Atheists think they’re on the march, “like a mighty army,” as a favorite hymn of the church describes the followers of the Christ, and this angers and dispirits many Christians, before, during and after Holy Week.
The mockery of Christianity, and not just the ridicule of individual Christians, has even won the sanction of the courts. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court, which will sanction everything weird and contentious, ruled in 2011 that “hostility to religion” is OK, after a 16-year-old Mormon boy sued his teacher for ridiculing him for his beliefs and said there was no more evidence of the works of God than “there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon.” The class was expected to reward him with a hearty laugh.
Such contempt is not just here, either. In Britain, the BBC commissioned a study to ask why Christians have become the butt of so many “fashionable” jokes. Ann Widdecombe, a novelist, onetime Tory member of Parliament and generally a pricker of intellectual pretense, said the BBC asked her to look at why mockery of Christians has become so prevalent “and to try to explain to a secular world why it matters so much to Christians.” It matters because nobody likes to hear his most sacred convictions of conscience mocked, and particularly if his are the only such convictions of conscience ridiculed. Television producers, she observed, feign respect for, or more likely fear of, the followers of Islam and avoid laughing at the Prophet or exploiting abundant opportunities for poking fun. She catalogued a long list of examples of mockery and ridicule of Christianity.
In one program she had to get special permission to watch, which had made even the BBC executives retch and lock it in the vaults where it could never be seen in public, two “skeptics” yukked it up with a representation of the body and blood of Christ, putting chutney on a communion wafer and ordering two bottles of wine to go with it. The program was an episode of a sketch comedy series, and one of the creators, Anil Gupta, professed not to understand why anyone would take offense.
“Stand-up comics tend to make two assumptions,” Miss Widdecombe concluded, “that Christians have no sense of humor and that all their audiences are unbelievers. The first [assumption] is so ignorant as to need no answer but the second explains the trend towards thinking that even the most sacrilegious mockery can be fun. Such comics work on the principle that only stupid people believe in God and that their audiences are too intelligent to do so and will therefore share any joke directed at any aspect of religion.”
Once a taboo in America, aggressive atheism has slipped poison into the mainstream and become a fashionable potion in the salons of the elite. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have made millions – well, a lot of thousands, anyway – with books espousing the joys and consolations of their faith in, by definition, nothing. This is evidence that a black hole may be better than no hole at all. In fact, there’s even a chaplain for atheists at Harvard, though it’s not clear what an atheist could want from a minister to the soul. (“Please help me, Padre, I’m afraid I’m coming to believe in God.”) Since atheists want to borrow customs and rituals from the religious, we can expect they’ll soon organize themselves to endow colleges, hospitals and contribute millions to the lame, the halt and the poor.)
The late Mr. Hitchens, a fine and friendly fellow when he stepped down from his soapbox, said religion, though not necessarily believers in religion, “should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt.” In the weeks he lay dying he seemed haunted by a fear that at the end he would reach for the consolations of faith, and warned everyone that if anyone heard that he had had a deathbed conversion not to believe it. Curious, and ineffably sad.
Christ told his disciples to expect the scorn of the world and be not dismayed by it, that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. But it’s hard to remember Christ’s counsel, to forgive and pray for those who revile the faith and speak the name of Jesus Christ only as an oath. Christians could remember the story of the blacksmith and a visitor who watched as the smithy pounded hammer and iron against his anvil.
“My, my,” said the visitor. “You must wear out a lot of anvils.”
“No,” the smithy replied. “My great-grandfather used this very anvil. But I do wear out a lot of hammers.”
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.