With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net. People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net? A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going? Does this shock anyone?
A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways. Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the "rat's rectum" comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins' site sound like Pollyanna.
Anyway, I thought I'd try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:
One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.
Here are some other reflections:
- Reason flows from the heart. These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc,. But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument. They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words. "Logic" was their slogan not their method.
- They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one - being materialists and all!
- Pointing out this inconsistency didn't seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
- Everyone deals in circularities:
- I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
- You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what's true because it's proved itself effective when judged by science.
- Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources - ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method. One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn't happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method. There's faith for you. Which leads to...
- Everyone is faith based. We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
- I kept getting asked for 'evidence'. My responses were in three broad categories, first I'd point to Christ risen from the dead, second I'd simply quote Scriptures. But probably the most effective thing was to say "everything! Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you."
- Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again. Basically it's saying: "Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it. Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus. Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing? Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis? In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time."
- In this sense theology is a science. It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate . This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge. Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word. The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be. But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren't falsifiable either. Premises are the light by which we see. It's their success in seeing that recommends them.
- The failure of "science alone" to see the world was very evident to me. It didn't seem particularly evident to them. That Beethoven's 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them. That it was "beautiful" was a verdict they couldn't make with anything like the same certainty.
- The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of "the onward march of science", demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition. There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts. Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this. All their calls for "evidence, evidence" were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm - to serve their greatest love. They need a new paradigm, or better - a new love.
- The call for "evidence, evidence" in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison. What counts as 'evidence' for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm. This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above. Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
- My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility. I'm ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment. I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me. The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren't that great anyway!). This is especially so given what I've been arguing above.
- Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise. Many of the commenters were American 'de-converted' evangelicals and knew a lot of bible. The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the "all Christians are bigots" tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
- On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things. All they've heard has been from other atheists.
- And of course there were many more who I'm sure just 'listened'. My time at Speaker's Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you're aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails. Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
- Turning the other cheek hurts but it's powerful. I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
- The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable. The hatred that's there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me. But if we're surprised and outraged let's get a grip - no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
- Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the "stinking, sliding, scuttling" floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him. (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it). I spent a few hours in an internet forum. His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart. He's the One we proclaim. His attitude is the attitude we take. And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
- There is a time for shaking dust off your feet. Some need to spend a little longer in the battle. But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner. :)