Religious extremists, not questions, is a threat to religious faith
In a recent column on the Examiner website, Trina Hoaks wrote about the threat to faith that some religious believers think atheists pose.
As mentioned previously, to pretend that the questions and challenges posed by atheists to religion is a threat to religious faith is purely unfounded alarmism. If anything, faith needs these questions and challenges in order to remain relevant in a world that so often seems to contradict it.
This isn't, however, to say that religious faith doesn't face any threats at all.
Quite the contrary.
Ironically, however, the threats to religious faith most often aren't posed by those who don't believe. Rather, the most dangerous threats to religious faith are often posed by those who profess to believe.
Consider the ever-controversial Westboro Baptist Church.
In their most recent outrage, the WBC will picket Moore High School in Moore, Oklahoma. In a press release on their Church webpage/homophobic hate site, the WBC declares "We will picket your really large high school because you Southern hypocrites keep lying to the children." It continues, "God has cursed you, with your parents' lies. Now God is rejecting your filthy raging lies violent brats."
The press release also claims that "God hates Moore High School", and labels all the students as "sluts".
Naturally, the parents of children attending the school are opposed to Church's presence.
"I don't have anything against them protesting. We live in America they're allowed to protest," Andrea Smith admitted. "I have a problem when it takes away my child's right to go to school without being harassed. Predators aren't allowed within so many yards of the school. Speeding is illegal around the school. Everything you can think of is illegal around the school. So, why should they be allowed to spread their filth around the school?"
Whatever the Westboro Baptist Church hopes to accomplish with this protest is largely known to themselves alone. But it's almost certain that they won't convince any of the students at Moore High School won't be converted to their perverse version of Christianity.
It isn't hard to imagine that, should someone be told that God hates them, they won't want much to do with that God.
Even more disturbing is the notion that God not only hates the people who've committed whatever grave sin has been committed at Moore High School -- knowing the WBC, it could be anything from teaching anything even remotely resembling tolerance of homosexuality to eating meat on Friday -- but also hates innocent bystanders.
The vast majority of Christians are taught that God loves them. The Westboro Baptist Church, however, preaches a much different message: not necessarily that God loves them, but rather that God hates everyone else.
As truthful as it is, to describe the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate cult has become something of a cliche.
Nothing contradicts the notion of a benevolent God then the insistence that God hates nearly anyone and everyone a particular Church disagrees with -- which just so happens to include you if you aren't a member of that Church.
If anything, the WBC is a reminder that holy scriptures are often the word of man, not necessarily the word of God. Even the word of God as translated by man can't help but reflect the personal biases of its translator.
In the case of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, that particular bias is purely evident: hatred. Not God's hatred, but Phelps'.
A thinking believer can understand this very quickly. A non-thinking or anti-thinking believer, like any member of Phelps' congregation, is much less likely to be able to tell the difference.
Fortunately, the WBC isn't attracting many converts. Of all the members of the church, most of the members are related to Phelps.
What is of greater concern is what Phelps is doing to the idea of religious faith. By insisting that the one, true faith is rightfully the domain of hateful and vindictive people, it isn't at all surprising that people like Phelps send many people running as far away from religious faith as they can get.
They, not atheists, are the real threat to religious faith.