Thursday, December 13, 2007

2007: The Year of the Unfriendly Atheist

In the late 1970's, philosopher William Rowe termed himself a "friendly atheist" after assessing the Christian theist position as rational, even though he believes that God does not, in fact, exist. Former atheist Antony Flew, although not a Christian, has become a theist after his assessment of arguments for the existence of God as well. From the mid-1990s through today, Christian philosophers have been making great strides in all areas of philosophy and have gained much respect for their academic prowess.

But just when Christian/theist philosophers seemed to have finally gained a measure of respect from their atheist philosopher counterparts, 2007 has seen a retroaction in attitude toward all things God. Correction--all things Christian. This year, more than any in our decade so far, has seen the prominence of the unfriendly atheist. I refer to this year's popularized books, including Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great, and Sam Harris' Letters To a Christian Nation. Add in the just-released movie The Golden Compass, based on one novel in a trilogy by Phillip Pullman intended to "kill God," atheists have been quite active in 2007 making their case that all Christians are idiots for believing in God.

But what are they saying? I admit, I haven't had time to read the books from cover to cover (but I'll get there eventually), so the reviews and/or exerpts from will have to do. Here's the breakdown:

Richard Dawkins - the core of his argument (found in Chapter 3) goes something like God isn't necessary to explain the existence of the universe; the existence of the universe can be explained without the need for a God; therefore, God does not exist. (The God Delusion)

For further detailed analysis of Dawkins' book, please read Alvin Plantinga's rebuttal at

Sam Harris - kind, virtuous, and patriotic is one who does NOT earnestly believe in God and the Christian faith. His intro states “Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.”

So begins Letter to a Christian Nation…"

Christopher Hitchens - Despite my take that his disbelief is rooted in silly Christians saying silly things to him as a child, he contends that "There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ulimately grounded on wish-thinking." (God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, p. 4)

In the end, their arguments are the same tired rantings of bitter aging men who act as though they've been deprived of something over which the Christian church needs dismantling. I've heard many such complaints in my short life, so nothing they've said comes as much surprise. My best guess is that they are still pouting over having been subject to "dangerous sexual repression" in being told to wait until marriage to have sex, or something similarly as grievous. Oh, the humanity. This is the commmon thread among our above authors: it's not the academic arguments on the existence of God, the teachings of Jesus about himself, nor the historical evidence supporting Jesus' resurrection that they spend the most time railing against. Their incessant jabs at the Christian faith center by far on the behavior and attitudes of Christians they have experienced. How interesting...and concerning at the same time.

On one level, I look at their collective attacks on the Christian faith and think, "how obnoxious! If I'm not allowed to be unPC and insult the faith of others, why should these snobs get away with publishing their offensive whining?" On another level, I'm reminded how much our words and deeds as Christians can have enormous impact on even school-aged children (as in Hitchens' case). As Michael Newdow marches his way to the U.S. Supreme Court again trying to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, Christians should keep in mind that we walk a fine, perilous road that demands a higher standard of behavior and conduct. We have to be the best of everything: integrity, kindness, intelligence and wit. It is unfair, but what about the Atonement is fair?

Atheists have banked atheism on sneering Christianity to death (really, is that all they have?). They should be met with the deflating of all their stereotypes of Christians by Christians. Three of my favorite Christians who do this well are Francis Beckwith, Alvin Plantinga, and William Lane Craig. In my opinion, every believer should become familiar with their books and papers and learn how to effectively think about the Christian/atheist/agnostic debate.

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