A lawyer and an associate dean at Liberty University, a columnist for Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, and the founder of WND’s Christian fundamentalist site Barbwire.com, Matt Barber might seem like an evangelical fringe character, but, clearly, he means to have his voice heard and his pronouncements taken seriously: his work appears under the portentous slogan RELATIVISTS BEWARE: TRUTH TOLD HERE.
Yet he is affiliated with Glenn Beck, so, in pursuit of Truth-Telling, he sees fit to publish such essays as "You Won’t Believe What the Devil Said to Me!" and "Sympathy for the Devil" -- a Means to Destruction, in which the authors, in complete earnestness, write of a horned-and-dangerous Beelzebub as an existent being looming over their daily lives. One would be tempted to dismiss such scribblements as ridiculous, but six out of 10 Americans do believe in Satan. Christianity, that multilevered vehicle for the dissemination of “blind and naked ignorance,” has warped the minds of a majority of Americans, and Barber’s blog reflects (sadly) mainstream religious convictions.
By a tragicomic process of inversion, thus, we have to take Barber seriously, precisely because we would be inclined to disregard him as deeply un-serious, and thereby fail to appreciate the increasing threat that Christianity poses to our Constitutionally godless Republic. The latest reification of this faith-based menace: the proliferating “religious freedom restoration acts.” Nor should we forget the already shockingly successful stealth campaign underway to circumvent Roe v. Wade and deprive women of rights over their own bodies. Both RFRAs and restrictions on abortions are the products, largely, of evangelicals whose names should go down in infamy, but who, like Barber, at least out in the red states, bask in the light of benevolence as “people of faith.”
On April 26, in response to my recent Salon article denouncing the rancid mire of superstitious gobbledygook in which our presidential candidates are wallowing, Barber published "Will Christians Be Fitted with Yellow Crosses?" The arguments he makes against my exposé are as foolish as they are grounded in widely held misconceptions regarding atheism and the nature of reality itself, and so merit rebuttal – a task I find both pleasant and entertaining.
After a desultory prolegomenon in which Barber inveighs against “the secular left’s utter disdain for both our Creator Christ and His faithful followers,” fumes over long-overdue progressive challenges to various discriminatory laws he supports, and warns about “America’s cultural Marxist agents of ruin” and the “acidic bile” of “unfiltered ‘progressivism,’” he labels me a “God-denying goose-stepper” and “paragon of paganism” who “ably puts the ’bigot’ in anti-Christian bigotry.”
Accusations of “bigotry,” trotted out with the intent to silence, should still the tongue of no outspoken atheist. We attack not religious folks as people, but the irrationality inherent in their religion, which is nothing more than hallowed ideology, and therefore is, or should be, as much fair game as, say, socialism. Would Evangelicals heed calls to “respect” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (who has just announced his candidacy for 2016) and avoid engaging in “anti-socialist” bigotry with regard to his political views? Of course not. Nor should they, necessarily, if they disagree with him. Being a socialist, just like being a Christian, is a matter of choice, save one important fact: at least socialism constitutes a coherent ideology to which nothing resembling the benighted principle of “Credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it is absurd) has ever applied.
All those who, in the public arena, advance Christianity’s bizarre supernatural propositions about our world and our origins, and worse, use them to justify legislation, should expect relentless demands for evidence from rationalists. But before Barber or other faith-addled folks take to their keyboards and type out what is usually their first argument against atheism, I’ll dispense with it myself. Yes, we atheists freely admit that no one can epistemologically prove there is no God. But the strength of our convictions should match the validity of the evidence on which they are founded. Shelley put it succinctly: “God is an hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need of proof: the onus probandi rests on the theist.” Verse and chapter cited from a potentially unreliable translation of a supposedly holy book composed millennia ago by unknown humans cannot pass as “proof.” But if there is no real evidence to support belief in God, there’s plenty to assume He is nothing but a figment (if a vengeful and despotic one) of our overactive imagination -- a product, mostly, of our fear of death. Again, it’s up to believers to justify themselves, not atheists.
But back to Barber’s blog.
Barber takes issue with my statement about “The electorate’s gradual, relentless ditching of religion.” This has been well documented in surveys, to which I link in my essay. Unable to refute them, Barber reminds us that that “over 80 percent of Americans identify as Christian” (which I had acknowledged), and then goes on to claim that “the vast majority of those who don’t . . . nevertheless acknowledge[e] the transcendent reality of a Creator God.” A Gallup poll conducted last year blows apart this contention: 42 percent of all Americans now believe God created the universe, down from 47 percent in 2000, with 19 percent (up from 9 percent in 2000) of all Americans holding that God had nothing to do with it. So even among those purporting to believe in him, the “God as Creator” idea is losing out.
Barber then chooses to embarrass himself with a declaration that confirms he should stick to batting in the Little League of modern-day thinkers:
Every man, woman and child understands through both general revelation and human reason that this unfathomably intricate, staggeringly fine-tuned universe didn’t create and fine-tune itself. It’s a tiny minority of angry, self-deluded materialists like Jeffrey Tayler who deny this self-evident truth.
Many believers might indeed find such a boner-studded profession of ignorance credible (and surely Barber does, given that he earned all three of his degrees at religious institutions), but secularists who read grown-up books will immediately see how it contradicts what physics and biology tell us about the cosmos. The universe, we now know, did create itself, arising out of a quantum event – a “singularity,” when time and space were wrapped into one -- some 13.7 billion years ago, exploding from a tiny speck of unimaginably dense, hot matter to its present dimensions. (And it’s still expanding.) Some four billion years back, it is postulated that a still-unexplained chemical occurrence gave rise to the first self-replicating biological molecule from which began life on Earth and from which we evolved according to the (eminently comprehensible) process of Natural Selection. This renders God, as Richard Dawkins put it, “an excrescence, a carbuncle on the face of science,” unnecessary for any phase of “creation.” (For more information, Barber might wish to set aside his magic book and delve into the oeuvre of the theoretical physicists Lawrence Krauss and Stephen Hawking, and, of course, Dawkins’ own "The God Delusion.")
Scientists are working hard to plug the lacunae in our knowledge. Answers will come from physicists and biologists and empirical observation, not preachers ranting about the “revelations” bespattering their “sacred” tome. Barber’s Creator God is nothing more than a shopworn deus ex machina, whose mysterious emergence poses its own obvious question: what created Him? And so on, ad infinitum.
Barber then cites my description of the “faith-deranged . . . unwashed crazies” in red-state primaries whose “religious beliefs would (or should) render them unfit for civilized company anywhere else.” This he terms “hubristic elitism” and “so 1939,” comparable to Jews being forced to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany. “Shall we Christians,” asks Barber, “be fitted with yellow crosses, Herr Tayler?”
I chose the term “faith-deranged” with care. I meant it literally, lest there be any doubt that I intended to be merely incendiary. Derangement is clearly rampant across large swathes of America. Citizens of one of the most technologically advanced nations on earth who opt, of their own volition, to believe in a magic book negated by science and peppered with all manner of bilious behests and misanthropic myths cannot be esteemed to be thinking sanely. Given the extreme nature of the delusions of these citizens and the resulting behavior – for example, petitions whispered to an invisible celestial tyrant with the goal of securing favorable outcomes, otherwise known as prayer, and hallucinated responses from said invisible tyrant – only one conclusion presents itself: faith has disrupted their mental faculties and is producing symptoms that, were they not sheltered under the adjective “religious,” would qualify as pathological.
I do consider Barber’s addressing me as “Herr” inapt, since it raises Hitler’s overworked ghost and implies that I think that I’m carrying out the Lord’s work. Those who would dispute me might wish to consult volume one of "Mein Kampf," in which Hitler announced: “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator,” and “I had so often sung 'Deutschland über Alles' and shouted 'Heil' at the top of my lungs, that it seemed to me almost a belated act of grace to be allowed to stand as a witness in the divine court of the eternal judge and proclaim the sincerity of this conviction.” They might also check the next chapter, in which Hitler predicted that “inwardly armed with confidence in God and the unshakable stupidity of the voting citizenry, the politicians can begin the fight for the 'remaking' of the Reich as they call it.” They surely would wish to know that Hitler’s Wehrmacht soldiers launched themselves into battle wearing belt buckles emblazoned with the motto “GOTT MIT UNS” – God is with us. This was all, really, par for the course. Throughout history, self-sainted barbarians have pressed their imaginary deity into service and used him to justify their lust for bloodshed.
Barber then accuses me of “knifing twixt the shoulder blades, the richly diverse, 100 thousand-plus student body at Liberty University” by calling their school a “bastion of darkness” that should be subject to “immediate quarantine until sanity breaks out.” This is the equivalent of, in his words, my “consigning all faithful Christians to a constructive encampment beyond the margins of functional society. That’s their end-game. That’s the way their boxcars roll.”
I actually like Barber’s use of “twixt” – the only instance of elegance in his otherwise pedestrian prose. But according to its own site, Liberty University has 13,800 students, not a “100 thousand-plus.” “Boxcars” -- that’s Barber’s extrapolation. Atheism has no “holy book” of any sort that could serve as a manual for repression (as, say, the Bible did for the Inquisition). Furthermore, my suggestion of “quarantine” was, besides being obviously facetious, quite charitable and open-minded. After all, to earn their release into society at large, Liberty University students would be free to redeem themselves by renouncing fealty to their bogus deity and de-matriculating.
Barber says my phrase “fanatical homophobic cult” describes his “papist friends,” when I was, in fact, referring to Christ Fellowship (which Sen. Marco Rubio attends on Saturday nights). Christ Fellowship is indeed a “fanatical homophobic cult,” one so extreme it demands that employees certify their straightness. Presumably, Barber errs tendentiously, and hopes to spark the ire of the errant Catholic who might stumble upon his blog. In any case, he closes with a dull jab at President Obama: “Russia had its Stalin and China its Mao. Who needs an ‘invisible tyrant’ when we can elect one at the ballot box? Or didn’t we already do that.”
Such a statement only bolsters the point I made above, if in other words: faith deranges, and absolute faith deranges absolutely.
Barber’s blog is but a symptom of the seemingly incurable malady of faith. In fact there is a remedy -- free speech, applied liberally to infected areas. Rationalists must resist all calls to show respect for religion, be it Christianity or Islam or any other faith with universalist pretensions. Recall the damage these stultifying ideologies of control and repression have done the cause of progress throughout history. And remember the stakes now, with so many of our presidential candidates flaunting their belief, and seats on the Supreme Court likely to free up, especially post-2016. We either fight back by speaking out now, or we may end up living in a Christian-theme-park version of Iran, with Ted Cruz as our ayatollah.
Yet do not despair! In the United States the winds of reason are blowing more strongly than ever: since 2012 alone, 7.5 million have abandoned religion. We atheists have the momentum. Finally, finally, we can make out religion’s “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.”
Those sleeping the slumber of faith hang DO NOT DISTURB signs about their minds.
No rationalist should feel obliged to comply.