27 July 2013

The recovering atheist?

Kirk Cameron has a new movie coming out, called Unstoppable. Facebook tried to test how accurate that title was, by blocking its users from posting any links to Unstoppable’s website. Apparently the site set off Facebook’s spam detectors.

I’d better insert this disclaimer. I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan. I’m not talking about his acting; I think it’s okay. (Not award-winning good, but way better than, say, the kids in high school drama. When he’s in a lousy movie or sitcom, that’s the writer’s fault, not his.) I’m talking about his evangelism and outreach efforts.

When Cameron first got mixed up with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry—playing Comfort’s goofy sidekick in his training videos—he was okay, ’cause his job was basically to look on in awe as Comfort talked condescendingly about atheists and skeptics, and complain about how their intellect and critical thinking skills were getting in the way of the gospel. (No, really.) But now he acts like Comfort: Too confrontational, too arrogant, too dogmatic, and I hate the underlying philosophy of “You need to bypass your intellect and just believe.” It’s what the Mormons teach, and it violates Jesus’s command to love the LORD with all our minds. (Lk 10.27) Comfort’s problem has always been that his evangelism lacks patience, among other fruits of the Spirit. It’s too interested in winning arguments, and getting results—intellectually bankrupt results. Cameron, as his disciple, is just as fruitless when we see him in the press: Too little patience, kindness, gentility, and graciousness. Too little love. Too reminiscent of that “twice the son of hell” statement Jesus made to describe the Pharisees’ converts. (Mt 23.15) ’Cause while your average pagan knows nothing about Ray Comfort, they’ve heard of Kirk Cameron: He’s that kid who became a Christian, then became an a--hole to all his coworkers, on Growing Pains.

After Facebook decided to lower its spam shields and let Unstoppable stuff in, I found a video on a Facebook friend’s page, promoting the movie. Well, sorta. It mentioned the movie. But it was more of Cameron’s apologetics. He talked about being a “recovering atheist.” His words.

Now, if you know anything about Cameron’s history, despite being raised by Christians, he became a Christian at age 17. Which means he became an atheist as a teenager. I’m not entirely sure how atheist you can be, as a teenager: Most of the atheists I knew in high school didn’t know squat about atheism. They tended to be as Cameron describes: They don’t believe in God, yet at the same time they hate God. More accurately, they hate God as described by their parents, who did a crappy job of passing down God to them. That’s your standard unthinking atheist. Now intellectual atheists—the sort I discovered in college, once I met kids who had been raised atheist, who didn’t hate God, ’cause they’d never been improperly introduced—they’re another breed altogether. Describing all atheists as the God-hating sort just goes to show how many atheists you’ve really listened to, as opposed to assuming they’re all just ninnies like you were as a teenager.

What got me ranting about Cameron was his word “recovering.”

If you’re involved in the recovery movement at all—the 12-step programs, whether Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery—you know “recovering” is a mighty loaded word. When addicts call themselves “a recovering addict,” what they mean by that is, “I’m an addict. But I’m trying not to be. I’ve seen the route that life goes, and I don’t want to go there.” Likewise when I call myself “a recovering Fundamentalist,” or “a recovering conservative,” what I mean by that, naturally, is “I’m a Fundie. I’m a conservative. But I’m trying not to be. I’ve seen the route that life goes, and I don’t want to go there.” So when Cameron calls himself “a recovering atheist,” the inevitable idea which comes to the mind of anyone in recovery, is “I’m an atheist. But I’m trying not to be.”

I’m gonna give Cameron the benefit of the doubt, and assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he uses this recovery language.

But let’s play with the idea just a little bit. What if he does know what it means to call himself “a recovering atheist”? What if he is an atheist—and he’s trying not to be?

Well, it definitely explains why he’s resorted to pseudo-intellectual arguments as the basis of his faith, and not so much a living relationship with Christ Jesus, with Christ’s attitudes—his love, grace, and compassion—emanating out his every pore.