This thread brings to mind some of Ken Ham’s attacks upon Biologos which appeared on an Answers in Genesis some time ago. (I say “brings to mind” in the simplest sense, and not in order to say that anyone here is necessarily behaving like Ken Ham or promoting his specific agenda.) Ham was basically criticizing the Biologos “purpose statement” for not being similar to a church doctrinal statement. He was essentially encouraging his readers to despise Biologos for failing to demand that its participants all agree on what he considers fundamental Christian evangelical doctrines. Ham seemed oblivious to the fact that Biologos is not a church or a even a forum for a specific variety of Christian only. He proceeded to tell his readers that Biologos was “modernist” and wishy-washy, a theologically liberal bunch of sinners who had abandoned primary Christian doctrines in order to make friends with the world and win the approval of atheist scientists. Frankly, it angered me that Ham entirely ignored the educational purposes of Biologos and its goals of encouraging fruitful dialogue. Indeed, it was clear to me that Ham wanted Biologos to be hostile towards Roman Catholic participants. (He complained that Biologos was “weak” on salvation by grace alone and certainly on Biblical inerrancy.) To Ham, failing to promote AIG’s Christian fundamentalist doctrines at every opportunity made Biologos inherently evil and destructive.
I think about the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles where Peter and John and, later, Paul spoke to the powers that be after being arrested. They could have used those special opportunities to denounce those very people who were in power and even to list their most egregious acts of evil. Instead, they focused on the Gospel truths which really mattered. They certainly took strong stands but not in the sense of destroying dialogue and getting bogged down in every topic of disagreement. Indeed, the Apostle Paul was often downright super-respectful and gracious before rulers who we might consider deserving of neither.
One of my early mentors when I was a young minister always urged me to “choose your battles carefully and strategically.” He also liked to say that “Few people are more like a bull in a china shop than one who knows he is right and wants everybody else to know it—even when he truly is correct in his position.” There are many ways to “take a stand”. Some are wiser than others. Some are more effective than others.
When I used to be more involved in various forum discussions where both Christian fundamentalists and atheists posted in abundance, I was often attacked by the former for being “too friendly” with the latter. They complained that, unlike them (the aggressively adamant fundamentalists), I wasn’t constantly quoting scriptures which demanded that the atheists must repent of their sins and become Christians. I was told that I needed to be “a bold witness for Christ at all times.” Yet, I don’t think there was ever an atheist present in those forums who didn’t know that I was a Christ-follower and I also doubt that there were any ambiguities about my positions. Furthermore, I doubt that there was any atheist on those forums who hadn’t been told countless times that really ought to believe in God and that Christians thought that they should heed the Gospel message. Indeed, it reminds me of some of the fundamentalist preachers I knew back in the 1960’s who told me that if I failed to include at least a brief “repent or you are going to hell” message and altar call at the end of every sermon, I was “a liberal who has abandoned the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
I certainly believe that the participation of a diversity of atheists, agnostics, Roman Catholics evangelicals, fundamentalists, et al on this kind of forum enriches the dialogue and, ideally, encourages clarity. And being challenged in my positions only helps me to more carefully think through them. While I can understand why some people enjoy the reinforcement of echo chambers, I don’t find them a good use of my time.
Romans 12:18 says “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Yes, the KJV is a reflection of the days of my youth when the modern English Bible translations had not yet become standard in most American Protestant churches.) The NIV rendering of Hebrews 12:14 is also helpful: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” To me, this describes amicable dialogue quite well. When we seek peace wherever it is possible, we reflect the holiness of Jesus.
Of course, as I’ve said before, an atheist is simply someone who has not found the evidence for the existence of any deity personally compelling. Is that any reason to attack them? No. Admittedly, some atheists angrily and aggressively deny the existence of God but I’ve known relatively few atheists who fit that description. (Certainly none of my atheist faculty colleagues when I was a young science professor matched that stereotype.) To me it is very unfair to stereotype all atheists in that manner, just as it would be unfair to characterize all Christians according to the views and behaviors of Ku Klux Klansmen who paint crosses on their robes and burn them into lawns. Likewise, I see no reason to be unwelcoming towards them in a forum like this one, even when they post explanations for why they are atheists and how they are often mistreated in our society. (Yes, various kinds of theists also get mistreated at times but why shouldn’t everyone have the right to describe their own personal plight in terms of societal biases?)