By Gary Hardaway
I’ve just written an e-book with the above title, taking some atheists to task for their really bad manners. Almost all of those cited are intellectuals, most dead – like Darwin, Marx, Freud, and John Dewey – but a few still alive, like Christopher Hitchens, author of the nasty attack on believers: god Is Not Great; How Religion Poisons Everything.
Some of my friends have sent encouraging blessings, but not all. One good friend wondered why I would alienate atheists instead of showing love and kindness. It’s a good question, one that I constantly wrestled with as I wrote.
The Bible has a lot to say about the gentler approach. “A soft answer turns away wrath.” “The Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” “Let your conversation be always with grace . . .” If we are insulted or threatened, we are instructed not to insult or threaten back. We are to lay aside malice and bitterness and rancor.
So, is it wrong to frankly and directly confront insults and ridicule?
We know that Jesus certainly excoriated certain enemies, calling them “hypocrites,” “blind fools,” “sons of hell,” “snakes,” “vipers,” and, in advance of his own death, murderers. As I wrote, I tried hard to avoid this style of condemnation, because, unlike Jesus, I’m not qualified to hurl these accusations at anyone.
The apostle Paul, very disgusted with a certain group of unsavory people, wrote his friend Titus that these folks were “always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply.”
My motivation springs from another passage Paul wrote to the Corinthians. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” A few points to notice.
• We demolish arguments, but we don’t assault people. We explain and discuss, treating people with respect.
• We expose pretensions. This means unmasking phony-balony talk that distorts or ridicules or sneers at God’s character.
• We don’t take ridicule or mocking personally. Our self-esteem is not the issue. We’ve got more important business: to explain and discuss the reasons for our faith.
Some atheist intellectuals are awfully arrogant and produce a lot of nonsense. They scoff and mock; they rave and rage against God or his believers. Freud belittles religious believers as psychological infants. A professor I once encountered alleged that Christians are brainwashed robots. It’s quite common to see the devout labeled irrational, stupid, or ignorant.
Consider a couple of examples:
As for the Christian theology, can you imagine anything more appallingly idiotic than the Christian idea of heaven? What kind of deity… would be capable of creating angels and men to sing his praises day and night to all eternity? [What] inane and barbaric vanity. (Alfred North Whitehead, British Mathematician/Philosopher)
Isaac Asimov expresses his disgust for “these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly… (Isaac Asimov, Prolific Science Fiction Author)
Unfortunately, ideas and attitudes like this powerfully impact the general culture, including educators and our educational institutions. To fail to respond is to surrender the field without a whimper. These pretensions against God deserve animated rejection.
If we run into someone who repeats this blather, we have to decide on our next move. At times simply walking away is the better option. Or we may point out that it’s impossible to converse with somebody heaping abuse on us.
That being so, it’s appropriate to ask, “Why are you so angry? Why so disrespectful? If we’re going to continue this conversation you’ll have to stop trash talking. Then we can have some good dialogue.”
We can speak gently, yet firmly; respectfully, yet confrontationally when necessary. We don’t have to accept abuse without a murmur.