Today, Newsweek magazine posted an article by Rabbi Marc Gellman entitled "Trying to Understand Angry Atheists: Why do nonbelievers seem to be threatened by the idea of God?" In the article, Rabbi Gellman makes the following point:
So we disagree about God. I'm sometimes at odds with Yankee fans, people who like rap music and people who don't like animals, but I try to be civil. I don't know many religious folk who wake up thinking of new ways to aggravate atheists, but many people who do not believe in God seem to find the religion of their neighbors terribly offensive or oppressive, particularly if the folks next door are evangelical Christians. I just don't get it.
This must sound condescending and a large generalization, and I don't mean it that way, but I am tempted to believe that behind atheist anger there are oftentimes uncomfortable personal histories. Perhaps their atheism was the result of the tragic death of a loved one, or an angry degrading sermon, or an insensitive eulogy, or an unfeeling castigation of lifestyle choices or perhaps something even worse. I would ask for forgiveness from the angry atheists who write to me if I thought it would help. Religion must remain an audacious, daring and, yes, uncomfortable assault on our desires to do what we want when we want to do it. All religions must teach a way to discipline our animal urges, to overcome racism and materialism, selfishness and arrogance and the sinful oppression of the most vulnerable and the most innocent among us.
Personally, I have experienced a great deal of incivility from skeptics on the Internet. They seem to enjoy the idea of tweaking Christians however possible from the way that they refer to Christians to the extremely condescending attitude that they hold. Of course, I am not so blind as to think that the condescension does not also come from us Christians. However, my own personal feelings and experiences are that the majority of the hostility does come, by and large, from the skeptical side of the debate.
For example, just take a look at the way that Beyond Belief Media uses inflammatory language about Christianity in the press release in their recent (apparently failed) ridiculous war on Easter. The website says things like "People go to churches to hide from the truth" and "Christian leaders are indoctrinating children with 2000-year-old fairy tales" and "Christians believe that beating a man to a pulp and nailing him to a cross somehow solves all the world's problems". In the FAQ section, Beyond Belief Media says things like Christianity is a "backward and deranged theology" and that it is "devoid of reason." Language like that, which is plainly over-the-top and designed to incite does not make me have any faith that atheists are going to be fair to me.
Now, given that the majority of this country still identifies themselves as Christians, how do you suppose that the majority of Christians react to this kind of drivel? Personally, I think that people read this nonsense and recognize that skeptics are, for the most part, talking without understanding. If you can readily identify that some of their statements are nonsense, then why trust anything that they say at all? In fact, apparently, most people think that atheists aren't trustworthy according to an article entitled "Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to new U of M study". The article notes:
Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. “Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years,” says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study’s lead researcher.
* * * Many of the study’s respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Now, I am not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that all skeptics share these traits that are so mistrusted. But my personal experience is that many of the skeptics posting on the Internet and maintaining their silly little websites can certainly lay claim to being rampant materialists and cultural elitists. I would add that they are also rude, crude and obstinate.
Let me give you fine skeptics advice: if you really want to convert Christians to your viewpoint, stop being inflammatory. You need to be more tolerant of the views of others, you need to stop thinking that you know it all, and you need to stop belittling everything you disagree with. If you are not of that type, then you should be standing up and denouncing what these loudmouths skeptics are saying as wrong! (At the Christian CADRE, we do denounce Christian groups that are like this -- for example, Fred Phelps "God Hates Fags" church -- I think I speak for every member of the CADRE when we say such over-the-top claims are both Biblically wrong and uncivil and Pastor Phelps should be quiet!) But for those of you who have websites like Beyond Belief Media's rhetorically nonsensical "War on Easter", I'm suggesting that you do something that does not come naturally in your world -- act civilly.