In Christianity the atheist stereotype is stuff of legend. He’s usually a college professor, and he delights in humiliating Christians.
There’s even been a movie made about it. In the pioneer days of the internet, email forwards abounded that would tell story of a college professor that dared his students to prove God exists. One professor held a piece of chalk in the air and dared an underdog-undergrad student to pray to God for him to keep the chalk from breaking when it hit the floor. Of course the pure-hearted student did and the chalk hit the cuff of the professors pants, softening its fall to the ground and leaving the chalk whole. The professor is embarrassed and I guess the entire class prays for Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior or something (I read it a long time ago). Nevermind that this story is most likely not true, more than that, it’s not helpful.
Obviously atheists exist, some are even evangelical in their atheism, but this stereotype, which serves as a stand in for every unbeliever, or even people who just ask hard questions, needs to die. Here’s why…
1. It makes us lazy and cultivates anti-intellectualism within us.
If we can reduce an unbeliever into a mean, faux intellectual with a chip on their shoulder, then we never have to actually engage our minds in the questions they are posing. It’s a way of saying that we don’t’ have to answer any of these questions because the atheist isn’t interested in answers, and even if we did, they would just keep on believing what they want, so why even bother. Also I suspect that some of us are afraid of what we might find if we go searching too deep for answers. This is something Greg Boyd covered so thoroughly in Benefit of a Doubt if you’re interested.
2. It robs us of humility.
I fear that many Christians decide to find out what atheists believe and then decide to believe the opposite. This doesn’t so much make us Christ-followers as much as it makes us contrarians.
I wonder if so many Christians would be so opposed to evolution if wasn’t for the fact that many atheists share that belief. Why is it so hard to believe that God, in his infinite creativity, chose to create humans in this way (Yes, I know the common argument is ‘that’s not how the Bible said it happened’, but that’s a matter of disagreement in biblical interpretation, which is bigger subject that I can cover in the scope of this post)?
Another common belief among atheists is that religion is responsible for a great amount of violence and hate in the world. Pastor (and soon to be Seminary Dropout guest) Bruxy Cavey agrees with this and explored in detail in his book ‘The End of Religion’. Greg Boyd tells a story of being invited to debate a prominent atheist over this question, but had to decline because he agreed with him on the issue, which would have made for a boring debate. I too unequivocally believe that religion has been responsible for a great amount of undue bloodshed and horror. Following Jesus however only results in redemption, reconciliation, and resurrection. Ironically we could learn from atheists in this regard if we weren’t so convinced in our hubris that they are wrong about every minute opinion and that we have it so completely figured out. This sinful pride robs from God all mystery and awe.
3. It’s robs a person of the image of God in which they were made, it dehumanizes them.
Perhaps the most demonic thing the atheist stereotype does is produce in us the ability to see people as something less than people God loves and Jesus died for. O’ that it were so easy to divide people into mindless robots of the devil and salt of the earth God-fearing people. You want God to triumph over unbelief? Then love the atheist, don’t demonize him/her.
I’m not one to say that we should have no enemies. To say that is to nullify the command to ‘love our enemies’ (Matt5:44). That’s just the God we worship, the one who died for his enemies, and assured us that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood’ (Eph6:12) with no exceptions. The atheist stereotype works hard to create an exception.