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Crucifying Straw Men

by Noah Lugeons

The collective voice of the non believers cried out in a chorus of criticism this week as a small contingent of Christian kooks camped out to await the rapture. Twitter was alive with jokes like “No rapture? Don’t sweat it. It’s not the end of the world”, “If the rapture doesn’t happen Saturday Christianity’s cancelled right?” and “So can I have the Vatican when you’re gone?”  We laughed at their gullibility. We laughed at their mindless adherence to a numerological interpretation of a poorly written compendium of ancient mythology. But between the jokes and insults, we also roundly criticized them for perpetuating such a moronic belief.

Of course, Saturday came and went with the same number of raptures as the Saturday before that and now as Harold Camping’s disillusioned followers slowly start to reassemble their lives. Largely we’ve stopped picking on them and moved back to picking on Christians and faithful folks in a more general sense.

But there’s also been a backlash against our criticism. Many within the religious community are now faulting the atheists for “attacking the extremes”. This is a pretty common critique; that non believers find the most outlandish and ridiculous examples of Christianity and then hold them up as examples as though they represented the average Christian. When Bill Maher’s film Religulous debuted, the majority of critics accused him of only showing the lunatic fringe of faith without mentioning that it was not an accurate representation of Christians in general.

But is that a fair criticism? Do we really only attack straw men? And if we do, is that really a bad thing?

This weekend provides the perfect example. Sure, an overwhelming majority of Christians were not expecting the rapture to occur yesterday. They correctly predicted that Harold Camping and his ministry were full of shit. So is it fair to paint all Christians with the same brush strokes you use to cover these religiou-tards?

Well, I would argue that it is. The rational people rejected Harold Camping because he was an idiot numerologist that thinks the bible is the word of god. The religious people rejected Harold Camping because they thought he had the math wrong.

Christians expend a lot of effort trying to distance themselves from the more extreme end of their spectrum. When Fred Phelps protests at military funerals, the Jesus-ites are quick to remind us that he is doesn’t speak for them. He is a small and insignificant extremist with a warped view of Christianity and they cannot be judged by his nonsense any more than atheists can be judged by the random mental ejaculations of Joe Rogan.

On its surface, that seems like a fair argument. After all, you can’t say Catholics are murderers just because Hitler was a Catholic. You can’t say that scientists are all full of shit just because Andrew Wakefield was a scientist. If you don’t bother to examine it very deeply, the charge that we attack straw men seems fair.

But it isn’t. Fred Phelps didn’t decide that God Hated Fags. It’s written right there in the Christian instruction book. Harold Camping didn’t decide that the world was going to end like the intro to a Michael Bay movie, it’s a major tenet of their faith. These people are simply taking the accepted beliefs of the larger group and carrying them to their logical conclusion.

When Christians faulted Camping by quoting Matthew 24:36 they acted as though this was somehow less stupid than Camping’s original claims. But polls show that the majority of Christians do believe in the same fanciful crap that he was selling. How can you fault one man for assigning it a date without also faulting the moronic set of beliefs that got him there?

Socially conscious Christians do their best to sweep the fundamentalists under the rug. They like to pretend that these are just the insane ramblings of someone who “doesn’t get” Christianity. But all the fundamentalists do is take the crap that mainstream preachers pretend to believe seriously. Some pastors and parishioners might tell these stories with a nod and a wink, but how can they fault someone for taking them seriously when they say that to do otherwise is a ticket to eternal damnation?

Fundamentalism is a predictable and even necessary offshoot of religion. Anyone who endorses the bible as the “word of god” is guilty of fostering them. Anyone who has ever given a dime to a church is guilty of harboring them. Anyone who ever told their children that there was a lake of fire where the bad people spend eternity is responsible for creating them.

Christianity cannot divorce itself from the extremists until they admit publicly that the bible is just a collection of prehistoric essays. Until they admit that Jesus has no more substance than Santa Claus, they are just as guilty as the people holding the protest signs or giving away their worldly belongings in time to get raptured.

You can’t blame an idiot for being an idiot. The only recourse is to stop feeding the stupid.

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