It is intriguing to observe in the US the rise of the atheism movement. So much so, that on Saturday there was an Atheists rally in in Washington with Richard Dawkins as the main event—the so-called “Reason Rally.” This was followed by the American Atheists’ annual convention. They are the ones who put up billboards stating “You KNOW it’s a myth. This Season, Celebrate Reason.”
The organiser David Silverman was raised Jewish but rejected the faith of his heritage and is now president of the American Atheists. He calls the event the atheists “coming out,” intentionally using the language of the gay rights movement. They see themselves as an oppressed minority and are uniting to have a more public voice—why not? Free speech is essential to western culture.At the rally he stated “we will never be closeted again.” He states, “I respect people; I respect humans. I do not respect religion.” Mmmm. Sounds rather contradictory. In fact, it would make a good Tui’s sign. Still, I am sure he is sincere. He and his organisation is determined to challenge the placing of bibles in hotel rooms, the raising of crosses and stopping of anything that brings religion into the public sphere.
The rally went ahead, but it rained, which raises a very intriguing question—was it God who made it rain? Or nature? Or God working in nature? I am sure it is one of the above.At the rally, Taslima Nasrin, the author of “Shame” described Mohammed as a charlatan, a pedophile and a rapist—good luck with that! A wooden cross was placed in the middle of the crowd with a sign saying—“banish the 10 commandments in the dustbin of history.” I would have thought a good number of the 10 Commandments are pretty good e.g. do not commit adultery, do not kill, honour your mum and dad, etc. They have been quite good at helping shape western civilisation in particular. I suppose it is the first four that offend, the God-stuff. Personally, I like the summaries: love God with all you have, love your neighbour as yourself. If you don’t like the first, surely the second can be said to be “not bad.”
Some American Christians are responding very negatively. One US leader has called them vicious and that they stand for nothing.I have a different view. While I do not agree with or get atheism, I think this movement has some positives for the Christian faith. First, it raises in public the question of God or no God and forces people to think and give a more reasonable defence of the faith. In fact, I think it is a strategic mistake to go public like this; it gives us Christians something real to present the gospel against. It also brings religion into the public arena, which of course is what secularism and atheism want to stop. One of the problems in western society for Christians is that everything is so grey and this changes things by giving a public sounding board for the faith. This is one of the reasons we see so much religious language in the American election—a “war” is on for the soul of America, a very public “war”.
Secondly, one of the reasons they despise religion is its corruption, hypocrisy, and involvement in violence. I accept that they have more than a point on this. There is no shortage of ammo for them! This should inspire us Christians not to react, but to live more peaceful, honest and loving lives—to walk the talk. It should encourage us to renounce the sort of extremism we see in some parts of the church and especially religious terrorism and violence. We need to ensure that we are not hypocrites. Many people in western countries need to see Christianity then they might listen again to its message. One way we can do this is give those who oppose us the honour of our respect and allow them the space to believe differently. One of the reasons atheists are responding like this is because they are in many cases, marginalised. Jesus was the friend of those at the margins, so we should be.Thirdly, we can take the opportunity to expose the “logical” contradictions of atheism. The biggest problems atheism has are, first, ‘what got the ball rolling in creation?’—the problem of all we know and experience coming from nothing; ‘is something as complex as this creation really explainable through natural means?—the problem of the clear evidence of amazing order and design. God is our answer to both questions. Atheists have no answers that work, that this all emerged by chance and “natural processes” is hardly any more reasonable than the God-hypothesis. When atheists can give a rational alternative to these questions, then I and the majority of people in the world who do in fact believe in some God or gods might start to take it more seriously. (Of course at this point an atheist will likely say but God is not a rational answer. In a sense they are right. But, we don’t need a rational answer as we don’t have to play by their “reason” rules, as we don’t claim that God is knowable rationally—he is knowable through revelation and yet unknowable because he is beyond knowing in that rational sense. That is why we talk past each other so much. Then again, is it “rational” to argue for “no cause”?).
I also think we need to remind atheists and secularists that the removal of religion from the public sphere is not neutral—it is as biased as a world full of crosses or Muslim crescents. It would be neutral if such signs and symbols had never existed—but they have, so removing them is not neutral, it is an act of belief and cultural imperialism. It declares that there is no God and no religion and promulgates an alternative “religion”, atheism. The thing is, there is no neutral position, as Bob Dylan says “you’ve got to serve somebody.” So, they will meet strong resistance in trying to stop public expressions of faith. I mean, why can’t you put up a cross? They shouldn’t care as much. Personally, I am an advocate of the separation of atheism and the state—joking. They too can put up their signs etc. Let the people decide what they believe.So, overall, it may turn out over time to be a good thing. It will certainly raise the discussion. The modern atheist movement, like extreme Islam, and increasing moral decay, gives us something to present the Jesus’ story against. When everything is grey, the light of the gospel is hard to see. The world is getting darker, and that gives us a growing new opportunity. We need to all arm ourselves with tools to raise questions of atheism—and more importantly, listen, learn and show them love.