Okay, so... I've talked a little about the enormous varieties of disbelief and deconversion, and where I fit into all that; I've said that my own exit from Christianity was a relatively gentle departure. I've talked a little about the fact that people tend to judge things based on their own experiences, and I've talked a lot about my experiences in and around the Episcopalian Church. In particular, I've talked about how strange and limiting Biblical Literalism seems to me, and how I was taught that the Bible, while still the word of God, should be considered in light of tradition, reason, and experience. Now, let's see if I can tie all that together.
There are people who object to this sort of moderate, balanced approach to Christianity. They say that if the Bible really is the Word of God, then it must mean everything it says, exactly the way it says it. Otherwise, you end up picking and choosing the things you like, the parts of the message you agree with - "cafeteria Christianity". If you're going to do that, why bother using the Bible in the first place?
Interestingly enough, I've heard this from both fundamentalist / evangelical Christians... and from outspoken atheists. And in both cases, I think it says more about the speaker than it does about either the Bible or Christianity. I suppose that's just another way of saying "I'm normal, it's the rest of the world that's odd" - but I stand by it nonetheless.
First of all, there's an element of all-or-nothing thinking, there. Considering what the Bible has to say in terms of reason, tradition, and experience could become a matter of just choosing the parts you like... but it certainly doesn't have to. There's some middle ground there which frequently gets overlooked, either accidentally or deliberately.
Secondly, I'd argue that everybody interprets the Bible in light of reason, tradition, and experience - it's just that some denominations don't like to admit it. ("Oh, we're not really part of a denomination. We just read the Bible." I was sitting in on a youth group meeting in one of those churches, and the youth leader started talking about prophecy, the Rapture, and future history. What did he pull out to support the lesson? It wasn't a direct reading of the Bible. It was one of those bizarrely convoluted Scofield reference charts.)
Thirdly, the Bible itself supports a more moderate approach. Consider Matthew 22: 37-40: "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Which two commands? Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. If some specific law seems to violate either of both of these commandments, then you're either reading it wrong, or applying it incorrectly... and, to crib from Fred Clark again, you're probably trying to turn the Bible into a rulebook.
So, obviously, I think it's a mistake for believers to dismiss the more moderate and/or liberal sorts of Christianity as insufficiently Christian, insufficiently devout, or insufficiently correct. And, insofar as the reasoning is the same, I think it's a mistake for nonbelievers, too.
But for nonbelievers, I think it's doubly problematic. Not only is the logic suspect, but the practical considerations... Well, look at it this way:
I don't think we're ever going to get rid of religion, at least not in the broad sense of the word. One or more specific religions might fall into decline and eventual extinction; or, more likely, society-at-large might rein in their less acceptable behaviors. (Consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and their early embrace - pardon the term - of polygamy.) But religion in some form - some belief in the Unseen Forces That Govern Our Lives - seems to be a universal in human societies. Anywhere you find people, you find religion. Maybe the race will outgrow that, but frankly I doubt it.
And, to be honest, I'm not at all sure that the end of religion is a desirable goal. I'd like to see an end to the more pointless forms of tribalism; I'd love to see the more authoritarian personalities robbed of the ability to claim divine sanction. But religion overall? I'm not sure about that at all. How much would that change people? Or, to ask that question another way, how much would people have to change to be rid of religion? What underlying qualities would we have to lose, or transform, or re-channel? Would people without religion even be recognizable as people? I don't know, and I suspect the question is even more complicated than I'm suggesting here.
So, basically, I don't think we're ever going to get rid of religion. Even if I'm wrong, and religion really is a source of great evil, I think we're stuck with it. So, that being the case... Well, there are plenty of atheists who would like to promote less religion; there are even some who hope someday to see no religion. I'd like to see better religion: religions with more tolerance, religions which respect the conscience of the individual believer, religions which accept - even revel in! - the contributions of science to human knowledge.
For that reason, I think that atheists (and other nonbelievers) do themselves a disservice when (and if) we insist that if someone is going to self-identify as a Christian, they have to take the entire Bible at face value; or they have to accept everything that (some value of) Christianity has historically taught; or even that they must know everything there is to know about scripture (or near enough) in light of their particular denomination.
In a lot of ways, lukewarm Christianity - comfortable, familiar, not-too-well-examined Christianity, Cafeteria Christianity - is a good thing. It leaves room for advances in science. It leaves room for evolving (hopefully improving) morality. It doesn't insist that it has - and more to the point, that it understands - the whole of the Truth. It doesn't threaten anyone who disagrees with an eternity of fiery punishment. And to insist otherwise, to insist that this sort of approach isn't legitimate... I think that plays directly into the hands of those who would conscript the religious impulse for their own benefit.
That may not be Christianity as you know it. But it is Christianity as I knew it.