How do I deal with the insults and mocking of atheists?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: How do I deal with the insults and mocking by atheists? 

Answer: Greetings friend. That’s a great question — especially since it feels like the atheists have us outnumbered about a hundred to one! How indeed do we Bible-believing Christians “deal” with them? But since I am not sure whether you mean, how do we deal with the people themselves (especially during their anti-Christian tirades), or how do we deal with their philosophical position, I’ll touch on both.

The true gospel is an edgy message; it reveals the hearer’s sin. As such, its proclaimers will always be mocked — I mean, who wants to be called a sinner? As such, insults and mocking should be a reasonable expectation for a Christian. This is why we need to develop a reasonable defense for those assaults — like toughening-up and growing some skin. When you think about it, we are a small group of truth-tellers in a world that is built on lies. As such, we might as well be wearing robes and standing on street corners with signs that say, “Repent! The end is near!”

Now, that is true… the end is indeed near… and everyone does indeed need to repent — yet even we Christians would see that street corner guy as weird. But that is how the world sees us. Speaking out for God is irregular… outrageous… way out there. But since the insults and mocking will surely come, it is a foolish Christian who doesn’t grow some calluses. Let the insults bounce off you. That is the primary practical defense.

But I do not want you to understand “being calloused” as being insensitive to others — that’s not it at all; we must remain sensitive to communicate effectively. But we do not need to let the mocking and persecution affect us personally… not inordinately, anyway. First of all, many of the people who are too “energetic” in sharing their anti-God sentiment are likely insecure in their beliefs (and in their lives). They need prayer and comfort, not a war. Second, the insults and mockings are really directed to Christ himself (1 Peter 4:14) — and only superficially to us. So, the onus is “on him” to address these insults ultimately (Romans 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Revelation 22:12)… but the onus is still “on us” to have our answers ready (1 Peter 3:15).

As you can see, our preparation for this warfare takes two paths: one is defensive — do not take the insults personally, and the second is offensive — know why you believe… and Paul’s teaching on the “full armor of God” is particularly apt here (Ephesians 6:10-17). The person who is mocking us is not the enemy — the enemy stands behind him in powers and principalities — so we need to engage the atheist meaningfully rather than hatefully. In this, it is helpful to remember that, before the miracle of salvation, we too were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) — and it would be no lesser nor greater a miracle if our opponent someday turns to Christ.

As to the atheist’s philosophical position, he is in rough shape. The atheistic worldview is not the best explanation of the data — and I’m not talking just the biblical data — but all the data. He is stuck looking at the wonders of creation, and he is stuck contemplating his own moral gravity. Atheists are adept at slapping each other on the back and talking each other into ignoring the glowering presence of Intelligent Design… but they live a lie. True atheism is a complex philosophical construct — one which is very difficult to maintain. Living as an atheist is like living underwater with an air tank: they’ve got to keep the artificial atmosphere coming or else they’ll die!

Furthermore, let us not apply the “burden of thorough knowledge” to atheists across the board. Most people are “nominal” in what they are; only a few are “fully formed.” Let me explain this by ruffling some feathers.

Unless you believe that living in a field would make you a tractor, you should not believe that living in a “Christian culture” would make you a Christian. This is why I believe that the majority of people who would comfortably describe themselves as “Christians” are actually nominal Christians — and that only a small portion of those are true Christians. But it gets worse: even fewer still are knowledgeable Christians — and these few are “fully formed.” But it works the same way for the atheists.

Most people who describe themselves as “atheists” are nominal atheists. They are neither enthusiastic about their title nor knowledgeable about its philosophical underpinnings. And just as nominal Christianity is the default condition in the Christian culture, so is nominal atheism the default condition in the postmodern culture. Do not assume that atheists, because of their category, are the intellectual elite, or that they have ninja-skills in debate. Those will be few — and you can raise your game to meet them.

When I was a young fellow, I decided to flee nominal Christianity and become an atheist. The only thing I knew about atheism was that its people didn’t believe in God — and that seemed like a great way to escape that all-seeing eye. But I did not understand anything substantive about atheism. I knew that it was the doorway to sin — and I was all for that — but my resultant worldview was decidedly unsophisticated. My question is, how is that different from the general understanding of atheism by atheists out there in the world — that God does not exist, therefore no one is in charge of me?

You see, it is not so much that godless people might sin uncontrollably and wreck the world; it is more that, without God, there is no accountability — not the transcendent kind that seems to limit life’s options. But I’ve noticed something strange: Although atheists tend to be (philosophically) amoral — that is, they do not subscribe to the intrinsic morality of humans that the apostle Paul describes in Romans 2:14, they act-out the very morality which they deny.

Atheists are not “bad people” just because they do not believe in God. They tend to live within society’s rules just like the Christians do! But in that, we see that they do not “take advantage” of their moral freedom. Atheists (as a group) do not run around the world, acting-out evil as if chartered to do so. Most live quiet and decent lives. But, by choosing to live and act honorably rather than dishonorably, the atheists are living proof of humanity’s ontological morality — and this is strong evidence for the existence of God.

Finally, there are several extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God which the thinking-atheist must address; the four popular ones are the argument from cosmology, the argument from teleology, the argument from anthropology (morality) and the argument from ontology. I discuss these in another article, but rather than just paste-in the text, allow me to give you the link.

One of the ways we “deal” with atheists is to take the offensive. Their philosophical position is that God does not exist — but proving non-existence is a fool’s errand. Christians should avail themselves of the several good arguments supporting the existence of God — but which do not rely on Scripture, thus diverting many of the atheist’s objections to the Bible’s veracity. You should learn the four main arguments by heart and press an atheist for his response to them.

Let me recommend the Defenders series, developed by philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig (Reasonable Faith Ministries). Any Christian would benefit by going through this series of teachings — but it would be of incalculable benefit to anyone who is interested in “dealing with” the atheists. 

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