Photograph by “cherylholt” [Pixabay / public domain]
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I’m the first to freely admit that many Christians treat atheists atrociously. I’m not one of them. I condemn all unjust and unfair insults, that anyone makes.
Nor does Christian belief require that all atheists automatically go to hell. An atheist can quite possibly be saved, as I have written about. Only God knows who is saved and who isn’t. I don’t think “all” atheists are dishonest or wicked or immoral. I approach every individual as a sincere person in good faith, and try to think the best of people, not the worst. I posted a lengthy dialogue in the last few days, with a serious agnostic, that I enjoyed very much.
Why do some atheists not infrequently engage in a lot of insulting of Christians? Why such extreme vitriol and condescension on their part? In my “obsession” paper, I stated that this sort of bilge seemed to me to come from some deep-rooted insecurity. We observe, as we go through life, that such insecurity often leads to putting others down.
Recently, based on some good feedback, I have seriously pondered another very important factor, that goes deeper into underlying roots.
I know (and greatly lament and regret) that atheists are treated very harshly and poorly (abominably) by many Christians. The human tendency in all groups is to do so with the outsider. Sadly, Christians are little different in this regard. I have always stated that this is the case.
It is true that many atheists have been hurt by truly terrible treatment from Christians, and that this causes them to lash out with angry rhetoric. I could and should have highlighted this reason among the others that I opined about. I should have given it a much more prominent place. I do so now.
That said, can such hurt and pain justify remarks such as the following (made about me in the last few days)?: “Somebody like Dave Armstrong, who admits, in public, that he’s a member of the world’s largest pedophile ring should expect to be insulted. He is disgusting filth.” No it can’t. But that is not my present point. I just threw it in to show the extremity of what I was referring to in mentioning “angry rhetoric.”
I’m not in some imagined crusade against atheists alone, regarding insults online. I have a long history of calling for better behavior online (see my papers of that nature on this index page of mine), and 95% of my many critiques of online behavior are directed towards fellow Christians. I’m a sort of “reformer of Internet discourse.”
If someone is willing to talk like a human being, I am quite happy to respond and talk. Those normal discussions don’t receive many comments. But that’s just the way it goes, I guess.
It may, however, still be a positive “connection” with the one person with whom I am having the pleasant discussion. I don’t expect an atheist to become a Catholic as a result of talking with me, but they will know — if nothing else — that there are Christians out there who act very differently from the stereotype (true or false) of the “hypocritical, judgmental Christian.”
I will still call for the cessation of personal attacks and bigotry on all sides. I’ve always done so, and will continue to do so.
I understand personal attacks. As an apologist, I’ve been attacked constantly (almost literally on a weekly basis) for 19 years, since I have been active online. 95% of these attacks come from fellow Christians. I’ve been called every conceivable type of insult imaginable. No one can come up with an insult that hasn’t been sent my way! I’ve heard it all.
But we all have to rise above that. If a person (Christian or atheist or moth catcher) is too sensitive and thus lashes out and insults others because he or she has been insulted, they ought to take stock and perhaps leave the Internet: at least for a time: a “cooling-off” period.
To the extent that some atheists continue to exhibit this behavior, I agree that it may largely come from hurt and mistreatment at the hands of Christians, but it doesn’t excuse abominable behavior.
I will continue to object to the massive amounts of atheist insults towards Christians as wrong, just as I will continue to object to the massive amounts of Christian lies and insults about fellow Christians or about atheists, as I have always done.
And I will continue to seek out calm, congenial, non-hostile atheists, with whom I can engage in great dialogue. I’ve met them already at Patheos.
This is common ground (a resolve to not insult and broad-brush), and both sides can build upon it. It’ll be a slow, frustrating process and progress, for sure, but I’m willing to try. We have to agree on things like this in order for any constructive atheist-Christian discourse at all to be possible. Both sides have to renounce the insults and poor behavior coming from their own ranks, as well as that coming from the other side.
I’m here, trying my best, because I believe in dialogue and the power of truth, wherever it may lie. I’m willing to take tons more darts and arrows, if that’s what it takes to occasionally dialogue with a thoughtful atheist.
That’s worth it. Any atheist is worth it, and I think I have Good News to share with them, if it can be received. But I never push that. I’m just saying that, as a Christian, I believe that I have good news (a “gospel”) of joy and peace and personal fulfillment and the extraordinary Person, Jesus Christ, to share with anyone “who has ears to hear it,” as the Bible says.
It’s quite striking that in all the avalanche of insults in a recent atheist combox that was initially directed towards me (that I initially responded to but have now withdrawn), we heard lots about (real or imagined) evil, idiotic, cold and callous wicked Christians, much about pedophiles and hell, but very little about Jesus Christ (which is what Christianity is all about in the end, and bottom line).
It’s not quite as easy to insult Him, due to the profound and sublime beauty and inherent power and goodness of His sayings and how He behaved (with such love and compassion). Consequently, many atheists don’t do that, but bypass the whole central issue by absurdly denying His very historical existence.
I guess they think that Jesus is too good to be true. To the contrary, He is Perfectly Good, and the way, the truth, and the life. He’s very real, and He is the light and hope of the world.
That’s my message. I may not bring it up in dialogue with atheists very often, because, as I said, I don’t push that; don’t want anyone to feel “on the spot” or “uncomfortable” (I remember the feeling well, from back in my pagan days in the 70s!). But it is always my bottom-line “message” whether I express it or not.
But my immediate message in this post is to make it clear that I think that self-righteous, condescending, and cruel treatment of atheists by Christians has caused a great deal of hurt and pain, and that this is contemptible and reprehensible. If it helps at all, I heartily apologize on behalf of my fellow Christians. I think we too often exhibit a very poor image of what Christians should and ought to be.
Jesus wouldn’t have acted as the ones who treat atheists like this have acted, and that’s one of our favorite Christian sayings or mottoes: “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would never gloat over people who have chosen to be separated from God in hell. He is reported to have wept over Jerusalem, because the people in it wouldn’t accept God’s mercy and direction.