A few years ago, a man I knew was diagnosed with cancer. He was older than me, and I think his health was not good. The cancer doctors used very aggressive treatments and his tumour began to shrink. His friends, including me, were happy about this because it seemed like he was going to beat the cancer.
Then the bad news came. The treatment for cancer was so severe, it was killing him. The doctors were forced to stop the treatment to save his life, and the tumor started growing again. He knew he would die from the cancer, and he went to a hospice for palliative care, which means he went to a specialized hospital, and waited to die. And the end of his story is; he did die, after a few weeks.
The palliative care unit was close to where I worked and I made a few lunch-time visits. He had visits from family members in the evenings. On my lunchtime work schedule, I had to walk several blocks and I could only visit for only a few minutes, so I asked if I could do more for him. He said he really missed one newspaper, and he couldn’t get a copy in the hospital. So that was my contribution; I hurried over with the paper and talked with him for a few minutes, and then hurried back to work.
And after a few weeks he was gone.
What I didn’t tell you is that he was a convinced atheist, and I am a convinced Christian.
So did I preach, or did he get defensive and resentful? No, not at all. We both stayed cheerful and friendly. He probably knew that I prayed for him quietly, but he never asked for religious advice, and he was never angry with me. We were friends to the end.
He was not a “New Atheist.”
“New Atheism” is usually considered a new development, mostly defined and organized in this century. On September 30, 2007, four well-known atheists, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett met together, and gave force and definition to this concept.
- RELATED: New Atheism
My impression is that old atheists, like my friend, just did not believe. They chose to not believe in God, but they lived comfortably with people who did believe, like me. The New Atheists are believers and they are offended if anyone dares to believe in God. Their god is human progress through science, although they may not be scientists themselves. To one “Old Atheist” I was a friend, and to the other side, I am mentally ill and possibly dangerous if I believe in God. They would accuse me of talking to my invisible, imaginary friend, when I pray.
One of the most famous New Atheist statements came from the comedian George Carlin:
“Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!”
One problem for me is that “religion” means Christianity, and “invisible friend” means Jesus. If they forcefully criticized Islam, they would be Islamophobic and some Muslims might be dangerously angry. Attacks against the Jews would be antisemitism, and targeting Hindus and Buddhists would be racism or something similar.
That leaves Christians as the best target for their competitive anger. George Carlin was describing Christians with one God, ten commandments, eternal hell, and collecting tithes and offerings. No other religion fits that profile.
So how do we argue with these people? We don’t. If I was filled with anger and I expressed vicious criticism of my neighbors because I follow Jesus, I would be a living recommendation for some other belief. If they cannot live with people who believe differently than themselves, they are seriously disturbed; hatred against an identifiable group is illegal in many places. My atheist friend and I were always civil, even in the face of death. There was no persecution, in either direction.
According to Jesus, we should expect persecution as a normal part of the Christian life:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
And Paul added:
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Timothy 3:12)
So how do we answer this new persecuting criticism? God has not moved and the old rules still apply.
Persecution should make us happy:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12-14)
And we should be kind to our enemies:
Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)