Anti-Christian, atheist bullying has been a roiling American undertow whose waves are surfacing ever more often into plain view. Mikey Weinstein is belligerently beating up on the world’s most powerful military, some of whose leaders (not all of them!) are yelling “Dive and hide!” when he speaks a word to them. Jerry Coyne and others of his ilk are trying to swamp a fellow professor’s boat — that of Ball State’s Eric Hedin — because he dared to teach something they disagree with. These represent only the froth on the waves. The current underneath it all is running continually stronger.
For much of Christian history, and in much of the world still today, this is familiar business. Right now, in 2013, men and women are dying for the faith every day. Nik Ripken wrote of this at length in the ill-named but otherwise excellentThe Insanity of God, one of whose themes was the utter ordinariness of persecution.
Three Questions in the Face of Atheist Bullying
It’s not ordinary in America.* Not even in the relatively mild form in which it’s being practiced today. We’re not ready for it, and we don’t know how to handle it.
I want to suggest three ways to think about it, in the form of three questions:
1. From whence does our help come?
2. Who’s really most at risk?
3. What’s our best line of defense?
1. From Whence Does Our Help Come?
Often it seems our first reflex is to run to the Constitution. Yes, the Bill of Rights was written to protect religious liberty, specifically in the Establishment Clause, but additionally in its guarantees of free speech and assembly. As courts increasingly discount the public relevance of religious beliefs, however, as for example in the Prop 8 case, the Constitution’s protection is becoming thinner and thinner.
I’m starting to wonder whether we’ve put too much trust in it.
I’m not suggesting we disband any Christian legal defense societies. When the apostle Paul had the opportunity to appeal his case to Caesar, he took it. We can do likewise in the courts.
But as we do so, there ought to be in us a clear and palpable sense of trust in God and joy in his unchanging provision. Think of how the New Testament instructs us with regard to persecution: “Count it all joy.” “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial.” “Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets before you.” “Let endurance have its perfect result in you, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” “I do not count the trials of the present age worthy of comparison with the glories of the age to come.” “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
Do we believe this?
Now I want to be clear: I am not Eric Hedin. I don’t know what his experience feels like right now. I doubt I could imagine how crushing the pressure might seem. As far as I am aware, on the other hand, he could be living Christ’s promises as joyfully as any saint ever has.
So this is in no way directed toward any individual. It’s for American Christianity. Is the pressure heating up on us? God can handle it. We’re just fine in his good and gracious hands. But the way things are trending, we had better get accustomed to resting in his protection and deliverance, because simply being American isn’t going to accomplish that for us the way it used to.
2. Who Is Most At Risk?
When Jesus was facing his week of trial, torture, and execution, he wept for the city. He knew he would come out victorious, but that some of them would die in their sins, as he told the Pharisees in John 8.
It may seem that Christianity is under pressure, but really, now: the way of Christ has lasted thousands of years, and it will outlast this present age. Christ has already secured victory for all time. Christianity has nothing to fear. American church-ianity may totter and in some places fall, but that’s a small thing. The faith will stand.
No, what’s most at risk are the lives of our spiritual opponents, who have put themselves in harm’s way with the God of the universe. They are our fellow human beings; thus Jesus’ instructions to pray for them.
Next most at risk are those they will influence, including many people whom we love, especially our children but also the children of many other parents.
And next are those among us whose faith rests on a weak foundation, and who may be swept away with the changing tides.
If you are in one of these groups you are vulnerable. I think it’s possible any of us could be in the third, even if we think our faith is strong. And so the question becomes,
3. What’s Our Best Line of Defense?
What indeed is our best defense? It’s not in the courts. Sure, the courts are fine as far as they go (less every day, or so it seems), but we have something far better. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV) reads,
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
To unbelievers that may sound bellicose, but clearly they have nothing to fear from it. Our not-of-the-flesh weaponry starts with prayer, continues with the word of God, and proceeds through to the destruction of arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God. We believe there is power in prayer and in God’s word. We believe Christianity’s arguments carry the strength of truth. If we’re wrong, then we have nothing but a wisp of foam to bring against the unbeliever.
If we’re right, though, and if there is a good God who has spoken and who answers prayer, then unbelievers would do well to let that God win them over with his goodness. Far better that their arguments and opinions be destroyed than their lives.
Conclusion: To Fight For What Really Matters
Suppose then we lost everything in the courts, the legislatures, the executive offices, and the plebiscites. It would indeed be a loss, a tragic one — but not a decisive one. We still have prayer. We still have the truth of God in his word. We still have God himself on our side. Let us not fear for ourselves, except that we would waver in unbelief.
Besides that, let’s fear for our opponents’ destiny. That includes Mikey Weinstein, Jerry Coyne, and any of the other new atheist bullies. Let us fear also for those they may carry down with them. And let us contend for them as God would have us contend.
Maybe God will turn everything around with widespread awakening and revival, which is one thing for which all believers ought to pray. If not, then it looks like we have a lot to get accustomed to in a changing America. Remember, God is not surprised. His arm is not shortened so that he cannot save. We may come to know him through this in ways we never dreamed. May it be so: but may it also be that many will be rescued and will find life in him.
*Readers from other countries, please accept my apologies for speaking to the situation I know best, here in the United States. I trust you’ll know how to translate this into whatever fits your own country.