Myself and many other atheists have a tendency to attack Christianity in ways that are very confusing to moderate or progressive Christians, that do not address what this type of Christian actually believes. I think there are many reasons for this. For one thing, many atheists came out of fundamentalist Christianity; I personally am not sure I would have actually left Christianity had I been raised in a more moderate church community, one that at least accepted evolution. For another, it is not the moderates or progressives that are pushing persecution of gays or trying to get their religion taught in our science class, so it is simply a bigger priority to attack fundamentalist forms of Christianity. However, I think one of the biggest reasons, at least for people like me, is that it simply doesn’t make sense that progressive / moderate Christians exist.
To be clear, I am certainly not saying that moderate Christians do not exist, or that they are less reasonable than fundamentalists. They clearly exist – I know several, and I’m not about to accuse them of lying about their beliefs – and are clearly more reasonable about most topics. What I am saying is that, to an outsider, fundamentalism seems more internally consistent.
Let’s compare Ken the Fundamentalist and Bob the Moderate (not real people; representative aggregates) to show what I mean.
Ken the Fundamentalist believes that the Bible is the Word of God – an omniscient, omnipotent God. Because he understands that truth cannot contradict truth, he thinks there is no scientific or historical evidence that contradicts what God says in the Bible. Therefore, he rejects evolution and affirms that there was a literal global flood and a literal Exodus from Egypt. He thinks people with same-sex attraction are making a choice (or worse, have a disorder) and are required to avoid that choice (or stay chaste). After all, God would not lie, and the Bible is fairly clear on these matters. In some cases, forcing Ken to accept evolution causes him to lose his faith entirely.
Bob the Moderate believes that the Bible is the Word of God – an omniscient, omnipotent God. He, too, understands that truth cannot contradict truth. However, he also understands the importance of evidence. Therefore, when science shows that evolution is true, he accepts the evidence and says something like “God was speaking metaphorically” or “the men who wrote down what God was saying must have gotten something wrong”. When archaeology reveals that Exodus is entirely mythical, Bob says, “It must have been a metaphor.” When he realizes homosexuality is not a disorder and is inborn, he says, “God must not have meant the law against homosexuality to be taken literally forever.” In some cases, Bob will say, “Humans wrote the Bible and confused the pure message of God. God meant to love homosexuals and women, but the corrupt and sinful men wrote to kill homosexuals and subjagate women.”
Ken’s position does not make sense because it is wrong, demonstrably so, on many levels. Evolution is a fact, and homosexuality is not a disorder, and Noah’s Flood never happened, and etc. Bob’s position is superior, in that at least he is a reasonable man, accepting of science and history.
However, if you start with belief in an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing god and say that the Bible is His Word, doesn’t it make more sense to think god’s message cannot be corrupted? Doesn’t it make more sense to think god would have used a method of communication that was clear for everybody everywhere?
If everything “bad” or unscientific in the Bible is meant to be “metaphorical”, how can I trust any of what is left to be literal? Why should I?
If you accept the discoveries of men over the Word of God, aren’t you really saying that you trust humans more than god?
To me and other atheists, moderate Christians seem as though they don’t believe, and the distrust of the self-proclaimed Word of God in favor of the word of men is a huge part of why.
Perhaps I am strawmanning moderate Christianity. If so, this is because I clearly do not understand it. Please, anyone, if you can explain it in a way that makes sense, if you can answer these questions, please do so.