Yesterday I got a call from John Owensby, editor and publisher of the Kernersville News. It seems that American Atheists has put up two billboards in Kernersville encouraging people not to go to church. "Just be good for goodness' sake," the ads read. John asked me for a comment. I told him I'd like to take a few moments to get my thoughts together and then get back to him.
I jotted my thoughts down in an email and sent them to John. I figured the reporter would pull out a couple of quotes, but John decided to turn my email into an article. He ran it on page 2 as a sidebar to the story about the billboards.
For those of you who don't live in K-Vegas, here's the email-turned-article:
“Be good for goodness’ sake” refers to the phrase “Good without God” that atheist groups often use. Their point is that people can live good lives without God, and that believers only do good to gain reward or avoid punishment. This is a mischaracterization of what Christians believe. We have been saved by God’s grace, not through works, so any good we do is a response of gratitude for what God has done for us, not an attempt to earn salvation.
Can atheists be “Good without God?” My response is, how do we know what “good” is? The historical fact is that our society’s understanding of good has been shaped by the Judeo-Christian religious worldview that has influenced Western Civilization for 2000 years. So even if a non-believer does good things, that person is still being influenced by God (or at least people who believe in God).
It’s ironic that the sign refers to “holidays” when the very word means “holy days.” It’s also ironic that Santa Claus, who appears on the sign, is based on Saint Nicholas, a third century Christian bishop who was known for caring for children and giving gifts to the poor. (Legend says that he dropped gifts down the chimney at night so the recipients would not be embarrassed.) So, by mentioning holy days and depicting a Christian bishop, the anti-church sign itself exhibits the lasting influence of the Christian faith.
I don’t think people realize how much good Christians have done throughout history. It was Christians who first started hospitals, orphanages, and universities as we know them today. Early Christians fought for the rights of women and children. The early church was the first multi-cultural community in the ancient world. Even today, many, if not most social service agencies, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, etc. are run by Christians. Yes, we’ve had our bad moments—the crusades, the inquisition, etc.—but the good far outweighs the bad. And it makes me really sad to see people denouncing this faith that has made such a positive difference in the world.
It also makes me sad when I consider that at this time of year Christians are coming together to celebrate some of the most positive aspects of our faith: unconditional love, giving, charity, family, community, hope for the future. It saddens me that American Atheists has chosen this time of year to run these ads. It feels like a very deliberate slap in the face.