Monday, April 27, 2020

Darkened Understanding

The internet is an incredible tool that has opened seemingly limitless opportunities for connecting, learning, and communicating. Of course, it has also been subject to a number of abuses just as any tool can be. Some are obvious, but for today, I want to discuss one of the more subtle examples.

Sticking Together

Internet culture has an unfortunate propensity for creating enclaves. It is very easy for someone to find spaces where everyone agrees with him and where disagreement is not tolerated.  Such disagreement elsewhere, he then thinks, can only come from a handful of ignorant, malicious, and backward people. This is an example of confirmation bias, and it is rampant. The more monolithic the space is in thought, the less critical thinking becomes.

Christians are often accused of having enclaves and of engaging in confirmation bias, and there is truth to the charge. We gather as churches so we can hear the things that we believe and encourage one another in belief. Not everyone does so critically, and no one can or should do so all the time. And sadly, Christians are often guilty of not evaluating their beliefs carefully enough. That can make us come across as foolish, arrogant, and even cruel.

The adversaries of Christianity are fond of pointing out failures of this type. However, there are a few problems with their criticism. First, while it is a problem, Christians are not as guilty of confirmation bias as our opponents want to make us. This is true as a simple matter of necessity. We have hardly any control over the organs of culture. Entertainment, science and education, and journalism are all enclaves of secularist thought. Politics is about the only sphere where we have an equal say. It is not that the world is without Christian actors, researchers, teachers, and reporters. But they are a negligible minority.

I do not know if anything can be done about that. It seems unlikely to change, at least anytime soon. That is beside the point though. The focus here is on the fact that Christians cannot avoid the opinions of the wider secular culture. If we have any contact at all with the world, which the vast majority of us do, then there is no way for us to miss just how much disagreement there is with our beliefs among those with cultural cachet. We are constantly confronted with the need to understand our faith well enough to hold it under regular bombardment. And doing so means needing to understand what those on the other side actually believe, as well.

The same is not true of secularists, and this is especially evident on the internet. On many social media sites, the vast, vast majority of users are antitheistic. They spend so much time together, offering constant affirmation without challenge, that they cannot fathom the need to think critically about their worldview or to actually investigate what the Bible teaches. They are more guilty of confirmation bias than we are. But most frustratingly, they seem to believe that they are not guilty of it at all.

Failing to See

This meme can, depending on who uses it, illustrate the attitude I am describing:

Interestingly, I cannot tell who originally made it. I think it is slightly on the flippant side, but it does actually express enough of the truth to be something that a Christian innocently created. But I have seen it most often shared by atheists as a joke. Apparently, that is what passes for clever among them. They mean to show the absurdity of Christian belief. The message, they think, is offensive, and seeing it portrayed so blatantly should make us question our faith. This is what we believe, though. For 2000 years, Christians have prayed that those who imprison, torture, and murder them would seek forgiveness and be saved. The problem with the atheists’ use of this meme is in their inability to understand why it is a good thing.

It’s nothing new. In Mark 4:15, Jesus says that there are many for whom “Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts” after they hear the gospel. 1 Cor. 1:21–25 says that the message of Christ is foolishness to the world. Paul builds on the words of Jesus in 2 Cor. 4:3–4 by saying:

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

And similarly, he says in Eph. 4:17–19 that

you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

The lesson of these verses is that those in the world do not possess the acuity to grasp the value of what Christ offers. They cannot perceive it because they want to avoid the accountability it teaches and its call to a reformed way of life. And what do people do when they cannot understand something? They mock it.

Knowing the Truth

But how can I say that? How can I be so sure that I am right and they are wrong? How can it possibly be a good thing to welcome a murderer into paradise? I can say it because unlike them, I have actually done the work of reviewing the implications of my own belief and of theirs.

Let’s take theirs first. If we reimagine the atheist version of this meme, it would look like this:

Empty. Nothing. If there is no God, then there is no afterlife. There is also no value in this life. Without a Creator to instill purpose, life is quite literally meaningless. That would also mean that the concept of justice is absurd. Timmy and his family were nothing more than a random, temporary collection of atoms. They didn’t matter, they were just matter. Their lives and deaths counted for nothing, and in the end, they had the same worth as their killer: none at all.

Given that this is the only logical conclusion of atheist thought, their application of the original meme gives us another interesting insight into their minds. In spite of the fact that justice is impossible under a universe such as they imagine, their opinion of Christianity is formed by the way it offends their sense of justice. They do not think it is fair that someone could do something so horrible, but then be forgiven simply for having a change of heart. They judge it to be evil that a criminal could receive the same reward as his victims.

That is inconsistent, for one thing. Why be mad when “nothing matters, lol”? Of course, it is because they cannot internalize what they say they believe. It is too far removed from reality to be lived even if it is claimed to be true. But more than that, it is nothing more than a repetition of the original sin.

In Gen. 3:5, the serpent tempts Eve to disobey God by telling her that “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In the same way, atheists implicitly argue for being able to take God’s place. When they complain about God’s injustice (as they see it) when He is either too harsh or too kind, it is their way of saying that they know better than He. Such arrogance is literally as old as history. So not only is their worldview contradictory, but there isn’t even any novelty to it.

Meanwhile, we can also grasp the fullness of God’s message of love to us. Yes, murderers can be forgiven. So can liars, adulterers, homosexuals, and thieves. And they don’t have to earn it or make up for their sins. They just have to ask, trusting in Christ. This is for the simple fact that the price Jesus paid on the cross was far greater than any debt that sin can accrue. As the Son of God, the sacrifice of His infinite life became the infinite reservoir of mercy. There is only one sin outside of that, the sin of unbelief that fails to access it.

Judgment is not in our hands. It is in the hands of the Lord, whose nature establishes the very concepts of justice and holiness. We can fail to understand that, since the fullness of it is beyond our finite minds. I still often do, myself. But we should not have the hubris to think our ignorance is an argument against God.

Moving Forward

That’s what really gets me. I am saddened by how many people are blind to the life found in Christ, but I am frustrated when they think it makes them clever. It just shows how little thought they have given things. And I am also frustrated by not knowing what to do about it. Atheists are actually a miniscule portion of the population, so I suppose if enough Christians invaded their online spaces, it would undermine their blind faith in their ascendency. But I really can’t see that being constructive. I tend to think, in spite of what I am doing here, that the answer is not going to be found on the internet. Or at least, not in any comments section anywhere. Their immediacy breeds flippancy, not deep thought.

Maybe that is just me, though. I tend to avoid futile things, but perhaps others will see things differently and will dive into the internet’s dark corners to confront the emptiness of atheistic thought. I will just stick to leaving a record of the truth, and to encouraging offline relationships where I think conversation can be more fruitful. They exist there too, after all. As Christians do their own part where they can, we can hope to break the biases, open eyes, and share God’s love. Whatever it ends up taking, we will find the way. The Lord’s word will never fail (Is. 55:11).

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