My friend Eric Chabot speaks of “dealing with the little ‘Richards’” (Dawkins-like atheists) on his Ohio State Ratio Christi blog. It’s good stuff, and his blog is a great one to follow.
I have a different answer than his for this, though:
#1: “The God of the Old Testament is an egostatistical, monstrous, genocidal god that should never be worshiped! He kills people and approves of rape and slavery. How in God’s name could anyone serve a god like this?”
A statement like that reveals more about the speaker than it does about Christians or our beliefs. Look at what it assumes:
1. The speaker really understands who God is according to the Old Testament, and either…
2a: He or she understands this much better than Christians, who don’t realize how evil God is portrayed to be there, or
2b. Christians actually do understand how evil God is in the Old Testament, and we worship him anyway, or
2c. Christians are so psychologically twisted, we can study and study and study and still never see the reality of how bad God is in the OT.
Option 2a is really quite unlikely, isn’t it? We study the Old Testament. We ransack it. We have entire departments of colleges and seminaries devoted to understanding it. I’ve read through the entire Old Testament (OT) many times. I know what’s in there. I really don’t think most atheists have a better understanding of the OT God than I have. The same would be true for a large proportion of believers: we know what it says there. It’s just unlikely on the face of it that we’re worshiping God as ignorantly as 2a would demand.
So that brings us to 2b: we’ve understood the Old Testament, we see who its god is, and as this atheist says, this god is really quite evil. And we just love worshiping that kind of god. We’re absolute moral idiots, in other words.
Now, if 2a was unlikely on the face of it, 2b is even more so. So the assumption so far must be that Christians are blithering idiots, either biblically or morally or both.
What then about 2c? Well, before we go there, it would help if atheists making this accusation would tell us what they mean, rather than making us play a guessing game about their assumptions. If this were a real dialogue I would just ask: do you think I’m the kind of academic idiot who can’t read what he says he believes in, the kind of moral idiot who loves worshiping a manifestly evil god, or the kind of pathologically twisted mental case who can’t see reality?
Whichever assumption(s) may lie behind an accusation like this one, they all reveal a sadly blinkered view of humanity. They could only come from a person who never actually knew a living breathing believer in Christ; or perhaps from someone who could only view Christians through distorting lenses, much the same as racists do when they have trouble seeing persons of other colors for who they are.
After all, what’s the real difference between the obviously offensive statement, “Those colored people all look alike to me” and “Everyone who worships the OT God has to be a total moron—compared to me at least”? The errors are similar: not seeing fellow humans as fellow humans, and congratulating oneself for it.
Let’s treat one another as human beings, okay? I think we can all agree it’s the right thing to do with each other, and besides, we might just learn something we didn’t know before. The atheist who removes his blinkers might just discover we’re not idiots. He or she might even learn that there’s more to the OT God than meets Richard Dawkins’ eye.
Do I think then that blinkered atheism indicates atheistic idiocy? No—not unless it is a studied and carefully held opinion, as in the case of Richard Dawkins and some others like him. In his case I think an objective case can be made for him being a fool in these respects, for he really ought to know better. I think most other atheists are probably reading the wrong sources, paying attention to a skewed sample of reality, and drawing conclusions that make sense to them based on that kind of information. And I’m quite sure they need spiritual enlightenment—just as every Christian has also needed it.
(Note to Christians: we too need to be careful not to rush to treat non-believers as less than human. Richard Dawkins is wrong on these sorts of things, yet he is still human. The same goes for all whom God created in his image.
The line of disagreement must remain on the side of love. I’m not always sure where that line is. It certainly includes standing for the truth. I tend to think the dividing falls between satire, which can often be appropriate, and mockery, which never is. But I’m still working that out in my mind and in my practice, and I doubt I’ll ever get it exactly right. As I said, we’re all in this together.)