The Angry Atheists

When Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked the caustic atheist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) for his reaction. Cooper said, “I’m not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?” Hitchens held nothing back. He took a deep breath, smirked, and said, “No. And I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” Cooper was taken aback. “What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?” Hitchens said, “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.” Hitchens told Cooper he thought Falwell was “…a bully and a fraud” who was essentially a Bible-thumping huckster.

I was introduced to Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza in my World Views class at Colorado Christian University. One of the weekly assignments included watching a debate between D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked at the amount of venomous, loaded, sarcastic language Hitchens kept throwing his opponent. Hitchens always came across as a bombastic bully better at delivering witty zingers than compelling arguments. D’Souza writes, “A group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice.” He notes a comment made by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, displaying Dawkins’ anger at God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infaticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In a Christianity Today article dated March 13, 2008, Tony Snow writes, “There are two types of Christian apologetics. One makes the positive case for faith; the other responds to critics. Dinesh D’Souza’s delightful book, What’s So Great About Christianity, falls into the second category. It sets out to rebut recent exuberant atheist tracts, such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.” Snow notes that these so-called militant atheists tend to combine argument with large doses of bitter biography. Hitchens has gone so far as to state, “…religion poisons everything.”

Dr. David Jeremiah, in his book I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, said, “When I write of the anger of the atheists, I am not primarily referring to the classic atheists such as Bertrand Russel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The atheists I am writing about are the ‘New Atheists.’ The term ‘new atheism’ was first used by Wired magazine in November 2006 to describe the atheism espoused in books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Victor Stenger’s The Comprehensible Cosmos, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great.

WHY ALL THIS ANGER?

How can people  be so angry with God if they do not even believe He exists? Moreover, why would those most indignant about God feel such compulsion to literally preach their anti-God religion with the type of zeal we typically see from evangelists? Do they consider atheism to be their religion? Today’s front line atheists have truly ramped up the volume of their objections. They once held private their personal opinion that God does not exist. Today, they find it necessary to go on talk shows and lecture circuits announcing their belief in loud, shrill, militant voices.

The Pew Research Center (2019) published an article indicating that in the United States the ages 14–17 are very influential in terms of an individual adopting atheism. Of those who do embrace unbelief in the United States, many do so in their high school years. The average age group when most people decide they do not believe in God is 18-29 (40%). Theodore Beale declared, “”…the age at which most people become atheists indicates that it is almost never an intellectual decision, but and emotional one.” The Christian apologist Ken Ammi concurs in his essay The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity and writes, “It is widely known that some atheists rejected God in their childhood, based on child-like reasons, have not matured beyond these childish notions and thus, maintain childish emotional reactions toward the idea of God.” It is likely some great trauma or loss has caused the young atheist to not only reject God but to be filled with anger and resentment.

Men such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are known for taking a look-back-in-anger, take-no-prisoners type of atheism. They, and most other active but not-so-famous atheists, reject the term “militant,” and refuse to explain their anger. Antony Flew, atheist-turned-believer and apologist, said, “What was significant about these [men’s] books was not their level of argument—which was modest, to put it mildly—but the level of visibility they received both as best sellers and as a ‘new’ story discovered by the media. The ‘story’ was helped even further by the fact that the authors were as voluble and colorful as their books were fiery.” Their delivery sounds a lot like hellfire-and-brimstone preachers warning us of dire retribution, even of apocalypse.

It’s obvious that atheists in the West today have become more outspoken and militant. The “average” atheist balks at the term militant, claiming it has no place in non-belief; only in radical, violent extremists like the Christians of the Crusades and Islamic terrorists. Fine. Let’s take a look at the meaning of militant: “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.” No, these new atheists do not seem to be violent, but you don’t have to be violent to be militant. They are surely combative and aggressive, often using rude, brutish, insulting confrontation in lieu of substantive comebacks. Dinesh D’Souza says what we are witnessing in America is atheist backlash. The atheists thought they were winning—after all, Western civilization has adopted pluralism and moral relativism—but now they realize that, far from dying quietly, Christianity is on the upswing. This is precisely why the new atheists are striking back, using all the vitriol they can command.

For example, consider the title of some of the books the new atheists have written:

  • The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins
  • The End of Faith—Sam Harris
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis—Victor Stenger
  • God is Not Great—Christopher Hitchens

SOMETHING IS LACKING IN THIS NEW ATHEISM

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and others refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of whether God exists. None of them even address the central grounds for positing the reality of God. Flew notes Sam Harris makes absolutely no mention of whether it’s possible that God does exist. Moreover, these new atheists fail to address the pesky question Where did the matter come from that forms our universe? They don’t discuss rationality, consciousness, or conceptual thought. I’d love to know where they believe our intellectual capacity, as well as metacognition—thinking about thinking—and who we are and what life really means came from. Neither do they present a plausible  worldview that explains the existence of law-abiding, life-supporting, altruistic behavior. They have no plausible explanation for the development of ethics and truth.

Flew goes so far as to comment, “It would be fair to say that the ‘new atheism’ is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy that was renounced by even its most ardent proponents. In fact, the ‘new atheists.” it might be said, do not even rise to logical positivism. Hold on. Let’s take a minute to look at positivism so we’re on the same page as Flew and his argument. Simply stated, it is a Western philosophy that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculation. It has also been known as empiricism and, later in the 20th century, analytic philosophy.

WHAT THEY WANT

For the militant atheists, the solution is to weaken the power of faith and religion worldwide and to drive religion completely from the public sphere so that it can no longer have an impact on academia or public policy. In their view, they believe a secular world would be a safer and more peaceful world without the concept of religious faith. D’Souza writes, “Philosopher Richard Rorty proclaimed religious belief ‘politically dangerous’ and declared atheism the only practical basis for a ‘pluralistic, democratic society.’ These ideas resonate quite broadly in Western culture today.”

Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?—Richard Dawkins

Dinesh D’Souza writes, “It seems that atheists are not content with committing cultural suicidethey want to take your children with them. The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.” In other words, militant atheists are more concerned with indoctrinating our young students against their parents’ religious influence through promoting an anti-religious agenda. It’s been said that Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Christopher Hitchens, who was an ardent Darwinist, wrote, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Hitchens accused religion of preying upon the uninformed and undefended minds of the young. He did not take kindly to Christian parochial schools. He boldly stated, “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”  Sam Harris likened belief in Christianity to a form of slavery! Biologist E.O. Wilson recommended using science to eradicate religion by showing that the mind itself is a product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion.

Sam Harris goes further, saying atheism should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. Harris says, “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” Dawkins believes faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to small pox virus but harder to eradicate. He writes in The God Delusion, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Sigmund Freud regarded religion as a illusion (rather than a delusion, which is a psychiatric term), but he was by no means militant, combatant or completely closed-minded on the subject. In fact, he often invited religious leaders to his home to discuss the merits of their faith. He at least seemed open-minded, albeit not convinced.

Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities are out to “arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” It’s as if these atheist professors intend to discredit parents in the eyes of their children, trying to strip them of their fundamentalist beliefs, making such beliefs seem silly rather than worthy of discussion. D’Souza writes, “The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As children, we certainly spend a great amount of time in school. Basic psychology tells us early child development encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between birth and age 8. A continuum of care—from preconception through the formative years—is needed to safeguard and maximize children’s developmental outcomes. Indeed, the first five years of a child’s life effect who a child will turn out to be. The beliefs, emotions, and action-tendencies represent the accumulated experiences people have had while trying to get their needs met, which plays a key role in personality development. Accordingly, personality develops around our motivations (our needs and goals). Children of Christian parents who grow up in an environment that consistently presents and lives the Gospel enter public school with an understanding of Who and What God is. This is more pronounced if they attended a parochial school prior to entering college. Secular professors want to dismantle that belief system in the interest of empirical science and truth.

Militant atheists have come out of the shadows of private belief with the intention of attacking theism in general and Christianity in particular. They are no longer content with deciding for themselves that there is no God. They feel compelled to poison the minds of young college students, steering them away from their faith, by bombarding them with science, logical positivism, Darwinism, pluralism, and moral relativism and… well, whatever works. Just as long as they can convince the world that God is dead one college student at a time.

Praise God that He lives so that we may live.

References

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Bantam Press.

Jeremiah, D. (2011). I Never Thought I’d See the Day! New York, NY: FaithWords.

Pew Research Center. (2019). Age and Distribution Among Atheists. Retrieved from: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/

Snow, T. (March 13, 2008). “New Atheists are Not So Great.” Christianity Today. Retrieved from: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/25.79.html

Reconciliation: A New Heaven and a New Earth

When God surveys the depraved mess mankind has become, he notes Noah’s righteousness but describes the pervasiveness of sin and the repercussions of it this way: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth has become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting – life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.'” (Genesis 6:11-13, MSG)

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Why would God flood the whole Earth? What did the Earth ever do to God? The answer, of course, is nothing, but the destruction of all living things – save those in the ark – shows the deep ramifications of our cosmic treason against God. Because the stewards of creation are corrupt, the Earth is corrupt. We are the opposites of King Midas – everything we touch turns not to gold but to ash. The ground is accursed on account of Adam and Eve’s sin, on account of our sin, because the consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.

His glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, an eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared “very good” again. At the tail end of the story of Noah and the ark, as Noah finally plants his feet on dry land again and makes a burnt offering to the Lord, God promises, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, NIV)

God’s promise back then is actually a foreshadow of that day still to come when the curse will finally be eradicated from the earth, from pole to pole and from east to west. God’s plan of redemption is gigantic. The vision He has for the world, then, is not destruction, as many Christians have believed over the years, but redemption. Not annihilation but restoration. A new heaven and a new earth. Purified by fire. Clearly, the reconciliation God has in mind through the atoning work of Jesus Christ is both personal and global. Because all things in the earth have been corrupted by man’s fall, God will be “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and putting “all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:27)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, His example included the words “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This was in essence the purpose of His ministry; to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth. Right now, the entire creation is out of wack. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on account of man’s sin. Jesus’s ministry of ultimately inaugurating God’s kingdom, with Himself as King, is not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects; it is about reversing the curse. Again, His was both a personal and a global mission. Consider the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament: It was not just about individual salvation, but about national redemption, restoration of covenant, “real world” reconciliation.

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The Gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, He is saying that the Gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself. It’s not just about forgiveness of our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, He is demonstrating the authority of God’s sovereignty. When He heals the sick and the lame, He is saying that the Gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness: the effects of sin. In fact, the mission of Jesus is so big that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:3, quotes Isaiah 40:3-4. Here’s a look at that passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: “Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God said.'”

One of the dangers of a Gospel that stays on the ground too long is that it becomes man-centered. The idea, for instance, that the Bible is God’s love letter to us has a bit of truth to it,  but this shows how easily we trade the centrality of God’s glory for the centrality of our need. Colossians 1:18 puts this man-centeredness to rest as follows: “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” (NIV) The peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers everything. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven.

The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to His sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground, we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade back to the Garden of Eden. Back to the wonders of the new covenant kingdom, of which the old was but a foreshadow. The cross is the keystone in God’s plan to restore all creation. And although we are each saved as an individual life, we are not saved to an individual life. Rather, we stand as part of God’s restoration of all things. When you and I are reconciled by Jesus Christ to God, we are brought into the covenant community of faith. Remember, we have been made members of the Body of Christ.

In Christ, we’ve also been called not just into the universal church but to the local church. I my case, I was called back to the church of my youth, where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized at thirteen years old. This is where I became part of the work of reconciliation. I, like nearly all of us, went astray. Although I was covered by the blood, and saved by grace, I failed to participate in God’s plan of reconciliation. I discovered drugs and alcohol, and, through associating with the wrong people, and a series of very bad decisions, I ended up in state prison. There were times, even in those darkest hours, when I again participated in God’s plan of reconciliation. I organized and conducted a Bible study during free time known as “block out.” At times, as many as seven or eight prisoners joined me to study the Word of God.

Sadly, I continued to step off the narrow path, on to the wide path, which leads to destruction. It has taken me nearly four decades to return to the path God has chosen for me. Now, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and have applied to the graduate studies program at Lancaster Bible College for fall of 2018. I will be ministering to teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction. Yes, we are awaiting the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but of that hour no man knows. Our great commission, in the meantime, is to spread the Good News, and to bring freedom to the captives.

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God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is about a refreshing of the earth rather than destruction of the existing earth. Dr. David Jeremiah tells of purification by fire. There will be renewal, not annihilation. 2 Peter 3:10-12 describes the heavens disappearing with a roar, and  the elements (the earth) being “laid bare” by fire. Heaven and earth will be new not in time but in quality. In other words, it is about renovation. Not something that never existed before. Something made better. Just as our bodies are redeemed and will be changed, so it will be with heaven and earth. Because the whole of creation has been affected by the curse, and further polluted by man’s sin, it is not a suitable place for resurrected, perfect people to live. How could we live among fossils, graveyards, and reminders of death, and a flood-scarred earth that bore evidence of God’s great judgment of sin? How can we live on a planet next to a sun that has a limited lifespan, or within a universe that has a build-in timer our physicists have labeled entropy?

Here is another way to look at it. Did the Great Flood destroy or annihilate the earth? No! Neither will God’s purifying fire. Just as our bodies die and return to dust, ultimately raised as new bodies that have continuity with who we were before our death, likewise the earth is fallen and will be renewed. The renewal of the earth is directly analogous with the resurrection of the redeemed in Christ. Just as we have to die before we are resurrected, the earth must be destroyed before it is renewed. It is not an ultimate or final destruction; it is a destruction that purifies and clears the way for re-creation.

Somehow we’ve managed to get away from the message of the Bible: Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these words begins with the prefix re-, which means return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design. Realize this: If God doesn’t redeem or restore the physical world, then Satan wins, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose of Creation. The Bible promises that God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. Frankly, man has an innate longing for a Golden Age; we’re homesick for the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us, “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a, NIV)

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NIV)