Obviously as Christendom took shape atheism became a rejection not just of many gods but also the belief of there being one true God. You could argue that there is much that is commendable in atheism – a value on evidence, reason, free thinking and a distrust of authority and established institutions. It could also be highlighted that many prominent atheists have a problem not with Jesus or his teaching but the power structures of Christendom. Indeed, lets be honest – one of the big “turns off” of Christianity is the poor witness of its adherents to the Gospel teachings coupled with an appetite for prestige, control and moralising which seems at odds with its founder.
Where do we go from here?
In the current climate are we going to be clashing antlers for the rest of the Millennium? My problem with contemporary atheism is its claim to be the destination rather than the start of the journey. It’s great to make a claim for radicalism and independent thought, there is nothing wrong with questioning every dogma and institution, but you cannot build a civilisation on this. To me it is like leaving grumpy teenagers in charge and coming back home after a weekend away to find the dishes piled up. Beyond an adolescent rejection of spirituality which huffs and puffs (and maybe rightly) against everything that is claimed there come a point for growing up. If you don’t believe me look at some pronouncements of secular lobby groups and societies on their websites. There is a depressing lack of any great vision apart from the angst of the day – whether NHS chaplains, faith schools, prayers at council meetings, hymns on Remembrance Day, and so on.
Let me push the adolescent comparison further. For all the claims to individuality and original thought there is a great pressure upon teenagers to conform to peer pressure and fashions. (With primary school aged children I have this to look forward to.) There is much more of the status quo here than might be admitted. Could the same be said of the fashionable New Atheists and secularists? Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett in their best sellers never consult a theologians, even a liberal one, and spin thoughts therefore within their own insular cocoon. I would describe that as a monumental lack of curiosity.
Professor Alistair McGrath on Dawkins: “The God Delusion seems more designed to reassure atheists whose faith is faltering than to engage fairly or rigorously with religious believers, and others seeking for truth. ”
Mark Twain, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Christianity for all the faults of Christians proposes something about God and human beings that is so beautiful and wondrous. What other basis is there for human rights than the Biblical claim that we are made in the image of God? What other basis is there for investing in community than the reality that God is himself a community? How else could we endure suffering and hardship without knowing that the very Word of God did the same on Good Friday? To me this signifies that religion is not the by-product of civilisation, an inconvenient appendix, rather civilisation (as messy as it can be) is the by-product of faith.