Monday, November 28, 2011

Profile of a Hatetheist

Over the past six or so years, I’ve engaged in many dialogs with individuals who claim that God does not exist. The typical label applied to such a person is atheist (“a” – no, “theist” – god, or belief in a god/deity). However, with all the conversations and interactions I’ve had, I see a distinct pattern emerging between an atheist and someone that instead I believe can be categorized as a hatetheist.  

I have absolutely no problem conversing with atheists. I appreciate the objections and arguments they bring against the Christian faith, which may sound strange at first to hear. But I hold to the position that one of my professors, Norman Geisler, adheres to. He reads atheist works during his devotional period because he says atheists keep Christians honest where our apologetics are concerned, and they are helpful in showcasing what the philosophy of naturalism espouses and where it logically leads.

Although we disagree on theological matters, I’ve found atheists to be respectful, smart, and understanding in many of our discussions. But the hatetheist – that’s a different story. Whereas I’m happy to have conversations with atheists, I’m increasingly finding that discussing theology with hatetheists is an exercise in futility.

Assembling the Profile of a Hatetheist

I thought I would try and present a profile of the hatetheist vs. the atheist so Christians can have an idea of when to enter into discussions and when to walk away with unbelievers. The below is based on my experience alone.

  • Whereas the atheist is respectful during a conversation or interaction, the hatetheist – either immediately or very soon – descends into ad hominem attacks and disrespectful name calling. The names used many times completely mischaracterize a Christian’s true position (e.g. “flat-earther”). Sometimes, the hatetheist will go so far as to say that anyone who believes in God is clinically crazy or insane.
  • In addition to attacking a Christian’s intelligence or character, the hatetheist routinely tosses out derogatory names or references to God (e.g. “invisible sky fairy”) and Jesus (a “Jewish zombie” or “Bejebus”). The atheist, however, typically does not refer to God or Jesus in such ways.
  • Hatetheists tend to be inordinately arrogant and border on narcissism when it comes to their perception of their own intelligence vs. those who hold to a theistic worldview. An example are hatetheists who label themselves as "The Brights", with the obvious message being anyone who is not an atheist must be dimwitted. 
  • The atheist genuinely considers arguments and presented evidence where the hatetheist does not. The hatetheist either ignores expert testimony, uses numerous red herrings, or charges the Christian with “quote smithing” when various quotes from experts are used to support the theistic position, and never considers the expert testimony. Ironically, many of the same hatetheists who do this maintain web sites with rotating quotes from famous atheists and sport links to other atheist sites that contain quotable information. But the bottom line is there is a “willing unbelief” in the hatetheist that will not entertain a position that is contrary to their own.  
  • The atheist adheres to science, but understands and recognizes its limits, whereas the hatetheist is a devotee to scientism. If the faith of scientism is new to you, see what the limits of science are in a recent blog post of mine.
  • The atheist tends to be universal in their critique of any god, but the hatetheist focuses mostly, if not solely, on Christianity. The hatetheist shows no fear in mocking Jesus in graphic ways, but is remarkably restrained where others such as Muhammad of Islam are concerned.
  • The atheist’s actions are ones that are secure in that they will not lash out in irrational ways to thoughts of theism. Christianity is not threatening in that way, and they find no need to interject themselves into a Christian’s worship or their special days to interrupt them. The hatetheist, on the other hand, exhibits very insecure activity such as launching billboard promotional ads during seasons where their worldview is most threatened such as Christmas and Easter. 

Again, these are my own observations from the experiences I’ve had and things that I have witnessed.

Responding to the Hatetheist

How should a Christian interact with a hatetheist? The question is not an easy one to answer. On the one hand, there are some Christians who believe that we should continuously engage all unbelievers no matter their manner or attitude. They say that no one is too far gone and reference the Apostle Paul, who as Saul, was about as aggressive and hostile as any unbeliever ever could be.

A fair point, to be sure.

However, as I’ve done a little Biblical research in this vein, I’ve reached the current conclusion that the Scriptures seem to warn us away of continued (note the importance of that word) interaction with hatetheists where sharing the gospel is concerned.

Two episodes in the gospels give us Jesus’ take on the matter. First, is Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). Commenting on this passage, John MacArthur in his Study Bible sums up Jesus’ warning in the following way: “This principle governs how one handles the gospel in the face of those who hate the truth.”

Another episode in Matthew demonstrates Christ’s attitude toward the same type of individual. After telling the Pharisees about their hypocritical manner and dark heart, Matthew records the following exchange between Jesus and His disciples: “Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:12–14). Notice three key words that sum up Christ’s position on such people: “Let them alone”. It’s not common to see the Son of God recommending against evangelism, but it happened in this case.

There are a number of examples outside the gospels worth considering, and one in particular stands out. Upon arriving in Pisidian Antioch, Paul entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and gave a stirring address. The end result was, “As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42).

Luke records what happened next: “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.”” (Acts 13:44–46, my emphasis).

The word “reviling” in the above passage is ‘blasphemeo’ in the Greek, and it means “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns”. Paul evidently recognized these individuals for what they were. While the Gentiles rejoiced over Paul’s words, the first century hatetheists went even further in their hatred of Paul, demonstrating the strong rebellion that was in their heart: “But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:50–51). Paul simply moved on from them.

As Christians, we want to believe there is no point in an unbeliever’s life where they cannot turn back from their rebellion against God. However there are warnings in Scripture that seem to indicate otherwise. For example, the writer of Proverbs says, “A worthless person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife. Therefore his calamity will come suddenly; instantly he will be broken and there will be no healing” (Proverbs 6:12–15, my emphasis).

The writer of Hebrews also warns: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:15–17, my emphasis).

These verses seem to indicate that there is a time to let the tares grow alongside the wheat (cf. Matt. 13:15-30) and a point where God closes the door to the ark of salvation for people (cf. Gen. 7:16).


I don’t find it at all easy to write the words above, but increasingly, when it comes to hatetheists, I find the words of Richard Weaver spot on: “Nothing good can come if the will is wrong.  And to give evidence to him who loves not the truth is to give him more plentiful material for misinterpretation.” 

Paul gives a rather interesting analogy to how the gospel affects people when he says, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).

Have you ever smelled the smell of death? It stinks. To the hatetheist, we stink very badly, and they react accordingly.  

Because of this and the Biblical examples I’ve cited above, I’m afraid that, when it comes to hatetheists, once I have made a number of attempts to share the gospel and answer their questions to the best of my ability and they exhibit the characteristics I've noted above, my position today adheres to Jesus’ simple statement: “Let them alone”.  


Anonymous said...

Very nice writeup, I've experienced many of these hatetheist traits from people both online and in person.

Honest Hypocrite said...

I like how you're respectful to atheist.It's true that some of us(a lot) behave in the manner you listed above. However, I would like to think that this is not due to the person's stand on religion. I'm pretty sure you know of Christians who behave in the same manner too. Having studied in a Catholic girls' school, I've suffered a lot from that kind of behaviour. (I'm aware there's a difference between Catholics and Christians.)

It's annoying to interact with these kind of people but lets keep in mind that their behaviour is due to their character more than their religious stand.

Robin Schumacher said...

Honest Hypocrite - point well taken. Augustine said you should never judge a philosophy by its abuse and that goes for both the theistic and atheistic worldviews.

If you ever want to chat about your reasons for holding to atheism, I'm all ears.

Honest Hypocrite said...

My stand on the existence of God is the he may or may not exist. I believe in living in the moment and as far as I'm concerned his existence isn't certain at the moment. If he doesn't exist, good for me. Even if he does, I prefer to follow my own moral compass even if I have to suffer the consequences later on.

Robin Schumacher said...

Honest Hypocrite - so it sounds like you're an agnostic where God is concerned. What would it take for you to believe God exists and that Christ's life as described in the New Testament of the Bible is true?

Honest Hypocrite said...

Honestly, I don't have an answer to that question. If I knew what it takes to make me believe in god, I wouldn't be an atheist then. Anyway, it's the job of an evangelist to think up a solution to that, isn't it?

Anyway, what made me move from freethinker to atheist is the type of people you describe in this blog post. In my case, the religious version. I've interacted with really wonderful religious people and their opposites. I concluded that whether or not I believe a god exists doesn't have that much an impact in my life or my character and if there isn't an impact, why should I care if he exists or not? I think it's much safer to decide how I live my life by myself than to decide it according to the will of somebody I'm not even sure of his existence. And if I do make a mistake, at least I can admit that my beliefs were wrong and learn from it.

Recently, I heard from my sister her response to your question when asked by really rude street evangelists(the kind that starts to insult you if you refuse to listen). Her answer to the question is, 'I'll believe if you can make him float up from his grave again in front of me.'

Robin Schumacher said...

Honest Hypocrite - thanks for writing; good to hear from you again.

I asked what evidence you would require to believe in God because, as an atheist, you're saying there's no god. Any affirmation (like atheism) has to include evidence for why the position is held, so I'm just wondering what's causing your denial of God.

You say God wouldn't impact your life, but I can tell you He's impacted mine. I'm a much better husband, father, and worker because of the changes Jesus has brought about in my life. Most people admit they could be "better people", and with Jesus, that realization can be had.

With respect to your sister's request, Jesus didn't float up out of the grave; He walked out. Did you know that by examining the historical evidence for His resurrection, He can in a very real way do what your sister asks? What I'm saying is you can become convinced that the resurrection is real by really looking at the facts surrounding it. Interested?

Honest Hypocrite said...

My denial of god, as you like to put it, is simply because of the lack of convincing evidence presented to me so far.It's also further pushed by my preference for there to be no god.

I'm glad for you if religion has made you better husband, father, and worker but I don't need religion to do that for me. I intend to become a better person and I am becoming a better person simply because I want to. Religion can be a driving force for you to improve but anything else can do that too. I can want to become a better child because I love my parents. Simple as that. Or a better worker because I love my customers. These are the reasons behind me wanting to become better and becoming better and I don't need god to do that for me.

I'm not going to argue with you in whether or not Jesus walked/floated out of his grave because it's something my sister said and I don't intend to be responsible for it. However, I would like to clarify that what my sister meant was that she wanted to SEE Jesus walk/float out of his grave. It doesn't matter whether or not Jesus did that in the past.

Robin Schumacher said...

Honest Hypocrite - I'd like to thank you very much for your honesty; it's actually rare in the atheist ranks. Most atheists say it's the evidence that they need to see, but that's really not true. Another honest atheist I appreciate is Nietzsche, who wrote: "It is our preference that rules against Christianity, not arguments." Sounds like you're in the same camp.

However, don't you think truth is more important than preference? You might prefer to participate in many destructive habits, but it's best if you submit to the truth and abstain. Agree or no?