3 Reasons Why Christians Should Welcome Those Atheist Anti-Church Billboards
Last Saturday, while out driving with my son in St. Peters, Missouri, I passed a billboard. You may have heard about it, because it (and a few others like it) have since appeared in some typically screechy and shrill news articles. The billboard showed a little girl in a Santa hat accompanied by the words “All I want for Christmas is to SKIP CHURCH. I’m too old for fairy tales.”
Somewhat understandably, the Christian response to this billboard has been angrier than Rachel Maddow on a lesbian blind date with Ann Coulter. I’m a Christian, too, and I sort of get it. But is it possible that we are looking at this from entirely the wrong perspective? The following are three reasons why the atheist billboards might actually be a good thing.
3. Belief Requires Proselytizing.
Glenn Beck, on his radio show, responded to the atheist billboards by saying “why can’t we all just leave each other alone?” Good Libertarian words, there. And yet this is the same Glenn Beck who spends each Easter performing what amounts to a radio drama of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This is less what could be called “leaving each other alone” and more what we’d have to classify as “proselytization”.
And there’s a good reason for that. Even famed atheist (and, admittedly, one of my favorite peoples) Penn Jillette understands the idea that religious belief requires proselytization:
“How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Christians have beliefs involving life and death and therefore are (or should be) engaged in trying to persuade others of them. But it doesn’t just count for religious beliefs. If a person deeply believes in anything that involves important human consequences, then it is absolutely essential to that belief that they attempt to persuade others of its validity.
Atheists don’t believe in God (or so they say) but they do have important, defining beliefs. Their belief is that the influence of religion is overwhelmingly negative to human culture, leading to wars, genocide, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and even climate change. Whether you agree with their beliefs or not, these are very important claims. We can’t blame them if they, like us, feel a strong compulsion to proselytize for what they perceive as the good of humanity. In fact, they absolutely should do so.
And there’s an important component that people of all beliefs should recognize: a rising tide of liberty lifts all ideological boats. The more atheists (and Muslims, and Scientologists, and even Satanists) appear in the public eye to proselytize their belief, the more freedom Christians can enjoy to respond in kind. This is a good thing for everyone. Which leads us to…
2. Engagement is Better Than Indifference.
Imagine someone approaching you on the street intent on converting you to Tooth Fairyism. Would you respond with an expensive mocking billboard about how silly the Tooth Fairy is? If so, congratulations on holding a decades-long grudge for that toothbrush you got under your pillow instead of the folding money you were hoping for.
The fact is, we don’t care enough to hate or oppose what we perceive as pointless, fringe ideologies. If we choose to engage in opposing a belief system, it’s because we view it, positively or negatively, as important, relevant, and worthy of debate. No matter which side one is on in that debate, the debate should be welcome, because it allows an opportunity for persuasion.
Have you ever wondered why these atheist billboards only seem to appear in America? There are no news stories about inflammatory atheist billboards in Europe, for example. Why? Because to be blunt, Europeans don’t care enough to oppose Christianity. Christianity has been on the wane there for decades (it was apparently replaced by Hasselhoffism). They don’t hate God any more than you hate leprechauns. It’s a non-issue. They are indifferent. Try to start a conversation about the Bible with a typical French or Belgian or German young person and you probably won’t get an angry atheist tirade. You’ll likely just get yawning indifference.
By contrast, atheists in America always seem like angry teenagers slamming their bedroom door and shouting “I hate you!” at their parents. Their very anger and forcefulness about the issue implies a degree of engagement that, frankly, Christians should welcome. At least they are involved in the debate.
Indifference is a far harder nut to crack than angry engagement. And that’s why…
1. Christians Should Welcome the Challenge.
The atheist billboard basically challenges that God is a fairy tale, Jesus was just a man, and there is no such thing as heaven. These are questions laid out to be confronted within our culture. Are Christians unable to respond? Are we so weak in our faith that the very asking of a tough (or not so tough, really) question makes us splutter with impotent anger?
The problem with a lot of Christians is that they don’t know why they believe what they believe. Since they don’t know for themselves, they have no way of responding to those who demand an answer. This isn’t just counter-productive, it’s unbiblical. The Bible doesn’t say “angrily complain on Facebook about anyone who confronts you with tough questions.” It says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Furthermore, it says to do so with “gentleness and respect”.
respect was when he confronted the church.
So maybe we shouldn’t be angry at the challenges demanded by the atheist billboards. Maybe we should welcome the questions they pose in the public’s mind and be prepared to answer. Because there are answers. Maybe we should seek them out for ourselves first. Maybe we should get familiar with that famed intellect of the Christian faith, C. S. Lewis. To the atheist challenge, he wouldn’t have said “how dare they!? Pass the Chik-Fil-A!” He’d have said “You ask an important question: how do we know God? Is the Bible truly a fairy tale? Would a little girl actually say such things in a letter to a magical gift-elf? There are answers to these questions, so I am glad you asked…”
The bottom line is this: how can we Christians be angry at people for doubting a God they haven’t experienced yet? How can we be mad at them for spreading their idea of the truth while demanding our right to spread ours?
If, when confronted publicly with atheist ideology, we Christians respond with anger and spite instead of welcoming the challenge and responding with respect (and even a little humor) then we are wimps and no one should listen to us anyway.
Put THAT in your letter to Santa.