My column in today’s Greenville News.  Atheists and theists need a new way to view one another!

Whenever anyone wants to suggest that Christians are lunatics, they pull out the good folks of Westboro Baptist Church, of Topeka, Kansas.  Need to show that Christians are hateful?  The members of Westboro are just the thing.  Westboro is a beautiful gift on a silver platter if you’re trying to make the point that religion is inherently nutty and intolerant.  Whether they’re protesting homosexuals, soldiers killed in combat or sweet kittens, they find a way to make their protests just about as vile as possible.

Mind you, the public behavior of the flock at Westboro Baptist strays far from the mark of Biblical Christianity.  The venom, the bitterness, the cruelty spewed from that (well, Church is perhaps the wrong word) do not represent the Jesus that I follow.

Jesus himself loves them, of course. But if he were walking the earth in the flesh, he’d probably call them to have a ‘come to me meeting.’  (Give it a second.)  And sure enough, they’d probably find some reason to protest against him.

But as galling as it is to the majority of Christians, I wonder how often we in the Christian world do the same thing.  Particularly when we get into this ‘war against Christianity’ thing, and start calling out atheists as the end all, be all of evil incarnate.  (I mean, everyone knows that as evil incarnate goes, it’s wasps in your bed. Or centipedes…take your pick.)

We believers love to point our fingers at the angry, bitter atheists of the world who seem to live for ACLU lawsuits, or for cruel diatribes against faith on television, the Internet or in the world of arts and entertainment.

I suppose it just feels good to have a tangible enemy and as surely as Westobor, they make themselves targets by being base, ignorant or intolerant…or in some cases, by making us ask and answer difficult questions.

You can really have your choice of many flavors of atheist nemesis.  You have your Christopher Hitchens (the brilliant but now deceased writer), the fairly nasty comedian Bill Maher or God Delusion author Richard Dawkins (whose biology is far better than his theology according to more incisive atheist thinkers).  Or in your own community or school district, the lady who shut down your pre-game prayers and stalks city council meetings for hints of religion in public places.

But despite all of them, I believe that the vast majority of the world’s atheists are just people looking for an answer.  Like, you know, Christians.

It has been my personal experience that atheists can be as kind, ethical and caring as any believer; and that believers can be as distant and uncaring as the worst thing they ever experienced from an atheist, real or imagined.  We’re all humans, and we’re all (hopefully) trying to discern truth and work and play well together.

Ironically, we’re all atheists in the end.  Socrates, who believed in one God, was an atheist to the Athenians for rejecting their popular polytheistic religion.  Long ago, our Christian ancestors also rejected Zeus and Apollo, Odin and Thor, and any number of other major and minor deities.  We do not worship them and do not believe in them.  Thus, we are atheists of a sort ourselves!

On the other hand, atheists are believers.  They may believe in the goodness of humanity (and from the perspective of this long-time ER doctor, that’s certainly as faith-based a proposition as anything we believe about scriptures). They believe in the supremacy of science or society; or at least in the consistency of the physical universe.  Like theists, they believe in love.

I once heard a pastor say that Christians should view non-Christians as captives, people we should not view with anger but with love.  People in need of rescue from their fears and troubles, their sins and regrets.  People we need to lead out of darkness into the light of God.

While some atheist readers may find that offensive, I suspect they hope for the same for us.  They hope to lead believers into the light of reason, out of tradition and rigid doctrine, into a modern era of science and understanding. Doubtless, some believers are offended now.

But if we could all see each other as people in need of rescue, not condemnation, maybe we’d at least make the dialog a little nicer between atheist and theist.

And that’s a doctrine we can all embrace.

0 0 votes
Article Rating