Sticks and stones may break bones, but … “Your words hurt me!” say atheists
“I’ve been doing science for 30 years; don’t you think it offends me when you say you don’t believe in evolution?”
I nearly fell out of my chair! I had been asked by an atheist group (the Center for Inquiry) to come down and speak at a meeting they were holding to discuss their recent promotion of a bus advertising campaign on the Toronto Transit line declaring “There is probably no God, so relax and enjoy your life.” They apparently wanted a “religious” view represented so had invited me.
After the initial pre-determined questions to the panel members were asked, the audience (all atheists except for one to my knowledge) were invited to ask questions. The (biologist) gentlemen’s question (above) was issued to me after I had declared I was a creationist.
Free thought (but not for all)!
The group’s mission statement reads: The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. There were “free thought” posters displayed all around the facility so I was flabbergasted to hear the man state he was offended by the fact that I didn’t agree with him!
I said “Sir, you don’t believe the same things I do, and I’m not offended by that. If you choose to be offended by what I don’t believe I have no control over that. And to be honest sir, considering the intellectual environment we are in here today (the fact that I was invited specifically to provide opposing views!) I think it’s rather pathetic that you would even make that comment.” His fellow atheists actually agreed and the crowd seemed embarrassed for/because of him and he sat down.
It was a lively session and afterwards (even though they did not agree with my position) several people came over, shook my hand and made comments like “You had good arguments”, “We should have you back” etc. Many of the group represented what I would consider honest intellectuals that enjoyed the challenge of open, honest debate. However (like the gentleman mentioned above), this is not always the case. He seemed to be indicating that the mere fact of me disagreeing with him was hurtful and offensive.
Another example occurred recently when one of our Australian CMI speakers was engaging in a discussion with an atheist from France after delivering a creation talk. Towards the end of the conversation, the atheist was defending the morality of non-Christian religions. When the CMI speaker asked; "So who was it who burnt all those cars in the riots in French cities in recent years?", the atheist became super-defensive, saying it was nothing to do with their religion but because of their poverty, lack of education and employment opportunities, and of the mistreatment at the hands of white Frenchmen.
But when the CMI speaker countered, “Then what about the wealthy/middle-class well-educated 9/11 hijackers, what was their excuse?” The atheist’s reaction was interesting. “When you speak about Islam in this way, it hurts me!” “I feel so hurt" said the atheist.
Why so hurt?
Why the declaration of “hurt” and “offence”? Perhaps to put Christians on the defense and to stop them from being effective against (by giving answers) what the world is teaching. Douglas Wilson points this out in his excellent response to the atheist Sam Harris’s “Letter to a Christian Nation”. In “Letter from a Christian Citizen” Wilson notes that Harris starts off his anti-Christian diatribe by pointing out some of the most hostile responses to his book The End of Faith came from Christians. “The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism”.1
Wilson believes Harris does this as a tactical matter to “soften” up his Christian readers: “You opened your book this way because you knew (quite accurately) that Christians generally would be upset by it, would be put on the defensive, would be sorrowful over what some have done to you in the name of Christ … ”2
“The Christian Church has a problem with this kind of person in our midst. We are embarrassed by it, believing it to be inconsistent with what Christ taught … ”3
And of course, it is, but Christians cannot be held responsible for what another that professes Christ has done. However, disagreeing with someone is not the same as being offensive. But the world has seemed to have caught on to the fact that many Christians are so sensitive to being “offensive” that they have equated “disagreement” with “offense”. (This is a reversal of the fallacy of equivocation, where one word is used in two different ways; here, the fallacy is giving two different concepts the same meaning.)
So if a non-believer cries “I’m hurt”, many Christians will stop disagreeing with them. It’s a great (even though it is phony) debating tactic, and if it is effective, why wouldn’t atheists use it to their advantage? After all, if there is no God, evolution must be true, and then “survival of the fittest” becomes the only true “natural” law.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 makes it clear that Christians are not about using the weapons of the world to reach out to the lost, but that God wants the “soldiers for Christ” to demolish arguments against God. (Note that you cannot demolish your opponent’s arguments without disagreeing with them at some point!)
I had another atheist engage me after a talk claiming he took offence because some Christians in the audience had chuckled at a quote I had shown from Richard Dawkins.4 He said Christians shouldn’t laugh and mock people. My point was that 1) I do not have control over what others do (I had not laughed) and 2) people weren’t mocking him (to attack or treat with ridicule, contempt, or derision); it was simply amusing what Dawkins said, so why not laugh? It just seemed like an emotional tactic to make me feel bad as he wasn’t able to counter my arguments.
Trying not to be offensive when debating is a biblical principle: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all— Romans 12:18. But we are to give answers for our faith (1 Peter 3:15) as long as we do so with “ … gentleness and respect … ”
So beware the tactic of people crying “hurt” to shut you down. (This strategy has become so effective that it sometimes has Christians arguing more with one another than with the enemies of the Gospel, which ironically can cause great hurt to the body of Christ!) Do not be tricked into inaction if someone decides to be offended by what you stand for.
- Letter from a Christian Citizen, American Vision Inc., 2007, page 3. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, page 4. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, page 5. Return to text.
- “Evolution has been observed. It’s just that it hasn’t been observed while it’s happening.” December 2004 Interview Bill Moyers ‘Now’ transcript at: www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript349_full.html#dawkins Return to text.