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Atheists and agnostics, I'm OK with you - really! But here's my problem.
How's that for a blog post title on a storm photography web site? It's true. I don't hate - or even dislike - atheists or agnostics. Atheism (I know, it's not a religion, just the absence of belief) doesn't trouble me at all. It used to, I'll admit, but not now.
It really doesn't bother me that anyone sees the world differently than I do. Would I like everyone around me to believe the way I do? Of course, who wouldn't! But I know that's not realistic, and more importantly, isn't my responsibility. My only responsibility is conveying the message of Christ. What I do want is for others to know what I know, have what I have, and see the benefits of faith in Christ, both now and in the future. I accept that this won't happen as much as I'd like it to.
Having said that, I do want to say what *does* bother me about popular atheism/anti-Christian sentiment. I will say that this does not apply to all, as there are exceptions! But I'm not being dishonest in saying that it's 99% of what I see and hear in opposition to Christianity in mainstream media and online social media. I also realize that this may be due to a 'vocal minority'. Bottom line, if you're not guilty of these, then you have my utmost respect, regardless of what your worldview and belief may be.
I also need to acknowledge that these matters of such deep importance and infinite implication lend themselves to passionate response, and sometimes I'm guilty of falling victim to gratuitously perjorative reactions to what I see and hear. For that I apologize, and likewise I'm willing to forgive the occasional impropriety of those with opposing views. The following points aren't directed toward the otherwise level-headed atheist who inadvertently lets a uncalled-for jab slip into a discussion, as I'm also prone to do as a Christian. We're both human and passionate about what we believe, so that's to be expected.
So - moving on - I can sum my 'beefs' up in four points:
To to sum up, I'm perfectly fine with someone choosing not to believe in God, the Bible, or Christ. I can and will respect that, and I'm content for a non-believer and I to 'agree to disagree'. I just hope the decision not to believe was made based on accurate information and evidence. When anyone commits one or more of the four 'sins' I listed above, it shows me that that they most likely didn't arrive at their conclusion based on truth and reality. And *that* is something I cannot, and will not, respect.
- Demonization of, and failure to recognize the strengths of, opposing positions. When someone never acklowledges the strengths of arguments for Christianity, instead railing against the faith with unrelenting hatred, it proves to me that they've either never been exposed to both sides of the issue, or have deliberately avoided doing so. Some of the most prominent New Atheists even admit this, that they don't give much of an ear to arguments for Christianity. They say they're so convinced that any and all religion is a sham, so why waste time looking into any of them?
Atheists and agnostics, I've read your Dawkins, Hitchens, Russell, Ehrman, and others. I know the arguments against Christianity, and I'm willing to admit that some are compelling, though I do not personally agree with them. My question to you, then, is have you listened to or read material by William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Michael Licona and others? If you haven't, then you truly can't have any grasp on the opposing arguments and the issue as a whole.
My feeling is that if you've seriously considered the views that oppose yours, that your vitriol against theism and Christianity would be, at the very least, slightly moderated. Just like my former angst against your side was tempered by actually becoming familiar with it. If you've never listened to Craig, Lennox and the like, there are some debates on Youtube with the opposing 'big names' (Dawkins, Hitchens, Rosenberg etc) - great resources freely available for anyone interested in hearing both sides of the arguments.
- Propagating inaccurate/false viral image macros & quotes. The internet is probably the predominant influential cultural battleground today, whether we realize it or not. Having said that, the realm of viral quotes and image macros (the term for pictures overlaid with text phrases) shared on social media and blogs is one of the cesspools of the internet world. I rarely see an accurate one from *any* viewpoint, that goes for examples shared by Christians, atheists, democrats, republicans, liberals and conservatives. They're nearly all complete garbage! They're non-fact-checked, rife with urban myths, mischaracterizations and ignorance. Someone needs to create a 'Snopes'-like site just for these!
I'll just give one recent example out of hundreds. One image cited the Bible verse and asked the rhetorical question "If money is the root of all evil, why do churches always ask for it?". This, of course, made the usual rounds on atheist Facebook pages and popular image sharing sites. But, the actual verse reads "for the love of money is the root of all evil". The premise of the criticism is based on a misquote, which if cited correctly, invalidates the whole point of the argument.
Forwarding ANY image macro is, in my opinion, one of the great sins of internet use - and demonstrates to me that the forwarder hasn't cared to do any fact-checking. It's to the point that I'll say that if you are a friend or acquaintance of mine who shares these, that you and I will probably never be able to have any meaningful discussions on faith and religion. And that goes for my Christian friends too!
- Amateur psychoanalysis of believers. Amateur atheist psychologist, you really don't know what's going on inside my head and why I am the way I am. You're simply wrong about me, please don't do this. It's hard to take anyone seriously who thinks they've figured out why I'm a Christian on a neuropsychological level, as I'm sure would be the case with me if I attempted to do the same to you. I don't have much else to add to this point.
- Finally, and most importantly: starting and propagating mischaracterizations of Christianity, Christians and churches.
A phenomenon I'm sure most longtime storm photographers are familiar with is the occasional infiltration of certain pretentious weather enthusiasts into chasing circles. These are individuals who don't actually participate in the activity (and have no desire to), but yet have storm photographers and observing 'all figured out'. Their self-amassed knowledge on the subject comes mostly from movies and television, and they pronounce their judgement and opinions on storm photographers, without having a clue about what they're talking about. They comment in forum and Facebook threads, doing little more than raising the collective blood pressure of serious storm photographers. Even worse is when a journalist or other high-profile figure in this category shows up, influencing the opinions of the general public with their misconceptions.
This is a fact: if you've never been involved in a church long-term and never been a serious Christian long-term, then you are completely unqualified to make any statements including, but not limited to, how churches are, how they run, why they do what they do, and more. You're exactly like the aforementioned pretentious individual in a storm photography form. Nearly every snipe taken at churches stems from complete ignorance and is categorically false. I have yet to see an accurate synopsis of a church or of Christianity by someone on the outside.
What angers me the most about these micharacterizations is because of the countless people I know who have quietly sacrificed greatly to serve others, the church, and God. Their deeds don't make front page news, and it's likely that even those outside of their circle of close friends even know all they've done. These people make up the majority of the Christians I know. I could recount to you examples of this all day! Are these perfect people? No, they have bad days like all of us. But these are people without whom the world would be hurting a lot more than we realize. When an atheist goes and finds an 'example of how religion and Christianity harms humanity' spreading it all over the internet - I say to them congratulations, you've managed to either catch someone on a bad day that all of us have, or managed to find that 1 in 10,000 bad apple that will inevitably pop up in a church somewhere.
Internet atheist who creates or forwards these mischaracterizations, why don't you create and spread an image macro of the low-paid pastor who is dedicated enough to work in a coal mine to support his family the rest of the week? How about the man who picks up and moves his entire life to a third world country to help build houses for people in need? The woman who uses her own money and vacation time to travel provide free medical care to sick people in an impoverished part of the world? Or the working single mother who coaches youth sports three times a week? The couples who go into dangerous neighborhoods to spend time with at-risk children? The couple who goes to a very dangerous and unstable country in order to serve the people there, at great personal risk to themselves? How about the lower-income families and individuals that give thousands of their own money to help their church provide care to the community? I know all of these people personally and many more - you do not! These are the people that you're unfairly slandering with your 'religion poisons everything' and 'evidence of harm by religion' pieces.
Internet atheist who forwards these mischaracterizations, the reason I get so upset with you is because you unjustly smear the good names of these, the kindest, most genuine people I know. They do all they do in the name of Christ - in obedience to Him and because of Him. They put me to shame. They are imperfect like you and I, but they don't deserve what you say about them. The church doesn't deserve whay you say about it. And most certainly Christianity doesn't deserve the indictments you levy against it. For every bad example you uncover, there are hundreds more living out their faith by following the example of Jesus and sacrificing for their fellow man.
I posted this challenge on Facebook to my friends and acquaintances, and I'll repeat it here, as the offer still stands: Go to a *reputable* church for one whole month. Every Sunday! Don't just go to the services, get involved with the activities. Hang out with the people. Go to lunch with a small group after the service. Go and ask for the financial statements to see where the money goes. If you do that for one month and still have the same perception of Christians and Christianity, I will never say another word in response to you when you express your opinion against Christians.
I say to the ones who have not been guilty of the above: I truly appreciate your respect, and as such you have mine likewise. 'Cordial atheism', as I like to call it, in the long run has been far more beneficial to my faith rather than a stumbling block. It's the respectful skeptics out there who make it easier to 'sit down and talk' in a way that both of us come away with an understanding we didn't have before. For that, even though we remain an infinite universe apart in our worldviews, I offer my thanks.