Given the rise of “militant atheism” in America, Albert Mohler recently interviewed author and columnist Dinesh D’Souza about his new book, What’s So Great About Christianity?
Albert Mohler: These are interesting days, the public airwaves and so much of the media context is now taken up with the discussion that has featured a great deal of what can be described as militant atheism. Whether it’s Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or others, there is a new sense that a militant atheism is projecting itself into the public square.
Dinesh D’Souza … has written a new book entitled What’s So Great About Christianity. Dinesh, why did you write the book, What’s So Great About Christianity?
Dinesh D’Souza: Well, I’ve been, for 15 years, a secular writer. I’ve written seven books, but I felt that something new is happening today. That is, we’re seeing for the first time atheism become a serious option for people and particularly for young people.
A generation ago the poster child of atheism was someone like Madeline Murray O’Hare, or some ACLU lawyer—not a very attractive image for atheism worldwide. Now this atheism is coming out of the universities, they have scientific credentials, or like Christopher Hitchens, they’re stylish, they’re witty, and many young people are attracted to this kind of thing. I felt that it’s important to have, if you will, a twenty-first century apologetic that took the atheist argument seriously—that meets it on it’s own ground of reason and science and evidence. That’s the goal of What’s So Great About Christianity—to challenge atheism on its own terms and defeat it.
Mohler: I think one of the things you acknowledge in your book is that this new breed of militant atheists really looks at what they acknowledge to be the Christian foundations of civilization and argues that they are negative, evil, oppressive, intolerant, and as something we should simply repudiate and grow beyond.
D’Souza: Years ago Bertrand Russell, after he wrote his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, somebody asked him, “If you die and you find yourself before God what would you say?” And Russell, very pompously, said, “I would say, ‘Sir, you did not give me enough evidence.’”
So, this was the old banner of atheism—it claimed intellectual superiority, this sort of search for evidence. The new atheism, however, is also strangely clothed in the garb of morality. It accuses religion, and specifically Christianity, of being behind most violence and evil and war and suffering—and even terrorism in the world. This is atheism that is flying on the wings of 9/11. It demands a new kind of an answer.
Mohler: You talk about the global triumph of Christianity and the twilight of atheism. If atheism represents so few worldwide, why does it get so much attention?
D’Souza: It gets so much attention because it occupies very influential sectors of American and Western life. Atheism is strong in the universities, it is strong in the media, it is, perhaps, not as strong in politics, but because we have this notion of separation of church and government, the political square is dominated by … secularists.
They figured out a very clever con in which the religious people are driven out of the public square and the atheist idea of fairness is to have a monopoly of the public space. So, for all these reasons, we live in a culture that is publicly secular. If someone was to come from Mars and visit America, and walk around our public buildings, watch television, turn on the music, read books, you would have no idea that a majority of Americans are Christians. You would have no idea that you are in a society that is a Christian society.
Mohler: So when you look at that picture what would you suggest that Christians should do? Simply sit back and make observations about the growing secularism of the elites, or engage the issues?
D’Souza: I think we have a clear biblical mandate to be “not of the world, but in it.” We are all told to love God not just with our hearts, but with our minds, and we are told to give the reasons for the hope that is within us. So, I think as Christians we should be in the culture, fully engaged. Not, if you will, conceding all this territory to the atheist because, let’s remember, this is not just a debate about putting a monument in a public building.
The atheists have very clearly said that their goal is to go after our children. In other words, they know that they have not won the battle for the current generation, but they are hoping that through the schools, and through the universities, as young Christians come into school, come into college—and remember, as in my case, when I went to college I was a Christian, but the Christianity I learned was very juvenile. You could call it Crayon Christianity, and so it was very vulnerable to skeptical assault. So, as Christians we are sending our children off and they are going to get a withering attack on their faith. We’ve got to prepare ourselves—even more important—we have to prepare them [our children]. We can’t just prepare them with, ultimately, scriptural truth, we also have to prepare them with intellectual and moral defenses, so that they can fend off the attacks that will surely come.
Mohler: Dinesh, let me ask you to tell us how you became a Christian? How did this happen in your life?
D’Souza: In my case, I was born in Bombay, India. My family was Christian, converted by Portuguese missionaries going back some centuries. But the Christianity I learned was ultimately a Christianity of habit. It was not a thoughtful Christianity.
When I went to Dartmouth as an undergraduate I found people saying things to me like “the universe operates according to fixed laws. How can you say that someone was born of a virgin or walked on water or changed water into wine?” I really couldn’t defend my faith, so I found myself drifting away—not that I didn’t want to believe, but my mind was becoming an obstacle. It’s only in later years that I began to think harder about Christianity.
I also married a young woman from Louisiana who is an evangelical Christian. We go to a Calvary Chapel church in California. So, through my wife and through a pastor I began to go back and look at the things I had learned as a child and realized that there is a mature, adult, intelligent Christianity that can withstand this skeptical assault.
What I have done in recent years is moved my own work, my own scholarship, and in this book—What’s So Great About Christianity?—I bring historical, philosophical, scientific arguments to bear in defending Christianity against its strongest critics.
In addition to being one of Salem Communications’ nationally syndicated radio talk show hosts, R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and recognized as one of America’s leading theologians and cultural commentators. For an extensive library of ministry resources from Dr. Mohler, including his daily blog, visit www.albertmohler.com.