The Christian Obsession With Insulting Atheists

By Jan Tik [Flickr/ CCL 2.0]
By Jan Tik [Flickr/ CCL 2.0]
So…

A while ago, Dave Armstrong, a blogger on the Catholic channel of this Patheos network, wrote an article ironically entitled “The Atheist Obsession With Insulting Christians.”

Oh, #notallatheists, mind you. There’s, like, “10-15%” who are OK, in his opinion [Edit: Dave Armstrong took pains to say in the comments that, in context, he meant that ONLINE atheists tended to be sub-par, not necessarily in-person atheists].

Yeah…

Now, I’ll be the first to say that sometimes Atheists are insulting towards Christians. In fact, there was this one time when myself and another atheist were arguing against this Christian, and the atheist said something so cruel, so outrageous, so outlandish, so personally insulting and cruel, that I publicly backpedaled and had to distance myself from that comment. It was the most offensive way she could have insulted the Christian. I mean… as someone who has been through thousands of internet debates in his ten years of religious debates on the Internet, I’ve heard a lot of insults. I’ve been called just about every name in the book, and I’ve heard the side I’m arguing against get called just about every name in the book. And yet, in the middle of ALL THAT, THIS insult really took the cake. It was terrible. Horrific.

Are you sitting down? Deep breaths. Ready?

This atheist said…that this Christian deserved to go burn in hell. For eternity.

That is insulting. That is the very worst insult I’ve heard an atheist ever utter. It still shocks me, even now.  Especially as this Christian was one of those people who, like, actually believed in the hellfire-and-brimstone kind of hell. How much would you have to despise someone to say that that’s what they deserved? Forever?

Wow. It really boggles my mind. So I get why these kinds of insults get on Dave’s nerves; I really do.  It really offended me…until a few months later, when it hit me.

I have been, as an atheist, told I deserve eternity in hell. And not just by the random Christian.  But by their book. A straightforward reading of their book says that I deserve eternity in hell.

To be sure, most Christians are like, “Yeah, but we ALL deserve eternity in hell.” At least when they’re in “nice mode.” Which isn’t very nice, because first of all, that’s insulting everyone who exists in the world I love. And second — let’s be real here. It’s just playing with words. No, really, it’s playing with words. You can do all the theological gymnastics you want, but when it comes right down to it most Christians are saying that because I don’t believe (or don’t have this special “Holy Spirit” making me believe, or whatever the theology) that some godman died on a cross for the sins listed in the Old Testament, walked out the tomb three days later, and floated up to heaven…I’m going to hell. And because they believe this, they aren’t.

That’s insulting. That’s saying, when you get right down to the brass tacks, that I deserve to go to hell, but you don’t because Christ has “saved” you. I know a lot of Christians don’t like it in that raw form, but if you look at the raw facts of the case, from our perspective — you think you’re going to spend eternity with Jesus, and that we’re going to go to hell. That’s insulting. You can remix it and arrange it any which-way you like. But when it comes to this insulting business, y’all started it, not us.

And you’ve got a long tradition of these insults. There’s the Bible, which has jewels like this (from Revelation 21, NIV):

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.This is the second death.”

Christians, who are, overall, bible believing, worship the fictional God of this bigoted, fundamentally insulting nonsense. Wouldn’t bother me as much if they were a small minority, but most of my surrounding culture actually cosigns this and thinks this about me. That’s insulting. I would never, ever, ever, ever say something so insulting about anyone as what’s in Revelation 21. And, contra David Armstrong, who tries to say these are “fringe” Christians (where he seems part of this “fringe” himself), the more conservative form of Christianity, which most likely to believe the most offensive forms of this nonsense, is not the side exception to US Christianity, but the largest and most stubborn of its forms.

Again, these insults aren’t new, and they haven’t quit. So many Christians I personally know still, in their churches and in their worship (even where they don’t say so out loud), seem to embrace sentiments strikingly similar to this gem from early church theologian Tertullian when they sing about heaven and being “saved” from a hell that I supposedly deserve and am going to:

“At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many sages philosophers blushing in red-hot fires with their deluded pupils; so many tragedians more tuneful in the expression of their own sufferings; so many dancers tripping more nimbly from anguish then ever before from applause.”

“What a spectacle. . .when the world. . .and its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? As I see. . .illustrious monarchs. . . groaning in the lowest darkness, Philosophers. . .as fire consumes them! Poets trembling before the judgment-seat of. . .Christ! I shall hear the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; view play-actors. . .in the dissolving flame; behold wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows. . .What inquisitor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favor of seeing and exulting in such things as these? Yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination.” [De Spectaculis, Chapter XXX]

That was back in the second century. And there is a strong record of other major leaders who have continued this tradition of insulting those who aren’t Christians.

I mean, seriously. We “insult” you by saying your beliefs are wrong and harmful. You’ve been actually insulting us over the past couple thousand years by not only saying our stance is wrong and harmful, but that we, personally, deserve to go to hell for all eternity.

And we’ve been relatively silent here in the West for most of Western history. It’s only recently that we’ve begun to talk back — but for hundreds of years y’all were burning us at the stake and torturing us if we even dared utter that we doubted a godman rose from the grave 2000 years ago.  I mean seriously. As the video below discusses, Christians put us on racks that dislocated all our body parts, they used “heretics forks” (terrible — watch the video) on “blasphemers and people who used the Lord’s name in vain,” and…well, just watch this.

The likes of Augustine  and Thomas Aquinas were in favor of death for heretics, as was much of Christendom. As Aquinas put it,

With regard to heretics there are two points to be observed, one on their side, the other on the side of the Church. As for heretics their sin deserves banishment, not only from the Church by excommunication, but also from this world by death. To corrupt the faith, whereby the soul lives, is much graver than to counterfeit money, which supports temporal life. Since forgers and other malefactors are summarily condemned to death by the civil authorities, with much more reason may heretics as soon as they are convicted of heresy be not only excommunicated, but also justly be put to death.

Where was all your concern about “insults” then? For that matter, in the huge insulting superiority complex at the heart of Christianity, where is all your concern about “insults” now?

We’re trying to have a conversation, here in the United States. You aren’t being persecuted by us. As A.C. Grayling put it:

Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn’t argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we’re doing is, we’re presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.

I have family members I dearly love who worship, every single week, a God who says that because I rebel against Him I’m going to burn in hell for eternity.  They say this God’s judgment is perfect, holy, and right. And they are decent people, I think. It’s this religion that I grew up in and that they grew up in, that is a couple thousand years older than any of us, that did this to our relationship. It’s this stupid fucking religion that insults the very bedrock of our humanity, fundamentally impairs our relationships, and says that in order to survive in the world with any sense of dignity you have to plead to a bully God that was and is manipulated at will by past and present theologians.

And these bible-believing Christians are about 71% of the US population. Christianity is like the big bully on the playground. Atheists only take up about 3.1% of the US population. And yet, continuing the trend, there is a shitload of materials written against atheists, a ton of material written on keeping your children in the faith and away from becoming atheists, a lot of warnings about the darkness of atheism…and so on, and so on, and so on. It dwarfs anything we atheists have been putting together…and there are so goddamn few of us. Why are you so obsessed with us, Christians?

Seriously, guys. You all are really, seriously obsessed insulting bullies, and the moment we call you out on it, you get all offended.

Wake up. You are not being oppressed in this country. You’re not being persecuted in this country. You are in the majority over atheists by a ratio of about 23-to-1. You think less of us than we think of you, because you think, many of you, that we’re going to hell for eternity — and you think this of a group that, tied with Muslims, already is one of the two most disrespected views on religion in this country. And yet there are people of your number like David Armstrong who have the nerve to go on and on about how we are supposedly obsessed with insulting you. Maybe if you didn’t try so goddamn hard to bully and insult this minority, marginalized group by worshipping a God who says those who don’t believe in Him will spend eternity in hell, and letting that worship of God alienate so many of us from family, friends, and society (to varying degrees, of course — Bible Belt Texas isn’t the same as Bernie Sanders’s Vermont), we wouldn’t complain as much.

What you’re doing is the ideological equivalent of stepping on someone’s toe and complaining that THEY are being rude for telling you to fucking stop.

Now, I know that there’s a lot of theological bullshit that Christians may think I mowed over, and I’m not ignorant of the fact that there are a zillion different concepts of hell.

But here are the facts: Christians who think I’m going to hell (however you define it) because I deserve it (however that fits into your theology) are pissed off at ME for being upset at that theology — a theology directly affecting my family, friends, and culture.

That’s really fucked up.

When it comes to the insulting business, you started it, and you’re perpetuating it. For you to complain when people verbally fight back is thoroughly hypocritical.

Or, arguably, in other words, Christianity as usual.

Thanks for reading.

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