Op-ed submission by Project 21
This is the time of year when belligerent atheists corral fellow “freethinkers” together in an attempt to legally disrupt displays of the Nativity. Wherever these innocent and usually welcomed Christian religious displays are found, there’s often a bitter atheist complaining to local authorities and the media because public display of the baby Jesus in a manger offends their irreligious sensibilities.
And the atheist hand appears to be gaining strength as the “war on Christmas” seems to escalate each year.
But this is the only time of year when angry atheists are apparently willing to present themselves in large numbers. I’ve seen a few atheists plead their empty cases during the Easter season, but it’s Christmastime when they are most aggressive. Why? After all, if atheism had inherent worth, the atheists would engage the wider culture all the time instead of attempting to offend and insult the devout by putting their collective finger in the eye of believers just once a year. Atheists must want to make those revering the religious aspect of Christmas as miserable as they seem to be.
It’s also interesting that it’s only the God worshipped by Christians with whom radical atheists really take issue. They don’t seem to have the same fervor for challenging Ramadan, Passover or Diwali. Is it easier to bully those who believe in “turn(ing) the other cheek” than those more forceful in defending their beliefs? I think there’s more to it. Atheists feel threatened because they have nothing to offer. Religion, any religion, does.
Remember a year ago, when 26 children and school employees were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut? Real feelings presented themselves during this tragedy. People in the media, social networks and across America sent prayers to Newtown, to the victims, their families and residents in general. On Facebook and Twitter, people posted Bible verses in sincere and sympathetic efforts to provide comfort and understanding to those affected by the horror of what had occurred. Articles were written about how clergy scrapped prepared sermons to discuss how suffering and evil can be overcome.
Likewise, after that unspeakable tragedy, religious leaders were interviewed by the media about the nature of God, suffering, evil and justice and how people can make sense of it all. Among the clergy were several Catholic priests, rabbis and the pastor of New Hope Community Church in Newtown. Local residents, in shock and struggling to understand what happened, gathered for a prayer vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. It was one of many local vigils.
Yet, of all the vigils, there seemed to be no mention of any freethinkers or skeptics invited to soothe the shocked masses. No vigils appeared to be totally devoid of religious or spiritual accoutrements. There’s a good reason.
Atheism is an empty belief system that doesn’t offer followers comfort, hope or emotional solace when the world goes bad. Atheism doesn’t provide a notion of divine justice, reward and punishment or heaven and hell for acts of goodness or overwhelming evil. Christianity does. Atheism simply… is.
This isn’t to say there aren’t individual atheists who sympathized and had empathy for the city of Newtown, the victims of Hurricane Sandy and western wildfires or for those stricken by profound illness or accidents. Similarly, there are those who don’t believe in God who still identify with those who celebrate Christmas. I know some of them and we get along fine.
But, as a belief system represented by those whose motivation appears to offend, organized atheism to me is bankrupt. I find it wanting. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Indeed, He is.
God bless the Christmas season, and may He continue to bless those in need of His compassion, wisdom and solace.
Derryck Green, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, received a M.A. in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his doctorate in ministry at Azusa Pacific University.