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”.