Gather ’round, chil’ren, it’s story time again…only now with a twist.
Once upon a time there was a man who hated Christians. I don’t mean to say he merely disagreed with them, or wasn’t a Christian himself…but he truly hated them and what they stood for. He thought they were stupid, had silly beliefs, and he truly thought that people were better leaving Christianity. He considered philosophy and mankind’s understanding of the world to be the highest thing to obtain, not spirituality of any sort.
He hated Christianity so much, in fact, that he started to write books attacking the concept of God. He mocked the idea of God giving revelation, let alone infallible revelation. He claimed the only people who believed in God were the poor, uneducated and heavily deceived members of society. He claimed that Jesus’ miracles had never happened, even suggesting he was perhaps at best a magician. He would mock the scriptures. He would use his literary skills to belittle and poke fun at the expense not only of Christians, but of Jesus and God Himself.
Who was this person? You’re probably thinking of some of the “new atheists” today, but in actuality this man was a middle second century philosopher named Celsus, one of the first public critics of Christianity, certainly one of the first to attack them directly. He certainly wasn’t one of the only ones of Ante-Nicene period: the philosopher Lucian (late second century) doubted all religions and believed we could only understand things through philosophical understandings, and considered the love of Christians to be silly enthusiasm; the Neo-Platonic philosopher Porphyry (late third century) attempted to prove contradictions between the Old and New Testament, claimed the early church leadership was divided between Paul and Peter, and said Jesus was merely a great teacher whom men had turned into God; the Neo-Platonic philosopher Hierocles (late third century) claimed Christ’s miracles and divine traits had been invented by the apostles, and tried to draw parallels between Christ and local Greek religions.
Hm…does any of this sound vaguely familiar?
There is truly nothing new under the sun. The thing is, however, Christians never responded to this criticism by proverbially closing their eyes and ears and saying “La la la I can’t hear you!” Christian apologetics is almost as old as Christianity itself. In response to heathen or atheistic/agnostic criticism of Christianity, many men such as Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Tatian, Origen, and Tertullian arose to specifically address such criticism, even responding to critics by name and addressing their specific points. Some later men, such as John Chrysostom, would make reference to the ancient critics and briefly touch upon, and then respond to, their beliefs. The point is that since the days of the post-apostolic church, Christians have responded to the criticism of unbelievers.
What often amazes me is that, while most knowledgeable Christians are aware of the arguments made by those who attack the faith, many of the most verbal non-Christians (in particular atheists) seem to be completely unaware of the Christian response – nay, they seem completely disinterested in any possible response. Many ask questions or bring up contentions which a simple Google search or the reading of a single Christian apologetics book would resolve. Some have made arguments (such as conspiracy theories) that, if presented for other topics, would be considered utterly and reprehensibly foolish. Truly, if some internet atheists treated mathematics, engineering, nuclear physics or any other subject with the same silliness and disrespect which they applied to the topic of religion, no one in those fields would take them seriously. If some non-Christians started treating their own faith with the same silliness and disrespect they showed Christianity, they’d become at best agnostics.
It’s not that I believe non-Christians are inherently stupid insofar as they have low intelligence. Many are very bright or capable in many areas. With a few extremes, most are also fully functioning members of society. However, there is a fine line between simple ignorance and willful ignorance, and many display a case of the latter. They display no desire for serious dialogue, nor an interest in understanding the other side. They would rather laugh at an internet meme that agrees with their worldview than read an opponent’s book which explains his worldview. Ad hominems and straw men are of more interest to them than sound counter responses. They’ll talk of knowing the truth, but just start asking them to demonstrate that truth and it won’t take long before they throw up the blinders and begin the personal attacks. There is no interest in an opposing viewpoint that is worth responding to.
Perhaps the highlight of all this came in an incident many years ago, with an online chat I had with an atheist gentleman. He was telling me, “You know, I consider you a pretty smart guy, so I don’t get why you believe in God.” He added, “I’ve done my research, and put the dots together.” I then asked him if he had read the Bible. Nope. I asked him if he had read any Church Fathers or Christian theologians. Nope. His extensive research had amounted to reading popular atheist authors and feeling satisfied, having had his emotions fulfilled. What’s more, it seemed to flabbergast him that doing any research on the counterarguments was be worthwhile. Apparently, “doing a lot of research” didn’t include reading the opposing viewpoints and responding to them, let alone simply reading both sides of the issue. In fact, this seems to be what “doing a lot of research” is for a lot of people.
It’s sad, it’s unfortunate, and it’s at times heartbreaking. It’s difficult to take someone seriously when they throw things at you like “Jesus’ Greek name really means Hail Zeus” or some other silliness that is easily disprovable and they most likely got from a goofy website rather than a scholarly source. It’s difficult to try to respect someone’s opinion when they clearly have no respect (even if unintentionally) for you. It’s hard to take someone as fair when they claim to have great arguments, when a little research into past discussions on the topic would reveal that their contentions had been responded to more than fifteen hundred years ago.
This is why we must remember that, without the regeneration of God, a person’s mind will remain shut. The power of God is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18), and will continue appearing to be foolish so long as the veil remains (2 Cor 4:3). Let us not, however, use this as a sign of superiority against non-believers. Rather, let us strive to pray for those people, for they were once as we. Let us pray that they might turn to Christ, and upon turning to Christ, have the veil removed (2 Cor 3:14-16). God bless.