Sunday, 30 July 2017

Angry Atheists

Angry Atheists

How can we tell the good news of God's reality, goodness and mercy to this first category of people: the angry atheists. There certainly seem to be many of them, or perhaps they are just being more strident or getting more favourable mention in the press. Either way, they are out there and we want to reach them for good even though they are trying to drive us from the public scene and eradicate all Christian influence in our societies. Of course what they want to replace Christian influence with is usually some variation of Rousseau's utopian vision. He thought that people are really all good, they just need to be educated better! This idea is counter-factual and wherever tried it has been a dismal failure. However I don't think this is a profitable line of attack. To be more precise I don't think attack is the best approach at all.

I think the key is understanding why they are angry. Why does the very thought of Christianity cause them inner pain.

Now an atheist by definition does not believe in God, or more positively does believe that God does not exist. Well I believe that UFO's (from outer space) do not exist. But I'm not angry about it. It does not cause my blood pressure to rise or my voice to become shrill and my conversation strident if I meet someone who does believe in UFO's. I don't agitate to have such conspiracy theorists silenced. And if a real UFO landed on my front lawn I would change my beliefs pretty smartly!

So why does Christianity or talk of God get angry atheists so riled up?

I can think of three reasons which I'll explain below. If you think of more, please let me know!

1. The “god” they have a mental picture of is a nasty being who really does not exist. Well think about it, they may have been influenced by people whose idea of God is a travesty.
To take an extreme case, a Jihadi believes in a “god” whose character is so warped, depraved and different to the character of the real God, that it is fair to say they believe in a god who does not exist. And we are very glad that this god does not exist!
History, and even the present is replete with people who worship a god made in their own image. They can call this god “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” but it is so different in character that one must say “No, that is a different god, and one which simply does not exist!” (OK some descriptions may be so depraved that we could say, “Yes what you call “god” does indeed exist: its real name is Satan! But the real God is good, mighty and has triumphed over this Satan”

Read C.S. Lewis' last Narnia book “The Last Battle” for a beautiful exposition of this in the final pages. Here a righteous man who though he served the abominable idol “Tash” meets Aslan and is accepted into heaven. The gist of what Aslan says is: “my character is wholly good: Tash's character is wholly evil. So those who say they worship me but love evil worship Tash even if they call their “god” by my name and those who love good do in fact worship me even if they call me by the vile name of Tash” As so often Lewis has managed to expound in simple terms both profound theology and university level philosophy in a children's book!

To such a person, if accorded a face-to-face dialogue I would proceed something like this. “describe to me the god you don't believe exists”. If, as likely, they said “How can I describe something that doesn't exist!” I would say something like, “well we both agree unicorn's don't exist, but I can still describe one.” And try to get them to spell out exactly what their conception of God is. If this produces as expected a false image of God, I can say, “Well I don't believe that god exists either!”
And perhaps slide over into talking about the character of the One who does exist.

2. They have a strong moral sense and are stung by feelings of guilt when we talk about God. As one psychologist I read put it: “they think, possibly sub-consciously, 'There had better not be a God or I'm for it at the judgement!'”
In Luke 5 we have the account of Peter after he sees Jesus bring about the miraculous catch of fish cry out: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” Yet he was probably a fairly upright citizen.
In our own experience, who of us driving along at the legal limit does not instinctively slow down when we see a police car – or as we have in Australia a police speed camera pretending to be an ordinary car parked innocently by the roadside!
So guilt feelings are quite understandable even in the absence of some particularly wicked deed.

3. Many of us who are devout Christians know what it feels like to be under attack by the spiritual forces belonging to the devil. One form can be a very real though spiritual-cum-mental pain. The “anger” of some atheists may indeed be that they are under such attack which manifests itself as an inexplicable inward pain at the very thought or mention of Christianity.

Causes 2 and 3 may be amenable to countering without the dialogue method of Cause 1. It may be something we can present in a blog like this or a YouTube video. So next I will try to formulate something of that kind.

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