On why atheists should practise what they preach
As a Christian, I often really enjoy engaging in discussion with atheists and agnostics about my faith. Such conversations can be interesting, can broaden the mind, and can provide something of a challenge. I feel that it is important to understand the reasons for choosing to be a Christian and to be open to questions. Faith and worldview are two concepts which are very much entwined, and I adhere to the view that Christianity is – and needs to be to be taken seriously – a reasonable faith.
I have some good atheist friends for whom I have a great deal of respect. Their beliefs are well thought through, and we often enjoy some reasoned debate. However, it has come to my attention that there are atheists out there with whom it is harder to have a reasoned discussion. Only the other day, I decided to respond to a tweet (by someone I didn’t know) suggesting that the Bible is the biggest work of fiction ever, and the resulting dialogue became quite interesting.
There were two others involved in the exchange of tweets, and I decided to ask whether or not they had read the Bible – after all, if you’re going to make a sweeping statement (for example, about the Bible being a massive work of fiction), you should probably have reason to justify it, and ascertaining what was known about the Bible was a good starting point here.
Initially, I didn’t get a straight answer. One response was “I was bought up with the Bible,” which I took to imply that they hadn’t read the Bible per se but had some familiarity with it – especially in the context of the rest of the tweet, which included “I have read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.”
Of course, in this case, “I was bought up with the Bible” can mean anything from “I’ve always had one on my shelf” (in which case, I was bought up with the works of Shakespeare) to “I used to study it every day.” Clarification was not forthcoming, so I should probably apologise to those concerned in case my assumption was wrong. But whether or not I was right, the fact is there are plenty of atheists who are happy to make statements about the Bible (and about Christianity in general) whilst only having some familiarity with it themselves.
I find it very strange that such people are happy to be condescending towards Christians, pointedly claiming that their own views are “based purely on fact and reason” whilst simultaneously appearing happy to make sweeping statements without doing their own investigations. Ironically, you could argue that they have faith in what they think they know about the Bible, or in someone else’s opinion.
Additionally, I find it very strange that such people are happy to be quick to accuse others of not saying what they mean, whilst simultaneously using ambiguous statements such as “I was bought up with the Bible.”
Twitter is probably not the place to beat around the bush unnecessarily, and a clear question – “have you read the Bible?” – can be met with a clear answer along the lines of “yes,” “no,” or perhaps “some of it.” At least both sides then know where they stand, and the discussion can proceed accordingly. To be vague leaves you open – fairly or unfairly – to accusations of hiding behind a smokescreen.
If you want to insist on fact and reason, great. But please practise what you preach; there’s no point in being proud about your need for these things if you get uppity when someone questions the background to your own beliefs and claims.
There are a huge number of interesting questions out there. My recent foray in to the Twittersphere touched upon such questions as “is the Bible reliable?” and “is there a creator?” and I think that it is good to explore these things. However, if balanced discussion is the order of the day, then let’s have a level playing field.