As faithful readers know, Matt Mikalatos is one of my favorite authors. And since I’m ripping off his Night of the Living Dead Christian for my current sermon series, I asked him to contribute his take on a particularly scary Christian monster. Check out Matt’s blog, follow him on Twitter and read all his awesome books.
Oh, and be sure to come to Beavercreek Nazarene this Sunday, because Matt is speaking! Now, without further ado, Matt’s Christian monster:
JR has been running a series on his blog about monsters we create in the Christian community, and what that says about us. I volunteered to share about that most feared and repulsive of creatures, THE ATHEIST!
On a dark and stormy night in Christian America, families were happy, marriages were strong, and the economy was a powerhouse as God intended. But, unbeknownst to God’s people, a woman named Madeline Murray O’Hair lurked in the darkness. She hated God and hated Christians because she was…. AN ATHEIST! And she wanted nothing more than to undermine the very fabric of Christian society by outlawing prayer in schools and getting the FCC to removed “Touched By An Angel” from television. As we all know, to outlaw prayer would be the death of Christian America. What would happen next? No ten commandments on courthouse walls? No nativities on government property at Christmas? Christians being executed on the White House lawn?
For some time (even after her tragic death), chain letters and forwarded emails used to warn Christians about the dangers of Ms. O’Hair, the atheist. Today, we have to work ourselves up about the “new atheists”… the new vocal minority who are writing books about how there is not God and that if there is, he is not good. And yes, we occasionally (often?) paint them as monsters.
What does this say about us? Why are we afraid of people who don’t believe in God or even “a god”?
- We think atheists are stronger than God. We believe they could come along and radically alter society and God would have nothing to say about it. We’re worried that their books will sway people. Want to know a secret? When the (atheist) communist government took over in China, kicked out all the missionaries and outlawed Christianity, do you know what happened? First, a high ranking officer in the government argued for the establishment of a government church (the Three Self Patriotic Movement) and two, underground churches sprang up everywhere, to that point that when foreign missionaries finally re-entered the country, the number of Christians had actually grown under the leadership of the godless Communists. Doesn’t seem so scary when you look at it like that.
- We’re worried atheists might be right about God, and if we listen to what they have to say, that we may become atheist, too. But, if God is real and Christianity is correct, then no amount of honest questioning or presentation of other viewpoints should frighten us. We needn’t fear “alternate theories” or questions about God’s existence. So long as we are asking and answering honestly and seeking truth rather than our own preferences, all should be well.
- We’re not interacting with atheists as people. It’s hard to make caricatures of people you know well. If we would engage with them as normal human beings, we would have nothing to fear.
I have several atheist friends. Here are a few things you should know about atheists in America (prepare yourself for some sweeping generalities):
- Atheists aren’t having secret cabal meetings where they rub their hands together and laugh maniacally while plotting about how to corrupt your children. They’re busy with work and reading and life and their kids and watching “American Idol” just like you are.
- Atheists sometimes backlash against religion. Some of the most outspoken, angry atheists who explode when their friends put Bible verses on their Facebook wall have only recently come to grips with their atheism. If they grew up in a religious home (many of them did), the process of “coming out” is often painful. Leaving God and church and community can be like breaking up with a spouse. There’s significant long term pain and backlash against God, church, community and family. This often mellows over time. But please understand it’s not (always) hate for God so much as pain caused by the community of faith that creates that extreme emotion. Despite growing numbers, atheists are a minority in a religious world; it’s no surprise they’re a little sensitive.
- Although there are extremists in the movement, many atheists just want to be left alone. They want to be free to be in public places and not be forced to sit through a public prayer, just like we want to be free to pray in public. It’s one of the complexities of a pluralistic society. We wouldn’t like it if high school graduation involved a Voodoo ritual where a priest sacrificed a chicken to the Loa. I daresay we might mention it to the administration. It’s not inconceivable that atheists might feel marginalized and disrespected by the assumption that a little prayer “won’t bother anyone” at an event they have to be at.
- Many atheists are either spiritual or spiritually interested. I’ve been a part of two atheist Bible studies, one of which was started by the atheists. They invited the Christians in to explain our point of view.
- Atheists are often nice, intelligent, soft-spoken people.
- It’s likely you know some atheists already. There could very well be some in your church. Atheism and religion are not mutually exclusive. Some atheists like the ritual and community of church and instead of making a big deal about not believing, they go to church, they bow their heads when someone prays, they play volleyball with you and they are scared to death you’re going to find out they don’t believe, because they’ve seen what you say about atheists, and what you think about them. I have atheist friends who send their kids to church with the grandparents. There are entire communities of religiously Jewish atheists since World War II.
We actually have a lot in common with atheists.
Hindus, for instance, believe in thousands of gods. Atheists believe in none. We believe in one. We disbelieve in almost as many gods as they do.
Here’s the end of the matter: God says that perfect love casts out fear. We’re afraid of atheists because we don’t love them. We should, but we don’t. It’s time to stop arguing with them, forcing religion on them, and taking potshots at them on Facebook. Let’s treat them with respect (they are made in the image of God). Let’s treat their beliefs with respect (they are not stupid). Let’s present our own beliefs in the one true God with respect, love and without embarrassment.