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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Atheism on the Rise?

Have you taken a look at the NY Times or Amazon Bestseller List over the last year or two? If you have, then you've no doubt noticed an influx of nonfiction titles promoting Atheism. Letter to a Christian Nation, The God Delusion, The God Who Wasn't There--just to name a few.

I'm wondering about the recent influx, and I suspect that this is nothing more than the cyclical nature of pop culture. After all Bertrand Russell and others attempted to do this years ago. His ideas came and went. And now, here we go again.

I don't have the slightest problem with people writing about Atheism. They have as much a right to write about their faith as we do ours. The interesting thing to me is how many people are buying up this propaganda, and, as an extension, how much the press is promoting it. What does this mean? Are people fed up with Religion? Or are they looking for excuses for evil behavior? I'm not sure the answer is that simple. And I'm not sure the answer is the same for every atheist.

Nonetheless, Christians need to be ready with answers--and answers shared in love. Yes, be direct. Do not tolerate the lack of logic. But do not fight fire with fire. Fight with love. Understand that beneath the brash, contentious tone of an atheist may be a hurting heart: someone who's been wronged--even by Bible-toting Christians.

Respect a well-reasoned argument. Consider the time and heart invested in the atheist's claims, but reason with him and show the faults in his logic. Present the truth and show why the truth makes sense.

All this thinking came about when I "accidentally" stumbled onto a woman's blog the other day. I was searching the Web for something completely different, and I found her blog. On her sidebar, I noticed a curious title. It was something about Christmas Carols, Atheism, and *Agnosticism.

At first, I thought the post was going to be a Christian message. The author spoke lovingly about weeping whenever she heard certain Christmas carols and of fond memories. But then, she revealed that she has left the faith and considers herself to be agnostic. It sounded like the turning point for her came from reading one of Joseph Campbell's books on world myths, specifically Campbell's argument that Christianity is just one myth among many--and a copycat myth at that. This blogger's conclusions saddened me. She reasoned with Campbell that Christianity simply cannot be true because it SEEMS to borrow from other world myths. That is one conclusion that can be drawn. But it is NOT the only conclusion.

What follows is my reply to this blogger. Take it for what it's worth. Maybe you know someone who is struggling with belief/unbelief. Maybe you've had doubts yourself.

Never alone.


Please forgive my intrusion on your blog, but I found it by accident as I was looking for exercises for my students about strong/weak verbs. Loved your idea about thinking like a screenwriter, ie: how am I going to show this to the folks who watch my move? Great tip.

Long story short, I saw the mysterious bridge graphic and thought I'd come to homepage of Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy, who use the very same graphic. Then I looked in the sidebar and saw the Atheist/Agnostic Article here and gave it a read.

All I can say is wow. What you wrote is very beautiful. You clearly have the heart of a poet. And while I am in total harmony with your sentiment, I disagree with your conclusions.

I've studied mythology extensively (taught it for eight years) and have read Joseph Campbell's work including The Masks of God. It is indeed amazing that so many ancient cultures had stories closely associated with those recorded in the Christian Bible. And certainly one conclusion could be that all religions and God-notions are myth built out of mankind's hope for goodness and light.

But as C.S. Lewis points out, mankind would never have known to look for goodness and light if there had never been a source of goodness and light. What I'm driving at is a very different conclusion. World myths that predate the Old Testament (or New Testament, for that matter) are amazingly similar for two reasons: 1. the acts these early myths suggest, actually DID happen --or-- 2. God, Himself being outside of time, imprinted His own impact on the world in the hearts of all people.

Concerning 1: Take Noah's flood which is mirrored in many cultural tales. It seems likely that such a catastrophic flood did occur. Geologists the world over have confirmed that certain recent discoveries do indicate a flood on a massive scale.

Evolutionist Richard Carrington, in The Story of Our Earth, a secular publication, admitted,

"Of the many kinds of animals inhabiting the earth at the time vast numbers were swept completely away. Not only individuals, but whole races were destroyed. Extermination overtook the animals of the land, sea and air with equal indifference. When the holocaust was over the whole aspect of life on earth had changed."180/155

Concerning 2: Take the common mythological archetype of the coming chosen one or coming savior. If prior to the beginning of time, God intended to save all people of the world by letting His son come to earth, wouldn't He have given people a desire to look for such a one? Certainly this is not beyond the ability of an all powerful God. So the handful of myth/cultural stories concerning events/people similar to Christianity are eternal echos of God's plan.

I do believe that all people are searching for light. I believe that is because we all realize there's something missing from our lives, a longing we sometimes call melancholy. This is the hunger for God and for heaven. I don't think this hunger for light can be argued against--as you say, too much history supports it. But the question then becomes, WHO is the source of the light we long for?

It would have to be someone beyond ourselves, beyond humanity. We ourselves recognize our own self destructive tendencies and the fickle nature of our feelings. People are prone to letting us down. Emotions and behavior are affected by such subtle things as seasons, weather, workload, nutrition, and such. So the light must be beyond us.

God, a supernatural being, fits the bill. But which God? The answer is the most important answer anyone on earth will ever discover. But how to find it? Vishnu? Mohommad? Budha? Jesus? Who?

There we MUST NOT depart from our ordinary means of making judgments. Most of us decide what to wear based on the preponderance of evidence. Hmmm, weatherman said it's going to be forty degrees. I open the window. It looks cold. It feels cold. The evidence suggests that I will therefore wear a sweater. Imagine you were driving on a one lane road and then stopped at the entrance to a narrow bridge. People explained that if you drive across the bridge, you will be given forty million dollars. I suspect that you would want to get out and inspect the bridge. If there was time, I imagine you'd look it up on the internet or hire an expert on bridges before you ever drove across. It makes sense to examine the evidence.

However, we must avoid making the kind of judgment we make when we choose who we will vote for or what team to like. These judgments are colored, filtered way too much by our history, our upbringing, and our personal preferences. We might vote democratic because a certain issue is important to us. We might pick a favorite team because the quarterback is handsome. If God is real, then He is real whether we prefer him to be or not.

I am a believer in Jesus. But I'm not an easy believer. Unlike the original childlike faith that you had, I scrutinized everything about Christianity. After all, how could there be only one God, one right way to heaven?

I spent years, taking courses in school, studying history, archeology, and even science. I read countless testimonials, considered the experiences of uncountable people of a variety of faiths, and my conclusion was clear: the God of the Bible is real.

The problem is, either people don't want to do the research because it steals time from their lifestyle --or-- they don't want to believe their findings because it impacts their lifestyle. I didn't want to believe in God if that meant there was only one way to heaven. I love people. I want them all to go to heaven whatever they believe. But that's just preference speaking --or wishful thinking. It has nothing to do with the preponderance of evidence for Christianity. Choosing not to believe in God in this way is akin to being starving but refusing to eat because you feel sure someone else in the world might also starve.

In closing, (name of blogger), I am convinced that the reason you cry when you hear Oh Holy Night or Do You Hear What I Hear is that your soul longs for God still. I suspect that your childlike faith in Jesus when you were young made you a Christian. And even though you have abandoned God, HE has not abandoned you. He's hinting, suggesting, and waiting…because He is the Light of the world. And he loves you.


*Agnosticism is a little different than atheism in that agnostics do not deny that there could be a god. They just don't know for sure and won't put a name to this god if there is one.