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There used to be a better class of atheist

Bertrand Russell/Public Domain
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Harrowing tweets following the Sutherland Springs massacre leaves a priest wondering at the source of vulgar, witless hate spewed from Christianity's "betters"

QUESTION: How do you make a murderous rampage worse?
ANSWER: Mock the faith of those who were murdered.

While the civilized world was still reeling from the shock of seeing worshipers gunned down in a Texas church, social media erupted with condemnation—not of the murderer, not of the God who permitted the death of his followers, but of those who gathered to worship.  Located mostly among the Wanna-Bes and Has-Beens of Hollywood and TV, attention-mongering cynics mocked the faith of the dead, as well as the faith of the living left to bury the dead.

I won’t recount all the blatherings, but will summarize with a montage: “YOU STUPID CHRISTIANS! YOU WORSHIP A GOD WHO LET YOU DIE! YOU’RE ALL (insert favorite obscene metaphor here)!”

Such vulgarities cannot match the wit of anti-Christian propagandist Voltaire. Nor can they equal the attempted rigor of the thought of philosopher David Hume. These men were skeptics who offered to Christians challenges worthy of a response. The vulgarisms of the internet trolls who heaped filth and contempt upon the corpses of children and tears of widows deserve something else. I think of Mark 6:11, “And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when you depart there, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Truly I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

As a Jesuit and a priest, as a professor of philosophy and theology, I am constantly confronted with the grim realities of evil, the horrors of violence. And in the very same vocations, I am abidingly confronted with the power of grace, the miracle of healing, the mysteries revealed by Christ who is our crucified, risen, reigning and returning king. Any person who is neither spiritually insensate nor theologically illiterate knows that now we walk in the borderlands between light and dark. Believing Christians stubbornly keep faith with Christ in his sufferings, awaiting the complete realization of his triumph over sin and death.

Meanwhile, how shall we live? And how shall we understand those who seem never to miss a chance to throw verbal filth at Christians—even those Christians who have not yet had time to mop blood off the church floor before mourning their murdered children?

We shouldn’t be surprised by the world’s contempt for Christians. Jesus warned us in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” The mad world’s scorn for Christians is but the visible fruit of a deep-rooted hatred for the Christ of God.

How deeply rooted is that hatred for Christ? All the way down, right down to the beginning. Jesus warned us in John 8:44 that the devil is a murderer and a liar from the beginning, and that the devil’s children do their father’s will. Remember that the devil and all the fallen angels voluntarily purged themselves of charity (which is friendship with God) and so are incapable of love and empathy. They can only live in jealousy, anger, hatred and fear.

Only Almighty God can know the state of another person’s soul. Yet intelligent people of faith can and should ask questions:

  • When innocent Christians are murdered in church, is it an act of love and empathy to mock their faith?
  • When innocent Christians are murdered in church, is it an act of jealousy, anger, hatred and fear to mock their faith?
  • Is scorn for murder victims more likely to come from children of God or children of the devil?

I think such questions, such difficult and awkward questions, can and should be asked.

While we’re asking such questions, we need to get busy. Spiritually, we need to intercede for our neighbor and ourselves so that we might all find and walk in the light. We need to make acts of reparation, through prayer and penance, for those who mock God and his children.

Socially, we need to form bonds of friendship and fellowship with our neighbors and parishioners, being especially alert for those who may feel alone, abandoned or desperate. And we must strive to comfort those who grieve.

Practically, we must take every legal and prudent measure to ensure the safety of all in our care, especially our children, our vulnerable, and our churches. We must learn how to anticipate threats and emergencies and how to respond to them effectively and in a timely fashion.

We owe all these efforts to almighty God, to our neighbor made in his image and likeness, and to ourselves, who are God’s good creation.

When I write next, I will speak about perseverance in times of trial. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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