Wednesday, October 26, 2005

When "too good to be true" is true

I don't believe many "I used to be a Christian" or "evil Christian" stories. On the evolution sites I browse, it is not uncommon to come across anecdotes such as "I used to be a Christian until…" This is followed by an encounter with a stereotype; a "Pastor Mike" who preaches fire and brimstone and the errors of evil-lution to the kiddies on career day, or an encounter with a pastor preaching against interracial marriage or in favor of slavery.

Yessiree, I am skeptical of these "too good to be true" stories. Now, no doubt there are shameful fundamentalists out there preaching a legalism of their own construction, or bigots who employ Christian trappings with their hate-filled messages. We all know that to be the case. But an actual Christian would not be driven away from Christianity by such an encounter—they would recognize it for what it is—an example of irreparably flawed theology or the ravings of an outright charlatan. They would know that such messages are not consistent with orthodox Christianity. They would either confront such blasphemy or, if that wasn't their nature, they would walk away from it.

At least that is the normative response—so much so that, as I said, I am skeptical of stories that contradict the norm—anecdotes in which people are un-converted by these encounters. I think they are invented for no other purpose than to make a political point.

The latest I have seen is on PZ Myers blog, in his post on Exposing undergraduates to creationism." There we find this comment:

As a proud atheist professor at a university heavily populated with Christians, I make it a point to teach the "controversy" to my students, emphasizing the lies told by employees of the Discovery Institute and documented liars such as [NAME DELETED —dph]...

As Dr. Myers will tell you, teaching is hard work. But the rewards are great. I am happy to report that on numerous occasions I have students come to me and let me know that they were abandoning fundamentalist Christianity in favor of religious views that were not focused on perpetuating bigotry or destroying science. Some students have come to me to let me know they were abandoning religion entirely.

When I asked them "Why are doing that? Why are you telling me?", they responded that they had never been shown so clearly how frequently and blatantly the so-called "Christians" at the Discovery Institute and related organizations engage in the willful propogation of false information, aka lying. These students are often very embarassed at having to admit that they were so completely bamboozled by information obtained from their parents, preachers and from self-serving "Christian" media outlets which present a decidedly negative view of science.

But I am so impressed by these students who are able to overcome the fear and brainwashing and leave their fundamentalist religious beliefs. Invariably, the questions they ask in class begin to reflect a much deeper understanding of the subject matter. They are no longer afraid to approach scientific problems from the perspective of a scientist, rather than from the perspective of a willfully ignorant and paranoid fundamentalist.

At times these students come to me in tears, worried about what they are going to tell their parents. I tell them that they are adults in the world now and it's time that their parents understand that. They are their own persons and, once the chains of fundamentalism and ignorance are cast aside, they can begin the process of learning about the world by seeing it through their own eyes, unfiltered, rather than seeing only what some fundamentalist preacher tells them is there.
This comment may, in fact, be a parody. One can only hope. I know that the name used by the commenter is the backwards spelling of a (biological) ID proponent who frequently posts on evolution sites.

If we assume the comment to be real and not some form of sarcasm, then I'll say this: I do not believe it for an instant. I could possibly believe that this alleged professor has had one of these "perfect storm" encounters, but certainly not numerous. And does he really expect anyone to believe that numerous students actually blamed the Discovery Institute for misleading them? And does he really expect anyone to believe that on multiple occasions students have come to him in tears about how they will explain their abandonment of Christianity to their parents?

Sorry, but "too good to be true" stories are so named for good reason.

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