Ken Klukowski is Director, Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. This article appeared on Breitbart.com, December 22, 2013.
This Christmas season is seeing those who deny the existence of God pressing forward with a militant secular agenda, one that is intolerant -- often bitterly so -- of Christians in America.
Set aside for a moment the blockbuster controversy regarding Phil Robertson and "Duck Dynasty," which is driven by a visceral rejection of Biblical Christian views on sin and sexuality. The same hostility toward Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God is on full display this Christmas season in other respects.
Pastor Alistair Begg-one of the most famous and respected Evangelical leaders in America and the senior pastor at Parkside Church in Ohio-tackled this issue in a Dec. 8 sermon. Begg started with billboard messages in New York City this year.
The organization American Atheists relentlessly attacks common expressions of faith in many ways, such as suing the state of Utah for not revoking permits to a police organization that set up roadside crosses for state troopers who died in the line of duty. They're pursuing their favorite target-Christians-with a billboard near the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New York and New Jersey.
The billboard reads, "You know it's a myth." It then adds, "Celebrate the season with reason." The group's president, David Silverman, explained that it was to challenge people about whether they really want to "believe in what is, in reality, an invisible magic man in the sky."
Another billboard is in Times Square. It's a picture of Santa with the caption, "Keep the merry." Then there's a picture of Jesus Christ together with the caption, "Dump the myth."
Begg observes that you do not see groups paying big money to erect billboards attacking Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. He also wonders how Muslims would respond to a billboard illustrating the prophet Mohammed and insisting that Islam is a myth that people should reject.
Yet one does not find such billboards; Christianity is the focus of attacks that supposedly are directed against all religious faith. Begg asks, "What is this fixation with Jesus of Nazareth?"
Atheists often generically attack "God" but direct their efforts against Christians. Paradoxically, however, they tend to avoid attacks on the historical reality surrounding Jesus Christ or the actual claims that Jesus made. Begg notes that in the 2006 book The God Delusion, author Richard Dawkins skips right over Jesus in terms of his claims of deity and the recounted stories about Jesus's words and deeds that swept over the entire globe. Dawkins summarily dismisses this elephant in the room with an attitude of, "We all know this isn't true so there's no need to discuss it," spending most of the book on a theoretical and esoteric discussion that never attempts to explain the historical record.
This is especially important in a Christmas discussion because the Christmas story is about a specific person and the historical facts surrounding his birth. The story of that birth begins the biographical account that traces his life, his teaching, his execution on a wooden cross, the Christian beliefs about his bodily resurrection and reappearance, and the travels and teachings of his disciples that spread this religious faith which has revolutionized the world. If the birth account is discredited, the rest could fall with it.
As the evangelist Luke, trained and educated as a physician, explains at the beginning of the gospel book that bears his name:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke then begins the biography of Jesus by noting that Herod was king of Judea at the time, that Caesar Augustus had ordered a census be taken of the Roman Empire, that it was during the time that Quirinius was governor of Syria, and so on. All these are well-documented historical facts. The story specifies the date, the exact locations involved, and why the individuals in the account act as they do. (For example, every man needed to return to his town of birth to register with the Romans. Joseph's family was from Bethlehem, which is why he traveled to that town, where Jesus was born.)
Contemporaneous authorities did not deny the accuracy of the Luke's account, nor of other New Testament writers. Begg explains of Christianity's critics, "Even those who were not proponents of its message acknowledged its historicity." Prominent writers of that age who were not Christians, from the Jewish historian Josephus, to the Roman ruler Pliny the Younger, readily confirmed facts such as the historical presence and execution of Jesus.
This begs the question of what exactly these atheists call a "myth." There was a Jewish person named Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. He became a famous rabbi beginning at age 30, claimed to be divine, was publicly killed by professional executioners after three and half years of ministry, and was buried. His followers then claimed they saw him bodily raised back to life and spent several weeks with him, after which they say he rose into heaven.
From that point on, this group of followers worshiped Jesus as God and could not be silenced, even as they and their fellows were martyred over the years for refusing to stop sharing their message. (Of a total of fourteen apostles that Jesus had-the original twelve plus two that came later, including the Apostle Paul- only one, Jesus's close friend John, is believed to have died of old age.)
These are facts. Discussing and debating whether everything else the Bible teaches is true, from whether Jesus Christ really is God in the flesh to whether the miracles recorded in the Bible really happened has been central to academic and scholarly pursuit for 2,000 years. Whether and to what extent the Bible's record of the teaching of Jesus and his followers, as well as the Old Testament rulers and other figures that preceded him from Abraham, to Moses, to David and Solomon, to prophets like Isaiah and Daniel, is historical truth represents one of the prevailing questions of our time.
Simply dismissing this all as a "myth," without a detailed conversation, seems more an attempt to avoid engaging the facts than to reach careful and thoughtful conclusions.
Begg believes that these broadside attacks are more the result of a personal desire that the Bible be untrue than a dispassionate analysis that leads to the reasoned conclusion that Biblical accounts are myths. Although his sermon was given before the Duck Dynasty situation arose, the extreme response to Phil Robertson's paraphrasing of 1 Corinthians6:9-10 and discussion of Biblical teaching on sexuality and family seems to support the proposition that opponents of Christianity desperately want it not to be true.
Begg cites Aldous Huxley as his favorite atheist on account of his intellectual honesty. Huxley admitted that he had a vested interest in committing himself to the belief that God does not exist, because he finds "moral and political freedom" in that belief. In other words, by refusing to believe in God, Huxley could think and live however he wished; he could be the God of his own life, not answerable to any greater power or authority.
That theme shows up consistently in the work of many atheists, including Dawkins. A bus campaign reportedly supported by Dawkins runs with large banners stating, "There's probably no God. Now story worrying and enjoy your life." (Emphasis added.)
This is a reasonable explanation for the observation that atheist activists can be so aggressive in their zeal to banish Christians from sight and consign the Bible to the realm of fiction. It would also explain why they become so hostile during Christmas. If that baby born to a modest woman in a stable in a backwater town in the Middle East really is the human embodiment of an omnipotent God, whose character is so holy that he cannot tolerate wrong and who asserts the right to tell human beings to conform every aspect of their lives to his instructions, then he represents the ultimate threat to those who insist on being the supreme being in their own lives. An annual celebration of the actual birth of this historical person represents a profound threat to that way of thinking as possible, forcing many to ask, "Who is this Jesus?"
For countless millions more, though, it is cause for celebration. Merry Christmas.