The Twitter Debates Series

Grandma called me a simple-minded, boring, little cretin who can’t live without a night light. She told me I take orders from an imaginary sky fairy that tells me not to question, think or seek knowledge. She also says I spout endless psychobabble, that I have an atavistic brain which is insufficiently developed to deal with reality, and I’ve never gotten over finding out Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

Grandma’s comments may sound like those of an evil antagonist in a scary Grandma Dearest movie, but in fact, her comments are real and were really directed at me. The interesting thing is that I’ve never met Grandma. She’s not my actual grandmother, she is @Grandma_Shelia, an atheist I’ve chatted with on Twitter.

Grandma Sheila

Lest you think I was exaggerating Grandma’s opinion of me, I’ve embedded a smattering of her actual tweets at the end of this article so you can read her in her own words. Grandma Sheila is just the latest example in a long line of atheists who have offered unsolicited comments on my tweets, specifically my tweets of a Christian nature. She is representative of the overwhelming majority of atheists who engage with me on Twitter in that her comments primarily consist of mockery and personal insults delivered in a condescending tone. In addition to Grandma’s colorful invective, other atheists on Twitter have called me (and these are actual quotes)…

…full of crap, indoctrinated, a moron, utterly stupid, partially insane, delusional, logic-locked, irrational, an idiot, full of sh*t, a brain-dead cult zombie, dishonest, disingenuous, brainwashed and a tap-dancing bullsh*t artist.

Bear in mind these are people who don’t know me and I’ve never met. These opinions were shared with me solely on the basis of my professed faith in Jesus.

I’m not prepared to believe all atheists behave this way. Without the distance and anonymity of social media as a buffer, I would expect their language would be a bit more civil.  And I have to say I rather enjoy our interactions on Twitter. Sure, I wish they would engage more in the arena of ideas rather than personal insults. But I’m okay with the way it’s taking shape because I truly believe these are Divine appointments.

That said, I find myself curious about the real human beings behind the caustic words. I wonder what’s on the other side of these conversations. I assume these are just regular men and women with families and jobs who, like me, enjoy surfing around on social media and sharing their thoughts. I find their aggressive and antagonistic approach very interesting and wonder if its indicative of something unspoken and deeper than merely wanting to stir the pot and cause controversy online.

Trying to understand their point of view and the motivations that drive their behavior has led me to develop three theories about what might really be going on. These theories are still works-in-progress, so if you’re an atheist reading this post feel free to set me straight where I’m wrong!

1. Moral Consistency

Rude, condescending and unkind treatment of other humans could be considered consistent with the natural outworking of the atheist worldview. Or at least it presents no ethical problems to the atheist. If there is no god and humans are merely the biological end product of a mindless, unguided process of evolution there’s really no moral duty to treat others with respect.  Of course, it would be wise to do so for personal benefit. You probably wouldn’t want to mock and insult your boss or your spouse for reasons of self-preservation. But the cashier at the store, or the tech support agent on the phone, or the Christian on Twitter doesn’t really matter. In that sense, I can’t really hold mockery or rudeness against the atheist since it’s consistent with their belief system. (Which makes all the kind, pleasant atheists I’ve met such a wonderful treat.) Christians, on the other hand, are morally bound to treat others with gentleness, respect, and love. Which is why I cringe whenever I see fellow Believers engage in name-calling and insults.

2. Emotional Opposition

The primary opposition to God and religion for atheists seems to be emotional in nature. Their hatred for God appears to be based on moral outrage or disgust toward Him (and/or Believers) rather than on intellectual or rational grounds. I say this for two reasons.

  1. Most of the objections I get are about what a horrible, murdering psychopath the god of the bible is, and how terrible it is that Christians scare their kids with threats of hell. These are moral objections, not intellectual ones.
  2. The rare intellectual objections I encounter are typically shallow and short-lived. Rarely do we get into the deep waters during these discussions. Atheists typically display a trivial understanding of actual Christian orthodoxy, posting Bible verses out of context, specious memes, and amateur (at best) exegesis. Then, when challenged with actual Christian theological and philosophical concepts, they typically retreat to personal insults and mockery.

A screen grab response I posted on Twitter.

Admittedly, it’s nearly impossible to tackle such huge topics within the 140-character limit of Twitter. This is why I so often attach screen grabs of longer responses where I can unpack my answers and offer more clarity. In several cases, my response has come in the form of a lengthy blog article. I’ve yet to receive a similar response from atheists. The best I get is a link to a Wikipedia article or a book I should read.

3. Religious Zealotry

I find the behavior of these atheists ironically religious in its fervor. Their comments aren’t made in reaction to me trying to proselytize in the name of Jesus because (a.) I don’t post tweets of that nature and (b.) I didn’t know these atheists were out there. It’s not like we all decided to get together online and discuss the existence of God. These atheists were actively trolling hashtags on Twitter and jumped in on comments I posted to no one in particular.

Something about pro-Jesus tweets provokes them to such a degree that they’ve decided to spend their time and energy trying to convert Christians into atheists. Why do these atheists feel a need to proactively seek out Christians and argue with them, rather than simply live out their quiet, god-free lives in peace? Why do they stand on the proverbial street corners of the Internet, preaching fire and brimstone sermons about scientism and a godless universe, hoping to mock and insult the faith out of Believers? I find this behavior strangely evangelical. It certainly supports theory #2 above that their objections to God and faith are emotional in nature.

But even further, and I take this as very encouraging news, I believe it demonstrates evidence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Maybe some of these atheists are lost sheep or prodigal children and God is calling them to Himself. I have been praying for my atheist friends, and if you’re a Believer I’m asking you to join me in praying that God would lead and guide them to keep up their quest for Truth until they find truly it at His feet. We may disagree on many things, but these atheists are men and women loved by God and valuable in His eyes, and therefore worthy of our love and our prayers.

Should you want to pray for them by name, here are some of the fine folks with whom God has ordained I should cross paths on Twitter:

In The Words of Grandma