Responding like a Christian when you really want to let loose an eye-roll
Because I like to bang my head against walls, I informed many of the commenters that it is possible for a Christian to believe in a God who both created strange deep-sea creatures and may have done so through the process of evolution. No one seemed to understand this very basic point. Over and over I tried to disabuse the commenters of their stereotypical notions of Christianity as anti-science, but very few seemed to even be aware of some of the fundamental ideas in Christianity, or that the religion is not a monolith. The ignorance (and arrogance) these atheists displayed was downright astounding to me, and I used to be an atheist myself!
However, as most people who relate with atheists online can tell you, this is not an isolated incident. Based on my interactions with atheists on my blog, it seems evident that a lot of people out there have incomplete and, in some cases, completely misinformed ideas about Christianity. Many atheists seem to strive to be intelligent, logical, and rational when it comes to just about every subject except Christianity, in which case grade-school notions of God and faith are completely acceptable.
To be clear, as a former atheist with plenty of friends who are still atheists, I know that online atheists are not representative of all of them (just as some bitter, angry online Catholics are not representative of all Catholics). But writers like Dawkins have made disdain the go-to attitude among many atheists, and this contemptuous attitude has lowered the intellectual bar to the point that “Prove your nasty, imaginary friend in the sky exists” temper tantrums are pretty much the best many atheists seem able to offer in internet comments these days.
So how is a Christian supposed to respond to the ignorance and arrogance that is prevalent among some online atheists?
- Know the basic responses to the most common attacks: I have encountered a very limited repertoire of criticisms from most atheists so there is no reason to be intimidated. But, nevertheless, Christians really should try to be informed enough to engage in respectful interactions if possible. Trent Horn’s book, Answering Atheism, is one of the most complete and accessible books I have seen that prepares Catholics to respond to atheists. The web site Strange Notions also hosts a high level of dialogue between atheists and theists; one can learn a lot from the articles and some of the conversations in the comments.
- Avoid responding with arrogance, disdain, or the verbal equivalent of eye rolling: This can be hard. When someone talks down to you, it is really difficult to not respond in kind. But if a person cannot dialogue with basic respect online, it may not be the right time to engage on these issues with that person, and you can say so calmly and maturely.
- Don’t interact with trolls: Some atheists are genuinely looking for a real conversation, but others are just trolls. Unfortunately, many of the atheists I have encountered online are either trolls or so embittered and angry that it is impossible to get beyond the emotion and have a logical conversation. Don’t raise your heart rate for no reason. Avoid trolls. Knowing when to step away is half the battle.
- Don’t always take on the burden of proof: Most atheists I have conversed with online demand that I prove that God exists or that I singlehandedly solve the problem of suffering for them. Christians do not have the burden of proof in these conversations. If an atheist is trying to convince you that you are wrong, the burden of proof is theirs. Atheists often act like the opposite is true because this is a lazy man’s way of intimidating people in order to end the argument before it begins. Don’t give in.
- Ask for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration: Before interacting with atheists online, or with anyone for that matter, try asking the Holy Spirit to help you discern whether to respond and what to say. The Holy Spirit helps us take on arguments when it is worth it and helps us leave behind interactions that are unhealthy and toxic. The Holy Spirit can also help us to act in a Christ-like way in these situations because we have the power of the sacraments that should be fueling our charity. It is a scandal when the charity of Christians is more lacking than that of atheists who do not necessarily have the benefit of the amazing power of the sacraments.
Any other ideas? Share them in the comments!