to do with that. He "asserted that Jesus is the only son of God, that's when he got indignant." (italic for 'only' was Lee's, italic for 'he' was mine.) Silly Hindu man, being all tolerant and stuff until Lee's 'my way or the hiway' stuff then he gets all indignant like. It's just as Lee says, Christianity's "door is open to anyone who wants to come in", as long as you tow the party line. Otherwise, you goin' to Hell, boy. You gonna burn! Right.

Lee's book carrys on with what sorts of "sticking points" atheists have with becoming religious (#1" I can't believe, #2: I don't want to believe, and more.) The essential point here is that the "unchurched" either; want to become religious and are only looking for someone to show the way, or they are close-minded and belligerent (not open-minded like Christians are) and not willing even to look at any empirical evidence there is for religious belief. Of course Lee's own standards of evidence are pretty flimsy. Early on in the book Lee describes how he turned from being a hell-bound atheist sinner into a evangelical and, according to him, it did involve critically examining the evidence for the existence of God, mainly (oddly enough) from the Bible. And what was the corroborating evidence? Oh yeah, that was from the Bible too. It may be my own sinning heart, but I just have trouble accepting as proof something from the same book. It does make me wonder just what kind of a reporter Lee was. Picture this, if you will; Lee, hard-hitting investigative reporter for a newspaper in Chicago picks up a lead on a crooked politician. He jumps into his gas-guzzling, polluting car and burns over to the crooked politicians office, running red lights and knocking over apple-carts on the way (because your average atheist is a selfish lout.) "Hey," accused Lee as he spots the crooked politician, "I hear you're crooked!" "Nope, not me," claims the crooked politician, "I'm as straight as an arrow." "Ha!" scorns Lee scornfully, "I'm going to need a second opinion before I believe that!" "Okay," says the crooked politician, "I'm handsome too!" Lee's headline would be; "Crooked Politician Not Crooked At All But Rather Straight And He's Handsome Too!" I submit that critical thinking just doesn't seem to be Lee's strong-point.

The rest of the book carrys on in the same vein and while I realize that I am not the target audience I have to wonder just how valuable it would be to it's actual target audience. Lee's view of what an atheist is seems to be more a Christian's view of what they would like an atheist to be rather than what it actually means to be an atheist. Unfortunately it just may get a few well-meaning but misguided Christians sworn at, but those are the breaks sometimes. Personally I would have put 'read at your own risk' on the cover and then let the chips fall where they may. It's that 'free-will' thing again.

In the meantime I believe I'll have a glass of water, shaken, not stirred.

Anyway... Humouroceros

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