Should Christians be Nice in dealing with Nasty Atheists

Should Christians be Nice in dealing with Nasty atheists

My latest article in Christian Today –

There is a fascinating YouTube video of Richard Dawkins (scroll down to watch) speaking at a ‘Rally for Reason” in the USA where in front of his devoted followers he urges his fellow atheists to mock and ridicule the religious in public, to challenge the claims of religion with contempt.

As anyone who peruses internet comment columns or any of the various social media outlets, will know, Professor Dawkins’ advice is frequently followed. So much so that it seems as though the motto of what I term the New Fundamentalist Atheists (NFA), is “there is no God and I hate him”.

How should Christians respond to the nastiness that results? For some the answer is straightforward. We should be really, really nice. When you consider what ‘nice’ means such an approach does make some kind of sense. According to the OED ‘nice’ = ‘pleasant, agreeable or attractive’. Surely that is what we want to be as we seek to adorn the Gospel?

Recently I debated a well-known American Atheist on Premier Christian Radio’s ‘Unbelievable’ programme. Matt Dillahunty is the host of an online TV show called ‘The Atheist Experience’, in which he and his co-presenters take calls from religious people, mainly Christians, and then proceed to argue and fulfil Dawkins mandate to mock them. Some people thought that having Matt and myself on the same show would be interesting. For me it certainly was. We recorded two programmes that were feisty and robust – a little bit too much for some Christians. You can listen to them on the Unbelievable Podcast here

The reaction was astonishing, producing one of the largest responses Unbelievable has ever seen. The number one complaint from the atheists who wrote in was that I was rude and nasty (as well as being ignorant and stupid). This response intrigued me. Why was there so little concern about what was said, and so much about how it was said? I suspect that the atheists were used to Matt doing his own show and being rude, mocking and abrasive to Christians – which they loved. But when the boot was on the other foot, there was outrage. I would deny that I was rude to Matt, or that I used ad hominem, or even that I mocked him (although when he claimed that the Bible was untrue because Jesus got the properties of salt wrong, it was hard to resist!). I accept fully that I was robust. I did not let him get away with some of the more ridiculous statements and accusations. I challenged him on assertions that he made (such as the usual NFA allegation that Hitler was a Christian) and I tried to get him to go to the logical conclusion of his beliefs. It did not surprise me that those who shared those beliefs were more than a little upset.

But what upset me were the number of Christians who basically agreed and came up with the argument: that’s not nice and you won’t win people for Jesus like that. What can one say in response to such an allegation? To reply by saying ‘I’m actually really nice’ comes across both as lacking humility and a bit wet! In fact there really is no response to the ‘you’re not nice’ accusation except perhaps to point out that it’s not nice to make it! The problem here is that so many Christians get confused between the fruit of the Spirit and niceness. Surely Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal, Paul telling the Galatian circumcisers to go the whole way and emasculate themselves, and Jesus telling the Pharisees they were of their father the devil, were not exactly ‘nice’? The irony for me is that those who complain that being robust in this way is not Christlike, end up condemning Christ for not being like himself!

This is not to say that rudeness, abusiveness and abrasiveness are ‘qualities’ to be condoned, far less cultivated. But we have to beware of allowing ourselves to be intimidated by the post-modern touchy feely mantra of you can say whatever you want, just don’t hurt my feelings, or appear to be not nice. Richard Dawkins relies on Christians being too ‘nice’ to fight back. This is using nice in the sense of the original Latin nescius ‘ignorant’. Christians far too often come across as stupid and coy even though we think we are coming across as pleasant and agreeable. We need to stand up to the verbal bullies, speak up for Christ and his honour and be prepared to always give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16). It is possible to respect people, to be gentle and to be robust.

Why do we need to be robust? Because there is a lot at stake. If we do not challenge ignorance and prejudice with knowledge and truth, then we will find that the consequences will be severe for many people. I think of the school girl mercilessly mocked by her classmates for her faith, the social worker frightened to say anything about her faith because of the anti-religious hate speech amongst her colleagues, the young banker frightened to tell his workmates that he is going to a bible study at lunchtime, and the student scared to tell her parents that she has started going to church. Why? Because they live in a culture where being a Bible believing Christian is equated with being a religious person whose religion makes them fly planes into buildings and is the source of all evil. Witness the recent pronouncements by the Irish actor Chris O’Dowd, who thinks that being religious should be as offensive and unacceptable as being racist

We should also have a passionate concern for the good of the whole of our society and especially the poor. If we remove the thread of Christianity from the garment of our culture, it will unravel and the consequences will be devastating. Not for our own sakes, but for the sake of the whole of our society, we need Christians who will boldly, graciously and lovingly take on the mockers, deceivers and destroyers of the New Atheist Fundamentalism, because it is not the indestructible Church of Christ they will destroy, but rather the countless lives of those who will listen to their myths. Just because Christians were too ‘nice’ to speak out.


12 thoughts on “Should Christians be Nice in dealing with Nasty Atheists

  1. I listened to both debates and you were robust but not rude David which is how we should be, not to belittle others in their blindness but to endeavour to wake them out of their sleep of death!

    1 Peter 3:15-16 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

    1. Thanks Mark – very happy for people to hear the whole talk at this Nuremberg rally (sorry ‘rally for reason’!)….They can also get the whole transcript at http://ladydifadden.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/transcript-of-richard-dawkins-speech-from-reason-rally-2012/

      What is fascinating is the illustration that your post demonstrates of how far new fundie atheists will go in denying evidence and reason in order to defend their faith. You posted this same accusation of ‘misrepresentation’ on my fb page. You even bet that without looking at the video my statement that Dawkins said to mock and ridicule religious people publicly and treat religious beliefs with contempt would be proven false. When you were given the exact words Dawkins said – instead of admitting your error you tried to wriggle out by claiming context (even when the context was provided), then diverting down numerous other rabbit paths…and then when totally exposed you removed all your posts! Its a great example of how NFAs can’t handle evidence and logic and then run away! It was not a ‘shocking’ misrepresentation from me. It was a shocking example of how the faith of NFAs blinds them to the clear meaning of language, evidence and reason.

      In case anyone can’t be bothered reading through the whole tiresome rant from Dawkins – here is the relevant passage – “So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!”

      _ you will note that he is talking about ‘people’ he meets’….if ‘they’ say…etc …ridicule THEM. It is clear he is talking about people as well as beliefs. Unless you want to completely rewrite the meaning of the English language…..which apparently our post-modern NFAs do….

      1. No he is talking about the people he meets who believe in transubstantiation. Entirely different.

      2. Mark – I am going to allow you this one comment but I will not be posting others, given that you wasted a lot of peoples time by posting numerous posts on my FB page, to which people spent a lot of time responding, and you then removed them all.

        As regards this particular one – yes Dawkins did say to ridicule religious people in public and yes he gave AS AN EXAMPLE those who believe in transubstantiation. This is not entirely different. He also thinks that belief in the resurrection, the God of the Bible, creation, etc are all equally ridiculous and those who hold those beliefs should be ridiculed.

  2. I’m a wee bit concerned by some of your Christian critics, David.

    My main concern with their accusation that you were not “nice” is that I can’t give the word “nice” any content. Christians are commanded to be compassionate, kind, forgiving, patient, disciplined, wise and loving. But I fail to recall a duty to be “nice”.

    Furthermore, what an Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman will all have different conceptions of “nice” behaviour – never mind a German, a Tamil or a Yoruba. Different social classes will have different ideas of what constitutes “nice” behaviour, never mind different cultures!

    Your tone sounded restrained and polite to an Ulsterman’s ears. Perhaps other cultures and social classes are too constrained by their latitudinarian heritage.
    Personally, I think good manners demands you say what you mean; and that you say it as if you mean it!

    Graham Veale

    1. From one Ulsterman to another – well said Graham!

      “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” Jude 3.

      The Greek word for “contend earnestly” is the compound word “epagonizomai.” This is the only time this compound word is used in the NT.

      The Greek preposition (epi) intensifies the meaning of the verb (agonizomai).

      Agonizomai is used several times in NT. It is translated (contend, fight, strive again
      st opposition, or agonize in a contest).

      Jude used epagonizomai to emphasize the need for spiritual advancing believers to contend with feverous agony for the faith. I think we can declare Brother David Robertson to be in that category Graham!

  3. “there is no God and I hate him”. This is an interesting psychological slide. Studies show that when people think about what their god likes or dislikes, they access the same part of the brain they use for their own morality – which is why EVERY believer always agrees with their god and visa versa.
    So, it seems the Believer thinks the atheist makes the same mistake: confuse personal feelings for a god’s feelings. That’s why Theists feel attacked when their god is criticized. Many resorting to “God will not be mocked!” Which really means “I will not be mocked!” And then they have glorious visions of atheists roasting in hell to makes themselves feel better…

      1. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/12/01/0908374106.abstract

        People often reason egocentrically about others’ beliefs, using their own beliefs as an inductive guide. Correlational, experimental, and neuroimaging evidence suggests that people may be even more egocentric when reasoning about a religious agent’s beliefs (e.g., God). In both nationally representative and more local samples, people’s own beliefs on important social and ethical issues were consistently correlated more strongly with estimates of God’s beliefs than with estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 1–4). Manipulating people’s beliefs similarly influenced estimates of God’s beliefs but did not as consistently influence estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 5 and 6). A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person’s beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person’s beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God’s beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one’s own existing beliefs.

        ————————————————————————–

        I have a large collection of similar studies that strongly suggest God is a construct of the brain. I’d love to see how you feel about them. One that I find fascinating is the Minnesota Twin Study that shows identical twins, separated at birth, have similar religious interest. Whereas fraternal twins, separated at birth, don’t.

        It’s all about brain types, not gods.

  4. On the contrary, Brent, my opinions of God have changed many times. If it were my own personal morality, those opinions would have remained the same and not changed.

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