It is not often that atheistic presumption makes me laugh out loud. When atheists deliberately exaggerate or distort, my usual reactions range from exasperation to incredulity. I dislike anyone doing it but, as bias is a breeze that blows more gently from behind, I probably don’t notice it as much from people who share my views.
I was highly entertained by a comment when the AFL recently decided to end its opposition to football on Good Friday. Reactions varied, with some Christians expressing dismay, but the response that amused me was one of breathtakingly bare-faced boldness.
The Age newspaper reported: “Atheist Foundation of Australia's Tracy Burgess said it was surprising it had taken the AFL so long. ‘I thought the AFL was the religion in Victoria,’ she said. ‘We have a multicultural society, so to shut things down just for one small group is somewhat antagonistic to everybody else’.”
Small group? Really? Surely this is a classic case of desire presenting itself as reality, a form of wish fulfilment. According to the 2011 Australian Census, 13, 150,600 or 61.1 per cent of Australians still identify as Christian. Although 4,796,800 (22.3 per cent) said they had no religion, of these only 59,000 explicitly identified as atheist (barely more than 0.25 per cent).
According to my calculation, that means there are 227.97 times more Christians than atheists who might have a view on Good Friday football. Remind me again, which one is the small group?
Obviously I am being mischievous here. The 13 million Christians include a large number of cultural or nominal Christians as well as active worshippers, while I don’t doubt that many more Australians than 59,000 are convinced that there is no God.
Further, many of the Christians probably have no objection to Good Friday football, or feel that their religious convictions should not hinder the enjoyment of others; while some Christians would simply look forward to the game.
On the other side, there are atheists who welcome the momentary break from frantic activity that Good Friday represents and would like to keep the day separate, or who think that it does no harm to offer such a token respect to Christianity and Australia’s cultural tradition.
But none of that alters the fact that Tracy Burgess’s antagonistic remark simply made her look silly.
Inasmuch as Christians and atheists are engaged in an intellectual (and spiritual) battle for credibility, I am not especially sorry if my opponents undercut their own arguments by exaggeration or misrepresentation. But I hate it when Christians are guilty, or – God forbid – I myself.
The tongue, says Proverbs 18:21, has the power of life and death. James warns of the power of our speech, and Paul repeatedly points to the need to speak edifyingly: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:9, cf 1 Thess. 5:11, Eph 4:29). It’s not a bad place to start!