Poll: How Do You Respond to Anti-Christian Rhetoric?

Graduate Study in Rhetoric & Writing

Not this kind of rhetoric.

There’s a poll at the bottom of this post. Take a second to leave your answer to this question, or elaborate in the comments:

How do you respond to anti-Christian rhetoric?

Here’s why this question is on my mind. Last week, I read several encouraging articles about the relationship between science and religion. First, I saw the AP’s followup interview with Martin Gaskell, the Christian astronomer who settled a religious discrimination lawsuit against the University of Kentucky. Though most of the article focused on the lawsuit and reactions to it, it ended with this great comment from Gaskell:

He said he wants to work to encourage more Christians to enter the sciences. “One thing I feel really strongly about is that we need to convey to students that the scientific questions are not all settled,” he said. “If all scientific questions were settled I think science would be rather dull, because what I like doing is research and solving unsolved problems.”

Second, friend-of-ESN Jimmy Lin shared a link about the AAAS seminar “Evangelicals, Science, and Policy: Toward a Constructive Engagement.” Inside Higher Ed also picked up the story, and included this great anecdote about a scientist discovering common ground with evangelicals:

A little more than five years ago, when James J. McCarthy was invited to attend a meeting of prominent scientists and evangelical Christians, he had his doubts.

McCarthy, the Alexander Agassiz professor of biological oceanography at Harvard University, wondered if he would be locked in a dead-end argument over the age of the planet — one in which no amount of scientific evidence he could marshal would ever trump faith in a biblical interpretation of a young Earth.

IHE fails to note the irony that McCarthy holds a chair named for the son of Louis Agassiz, who himself is a controversial figure in the history of science and religion. After a 2005 meeting with evangelical Christians on the topic of climate change, McCarthy’s attitude toward evangelicals was transformed.

“We found that each side of the table had far more in common than ever, ever imagined,” McCarthy said Friday, adding that it quickly became clear that the scientists and evangelical Christians shared what he called “a genuine reverence for life on this planet.”

Unfortunately, my excitement about these articles was quickly diminished.

I should have known better, but I decided to take a look at some of the blog posts critical of Gaskell and the AAAS, and I made mistake of scrolling down to the comments section of the various articles. Blog posts by the usual suspects — Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne — as well as comments equating all religion with “superstition and myth” and all religious believers with “fundamentalists” led me to spend way too much venting to my wife.

This anti-Christian rhetoric seen in the links above has little in common with sincere discussions of religion, science, and philosophy. While they have written more thoughtful stuff elsewhere, in these posts Dawkins, Myers, and Coyne simply mock religious believers, and never slow down to consider or understand positions different from their own. Their posts exemplify the worst kind of “debate” — which, sadly, Christians often participate in, too.

I have a very hard time resisting the urge to respond in kind. Ever since my first encounter with online discussion groups — waaaaay back in the days of Usenet — I’ve often taken part in inflammatory, sophomoric arguments. (If you can believe it, some of my worst flame wars dealt with that oh-so-controversial topic: comic strips.) Thankfully, I’ve gotten much better about restraining myself, but it’s still a struggle for me.

In another post, I’ll describe my three primary concerns with anti-Christian rhetoric in the sciences, but for now, I’d like to hear from you.

How do you respond to anti-Christian rhetoric? Take a second to answer the poll, and leave your further thoughts in the comments below.

How Do You Respond to Anti-Christian Rhetoric?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • Tom Grosh IV commented on February 24, 2011 Reply

    When encountering anti-Christian rhetoric in personal conversations, small discussion groups, and larger lectures, I prayerfully listen. My longing is for the “lost” to receive the Father’s embrace without me becoming “the older brother.” How can I point to the loving Father? By prayerfully considering, “What is behind the broken relationship with the Father and the Body of Christ? What questions are helpful to ask at what time (current situation, follow-up over time)? How may I continue ‘be’ like Christ in our interactions — which embodies the reality of ‘the way. the truth. the life?”

    “Off the cuff,” some possible reasons for anti-Christian rhetoric:

    1. reacting to a particular Christian tradition (or understanding of it): raised in or encountered along the way (e.g., raised in “no” or another religious tradition, but at a later time introduced to a Christian, Christians, or a Christian tradition)
    2. a misunderstanding of the Bible, Christian doctrine
    3. a difficult encounter with a pastor, teacher, parent, public figure
    4. sinful actions/thoughts that are desired to be accepted by Christians, “God,” society
    5. painful personal encounters with sickness, death, physical injury, suffering by those close … Note: could also be a larger questions of ‘why does a good God cause/allow suffering?
    6. wanting to ‘stir the pot’ but not have discussion/dialogue
    7. desiring to be ‘on the cutting edge’
    8. lack of self-reflection
    9. advocating naturalism, secular humanism, panentheism/spirituality, atheism, agnosticism. …

    When ‘others are in the room,’ the benefit of question/discussion may at times be more for ‘the others’ than the one who shares. Prayer, dwelling in the Word, background reading, community support is vital in preparation for, when present in, and as one seeks discernment in future interactions with one who makes the statements and those who heard them (e.g., personal follow-up with any every day colleague versus response to a one-off lecture). At times this may involve periodic appointments (1-1, small group discussion), questions via email, passing along a pertinent weblink/book/speaker event.

    The gifts of the fruit of Spirit in posture/attitude in response are vital. The Father calls us to continue to grow in Christ-likeness, we are salt, light, and leaven in a pluralistic culture. I’m particularly reminded of Daniel’s walk through a pluralistic culture where he followed God in the face of trial/rhetoric, remember how the kings came to notice the difference in Daniel and Daniel’s God. The character formation of Daniel and his friends could not be missed by friend and foe alike … along similar lines I’m reminded of the Native American colleague of Mary Poplin, http://www.intervarsity.org/gfm/well/resource/radical-scholar.

    I’ve found it difficult to judge the authenticity of on-line rhetoric and its coverage. On-line ‘persona’ and brief forms of communication (140 characters for the tweet and the FB Wall post to be fed into a tweet), lead to a lack nuance/qualification — all the more ‘pointed’ when addressing larger concerns. At times one even finds a purposeful edge to entice people to follow, respond, become a fan. Also, sometimes one’s encountering raw first thoughts which are in process, awaiting further development or a breakdown of a larger discussion which is not as easily discernible when one ‘drops by’ the post.

    That’s all for now. Anyone else with thoughts to share 😉

  • info@franko.co.za'
    Frank commented on February 28, 2011 Reply

    If it’s general “en passant” anti-Christian rhetoric that is designed to trivialise Christianity without engaging in meaningful dialogue, I suggest you ask, “Just a moment. Could you repeat that out loud, but replacing ‘Jesus Christ’ with ‘Mohammad’ and ‘Christian’ with ‘Islam’? If you cannot, I am forced to conclude that you are a coward.”

    It may not seem charitable at first glance, but it is honest and points out the basic error of anti-Christian rhetoric: a coward’s attack on the most tolerant of religions. Imagine Dawkins saying the things he does, but with “God” replaced by “Allah”. He knows he’d be mincemeat in minutes. He’s too much of a coward to risk his life for what he believes.

    • meganhobza@gmail.com'
      Megan commented on February 28, 2013 Reply

      Frank, I do the same thing, but say “Judaism.”

      I’m a community leader doing a Google search on dealing with anti-Christian comments. I’m agnostic, I was raised Presbyterian, and I have many Christian friends (and friends of other religions) from fundamentalists to moderates. All these people are part of my community, and we do great things together. Bigotry in any form is damaging to community, and I find anti-Christian rhetoric a rather pernicious form of bigotry. Any kind of name-calling or shaming is not productive, and I feel that both in public and behind closed doors, if we treat bigotry as normal or okay, we create a hostile environment in which it is difficult to build community.

      I got into a disagreement with a friend a month ago explaining this. He still isn’t speaking to me, feeling that I called him a bigot. (Not true, but that’s one of the risks of these conversations.) I am sad about that, but hopeful that folks out there are addressing this type of bigotry in more effective ways. If this group comes across a book that addresses how to have that conversation, I’d sure like a heads-up.

      Tom’s list has validity, but in my circles of friends, I hear a lot about the Westboro Baptists and other hate groups masquerading as churches; these groups confuse non-Christians about what Christianity is. Hate inspires hate. I think it’s important for Christians to differentiate themselves, loudly and publicly, from those groups.

      Keep me posted on what you learn. Thanks.

  • Tom Grosh IV commented on March 1, 2013 Reply

    Megan, Thank-you for sharing some of your story, interest and reflections. Differentiation is important, both the attitude and the content. I have found that even the confession at times that I don’t know how to respond in a manner which is a blessing has been a blessing. Why? Along similar lines to “Hate inspires hate,” brokenness/fragmentation responded to by brokenness/fragmentation results in deeper brokenness/fragmentation.

    Related: I encourage you to read “Promiscuous Reading” (Karen Swallow Prior), http://thewell.intervarsity.org/arts-books-media/promiscuous-reading, and “Toward a Critical, Metamodern Method in Academic Religious Studies” (John Hundley), http://www.jesusreligionphilosophy.com/2013/02/toward-critical-metamodern-method-in.html . . . following the related links, even one back to the Emerging Scholars Network Blog 🙂

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