The Freethinker: Non-believers should unobtrusively infiltrate church congregations

I was very disappointed to read an article entitled Stand up for reason! written by James Merryweather over on the atheist blog The Freethinker.

Here’s a flavour:

I have a cunning plan. We non-believers should unobtrusively infiltrate church congregations. Each time the vicar or minister or priest or pastor or preacher says something daft (as they surely will), we should muster our courage, raise a hand, be recognised, stand up and politely ask him or her to justify or explain it. Of course, the congregation will gasp at the effrontery of it. They will turn and stare in disbelief and outrage. But we must stand our ground and not be intimidated by the implicit demand that we should, like them, pay respect to the cloth through dumb, unquestioning silence.


We potential bold contradictors can pick on these apocrypha and many other inconsistencies (syn. nonsense), and challenge the vicar to clarify the truth of the matter, and if s/he can’t, s/he should be encouraged to talk about something more meaningful.


If minister or Bible reader bleats on about the creation according to Genesis, take the side of evolution (first make sure you know the science, the Bible and creationist pseudoarguments). If he’s a moderate who has accepted the scientific fact but has mindlessly gone into biblical auto-run, he ought to be embarrassed when challenged and hopefully will pull himself together. If he’s a rabid creationist, prepare to enjoy a right old dingdong, but don’t get over excited. Conduct yourself with dignity and stand firm but fair in the authority of knowledge, intellect and reason. Don’t argue. Let him do the talking. He’ll soon tie himself in knots or trot out nuggets of familiar creationist misinformation about evolution that you can then tackle with a swift academic blow. If you can counter his bogus version of evolution concisely and with authoritative confidence (it’s quite easy really because they have only a few pat items of utter codswallop) you can sustain your gentle interrogation. Calmly but persistently ask questions to oblige him to deal with the science: “Why do you think that?” – “Is that what Darwin/Dawkins/Ridley says?” – “Are you certain that’s right?” as you reveal the established biological facts of which he has, inevitably, produced the usual false versions. But be prepared: even if you keep cool, the preacher and his flock might not and you could get thrown out. So why not have a press photographer in attendance?

There are many of us Christians standing against the more extreme elements in our Church. We systematically combat Fundamentalism, Biblical Literalism, Anti-Science, Dominionism, censorship; so forth and so on. If atheists wish to undermine these incremental steps forward then I heartedly suggest they adopt the aggressive and unnecessary tactics suggested above.

Leave the modernising to us Christians and allow us the room to challenge if we wish to do so.

As for the other matters of faith mentioned in the article, we are perfectly entitled to hold our beliefs – no matter how incredulous an atheist may deem them – and worship in peace within our own buildings, without being interrupted in order that justifications and explanations be given to those that hold our faith utterly contemptible.

A poor article indeed.

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20 Responses to “The Freethinker: Non-believers should unobtrusively infiltrate church congregations”

  1. Roger Pearse Says:

    Atheists: this is why people hate you.

    I’m guessing these creeps won’t be going into the mosque to do this, tho. Which makes them cowardly hypocrites as well as creeps and trolls.

  2. Sipech Says:

    Interesting idea. There’s quite a lot of heckling in my church, which the minister encourages. So anyone adopting this approach wouldn’t be out of place. Of course church leaders should be open to questioning, though a detailed counterargument is not best presented during a sermon.

    I often pointed out small mistakes to my university lecturers in the middle of the lecture, but if I wanted to challenge them on a major point I had the courtesy to wait until afterwards. Why not do similar with churches.

    Look at Tim Keller, for example. As well as being a cogent writer, he sets aside time and asks people to challenge him.

    This isn’t an inherently stupid idea, but the manner in which it is encouraged is juvenile and meant to be provocative.

  3. David McKeegan Says:

    I did not write the article. I merely reposted it. The article was written by James Merryweather.

  4. webmaster Says:

    I’m so glad you said that David. I was so surprised that you wrote something like that, it seemed so out of character.

    Anyway, my sincere apologies, have removed your name from above.

  5. David McKeegan Says:

    Thanks, Stuart. No need to apologise. It was my fault for not changing the “author” tag first time around.

  6. Peter Kirk Says:

    This is hardly how to “unobtrusively infiltrate” anything! But let them come to church. They might learn something, at least that in most churches they won’t hear “something daft”, “inconsistencies (syn. nonsense)”, “nuggets of familiar creationist misinformation about evolution” or “pat items of utter codswallop”. They might even hear something which makes more sense to them than what The Freethinker considers to be “the truth of the matter”.

  7. Sue Says:

    This is the sort of thing that gives atheism a bad name even among those of us who do not generally hold negative views about atheists. A bit daft and arrogant really. I like to think it is a bit tongue in cheek really though (note the “cunning plan” reference) rather than being a real call for atheists to act in way that would be rude and dismissive of the religious freedoms of others.

  8. JohnMWhite Says:

    I believe you’re right, Sue, the article does seem to be at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I’d also like to point out that it is a very unusual article for The Freethinker and is not by their usual writer. It’s a much different tone and direction than normal and I’m not really sure why they put it up, since it proposes an idea that is nothing like the m.o. of atheism at all. The point of atheism and secularism is to not interfere in other people’s business because of your own beliefs (or lack thereof), so as Susan says, this is the sort of thing that gives atheism a bad name.

    On the other hand, from the OP here:

    “There are many of us Christians standing against the more extreme elements in our Church.”

    Where? I have yet to see or hear of any mainstream Christian uprising against the war on women perpetrated by the Catholic Church. I have yet to hear of any Christian leaders crying out in public for homophobic bullying to stop and gay couples to be allowed to live their lives like everybody else. All I hear of are pastors declaring that children with limp wrists should have them broken while their congregation sits there and accepts it; bishops who chastise nuns who dare show compassion to the wrong people; Cardinals who are desperate to explain why it is ok for them to not tell anyone about priests who are a present danger to children; talking heads on TV insisting that homosexuality is psychologically deviant and same-sex parents will warp their adopted children; Mormon business men who make millions from firing people and pump a lot of money into efforts to remind gay people of their sub-human status by the ballot box. Who is standing up to these extremists?

    There are, of course, individual Christians who treat others in a respectful, fair and loving manner, but they do so in spite of their faith, not because of it. They ignore certain parts of the bible that is distasteful to them, particularly much of the Old Testament and Jesus’ own commandment that not a letter of the old law will change until heaven and earth pass away. Their conscience has told them that it’s not ok to stone gay people or disobedient children, no matter what their holy book says, and that is to their credit. The vast majority of Christians are in this position, but they’re not making any real noise against the cacophony of extremism.

  9. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    This reminds me of the atheist I once had a discussion with. I call him, endearingly, Captain QUERT.

    He said he was on a “QUest to Eradicate Religious Thinking!”

    (It was more like !!!!)

    I asked him why. (Dumb thing to do.)

    He said, “Religion is dangerous because it tries to control what people think.”

    Sigh. :-(

  10. Nate Says:

    I think this would backfire. Plus it is just a little rude. If a pastor was sitting in congress and preaching, or in the public square, by all means challenge away.
    Most sermons at my church have more to living as a Christian and less to do with Creationism, Proofs for God, and other such debates. Actually, I go to a fairly conservative evangelical church, but in a recent survey taken at the church 35% of the congregants hold to evolution, and only 20% hold to Creationism. The rest weren’t sure. The only sermon about the origins of life involved the pastor discussing pro and cons of several views on the origins of life.

  11. JohnMWhite Says:

    No offense intended, but it comes across as somewhat telling that somebody looking for evidence of Christians actually standing up against extremism is given yet another anecdote of an individual atheist saying something inartfully. I suppose that reply was not specifically directed at me but I truly would like to know where all these Christians standing against extremism are.

  12. Nate Says:

    my response wasn’t directed at you, honestly I didn’t read your response

  13. JohnMWhite Says:

    @ Nate – I was actually referring to Stacy’s response, for some reason yours did not show up until after I posted my further reply, otherwise I would have made who I was speaking to more clear. Still, at the risk of sounding rude, I would like a response from someone.

  14. This week’s news and links – something for everyone (hopefully) | God and Politics in the UK Says:

    [...] you want to be aggrieved by high levels of hatred and intolerance.  Stuart James at eChurch has commented on article that illustrates the point.  It calls for atheists to infiltrate church congregations and disrupt the services.  Not really [...]

  15. JohnMWhite Says:

    I rest my case.

  16. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    What kind of extremism do you think we need to stand up against? I’m confused, I guess.

  17. JohnMWhite Says:

    You could start by reading my initial post. If you don’t actually see any extremism to stand against in there, then I don’t know what to tell you.

  18. Stacy Trasancos Says:

    No, I tried to respond in earnest, but by the time you got to the part about “in spite of it” you just lost me, John. You don’t seem interested in authentic dialogue and frankly your tone seems to be quite extreme itself.

    Someone very wise told me recently that if I engage with a mudslinger, I’ll only get muddy. No thanks. I’ll pass.

    Have a good day!

  19. JohnMWhite Says:

    This is part of the reason so many with a more secular point of view look askance at Christians – so many are simply unwilling to have an honest and mature discussion. You cannot come at any subject without the presupposition that your faith has done something good, which is a shame because most of you are good people because you’re good people, not because you subscribe to a particular dogma, and for anybody to challenge you even politely is described as extremism. If you think I’m not interested in an authentic dialogue, I don’t know what to tell you. You’re going to have to deal with the fact that people can disagree with you at some stage of your life.

    It’s quite simple why I said “in spite of it” – Jesus commands you to stone homosexuals to death and all the rest of it in Matthew 5:17. I did explain this already. Most Christians don’t do it, because they’re not that kind of people, but it has nothing to do with their faith in the guy who ordered you to maintain the Old Law. Logically it cannot. It’s a value they came up with somewhere else. You firmly believe you’re a kinder, more loving person because of your faith, but I firmly believe that you’re selling yourself short.

    Although… the fact that you still cannot summon even the slightest condemnation of the extremism I have described troubles me. After dodging any genuine discussion of it so many times, I cannot help but conclude that you support it. I don’t want to do that, because I would rather not live in a world where the Christian faith can be relied on as a crutch for bigotry and cruelty, and I doubt Jesus would either.

  20. john c Says:

    I wouldnt waste my time, The last occasion i was in a place of worship was a funeral, catholic, i went out of respect for my freind,also atheist,and his father who was a freind also.I hope never to have to sit through such a garble of complete eyewash ever again, however, in such circumstances , challenging the waffling pratt at the front would be highly innapropriate,I hope anyone planning to undertake such infiltrations does so with a degree of taste and appropriacy.(previous funeral a few months earlier was anglican, much quicker, less eyewash but still plenty,and 5 times the efficiency rating of a catholic body disposal,at 25 minutes and into the oven rather than 2 hours total to plant a single stiff.

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