This morning, I followed a link in my facebook news feed to an article about a family who was praying for a loved one fighting cancer. It wasn’t the article that hit me. It was the comments. Comment. After comment. After comment. After comment.
Strongly, condescendingly and sarcastically deriding prayer.
And people who pray.
The comments by this collection of seemingly unrelated anti-theists made me genuinely sad. And no, not condescendingly sad for them in a “because they don’t believe in God” kind of way. Sad because they are being so intentionally and aggressively insulting and offensive. To complete strangers. Some of those complete strangers have experienced suffering I can’t imagine. And prayer helped them get through that suffering.
At the time of this writing, there were over 250 comments on that article, a large chunk written by anti-theists.
So much time and effort to go out of their way to attack people who, when it comes right down to it, really aren’t important to them. Regardless of whether that family’s loved one lives or dies, the life of the anti-theist commenter isn’t going to be impacted in the slightest bit.
The question that comes to my mind is this: If prayer really is pointless and people who pray are really mumbling to an “invisible man in the sky,” why do these anti-theists even care? Why are they wasting time with faceless people they perceive to be so ignorant and insufferable?
I’ve intentionally been referring to these commenters as anti-theists, not atheists. There’s a difference between someone who doesn’t believe in God and someone who goes out of their way – again and again and again – to aggressively express their disrespect, and sometimes their disgust, for people who do believe in God.
It makes me sad. As Elle Woods might say, “Happy atheists don’t care if Christians pray. They just don’t.”
That said, many of the follow-up comments on that article by people claiming to be Christians make me ashamed.
I hate derisive sarcasm. I have some pretty strong opinions about it. It’s different from joking sarcasm. Derisive sarcasm reeks of contempt. It shuts down dialog. It erodes relationships. It demoralizes. It poisons trust. In my own personal experience, it’s a weapon often wielded by the cowardly and insecure. People who either avoid assertive conflict resolution or lack the skills to communicate openly and honestly. Do I think all people who consistently rely on derisive sarcasm as a communication tool weapon are cowardly and insecure?
To be completely honest, yes. yes I do.
Did I mention I had some strong opinions about it? And don’t assume the reason I don’t use derisive sarcasm is because I think I’m above it. I don’t use it because I grew up a bleeding victim of it and I’m vehemently opposed to perpetuating that kind of abuse. It’s by the grace of God that I was able to break free of that destructive behavior.
Some people grow up barraged with sarcasm, develop a resilience to it, adopt it as normal and wear it permanently holstered to their side for easy and instant access when someone doesn’t meet their expectations.
When I witness derisive sarcasm or someone uses it on me, I freely admit that person instantly loses my respect. That’s my knee-jerk reaction. I have to ask God to help me respond instead of react. I have to ask God to help me see them as He sees them. Sometimes I have to ask God to help me want to ask Him to help me see them as He sees them. As just a different kind of broken. Deserving grace. Because He loves them.
I’ve learned that pain can sometimes manifest itself by causing more pain. Sometimes I forget that.
It would appear I’m not the only one.
Many of the professed Christians who commented exhibited the same arrogance and sarcasm as the anti-theists did.
And I said professed Christians, not Christians. Reading these comments, I can’t always tell if someone is a genuine disciple of Christ.
I think that very often, when we stumble upon these kind of comment thread quagmires, both the anti-theists and the professed Christians are so vocal we sometimes forget there are genuine disciples of Christ who respond to sarcastic smack-downs with grace. We forget there are open-minded atheists who support another’s right to believe something even when that belief differs from their own.
If you are a genuine disciple of Christ who personally knows an open-minded atheist or an open-minded atheist who personally knows a genuine disciple of Christ, you know what I mean.
The truth is, I rarely jump in these caustic conversations. Not because I don’t care, but because, from the intensity of the back and forth between the anti-theists and the professed Christians, I know there’s no point. My voice would be ignored and I have no need to hear myself talk. I have no confidence that anyone involved in these conversations is listening for understanding. There’s very little interest in an edifying dialog.
It’s more like a tit for tat. A theological and/or metaphysical urinary olympics. Notice I didn’t say spiritual. There ain’t nothing spiritual about these comment threads. Notice I said comment threads, not conversations. There’s not a lot of communication happening.
When it comes right down to it, I don’t jump in the middle of these mutual smack-downs because I’ve learned that people don’t change their mind as a result of someone berating them.
More often, people’s hearts are softened as a result of someone responding to them with empathy.
More often, minds are opened when they are allowed to doubt and explore without judgement.
More often, people hear better after someone has listened to them.
More often, people can’t see until they’ve been seen.