No, Ayaan, Christianity Can’t Win The Civilizational War
Repackaging Christian values into a new vehicle without untenable faith claims has worked before, and it can work again.
About the Author
Joseph (Jake) Klein is the co-founder of The Black Sheep and Virginia State Director for Atheists for Liberty. He served as an executive producer on the feature film No Safe Spaces and a producer on The Politically Incorrect Guide series. He is also the author of the upcoming book Redefining Racism: How Racism Became “Power + Prejudice.” Follow him on X @josephjakeklein.
There’s a beloved Seinfeld episode in which dentist Tim Whatley, played by the now famous Bryan Cranston, converts to Judaism. Immediately following his conversion, Whatley starts telling hacky Jewish jokes. Jerry spends the rest of the episode upset, obsessively investigating his credible suspicion that Whatley converted just for the jokes. What the premise reveals is that when you convert to a religion with motives other than belief itself, you’re more likely to raise the ire of the in-group than to be accepted.
Earlier this week the renowned ex-Muslim and now ex-atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali announced her conversion to Christianity. In all 2000+ words of her essay, Ayaan not once expresses a belief in the divinity of Jesus, nor the resurrection, nor even a belief in god (although she does argue for the theoretical virtue of such a belief). Christians may be cheering a big name ex-atheist coming to the faith, but if she can’t actually come to believe, will that last?
If Ayaan is truly in the midst of a spiritual awakening, I wouldn’t begrudge her that. She writes, “I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable — indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?” I agree with Ayaan that atheism can often leave a “god hole” that, if unfilled by anything else, causes emptiness. But for myself and many like me, it’s impossible to get over the fact that in the modern scientific era, evidence has demonstrated the fact-claims in the Bible to be plainly untrue.
Not long ago, I also briefly considered becoming a Christian. I went to a number of Christian friends—all of different denominations—and asked if it was possible to be a Christian if I believed the story of Christ to be a valuable metaphor, but not literally true. Every single one told me this wasn’t sufficient to be a Christian. Ayaan will have to grapple with this in time.
It’s understandable why, given the circles Ayaan travels in, she believes a cultural affinity for Christianity would be sufficient. Jordan Peterson, who heightened my own appreciation for the cultural legacy of Christianity and softened me from the heights of my angry New Atheist era—has in recent times gone further than explaining the psychological depth of Christian myth to advocating that young people begin going to church regardless of what they believe.
You can say to yourself narcissistically and solipsistically, “The church does not express what I believe properly.” Who cares what you believe? Why is this about you? Do you even want it to be about you? What if it was about others? What if it was about your duty to the past and to the broader community that surrounds you in the present?
Good luck with that strategy, Jordan; I’m sure a cultural mass of non-believers will love failing to experience benefits from praying to an entity they don’t believe in and having to lie about their belief to fit in with their new community.
I remember a conversation I had with Dennis Prager while sitting backstage at CPAC where we were promoting our film No Safe Spaces. Dennis and I both loved Jordan’s work, and Dennis—a Jew—found it hugely valuable for spreading the religious values Christians and Jews share. But Dennis wanted to let me know he had one major disagreement with Jordan: Jordan didn’t actually believe, and Dennis did.
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