There is widespread secularism if not growing atheism. Their position is understandable yet woefully misguided and even ignorant of that which they criticize or choose to ignore. ♦
There is a modern-day assumption that atheism is on the rise and that the atheists are winning. This is not the case. I believe this view is merely a reaction to the large anti-Christian megaphone that gets broad exposure in the public square through main-stream media outlets and our public schools and universities.
In truth, atheists make up only a small portion of the public population.
The number of atheists in America in recent history has remained fairly consistent. According to Gallop polls, 4% of Americans were atheists back in 2007 – the same percentage as in 1944.
Clear Trend Nevertheless
There is a clear trend however in secular views toward religion and Christianity specifically. Given a generation of legalized secularization of our culture (partly due to successful efforts 50 years ago to remove the Bible and prayer in public schools through a misapplied constitutional principle), the result has been an eroding of respect, knowledge, and teaching of Biblical truths and foundational standards of behavior. The door has been opened to distortions of Bible history and context and the opportunity for a sophisticated onslaught by a small but strident group of what are termed “New Atheists ” or “Neo-Atheists.”
Atheism has been around since ancient times. Pre-Christ Greek and Roman philosophers were materialists who believed that matter was all there was. If deities existed they were irrelevant. There was nothing after death. In recent years, the modern atheists we all studied in high school and college like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell have been replaced by a new prolific generation of anti-believers including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett (“God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood”), Christopher Hitchens (organized religion is “the main source of hatred in the world”), and just about any liberal arts and science professor at your favorite college or university.
The focus of the Neo-Atheists these days is capitalizing on popular “post-Christian” views publicly voiced in response to simplistic interpretations of a capricious God in the Old Testament, supported by their view of ample evidence of indiscriminate evil done “in the name of religion.” Events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, past abortion center bombings, Crusades and Spanish Inquisition offer the opportunity to lump Christianity into the same category as radical Islam.
Their antiquated playbook has been given new life.
Christians continuously are broad-brush painted as hypocritical, arrogant, judgmental and intolerant. But as for the God they worship, Richard Dawkins calls God a “moral monster” in his popular book, The God Delusion. He claims God’s command of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as “disgraceful” and tantamount to “child abuse and bullying.” This God has “monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.” Add his killing of the Canaanites as “ethnic cleansing” and “bloodthirsty massacres” carried out with “xenophobic relish” and a cast of dubious Biblical characters like a drunken Lot, a lying Abraham, and a rapist, murderous King David, and you have a god unworthy of belief let alone worship.
Dawkins describes God as follows:
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, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Quotes and books like these get good coverage in the secular press and provide ammunition for those unwilling to submit Lordship to anyone but themselves. I’ll deal with Dawkin’s specific attacks in a future Viewpoint.
This information is bombarding a whole new impressionable and uninformed population that can’t decipher Saint Paul from Saint Francis, let alone the Old Testament from the New Testament or the Book of Mormon.
Christian author, Paul Copan, highlights 3 characteristics about today’s Neo-Atheists in his book Is God a Moral Monster?
1. They are angry. For all the emphasis on cool-head scientific rationality, they express themselves not just passionately but angrily. Like Shakespeare’s great line “Thou doth protest too much,” the neo-atheists seem to betray a level of defensiveness and even desperation.
2. They are often ignorant of what they criticize. Their positions against God’s existence are surprising weak and reflect Bible knowledge that is flimsy, theologically challenged, and embarrassingly misrepresentative of the Christian faith. Copan says they often resemble “the simplistic village atheist far more that the credentialed academician.”
3. They neglect atheistic atrocities. They aren’t willing to own up to horrible acts committed in the name of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, or Mao, yet they expect Christians to own up to all barbarous acts performed in Jesus’s name.
Interestingly enough, Jesus is often treated with kid-gloves. He’s okay. He’s nice, after all, because he taught about love. He’s painted as simply a moral philosopher who was misguided about his own sense of importance. It’s all the other religion stuff that gets in the way and needs to be removed.
Christians need not shy away from the bold attacks of any Neo-Atheists nor their own self-justifying secular friends and family. We should engage with civility and strength, always prepared to give a defense for the gospel. To do so requires Bible head/heart/soul knowledge and experience that goes deeper than verses or standalone facts we’ve learned from friends, sermons, or even blogs. How? Read God’s Word, study God’s Word, know God’s Word.
May God equip and bless the Church to stand firm, be wise, and filled with the Spirit of the living God that has overcome the world.
Are you equipped to engage with a non-believing world?
Do not fear their threats – do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. – 1 Peter 3:13-16