The “recovering atheist”?

by K.W. Leslie, 01 June

Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect.

A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect, which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it.

This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. (Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to.

I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan.

I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-terrible writers and directors. You realize Leonardo DiCaprio was his costar on his ’80s sitcom Growing Pains? Thanks to that steaming turd of a show, nobody could tell DiCaprio had better-than-average talent. For all we know Cameron could be an amazing talent. But he’s never gonna work with Martin Scorsese or Stephen Spielberg; best he can hope for is the one Christian assistant director on Sharknado. So we’re never gonna see his true potential.

What I object to is how Cameron leveraged his celebrity to promote lousy evangelism tactics, and now culture-war movies and documentaries. Dude seems to have wandered into the most mindless circles of Evangelicalism, and that’s where he’ll stay until the Holy Spirit pries him loose. Which is hard to do when you won’t engage your mind.

No, that “won’t engage your mind” comment isn’t just an idle insult. Cameron actually promoted turning off your brain when he works with Ray Comfort’s “Way of the Master” apologetics ministry.

Brain-dead Christianity.

Ray Comfort is originally from New Zealand (yeah that’s where his accent comes from), and one of those baby boomers who was initially stunned, stunned, to discover we live in a post-Christian world, full of pagans who think they’re Christian but think they’re going to heaven on the basis of karma.

So Comfort wrote a sermon called “Hell’s Best Kept Secret”—that we can’t be saved by karma ’cause we’re all dirty sinners. He still preaches it everywhere. That’s how I first heard of him: He’d present the speech at teachers’ conferences, and promote his “Living Waters” evangelism ministry. (He also used to hand out tracts which were designed to look like money, so you could “tip” your waiter with them and really alienate ’em towards Christians.)

Somehow Comfort and Cameron met, and he got Cameron on board for his “Way of the Master” videos. Cameron’s job was to be the sidekick: Look on in awe as Comfort talks condescendingly about nontheists and skeptics, mock their critical thinking skills, and complain all this brain activity is getting in the way of the gospel. What Comfort advises—I kid you not—is we gotta get skeptics to stop thinking and just accept everything we say. We need to “bypass the intellect,” he teaches, and just believe.

If this sounds in any way familiar, it’s because it’s the same as what Mormons teach. When their elders come to your door and teach you stuff which you simply can’t believe, they recommend you suspend your doubts for a bit, pray to your heavenly Father, and let him convince you what they’re saying is true. Stop thinking—or as the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon puts it, “turn it off.”

Y’realize this instruction to turn off your brain violates Jesus’s command to love the LORD with all our minds, Lk 10.27 right? If you gotta turn off your brain to accept Jesus, it implies you have to leave it off in order to follow him properly. And there are far too many Christians who do just that… and as a result they don’t grow in wisdom at all. Or fruit of the Spirit. They remain immature.

Comfort’s problem has always been that his evangelistic method lacks patience—among other fruits. He’s too interested in rapidly winning arguments and getting results. Intellectually bankrupt results, but still.

Cameron, as Comfort’s disciple, acts just like him. If you’ve ever watched Cameron deal with the press, whenever they challenge him even a little, he rapidly loses patience with them. Too little kindness, gentility, graciousness, and love. Too reminiscent of that “twice the sons of hell” statement Jesus used to describe the acolytes of Pharisees. Mt 23.15 ’Cause while your average pagan has no idea who Ray Comfort is, they have heard of Kirk Cameron: They heard the rumors (which Cameron admits are true) that when he was on Growing Pains he became Christian… and the way he initially practiced his newfound devotion, was to turn into a cage-stage a--hole to all his coworkers. And whenever he gets snippy with a reporter, it looks like Cameron hasn’t changed at all.

Well, if he’s still bypassing his own intellect, of course he hasn’t.

Cameron the “recovering atheist.”

Years ago, Cameron wrote a sermon about theodicy, and made a video of it called Unstoppable, I found more than one YouTube video where he talks about being a “recovering atheist.” His words.

If you know Cameron’s backstory: He was raised by Christians. He became Christian himself at age 17. Which means this bout of atheism didn’t last all that long. Wasn’t like he spent decades in unbelief. It’s limited to his teenage years, before the age of 17.

Ever met a teenage atheist? For the most part, they’re morons. There are exceptions—kids who were raised by nontheist parents and know why they believe as they do; kids who read the writings of radical atheists and understand ’em. But your average kid who decides they don’t believe in God anymore, doesn’t know jack about atheism. They only know two things:

  1. They’re not sure they believe in God anymore.
  2. They don’t really like God either.

Various Christian apologists love to laugh at this: How can you dislike someone you don’t believe in? (Seems they’ve never watched a Harry Potter movie and hated Lord Voldemort, despite knowing full well he’s fiction.) They use this to argue atheists don’t really believe there’s no God: They’re just angry at him, and acting out.

And this is entirely true of certain atheists. But there’s not just one kind of atheist, y’know. Most are nontheists who don’t even think about God; who think he’s entirely imaginary; who don’t dislike him, but lump him together with all the gods of other religions and human mythology. You know, the gods we Christians don’t believe in either, like Zeus and Odin. Claiming these nontheists are angry at God, and acting out, just goes to show how many nontheists they really know—i.e. none.

If teenagers weren’t raised nontheist—if they grew up thinking there’s a God, but later decided they no longer believe in him—clearly they dislike God as he’s been described to them. Their Christian parents did a crappy job of passing down their religion. Or their pagan parents taught ’em their inaccurate, mythological ideas of what God’s like, and naturally they don’t care for that god. This’d be the thought process of your standard unthinking atheist. Like my dad, who’s not intellectual in the slightest, and doesn’t believe in God because he doesn’t wanna. God inconveniently gets in the way of his evil fun.

Back to Cameron: If he was a teenage atheist, he must’ve been of the unthinking variety. Because whenever he teaches on atheism, he describes unthinking atheists, who reject God ’cause they don’t like him anymore.

Okay, now let me gripe about his use of the word “recovering.”

If you’re involved in the recovery movement at all—the 12-step programs, whether Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, Adult Children of Alcoholics, etc.—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 done these groups most of my life. When I call myself “a recovering Fundamentalist” or “a recovering conservative,” I mean much the same thing as my addict friends: I’m a bit Fundie, a bit conservative—and trying not to be. I’m trying to follow Jesus, not a system of beliefs which don’t necessarily jibe with Jesus’s teachings. But I grew up with that system of beliefs, so that’s where a lot of my knee-jerk reactions come from.

So. When Cameron calls himself “a recovering atheist,” what that phrase implies to someone in recovery, is he’s still atheist. But trying not to be.

Yeah, I don’t believe he’s atheist in the slightest. I think he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he uses the lingo of recovery groups.

But y’know, his descriptor might be more accurate than he intended. Notice how Cameron describes and defends his Christianity: He uses pseudo-intellectual apologetic arguments, instead of stories about how he personally interacts with Jesus. He talks about how he knows about Jesus; not how he knows Jesus.

There’s a vast difference between the two. Too vast.

If you haven’t personally met Jesus; if all you know about him is secondhand… well, that’s a scary place to be. You’ve gotta be filled with doubts about whether your beliefs are true. Well, assuming you haven’t turned off your intellect, and silenced all those questioning voices.

Yikes; maybe he is atheist but trying really hard not to be. That’d sure explain a lot.


Christian apologetics.