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On Christians Insulting Atheists

A couple of months ago I got a forwarded e-mail which purported to tell about a court case in Florida. An atheist was said to be complaining about not having a holiday like various varieties of religious folks, and got the ACLU to take the issue to court. The judge explains that he does have a holiday already, April Fools Day, citing Psalm 14:1/Psalm 53:1. It was an obvious joke, though it was forwarded seriously. I read it and deleted it. It wasn’t even the first time I’d seen a variant of this story. I decided to look for a link for this post, and the obvious source was Snopes.com, which does, indeed, list the story and informs us it is fake, though they note that there certainly are plenty of people who have taken it seriously.

I find it disturbing that people with the intelligence to turn on a computer might think this was real. What matters more, I think, is that people regard this as a good joke, and that some of those who regard it as real expressed the hope that we would get more judges like the one in this joke. We would be rightly be angry if such a joke were told about a racial minority or a disabled person, but it’s just fine to tell it about atheists.

What got me thinking about this was all the “war on Christmas” junk that goes around this time of year. We have the constant effort to get religious displays on public property and then to prevent other displays, such as atheist or humanist ones, from getting shown as well. It’s not as if we don’t have hundreds of places to display our nativity scenes. I even put one on the header of my company’s web site, Energion Publications. I get to do that. It’s my company. I don’t have to give equal time.

My downtown Pensacola church can put up any displays they want, and most of the town will have the opportunity to see them. My church doesn’t have to give other groups equal time. It’s a church. It gets to promote the views of its membership. But once we go onto public property, such as at city hall or at a school, things are somewhat different. There, the government is a sponsor.

For example, in West Chest, PA, a display on public property excluded a Tree of Knowledge sponsored by the local free thought society. I mention this one in particular—there are dozens—because I know someone who is involved. My question would be just who is harmed by the display of this tree of knowledge. Why would someone be insulted that some other person disagreed, and was able to express their disagreement. It is not as though Christians don’t have plenty of opportunity to express their point of view.

Elsewhere, Christians have tried to prevent Muslims from erecting a mosque, a place of worship. The argument has been made that Muslims should be regarded as a political movement, and thus not covered by freedom of religion. Often Christians have led in these actions. (Note that this point alone would be sufficient to mean that I would never vote for Cain or Gingrich under any circumstances.)

The comments on posts and news stories about these issues are very revealing, however. I’m amazed at the insulting language used by Christian commenters. Now there are doubtless readers who are thinking, “But what about the insulting language used by atheist posters?” I know of atheists who are quite concerned with such insulting language, but I’m a Christian, and what concerns me here is Christian witness. Posting obscenities about atheists says very bad things about Christians who do it.

My interest here is not in the legal aspects. I support separation of church and state, but I really want to address Christians and the way we think about these issues and the way we behave. The word “blasphemy,” in my opinion, has no place in political discourse. The government should know nothing of and have no concern with “blasphemy.” It’s a religious concept. One of the arguments Christians use is that by their very denial of God, atheists blaspheme. By writing against Christianity, they do so even more.

But here’s what I think is truly blasphemous, and since I’m addressing Christians about what would be blasphemy in Christianity, I think the word “blasphemy” is entirely appropriate. When a Christian says “I am a Christian” and then uses obscenities about another human being, or insults that person, that is blasphemy. It is also taking the name of the Lord, Jesus, in vain. It’s not the use of four letter words that constitutes “in vain.” It’s the claim that you are a follower of Jesus, in scriptural terms part of the Body of Christ in the world, and then acting in a way that is diametrically opposed to what you claim.

By insulting, I don’t mean disagreement, even when vigorously expressed. If you disagree with me, for example, and inform me of that disagreement, that’s not insult. But if you call me immoral for my view, or call me a fool, or lace your explanation with obscenities directed at me, then that’s insulting. Christians shouldn’t be doing that. Indeed, nobody should, but as a Christian, I’m addressing Christians.

What should we do instead? In my view, there should be a line of Christians at any hearing that was about denying someone else their freedom of expression. We should be testifying in their favor. Just think of the difference in our witness if, instead of being insulted that others have views that differ from ours, we went out of our way to treat them as we would want to be treated.

I think Jesus said something about that somewhere.

Oh, yes.  “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NLT).


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