Defending God against atheists
I’m sure that most readers of this blog have, like me, received about thirty emails over the past few weeks telling us about the buses driving through central London proclaiming that “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” If you haven’t heard about it, you can read the story here.
According to guardian.co.uk, Rev George Hargreaves of the Christian Party responded by creating a bus advert which proclaims: “There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.”
Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church has booked 25 supersize bus advertisements, using the line “There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy your life.”
The Trinitarian Bible Society has taken a less temperate approach, using a line from the Bible to scold nonbelievers: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” (taken from Psalm 53.1).
During January, Christianity Today published an article, written by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, with the title: “Jesus Is Not a Brand.” This is all about the common trend today to “market” Jesus.
Frankly I have my doubts about the effectiveness of both these campaigns in London. Did the British Humanist Association, which ran the first advert campaign swing believers into becoming non-believers? And did the other organisations succeed in convincing non-believers into becoming Christians? (I couldn’t help but finding it humourous that the Christians couldn’t respond with one united advert and that one group even saw the opportunity, not in convincing people to believe in Christ, but rather to join a political party!)
I get as angry as any Christian when the Name of God is blasphemed. But this is nothing new. When reading Revelation 13, we read about the beast coming from the sea, with seven heads. The seven heads must probably be seen as representing the seven emperors of the Roman empire. Revelation was written in the time of the emperor Domitianus (the seventh emperor). To understand this part in the Bible, a few important things have to be kept in mind. In verse 1 it is said that each head had a blasphemous name. This refers to the practice in those times that the emperors considered themselves as gods. Julius Caesar gave the command that his own statue had to be erected between those of the gods in the temple. Sometimes temples were erected in honour of the emperors. Caligula, who was mentally retarded, demanded that people honour his statue. But the one who surpassed all the other emperors in this practice, was Domitianus. He commanded that the people refer to him as deus et dominus – our lord and our god. The Christians in those days therefore had quite a good understanding of the meaning of blasphemy.
Christians tend to get very heated whenever anything happens which smells of blasphemy. I’m not saying that we should accept this in any way. But I’m wondering why we get so upset. My impression is that, for many Christians, this is more a matter of human rights than anything else. In a report about this campaign it says: “Last month the Advertising Standards Authority received almost 150 complaints that the atheist bus campaign was offensive to Christians, and that the “no God” claim could not be substantiated. However the ASA ruled that the campaign did not break the advertising code, concluding that the ads were an “expression of the advertiser’s opinion and that the claims in it were not capable of objective substantiation”. As such, it said that it was unlikely to mislead or to cause widespread offence.”
When I read the book of Revelation, I never find any indication that the Christians were called to fight fire with fire. Obviously, they did not honour the emperors as gods (and very often paid with their lives because of this). What I do find, however, is encouragement to remain faithful to God within these terrible circumstances: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
We will never be able to defend the existence of God in a court of law. But representing Christ through the way that we speak and the way that we live might very well convince people that there really is a God. And this may then become the greatest demonstration of the foolishness of those who say that there is no God.