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It’s always been as highly amusing as it is annoying to me to observe the constant stream of atheist invective and epithets hurled at Christians and Christianity. I take pains to note that not all atheists act in this fashion; but online, it sure seems like those who don’t are a tiny minority of, maybe 10-15%. Many have opined that the frequently unsavory nature of Internet discourse tends to bring out the loudmouths and jerks of any given group (including Christians; very much so).
In any event, I also always make sure to point out that when I have the pleasure to interact with this minority who treat Christians with civility and respect and common decency, I have enjoyed some of my very favorite dialogues, in the long line of debates I have been involved in as an apologist, these past 34 years. I recently re-uploaded an old 2001 dialogue with an atheist on “the problem of good” which is my absolute favorite of some 800 or so of my posted dialogues.
The problem is so widespread that a group of atheists with whom I have become friends “in real life” readily agree with me that the “angry atheist who is obsessed with Christianity” is a huge problem. They themselves as a group are trying to get past “always talking about Christianity.” A few months ago I enjoyed an immensely pleasurable meal with six of them (myself the only Christian) in which we had fun talking for several hours, without a single insult hurled (ironically, I enjoyed talking the most with a former Orthodox Jew). It is entirely possible. But if one takes a look at just about any active combox underneath an atheist post that has anything at all to do with Christianity, the usual boorish, garden variety collection of insults will be immediately observed:
Christians are gullible, infantile believers of fairy tales on the level of unicorns, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, the Easter bunny, leprechauns, “magic,” the tooth fairy, etc. We are anti-intellectual, anti-science, dumb, stupid, idiots, ignoramuses, and imbeciles who are impervious to evidence of any kind for our beliefs. We have a blind faith that is shielded from reason, fact, and any possible falsifiability. You name it: we’ve been called it by the sadly typical “angry / hostile” atheist.
Any curious human being, it seems to me, who observes this behavior, must marvel at both its near-universality and the extreme level of passion and vitriol involved. The question arises: “whence derives such utter disdain and derision?” It appears to be a species of a mentality that is brought to mind by the famous line of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks“.
It reminds me of nothing more than the stereotypical “schoolyard bully.” What do we tell our children about kids like that? Well, we say, “they do that because they are insecure about themselves [or alternately, “have a poor self-esteem” / “– self-image”], and so have to put others down in order to build themselves up.” That’s the standard line that parental wisdom has developed for probably hundreds of years.
Why, then, would it be out of place to make such an analogical analysis of our beloved friends, the “angry, insulting” atheists? To quote another famous proverb, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” Is it not true that those who are obsessed with running others down, may very well have some disturbance going on in terms of their own self-esteem / self-realization / being “comfortable in their own skin,” etc.? Why can’t these atheists simply be tolerant of others and “live and let live”? I’d love to hear a solid answer to my sincere question.
A lot of the nonsense seems to be directly tied up in the fact of a past allegiance to Christianity. It’s so common in atheist circles that it’s fashionable and trendy now for atheists to “testify” and tell their “deconversion stories” (we used to jokingly refer to conversion stories in evangelical circles as “testiphonies”). I have specialized in shooting these down; especially if their basis is shoddy biblical exegesis, in which it is revealed that the atheist doesn’t have the slightest idea what he is talking about. In other words, by defeating the fallacious reasoning provided by atheists as the reasons for their leaving Christianity, I seek to demonstrate that there was inadequate justification for their departure.
It’s sort of another running joke that the brand of Christianity featured in these deconversion stories is almost invariably some version of “fundamentalism” which features anti-intellectualism and hostility to culture and science. This is then (also invariably) projected onto all of Christianity, as if this is what Christianity is; when in fact it is a tiny fringe, extreme portion of Christianity. Thus, the atheist arguments (if in this vein) become a huge exercise of fighting straw men. I point that out, too, which — needless to say — makes me extremely popular.
The same people who produce the endless stream of invective against Christians and Christianity (or, “Christianity”) can (again, like all schoolyard bullies) dish it out but can’t take it. Any criticism back is met with even more highly insulting rhetoric and hyper-polemics. So, e.g., when I dared to engage in a turn-the-tables / reductio ad absurdum argument, with use of satire and sarcasm, all hell broke loose (195 comments, as of this writing). Nary a single atheist in the combox could even figure out the nature of the argument, or that it was fundamentally humorous (yet like all good satire, sought to make a very serious point, through the use of the humor). It got so bad that I had to devote a second clarifying post to the controversy, which drew an additional 251 comments. All of that, because I dared to utter criticisms of atheism. The sky fell down. It was Chicken Little.
Blessedly, the latter discussion was infinitely more constructive, after I strictly enforced my discussion policy of required civility. Some respectable, charitable atheists actually showed up and we had some great exchanges: as different as night from day, from the first thread.
So once again, what causes folks to overreact in such an extreme fashion? Again, I submit that it could very well be a strong insecurity in one’s own position, or a sort of faux-pride that it is stronger than it is. The person who is confident in their position doesn’t react in this way, but rather, calmly deals with the criticism and seeks to show how it is wrong or misguided or inadequate.
But beyond all that, isn’t there something more than a little strange in people who seem to think of nothing else but the alleged sheer stupidity of what they used to believe? Who else does this? I used to be heavily involved in the occult in the 70s, before my evangelical conversion to Christ (which preceded my later Catholic conversion). That was pretty stupid stuff, too. But am I obsessed in endlessly talking about it? No; I never have, save for a passing reference when I retell my conversion odyssey.
One might say, however, about my own case, “who are you to talk: you write critically about all kinds of belief-systems other than your own!” This is true, but, importantly, it’s because my profession is an apologist: one who defends Christianity (or, often Catholicism in particular) against attacks and misunderstandings. Therefore, my work necessarily involves dealing with those, like atheists or anti-Catholic Protestants, who constantly attack Christianity in general or Catholicism in particular. In other words, I am responding to the attacks and criticisms. It doesn’t follow that I am obsessed. It’s an entirely different motivation. Others are trying to tear down the belief-system I am part of, and I’m out there as a defender seeking to demonstrate how their arguments fail.
But why can’t atheists be content in talking about their own worldview, in their own circles; preaching to the choir, rather than constantly bitching and complaining about what they are not / what they used to be? Can’t they ever “get over” that? It’s a good question, I think. I can only go back to my speculative theory of “insecurity” or a corresponding notion that atheism is strictly or merely a negative, reactionary thing, rather than a pro-active, positive belief-system.
The very word itself is of this nature: a-theism: literally not theist. Very well, then: we know what it is not. But what is it? Perhaps it’s like an onion: you peel and peel it, and discover that there is no core. Its basis is nothing at all. It’s similar to what we Christians think about evil: that it is not actually a thing; it’s only the negation of a real thing: good, or the God in Whom good is grounded. I’m not saying that atheism is evil. It’s an analogy . . .
Now the fun can begin again, in watching how atheists (i.e., the angry / hostile ones) react to this! We can be sure that another firestorm is comin’. How dare a lowly Christian troglodyte criticize the oh-so-intellectually superior atheist! It is never supposed to happen! In fact, it is impossible; and could not possibly occur. We always (since we hate “evidence” and reason and science, blah blah blah) have to be the inferior dummies and must never get too “uppity.”
Here’s your chance, atheists (i.e., of the angry, obsessed irrational sort) to try something different for a change: to make a calm, rational reply and explain (hopefully, condemn) the phenomena that everyone observes in your ranks. Here’s your golden opportunity to actually display the tolerance and reason that you are always talking about. As we Christians say, “walk the walk; don’t just talk the talk.”