Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Eve of Village Atheism?

While reflecting on his debate with Sam Harris and the audience questions that came after, Dr. William Lane Craig wrote the following about the makeup of the audience that night:
I wonder is something culturally significant is going on here. Several years ago, I asked the Warden at Tyndale House in Cambridge why it is that British society is so secular when Britain has such a rich legacy of great Christian scholars. He replied, "Oh, Christianity is not underrepresented among the intelligentsia. It's the working classes which are so secular." He explained that these folks are never exposed to Christian scholarship because of their lack of education. As a result there is a sort of pervasive, uninformed, village atheism among them. I wonder if something like this could be happening in the States. I was surprised to see the number of blue collar folks from the community buying Harris' book and thanking him for all he has done. They didn't seem to have any inkling that his views had just been systematically exposed as logically incoherent. The intelligentsia have almost universally panned Harris' recent book (read the reviews!). Yet it is lapped up in popular culture. Wouldn't it be amazing if unbelief became the possession mainly of the uneducated?
This comment causes my heart to sink. Personally, I like to think that I am fairly observant of the religious cultural shifts here in the U.S. and their bearing on what Christians should do to respond to them. However, I have to admit that Dr. Craig’s note above catches me a little off guard, even alarming to a degree as I realize what his observation, if truly symptomatic of an eve of a significant change, means for Christian apologists in this day and age. An inculcation of “New Atheism” among the blue collar/working class here would be a dramatic reversal of the religious landscape of America. I cannot help but feel that such a situation might be more “dismaying” than “amazing.”

Christianity is a piece of Americana (whether anyone thinks that is a good thing or not). One of our hallmark cultural contours is the common family of common means participating on a minimum level in a Christian expression of some type. Classically, I think of church attendance on Sundays, respect for the Bible, and a basic familiarity with Christian beliefs. So far, that the common man believes he has a faith is the experience of American life. New Atheists seek to change that through a campaign of popularizing atheism.

I have no doubt that the inculcation is taking place. It is being impressed upon the public through books by New Atheists like Sam Harris that are aimed on the popular level, both to adults and youth (e.g. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials). In the public classroom, atheism is the default worldview in the disciplines of both the hard and social sciences. Atheism is marketed as the new neutral position in almost all of public literature, television, and many commercial media outlets. Atheists pronounce that atheism is the only viable alternative for fair-minded people once they have shed the evil “superstition” of theism and Christianity that has existed here since the Pilgrims brought their Bibles off the Mayflower. Pair the New Atheists’ media blitz of book tours and public appearances and the fruits of declining Christian influence over American culture, I suppose we should expect an eventual ‘atheism-of-the-masses’ to emerge.

As I ponder on the observation that we are Great Britain’s cultural apple that has until now not fallen far from the tree, I wonder how should we take a leap of faith to escape repeating history rather than march in lock step behind a country that has untethered its Christian moorings. The Gospel of Jesus Christ exists for us (for our divinely ordered fulfillment) as much as humanity exists ultimately to encounter the Gospel and the Savior it heralds. Clearly we cannot remain satisfied with an apologetic approach that centers too heavily on the academy and not enough on the daily court of public opinion. Apologetics must be used more frequently in the day-to-day, not less. Our churches must become robust again in faith and orthopraxis and apologetics. The wisdom of Augustine’s “faith seeking understanding” presupposes that we should seek to understand our faith, contrary to frequent contemporary church preaching that faith with no attempt at understanding (blind faith) can be a superior virtue to serious theological reflection. And finally, we must take the Gospel and the defense of it to the gates of hell themselves (so to speak). We must not be afraid to engage the skeptics in their own backyard, which may include aiming for more exposure in the public eye through old and new media outlets and accessing more public venues receptive enough to an airing of a Christian worldview.

Here, I propose a few audacious plans of action. The following suggestions include, but are not limited to, the following acts of sedition against the prevailing cultural push toward total secularism:

• Appearances on television shows like The Colbert Report, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, and anything opposite Bill Maher. If Bart Ehrman can get an interview with Stephen Colbert, I reason that surely someone on the less apostate side can also.

• Opinion columns with as many newspapers as apologists are humanly capable of contributing to.

• Participation in public discussions on worldview-reflective topics. [For an example, see The Journey’s (St. Louis) pre-evangelistic ministry called “Theology at the Bottleworks” at]

As with anything, I cannot presume to predict the outcome of any of these efforts by Christians to make a positive impact on our culture for the cause of Christ. I do know, however, that neglecting the cultural shifts that take America farther away from a competent general understanding of theism and Christianity result in the kind of baseline secularism that is found in our neighbors across the pond. I stake an effort in the spirit of the words of the Apostle Paul, “May it never be!”


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Damsel! I like your constructive suggestions and your concern for God's reputation and honor.

Unknown said...

Divinely said, thank you for the insight!