A billboard in Portland, Oregon pictures a young man next to the words, “This is what an atheist looks like.” The advertisement was intended by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to show that atheists are just like the rest of us. When someone spray painted horns on the man’s head, the group’s co-president responded: “Atheists don’t have horns . . . it is literally demonizing us.”
It’s ironic that a group which does not believe in the existence of demons feels it has been “demonized.” But it is not ironic or appropriate in any way that someone vandalized their billboard. Let’s think this morning about our options as we seek the best ways to respond to those who are antagonistic to our beliefs.
One option is to ignore them, hoping they’ll go away. But atheists are not going away; if Christians do not respond to their claims, we legitimize them. Conversely, Christianity is advancing more quickly around the world than ever before in history, with as many as a million conversions a week. Many atheists see such faith as harmful to society, pointing to violence and ignorance perpetuated in the name of religion. Neither side should pretend the other is irrelevant to our culture.
An option at the opposite extreme is to instigate conflict with the other side, attacking their billboards and beliefs. For instance, Richard Dawkins writes in The God Delusion that the “God of the Old Testament” is “a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” In a similar vein, the Westboro Baptist Church, a congregation of 40 members, has made headlines over the years with its pickets at soldiers’ funerals and protests against Jews and other Christians.
A third option is to obey Scripture by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Will painting devil’s horns on an atheist billboard bring more atheists to Christ? A friend recently sent me a cartoon depicting a medieval Crusader on his horse, his spear at the throat of a Muslim lying on the ground. The caption quotes the Muslim saying to the Christian: “I’d love to hear more about your Jesus.”
The Apostle Peter instructed us to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Then the apostle urged us: “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
What are some practical ways Christians can respond to those who oppose our faith? I’d appreciate reading your comments on our website. As you consider this question, would you ask the Spirit to help you combine “gentleness and respect” with bold courage in serving your King today?