Is the Atheist My Neighbor?

A while back, I posted something about a meme that I saw making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. The meme in question caused some deep-seated discomfort for me, because I didn’t like the implications. So I rambled about it via a very short story and, much to my surprise, people seemed to like it. Quite a bit, actually. So much so that I considered making similar posts a regular part of my blog. You know, something along the lines of “Anti-Meme Monday,” where I’d take on a meme that twists or distorts the Christian faith ever so slightly. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of things flash by in my feeds. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea. I’d have to do a lot of active hunting for those memes and that wasn’t something that really interested me. So I shelved the idea and figured my anti-meme crusade would be a one time thing.

Never say never, I guess.

About a week or two ago, I saw a new meme flash through my Facebook feeds. Several of my friends shared it, usually with a hearty wink and knowing laugh (or whatever the on-line equivalent of that is). And once again, I started feeling a sense of…well, unease. It didn’t sit well with me. And as the days past, I realized that I would have to tackle it.

What’s the meme in question? This one right here:

atheism meme

Just to be clear, I didn’t retweet this. Whoever took the screenshot did.

So what’s the problem? It seems like a pretty straightforward joke, something that Christians can share about those durn atheists and twist their tails for once. Aren’t atheists silly? They claim not to believe in God, and yet they spend an awful lot of time hating on something that they think doesn’t exist.

But is this really an accurate picture of what atheists believe (or don’t, as the case may be)? I’m not so sure. Worse, I worry that sentiments like this only muddy the discourse.

I mean, think of it this way: suppose an atheist characterized the Christian belief system as “having to follow the rules of some ‘loving’ sky wizard so you don’t wind up burning in hell for all eternity.” How many of us who profess faith in Jesus would say that’s an accurate description of the faith? I know I wouldn’t. I would label that as a childish caricature of a belief system that has little to do with following rules or avoiding hell or anything like that. And if I heard an atheist seriously suggest that that statement somehow explained my beliefs, I would be incredibly hesitant to get into any sort of discussion with that individual, simply because I would know that he wasn’t showing me any amount of respect as a person.

So why is it okay for us to do this when the shoe’s on the other foot?

Besides, is this really an accurate description of what an atheist believes? This meme seems to imply that deep down, atheists do believe that God exists and that the reason why they feign unbelief is because they hate Him for some reason. Is that true for some atheists? I suppose it might be, but I suspect for the majority of them, they don’t hate God. They can’t. They may not appreciate what His followers have done over the years. They may look at the pain and suffering of the world and assume that this means that a loving, all-powerful God can’t fit.

And really, how does this help open avenues of discussion with atheists? Let’s not forget, atheists are still people who have been created in the image of God. These are still people whom God loves very dearly, people that Christ died for. It’s hard to talk to them about this grace and love that is theirs through Christ if they think this is our understanding of where they’re coming from.

Look, I get it. I love satire. I love a good joke. But a joke like this isn’t funny if it isn’t based on some aspect of the truth. For those who have shared this meme, I have a challenge for you. The whole reason why I was so disturbed by this meme is because about a year ago, I listened to an interview conducted by some friends of mine with a man named Randal Rauser. It was a deeply convicting discussion that I’ve been chewing on for the last year. I would humbly suggest you not only listen to that interview yourself, but maybe check out Rauser’s book, Is the Atheist My Neighbor?

Simply put, if we want to be able to share God’s love with others, we have to do it from a position of respect. And this meme doesn’t add to that. At all. We can do better.

So is it okay to incorrectly represent a person's belief system for the sake of a joke? Click To Tweet

4 Comments:

  1. Actually, I have heard this from atheists: suppose an atheist characterized the Christian belief system as “having to follow the rules of some ‘loving’ sky wizard so you don’t wind up burning in hell for all eternity.” Flying Spaghetti Monster….threat to civilized people…..oppression….etc. I know there are lots of jolly atheists out there, but most of the ones I meet in person or online are angry, angry, angry. I have met a lot of disrespect and enmity, though nothing on an ISIS scale. Oh, I did meet one atheist who said he was floored by the Amish who forgave the man who shot a classroom of their children.
    Still, you make a good point.
    That sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Very interesting point and very solid reasoning. I have some friends who are not believers, and if I attacked them over what they do or don’t believe, even as a joke, it would put a block for me to share the Love of Jesus with them. As Christians, it’s so easy to get upset and offended at the idiocy of the “world system”, but we need to keep the perspective of the individuals that God longs to have a personal relationship with that is beyond “proof”, “argument” or even “religion”. One of the biggest problems with how the world views Christianity is the hatred some so-called Christians seem to enjoy using to try to “guilt” someone into joining them. The Truth is the Truth, and Faith in Jesus is the Way, but if we as His servants can’t get the mote out of our own eyes, how can we cast the beam out of our brother’s? This was an awesome blog to get believers, soon-to-be believers, and even never-going-to-believe un-believers to maybe understand not all of us want to put people in an overall category personally. I don’t like to be categorized at all according to someone else’s actions that share the same “label”. I happily wear the title of Jesus Believer, but that doesn’t mean I approve of what some who claim that title do. GREAT THOUGHT-PROVOKING NON-MEME! LUV YA BUNCHES IN JESUS WITH HUGS, HOPE, & HAPPY TK HOPS!
    Tonja Klein – TK http://www.eirinth.com

  3. Yikes. Highly adversarial meme that doesn’t do a lot to really listen to where someone is at. You’re right to say that everyone, even an atheist, is created in the image of God and deserve for us to try to understand where they’re coming from. Unfortunately, Christians often say something like that meme, or something like, ‘well, you know the Bible says that the foolish have said in their heart there is no God.’ That’s not dialogue, is it? Thanks for getting me to think about a better way to talk with people who don’t believe in God.

  4. I’m completely late the the party on this post, but THANK YOU for articulating this! It’s been bugging me for most of the past year, especially with the political season we’ve just gone through.

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