Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Mathetes 2 - Christians are Atheists

This is a continuation of my series on Mathetes letter to Diognetus. If you are unfamiliar with Mathetes or his letter to Diognetus, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.

One of the accusations by the Romans against the Christians during the early centuries was that the Christians were atheists. The Romans worshiped many gods including the emperor whom they worshiped as a god. Worship of these gods was required by law and anyone who refused to worship them was labeled as an atheist; a non-worshiper. non-believer in their gods. Unfortunately, being an atheists was a capital offense in those days, punishable by being sent to the lions. Justin Martyr speaks of the claim that Christians are Atheists.
"Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 6)
To the Romans, the worship of any god was tolerated, even gods that were confined to a specific location of people group. They tolerated the worship of any and every god, except the worship of the one true God. Mathetes continues,
"For this reason ye hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods." (Mathetes 2)
The same can be said to be true today. The world seems quite tolerant of all gods and all forms of worship, except for worship of the one true God. You can worship whatever god your mind can imagine and the world might even applaud you for your religious fervor, but those who worship the God of heaven have only the worlds scorn and derision as their reward. We see this in the media where it is not uncommon to portray various religions in favorable and even admirable light, except for Christianity. Great care is given not to offend of demean any religion, but making sport of Christianity is accepted and often common place. The world is willing to defend the religious practices of other religions while remaining silent when christian practices and sensitivities are attacked. There was recently a case where one "pastor" was threatening to burn a copy of the Quran and there was outcries in the media and from governmental officials and even calls for his death for even considering such a proposal, yet when our military burned thousands of copies of the Christian Bible that had been sent oversees as gifts to service men, there was wasn't even a peep heard from the same ones who previously were fulled with outrage. It is on account of the Christians' belief and worship in one God, one God the creator of heaven and earth, that makes them hated throughout the world.

The truth is, however, that those who worship idols do them a greater injustice then the Christians who refuse to worship them at all. Mathetes retorts,
 "But do not ye yourselves, who now think and suppose [such to be gods], much more cast contempt upon them than they [the Christians do]? Do ye not much more mock and insult them, when ye worship those that are made of stone and earthenware, without appointing any persons to guard them; but those made of silver and gold ye shut up by night, and appoint watchers to look after them by day, lest they be stolen? " (Mathetes 2)
Those who worship idols treat them as if they are completely without power, as those who are either too contemptible to steal (such as those made of stone) or as those who cannot defend their own existence and must be protected from thieves (as those made of silver). If idols be god then let them guard and protect themselves. Only a god who is not real requires the defense of mankind to protect them from harm. I often wonder of those, who are so quickly moved to violence to protect the honor of their god at even the smallest slight, if they truly believe that their god is so impotent as to be incapable of defending their own honor. If your god is so powerful, let him be powerful and defend himself, but if not, then he is not a god at all!

Mathetes also points out that the method by which they server their idols also pours contempt out upon their idols.
"And by those gifts which ye mean to present to them, do ye not, if they are possessed of sense, rather punish [than honour] them? ... Let any one of you suffer such indignities! Let any one of you endure to have such things done to himself! But not a single human being will, unless compelled to it, endure such treatment, since he is endowed with sense and reason. A stone, however, readily bears it, seeing it is insensible." (Mathetes 2)
How can a god delight in being sprinkling with blood and having food cast before them unless they be gods lacking sense. None of us would sit for such treatment! How much less would a god of sense be displeased by this! Such worship is not honorable unless to one being honored is insensible. In all this, Mathetes shows that it is not the Christians that defame and show contempt for their idols but rather those very ones who worship them.

In truth, it is not the Christians who are atheists, as Athenagoras wrote,
"That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated,
eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, illimitable, who is apprehended by the understanding only and the reason, who is encompassed by light, and beauty, and spirit, and power ineffable, by whom the universe has been created through His Logos, and set in order, and is kept in being" (Athenagora, A Plea for the Christians, Chapter 10)
David Robison

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