I’m a big fan of Twitter. I love it, and one reason is that you can connect with people you don’t know, including celebrities. One of them is Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais).
An introduction to @rickygervais
Ricky (yeah, I’m going with first names) is a controversial guy. His comedy is controversial, and so are his tweets. (By the way, I’m a fan of his work – his latest show Derek is the only show ever that’s made me both laugh and cry most episodes.)
As a committed atheist, and a controversial comedian, it’s not surprising his tweets poke fun at people of faith. But that’s not what this post is about. Right or wrong, that’s how he engages with Twitter, and it’s not my place to tell non-Christians how to behave.
What this post is about is some of the ways some of his Christian followers respond to him. I see in these responses mistakes Christians often make when talking with atheists about faith. I take this seriously not just because they aren’t very good arguments, but because they seriously misrepresent Jesus’ character.
“Keep your atheism to yourself, Ricky!”
One common thing Ricky gets told is summed up in this tweet which he quotes (kindly – I think – omitting the name of the original tweeter):
I see tweets like this directed at Ricky most weeks. It seems that there are plenty of Christians who regard Ricky being and speaking like an atheist as a direct assault on their freedom to be and speak like a Christian.
This worries me. Have we let Christianity get to the point that we desire not only to be allowed to express faith freely, but also never to have anyone challenge any part of that faith? If so, we’ve come a long way from the early church who had neither, and even further from our crucified messiah.
We can’t have our cake and eat it. If I as a Christian want the freedom to speak, blog and tweet about my faith without restriction, I must also champion the rights of people of other faiths and none to do exactly the same.
“You’re going to hell, Ricky!”
This is something else Ricky gets quite often. It goes like this. First, he tweets something controversial, like “Remember, if you don’t sin Jesus died for nothing.” Then, along with hundreds of retweets, favourites and intelligent responses he gets told he’s going to hell for his sin and unbelief. OFTEN ALL IN CAPS AND WITH TOO MANY EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!!!!!!!
This has become so common, Ricky has an image (of one of his tweets from 2012) ready to deploy at a moment’s notice (picture on the right), pointing out how silly this is.
But more than being stupid, is this really the best version of the gospel we have to offer? Is this really what we’re going to lead with? Really?
It seems there is a two-step ‘evangelism’ method being practised far too often. Step 1: tell someone God is angry enough with them to send them to hell. Step 2: tell them God loves them enough to let them into heaven after all. It’s all about the destination, never about the deliverer. Whatever happened to starting by talking about Jesus?
“Don’t call me ridiculous, Ricky!”
Maybe it’s because we feel as though celebrities are our property because we’re always being sold them by the media. Whatever causes it, there are plenty of folks who feel they have a right to have Ricky respect all their beliefs. He does not, and he says so:
Ricky is an atheist. I am a Christian. He thinks I’m wrong. I think he’s wrong. Neither of us have bought into the postmodern idea that we can both be right at once. No. We believe different things are true. In order to be committed to the things I am committed to, I have to say he is wrong. And vice versa.
Ok, he can say I’m wrong, but he shouldn’t ridicule me – that’s just mean. Right? Well, maybe, but again I can’t expect him to adopt my moral framework – why should he? I don’t adopt his.
And for what it’s worth, my beliefs are ridiculous. I believe a man rose from the dead. I believe I am filled with the Spirit of God. I believe that because a man died and rose 2,000 years ago I will know eternity with a God I’ve never seen with my eyes. These are big claims. Even Paul says it sounds like foolishness and will be a stumbling block to people who don’t believe it.
These claims. They’re either true, or they’re nuts! I think they’re true. Ricky thinks they’re not true, so they must be nuts. Can I really begrudge him for saying so?
If Ricky read this post
I think it highly unlikely Ricky will read this, but if he did I hope he would see someone who – yes – he disagrees with about faith, but who also engages with him and his atheism in a way that is respectful, honest and humanising. Unlike some of what he’s used to.
What have you found are useful ways to engage, online or otherwise, with people who hold very different beliefs than you? Please leave a comment – I want to learn to get better at this.
Since writing this post, I have received hundreds of comments, and have posted blogs in response. These are the responses so far:
- When Ricky broke my blog, and what’s next
- People should challenge Christianity
- “You’re going to hell, but…” isn’t good news
- Why do I believe the ridiculous?