A few days ago, I watched a series of videos on Youtube by one of the more prominent Internet atheists, a man who calls himself “Thunderfoot”. I found these videos to be highly entertaining and I would like to engage Mr. Thunderfoot in a conversation on the topic of Christianity at some point in the future; he seems like an intelligent and reasonable fellow. After I recovered from rolling on the floor, I realized that I wanted to comment on some of the things that he said in one of his videos. Let us first talk about the comic bits of his video and then proceed to the more serious issue.
I found his series of remarks on the code of conduct argument that he is having with some feminists to be especially amusing. In the context of the moral argument for Christianity where Christians often argue that it is impossible for atheists to be moral without God, it must particularly rankle conscientious atheist males when a feminist wants to add prohibitions against threats of rape into the official code of conduct of the more popular atheist conventions. While I don’t myself make the moral argument in that form, I can easily imagine myself, tongue firmly in cheek, saying to Mr. Thunderfoot, “Well, sir, I don’t know about the rest of your arguments, but it seems to me that if young women feel it necessary to go around atheist conventions using a buddy system to avoid rape that this fact speaks for itself.” (ROFL Copter)
While I could entertain myself for hours watching videos of atheists engaged in the kind of sectarian strife for which they mock religious people, that was not the issue that most drew my attention while watching these videos. Early on in one of the videos, Thunderfoot says that thanks to the tireless efforts of atheists, the Internet is the place “where religions go to die”. While I know what he means and agree with the basic premise of his assertion, I don’t know that I would brag about this if I were him. In my experience, atheism’s triumph on the Internet has more to do with an extremely limited attention span and a form of “group think” that is only possible in an essentially anonymous medium.
Lowest Common Denominator Group Think
To deal with the second issue first, it is well known that the anonymous nature of the internet allows and encourages behavior that one would not tolerate in civil society. Make a comment on a news article or blog and watch as people say things in response which one could not imagine one person saying to another face to face. This “lowest common denominator” phenomenon has the tendency to drive sensitive and thoughtful people away from internet discourse. Is it any credit to atheists that, in such a vicious and brutal environment, they should manage to get ten times as many up votes for their thoughts and positions as Christians?
This is an especially interesting observation in the context of the fact that atheists make up only 5% of the population at large. The extreme popularity in this medium of the “Amazing Atheist”, who Thunderfoot praises, only serves to underscore this point. There is a man who can barely contain his fury while ranting on various topics in ways that would be very easy to pull apart in a more rational forum. He is the face of internet atheism and his videos demonstrate the techniques that atheists use to make the Internet the place “where religions go to die”.
Extremely Limited Attention Span
If you go to my YouTube channel, you will find among the comments there many comments by an anonymous contributor who calls himself “Ackmonra”. While we were discussing the nature of Hell, I said that I knew that Jesus was too good to allow the standard interpretation of the passages on hell to be correct. Ackmonra countered with an argument that was recently repeated by a man named Ryan. To paraphrase that argument, “Jesus orders people to be slaughtered in Luke 19, therefore he seems very comfortable with the kind of hell which most Christians believe in and which you reject.”
As I considered how to answer this comment, I gave up in frustration. How in the context of the 100 character response that is allowed to me in the YouTube comments section can I answer such a question? It was, in fact, that specific comment which caused me to decide to leave YouTube. I could not answer his question without a 10 minute video and those videos take me a dozen hours of preparation and work. The contrast between how I can respond to Ackmonra and how I can respond to Ryan demonstrates simultaneously why I left YouTube and why atheism is more easily able to triumph in such a forum. Christians are attempting the very difficult work of constructing a coherent world view, atheists are doing the much easier work of poking holes in such a world view. Limiting exchanges to 100 characters gives a substantial advantage to those with the simpler task and this is another reason why the Internet is “where Religions Go to Die”.
John 6 and Luke 19
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. (John 6: 1-2)
For the understanding of what God is doing in this world, there is no more important a chapter in all of the Bible than the sixth chapter of John. Jesus has performed a number of miracles and acquired a large following. Affirming their faith in him, Jesus feeds five thousand people with a few loaves of bread:
So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:13-15)
So Jesus has a large throng of about 5000 followers who are willing to use violence to make him the King of Israel. He attempts a quick escape by walking on the water. Later on, this large throng finds him in Capernaum. What does he do?
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. (John 6:53-56)
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:66)
Now in my opinion this incident is one of the most important sections of the Bible. God does not want followers of a certain kind and he drives them away with a hard teaching that they did not understand. When Jesus said that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, he was clearly talking about the ritual of communion. In this ritual, Christian believers symbolically remember our need of the body of Jesus Christ broken for us and his blood shed for us on the cross by eating a wafer of bread and drinking a little wine. This is not so terribly difficult, yet 5000 people decided not to follow Jesus anymore because this was a “hard saying”. They thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism and they left and Jesus gave them this test intentionally for that purpose.
So why is this verse so important? Because it illustrates a general principle of the word of God. God gives hard sayings because he only wants followers who are seeking him in “Spirit and in truth”:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23)
He does not want followers who are looking for reasons to reject what he is saying or are only out for a free lunch.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. (John 6:26)
Neither is this world an intelligence test where you can get to heaven if you are smart enough to “figure it out”.
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Mathew 11:25)
Rather, what God seems to be looking for is trust. It is as if God is saying, “Will you trust me even when you don’t understand what I am talking about?” (In an upcoming essay, I will discuss why this kind of trust is so important in believers.) So we see that God gives “hard sayings” to test people in order to filter out those who are serious from those who only want a free lunch. What does all this have to do with Luke 19?
It is my opinion that what God is doing in Luke 19 is demonstrating the love of his church. Just as Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, the church of Christ will intercede for those who have rejected Jesus Christ in Luke 19. Jesus Christ will then demonstrate his love and mercy by graciously granting that petition and giving to each condemned sinner a choice. Either live outside the city with the bride of Christ perpetually interceding on your behalf as a royal priesthood, or choose the other option. God makes the other option as unattractive as possible by making the entrance a Lake of Sulfurous Fire. Despite this, those who hate God will make that choice and suffer the eternal consequences of living a life without God’s love. (I go into more detail on the nature of hell in another essay entitled The Nature of Hell.)
Now an atheist can easily say, “that is your interpretation, but that isn’t what the text says”. The text doesn’t say that “eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood” is eating a piece of bread and drinking a little wine either. What you believe and how you behave is a serious business and requires serious thought and consideration. If you are content with the level of discussion of these issues that can be attained in 100 character exchanges, then you may think that it is a badge of honor to be one of the reasons that the internet is “where religions go to die”. If you are more thoughtful, however, this will not be enough for you and you will want to look at things in a deeper and more thorough way. Such a person is willing to worship God “in Spirit and in truth” and seek out the truth of what God has said. Such a person would conclude that the straight-forward and simplistic interpretation of Luke 19 and many other passages of the Bible is not the best interpretation.