The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ This, along with the biblical maxim, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, is the starting point of all Christian thought and action. But there is a new breed of atheists who are saying, in so many words: The fool says in his heart, “There is a God!”
The new atheism has been discussed recently in these pages (see Dancing on the Grave of God, Community News, 2/07), but the breathtaking popularity of the anti-God books that the press is churning out in recent months compels a second look. According to a recent Wall Street Journal editorial in the past year alone, purveyors of atheism have sold over a million copies of their anti-God tracts. Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion (2006) has sold some 500,000 copies while Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) approaches almost 300,000 copies. These are big numbers in the publishing world. Add to this nearly 200,000 copies of Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (2006) along with a few other new titles that decry the existence of God and one can see that bashing God is profitable business.
The arrogance of these writers is stunning. Richard Dawkins, for example, says that the God of the Bible is arguably the most unpleasant character in 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, megalomanical, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. Not to be outdone, Christopher Hitchens boldly assets God is not great. Therefore, believers of every stripe (Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus) are infantile in their maturity and oppressive in their religious practice. In fact, Hitchens argues, religious education for our children is a form of child abuse.
Hitchens offers sweeping criticism of religious people. I think religion is a deadly threat to the survival of the species and to the continued evolution of the brain. He says the religious are all, deep down inside, fundamentalists at heart because we all believe our religion is true and that those who disagree with us are wrong. But Hitchens hardly qualifies to call himself open-minded. In fact, his anti-God tome is intolerant, narrow-minded and self-contradictory. Overstated? Consider the following quotation:
. . . [H]ere is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we do distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
Really? Are Hitchens and his co-thinkers truly open-minded? Are they open-minded to the extent that they would ponder the possibility that God exists? And that he is great? And is Hitchens as objective as he claims? When he says his belief is not a belief doesn’t he place himself in check if not checkmate? Every world-view is based on faith, that is, every world-view is a commitment to a particular story that explains the universe.
The atheist makes a faith commitment equal to the faith commitment of the believer. It is not as though Christians have faith and atheists have reason. Both have both. The atheist and the Christian stake their lives on a view of ultimate reality and both have good reason for their faith. Hitchens is committed to a particular strain of Darwinism that teaches that everything exists because of random chance. There is no God and there is no ultimate purpose to the universe. Christians (along with Jews and Muslims) have a faith commitment to another story. They believe there is a God who exists, a God who made us and who made himself known to us. From this starting point believers shape their world-view.
The subtitle of Hitchens’ book states that religion poisons everything. Does it? Clearly, Christian history contains much to embarrass the followers of Christ. People devoted to Jesus have not always treated Jews and Muslims as creatures made in God’s image.
Missionaries have often been cultural imperialists even as they sought to be Christ’s ambassadors. And Christians have not always been kind to the environment. Nevertheless, how might the modern world have developed were it not for the Christian world-view? It was the church that gave rise to the notion of women’s equality and dignity. The Greeks and Romans had no hospitals, but the church began to care for the sick, regardless of their ability to pay. Caring for the poor because they were poor came out of the Christian mindset, as did the notion that abortion and infanticide were morally wrong. Public schooling was a Christian idea. And it was the Christian church which stood against slavery in the Roman Empire and eradicated the practice in the West by the 14th century, and then again in the 18th and 19th century in Europe and America. It was a Christian world-view that gave rise to modern science. Alfred North Whitehead, a non-Christian philosopher from the 20th century, once said that without Christianity’s insistence on the rationality of God there would be no science. He was right. The early scientists were virtually all Christians (Roger Bacon, William of Occam, Francis Bacon, etc.) Hitchens says that because of the telescope and the microscope, religion no longer offers an explanation of anything important. The 17th century mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler would beg to disagree. Kepler saw his work as a scientist as an outgrowth of his Christian faith. He prayed regarding his work, O God, I am thinking thy thoughts after thee.
Should the Christian church be concerned that the recent spate of anti-God literature will damage the cause of Christ? Hardly. We worship a God who is in control. A God who will be glorified. In the end, every knee will bow and every tongue confess the Lordship of Christ. God is, indeed, great, and his greatness will not be compromised by a few voices crying in the wilderness of unbelief. In fact, perhaps we should rejoice over the proliferation of atheistic apologetics. I like what Alistair and Joanna McGrath say in their response to the new atheists. In their recent book The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, they write, Until recently, Western atheism had waited patiently, believing that belief in God would simply die out. But now a whiff of panic is evident. Far from dying out, belief in God has rebounded. The outbreak of faith has unbelievers running for cover. And run they should. As the apostle Paul writes, Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7). If Hitchens and company insist on sowing the wind they will, in the end, reap the whirlwind.