A friend once told me about a young man she knew who had an interesting, though unoriginal, religious view posted on his Facebook profile. He’d written a derogatory four letter word (hint: it starts with ‘F’) followed by ‘Christianity’. When my friend asked this young man to explain his rather offensively stated opinion, he claimed that she needs to read about the arguments against Christianity. Perhaps he didn’t know that my friend is working on a post-graduate degree in theology and has most likely read more about these arguments than he has.
It’s a common condescending assumption amongst non-believers that anyone with spiritual beliefs is intellectually ignorant. Whether or not these non-believers are themselves qualified to make such judgments on human intellect is questionable. Surely they would defend themselves with the cliché that everyone is entitled to their opinion, conveniently ignoring the fact that the value of an opinion depends entirely on how well informed it is.
There are those who pronounce science to be an indomitable argument against religion because it has, allegedly, explained God away. These people, who usually have no formal training in science, refer to theories like evolution that posits ‘random chance’ as the explanation for the origin of life. They either don’t realize or ignore the fact that the term ‘random chance’ is little more than scientists saying, “We’re not sure exactly how this happened”.
Skeptics like comedian Bill Maher proclaim their lack of intellectual respect for people of faith. Meanwhile there are men and women with doctorates in evolutionary biology and theology that have long since reconciled their belief in God and science. If Bill Maher would deem these academically accomplished people unworthy of intellectual respect, then it seems to me that his intellectual respect is reserved only for those who subscribe to his beliefs. This seems unfair to me, but then again I must admit that I wouldn’t lose any sleep because I don’t have the intellectual respect of a comedian.
The harshest critics that call religion ridiculous sometimes express some level of confusion at the angry reactions they receive from believers. Then they accuse those they’ve angered of intolerance, extremism and insanity. They do this despite the obvious fact that the unnecessarily offensive language they used to communicate sometimes legitimate criticisms is what caused the flared tempers in the first place.
Angry reactions are understandable when valued beliefs are ridiculed. Imagine overhearing someone insult one of your dearest loved ones. Anger would be a natural response. This is how people who love Jesus feel when they perceive that He’s being disrespected or insulted. Nevertheless, we must remember that people won’t listen to the Gospel if they’re approached with anger. While anger is sometimes an unavoidable and just response, this is one reason to restrain anger against non-believers.
A quote from the dystopic graphic novel turned movie The Watchmen has further inspired me to be patient with even the rudest sceptic. In The Watchmen, the godlike character Dr. Manhattan says, “The world’s smartest man poses no more threat to me than does its smartest termite”. The writer of The Watchmen, perhaps unintentionally, uses the Dr. Manhattan character to effectively draw a comparison between human beings and God.
Religious critics and skeptics exalt human intelligence and achievement, but the sum total of eons of human civilization is insignificant compared to the creator of the universe. Indeed, the world’s smartest human poses as much of a threat to God as does an insect. In this light, anyone who casts insults at God in their ignorance is more worthy of pity than contempt. Therefore, be patient with nonbelievers for they know not what they do [Luke 23: 34].
This article was originally published in the March 2010 issue of “The Anglican”, the official newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada's Toronto Diocese. Check it out to see the good things that God is doing in Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area and the rest of Southern Ontario, Canada.