Except that the man wearing the shirt is no joker. His name is Richard Dawkins, one of the most formidable atheist apologists of modern times. And this is the picture from a serious article he wrote entitled “Atheists For Jesus.”
Although it is a very interesting read, most of it is not about how an atheist can be “for” Jesus. Most of it is about the nastiness of a Darwinian world, and the social ills that inevitably follow from such a theory. Dawkins is seeking a “nicer” society, and is literally willing to look anywhere. If you’re short on time, or like to save your really deep thinking for trying to remember where you left your keys, I’ll cut to the chase.
[Spoiler warning] At the end of the article, Dawkins says, “…perhaps the oxymoronic impact of ‘Atheists for Jesus’ might be just what is needed to kick start the [cultural trend] of super niceness in a post-Christian society. If we play our cards right – could we lead society away from the nether regions of its Darwinian origins into kinder and more compassionate uplands of post-singularity enlightenment? I think a reborn Jesus would wear the T-shirt. It has become a commonplace that, were he to return today, he would be appalled at what is being done in his name, by Christians ranging from the Catholic Church to the fundamentalist Religious Right. Less obviously but still plausibly, in the light of modern scientific knowledge I think he would see through supernaturalist obscurantism. But of course, modesty would compel him to turn his T-shirt around: Jesus for Atheists.
Before I address Dawkins’ central point, I would like to loiter on that last phrase a moment. “Jesus for Atheists”. It stings the ears of cultural Christianity, and comes off just as false as the inverse. Although we have no way of knowing what sort of t-shirt Jesus would wear, or what slogan he would adopt (if any,) I think I can see some truth in this. Jesus was “for” all types of people that he didn’t agree with, and whose lifestyles he didn’t endorse. It’s like the corny people who say, “Whether or not you believe in God, God believes in you.” I don’t think anybody is claiming that Atheists are Jesus’ favorite people, but it is not hard to imagine that he would treat them much like he treated the tax collectors of his own day. (Jesus had a way of doing the most good for the people who could do the least good for him… and knew it.)
Dawkins is expressing an admiration for Jesus which often rubs Christians the wrong way, for two reasons. One, “How can the same man say such good things about our Savior, and such bad things about us, his followers? Since we are striving to be like Jesus, you must lump Jesus together with us, for good or for ill.” And Two, “How can anybody show respect for a man who claims to be God and requires everyone to relate to him as such, unless he or she believes that claim to be true?”
And this is where I’m going to duck out of my promise to address Dawkins’ central point. Because the natural thing to do here, as a God-fearing Christian blogger, would be to bring in the secret weapon: the THREE L’s.
Skeptics beware! Because if you rile us so much as to express an admiration for our Lord and Savior, we will corner you into a moment of decision! Liar, Lunatic or Lord… pick one! Logically, these are your only choices!
For the record, and for all you C.S. Lewis fans, I believe this is true. But is this really our best move? Is there nothing positive about a culture that, overall, has a good impression of Jesus? Is this not a priceless opportunity to re-evaulate the places that centuries of Christendom have taken us, and ask ourselves if we are really imitating Christ? Ask yourself: Do we take after his post-Pentecost disciples, or do we more closely resemble the Pharisees and Judaizers?
Naturally, we are not called to live for anyone’s pleasure but God’s. Since no one has a perfect concept of Jesus, we cannot expect anyone to be perfectly pleased with our impersonations of him (especially since our attempts are so imperfect.) But people like Dawkins have ascertained correctly that Jesus was not “for” the Spanish Inquisitionists, or the Medieval Crusaders. Neither is he “for” the modern-day legalists or guilt-mongers.
As a Christ-follower myself, I can relate to the rhetorical reflex that comes with hearing an atheist speak glowingly of Jesus. But what do you say we avoid the asinine alliterations for a change? In fact, let’s axe the acrostics and get rid of the rhymes while we’re at it. We want to win every conversation so badly, and with memorable methods, that we compromise on correct communication, which undermines our understanding.
See how ridiculous we can sound? Maybe it’s time we start getting real with each other, and stop making assonances of ourselves.