Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
Have you heard the one about the Atheist University Professor who was famous at his school for mocking Christianity and a belief in God? You know, the one where a brave Christian student finally stands up to the teacher and calmly and articulately reveals the irrational basis of the “professor’s” atheism and thereby causes the professor to flee the room in shame, at which time the student shares the Gospel with his whole class?
Maybe it wasn’t “Atheism” per-say.
Maybe it was Evolution.
Maybe that student was “Einstein.”
Maybe it was a Physics or Philosophy class.
Maybe there was a piece of chalk involved.
The story is always the same: an arrogant, frothing-at-the-mouth atheist faces a Christian student who exposes him as a fraud. Evil is shamed, Good is proclaimed.
Only, this never happened, at least, not that anyone can credibly verify. Snopes has two enlightening articles on this narrative: “Dropped Chalk” and “Malice of Absence.” And, of course, there is a fantastic Chick Tract.
These stories belong to what I think of as a broad category of Christian narratives and rhetoric about atheists: fiction, deception, and misrepresentation for the purpose of belittling and mocking atheists.
This narrative is a subset of the larger American (human?) theme of the underdog. It’s David and Goliath (as one Snopes article points out). Only, this narrative creates several problems for Christians.
These stories often lie, even if they claim to be fiction. It is quite possible to “lie” in a fictional story, which is what we see in the Chick Tract: The professor is both ignorant and arrogant while the Christian is brilliant and patient.
From my experience, it’s far more likely that your atheist professor is an intelligent person, and often Christian students are only “equipped” to respond to an antiquated straw-man of Evolution or atheism. And sometimes, the professor is incredibly gracious and sincerely concerned for you.
Stories like this can give many believers a false sense of security and superiority. If we are honest and humble, we ought to recognize that there are many difficult, troubling, and complex aspects of our faith.
If we truly want to minister to and protect our children when they go off to college, we need to stop preparing them to make a fools out of their professors, and start preparing them to prayerfully and faithfully look for answers to any significant questions they encounter. Let their prayer be, “I believe, Lord; Help my unbelief,” rather than, “I believe, Lord; Help me mock his unbelief.”
Although there may be times where it is appropriate to be blunt to unbelievers, indiscriminately sharing and wearing slogans which mock atheism as idiocy or blatant stupidity or even foolishness is unloving and unhelpful. While Proverbs may describe unbelievers as “Fools,” it was not the practice of Christ or the apostles to go around sharing the Good News with a sign that read, “April 1st, National Atheist Day! Cause you’re fools! Get it?”
Let them know us by our love, not our arrogance.