When it comes to dialogue about the existence of God and other big questions of life, atheists have a built-in rhetorical advantage over Christians.
They can draw at will from a well-stocked inventory of put-downs, insults and slander to cast believers in a negative light. No need to engage in substantive argumentation; smack will serve just fine.
Obviously this disappointing practice isn’t universal among atheists. Many are thoughtful and respectful.
But others, not bothering with well-reasoned arguments, simply resort to labeling and disparagement. Sacred texts are labeled “mythology,” faith is “superstition,” God is “imaginary,” believers weak-minded, religion anti-science, Christianity pernicious.
One of my atheist friends told me to “quit selling snake oil” to college students.
Another accused me of promoting Christianity to pad my own “self importance.”
Some of the patois contains at least a hint of content and is designed to put believers on the defensive, such as this oft-heard axiom:
“Why believe in God if you don’t believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy?”
Or this clever turn of phrase from the late Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence [God], can be dismissed without evidence.”
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The presence of hot air from the atheist camp is probably not news to you.
What’s newsworthy, however, is that Christians often miss the distinction between reason and rhetoric.
We hear an arresting statement or accusation and our blood boils. We fear that a powerful case has been made against Christian faith.
Next time you feel put down by a skeptic, ask yourself whether the skeptic made a rational argument or engaged merely in oral sword-play. Most often, it’s the latter.