Geez Louise, writing this sentence makes me feel old, but I’ll let it fly anyway: ten years ago, I wrote an article entitled, “Profile of a Hatetheist” where I asserted there is a difference between someone who embraces atheism vs. a person I defined as a “hatetheist.” In it, I listed the contrasts between the two and then provided recommendations to Christians on how to engage both.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I think back a decade ago when I wrote that vs. today, despite our culture superficially promoting inclusion, respect, diversity, etc., things seem to have gotten uglier on the religious bigotry front. We shouldn’t be surprised since this is in keeping with what Paul predicted about the end times: “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13, my emphasis).
Given the hostility we constantly see, I thought it would be good to update my original article to 1. include some of the more recent traits of hatetheism vs. atheism, and 2. remind Christians about this particular crowd and what Scripture recommends when it comes to interacting with them.
Conversing with the atheist
As I mentioned in my original opinion piece, I genuinely enjoy conversing with atheists and I appreciate some of the well-thought out objections they bring against Christianity. This may sound strange to hear at first, but as one of my seminary professors said, atheists can help us weed out some of the bad arguments we use to defend the faith and that’s a good thing.
Moreover, although we disagree on theological matters, I’ve found many atheists to be respectful, intelligent, and understanding when it comes to having points of theological disagreement.
But the hatetheist? The contrast between them and the atheist couldn’t be starker. And just like 10 years ago, I find that discussing God with hatetheists oftentimes ends up being an exercise in futility.
Constructing the profile of a hatetheist
So how does an atheist compare to a hatetheist? Here’s an updated set of contrasts that I find:
- Whereas the atheist is respectful during a conversation or interaction, the hatetheist quickly descends into ad hominem attacks and disrespectful name calling.
- While the atheist does not refer to God or Jesus in derogatory ways, the hatetheist almost always does (e.g., God is the “invisible sky fairy” and Jesus a “Jewish zombie”).
- Atheists admit their limits of knowledge, but the hatetheist exhibits know-it-all behavior that is arrogant and narcissistic in nature.
- Atheists understand that morality is a subjective and cultural construct without God, but the hatetheist bludgeons others with their “objective” moral directives.
- The atheist genuinely considers arguments and presented evidence where the hatetheist does not and throws out numerous red herrings during interactions.
- The atheist conversationally engages with critical questions put to them about their worldview and responds, whereas the hatetheist ignores them.
- The atheist adheres to science, but understands and recognizes its boundaries, whereas the hatetheist is a devotee of scientism.
- The atheist tends to be universal in their critique of any god, but the hatetheist focuses mostly, if not solely, on Christianity.
- The atheist is perfectly fine with the freedom of religion whereas the hatetheist pushes for freedom from religion in the hopes of removing it from society.
- The atheist isn’t triggered by religious holidays, social media posts involving religion nor do they disrupt religious worship events, but the hatetheist responds in the exact opposite way.
Interacting with the hatetheist
Our method of relating to the hatetheist needs to be a combination of obeying God’s command to take the Gospel to all people while at the same time following both Jesus’ and Paul’s model of not being a punching bag for their adversaries.
Of course, we should first make sure we aren’t exhibiting hateful behavior in dialogs with anyone who disagrees with the Christian worldview just as Peter recommends: “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15).
With this comes a need for wisdom for knowing when to disengage from the hatetheist. Christ Himself said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt. 7:6). Commenting on this passage, John MacArthur says, “This principle governs how one handles the Gospel in the face of those who hate the truth.”
Jesus also warned His disciples on one occasion to stop engaging with His detractors and let them continue down their chosen path of disbelief: “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:13–14, my emphasis).
These examples from Scripture highlight something mentioned by Richard Weaver in his book Ideas Have Consequences: “Nothing good can come if the will is wrong. And to give evidence to him who loves not the truth is to give him more plentiful material for misinterpretation.”
A very spot-on assessment if you ask me.
Scripture describes it like this: “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15–16). To the hatetheist, we stink like death, and they react accordingly.
So, when it comes to hatetheists, once I’ve made an attempt to share the Gospel and answer their questions to the best of my ability, and they exhibit the characteristics I've noted above, I’ll then sadly follow Jesus’ simple command and, “let them alone.”
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.