September 7, 2010
Outdone by an Atheist
Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. . ." - Romans 1:21
There's something I admire about Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and their New Atheist kin.
This group of philosophers fervently believes that not only is belief in God foolish, but inherently and immanently dangerous to modern life. For that reason, they are a vocal bunch. Dawkins and Hitchens have published multiple books and never fail to cycle through news headlines every few months. Biological evolution is their starting point, and they argue for what they might call the greatest common good for humanity - in a word, reason. They live and breathe a fully realized Enlightenment philosophy, where man is king with his knowledge and reason as his scepter.
As a Christian, I couldn't disagree more with this worldview, but I still admire its proponents for a character trait that I often lack - spiritual honesty.
Dawkins, a biologist and vociferous author of The God Delusion, displays a passionate dedication to his nonbelief. He is not content to exorcise God just from the domain of science - for him, it's an all-or-nothing debate which allows not a hint of spirituality. Assuming there is no God, as he believes, then all childish expressions of faith must be done away with. That means down with church, mushy "spirituality," and anything else that smacks of the supernatural.
Dawkins is painfully honest. As intelligent design proponent Phillip Johnston writes in Against All Gods, he has an "irrepressible habit of saying what he thinks to be the truth, even though he knows that his in-your-face atheism horrifies his more prudent allies" who still concern themselves with public opinion.
Contrast Dawkins' adamant denial to recent surveys of young Americans, who are wishy-washy at best. The majority of Millennials (young adults ages 18 to 29) would rather be called "spiritual" than "religious," though they'll still identify as Christians. Press them much harder, and their appearance of Christianity fades even faster. Two-thirds say they never rarely or never pray with others, attend worship services, or read the Bible.
What about biblical mandates to continue to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), to consistently meet together and fellowship (Hebrews 10:25), and to love God's word (Psalm 119:11)? Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, summed up Millennial spiritual like this: "The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."
What does it say about "Christians" when an atheist outshines us in zeal for his beliefs? We become like the "fools" Paul wrote of in Romans. The subjects of his rebuke weren't just the pagans and atheists - they were also the Jews raised on the truth but denying its real power. They included Pharisees and the "wise" who knew their Bible memory verses and failed to take them to heart. They were the professing faithful, the practical atheists.
One of my favorite explanations of holistic Christian belief comes from C.S. Lewis. He wrote, "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." What a fitting analogy - if Richard Dawkins ever experiences a Damascus Road conversion, I think he'd agree with Lewis. We naturally respond to the sunlit world differently than we respond to the world at night. We see differently, more clearly. We make decisions based on what we can see in the light. We can't help but filter our world by the sun's effects. That same response should happen with our faith.
Dawkins understands - more clearly than many Christians - that belief is not confined to one area of life. Rather, it touches, informs, and transforms every area. Do we believe that?
Intersecting Faith & Life: The New Atheists put me to shame when it comes to zealous belief. If they can have such passion for such a hopeless worldview, why don't we have a far stronger passion for a faith that provides hope and a future?