Recently I had a chance to interact with some atheists in response to a post I had written for Bravefaith.org. While I did not intend it this way, some of what I had written came off as “insulting and hate inducing” according to one of the commenters. I did not do a good job of understanding their point of view before writing the post. The comments helped me better understand why they are angry.
In response to angry atheists we are tempted to sit back and smugly quote what the Apostle Paul says (1 Corinthians 2:14) about the natural man not understanding the things of God. Yet, the truth of this verse does not relieve us of the responsibility to reach out to those who are angry with us and with God to seek to understand the anger and engage it in a loving manner. We must resist the temptation to lob truth missiles over the wall hoping that they hit the target.
One lesson I learned from my interaction at Bravefaith is that the organized church has much to answer for and some of the anger of the atheist is justified. If we are going to reach out to those who have been alienated from religion, we need to own up to the failings of ourselves and our churches. While we cannot resolve all of the anger, we can resolve the part that is caused by our inappropriate behavior. We can confess and ask forgiveness where we have given offense.
In Matthew 5:23, Jesus tells us that if we are on the way to worship and remember that our brother has something against us, that we should make it right before attempting to worship. It may be that the way we interact (or don’t interact) with our community is affecting the way we worship. Our offering of worship may be neglected by God because we have not sought to be reconciled to our neighbor.
Perhaps if we have more of a spirit of repentance and mourning and less of an attitude of moral rectitude we might be in a better position to speak into the lives of those with whom we disagree. I believe that a better awareness of, and honesty about, our own failings, doubts and stupidity would put us in a better position to speak the truth in love.
This does not mean that we cannot offer correction when it is appropriate and needed. We need to engage faulty reasoning in a loving, reasonable manner. For example the claims of atheists that Hitler was a Christian are preposterous and need to be addressed.
No matter how lovingly we present truth, some will be offended by the Gospel. Some will reject the gospel because they refuse to submit to God. Some will refuse to give up their sinful lifestyle. Some will seek to stand firm in their own perceived goodness. But let us be sure that it is the Gospel that is the offense and not the manner in which we present it.
One of the complaints that I’ve heard is that too often Christians try to jam the gospel down someone’s throat. Yes, we have the responsibility to present the gospel, but I cannot find any instance where Jesus forced truth on someone who was not prepared to hear it. A wise lady once told me that Jesus is a gentleman; he does not force himself on anyone.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that those angry atheists are people for whom Christ died. We are no better; they are no worse. Before we respond to the anger, we should listen to understand its source. It is my hope that by listening and understanding we can then speak truth into the situation in a loving way.