Why I'm Thankful for the "New Atheists"
"I’m very thankful that God is God, and nothing surprises Him. No human argument causes Him to cease existing.”
Once on vacation, I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore and saw in the entryway a big display for the book God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I picked it up and was introduced to the thoughts of the man who became one of the most well-known “new atheists” in the world until his recent death from esophageal cancer.
Around the same time, I became familiar with other prominent neo-atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Dawkins sums up their arguments in a well-known quote from his book The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all 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, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
In the past, only those interested enough to buy a book would have been exposed to these arguments. But the Internet makes them available more quickly for free to a much broader, mainstream audience.
I remember meeting a junior high student who asked me difficult questions about tough Bible verses—questions he obtained from an anti-Christian website filled with problematic passages from the Bible. As I explored further, I found many more websites arguing that Christianity and belief in the Bible are ridiculous and that people who believe are unintelligent. A seventh-grader had found them easily online in a matter of moments.
Answering the Challenge
That realization can be frightening, but for missional reasons, I have found this reality actually invigorating instead of threatening. I appreciate the challenges to our faith because they cause us to be more studious, prepared and in the Bible more. I am even thankful that these anti-Christian authors and websites are out there. They force us as Christians to study how to respond to them.
It’s like those in medicine who study a disease to know how to treat it and respond to it. They don’t just study what makes people healthy; they study why people are unhealthy so they can address the cause. Similarly, we need to be aware of the neo-atheists’ arguments, not just ignore them. We need to teach our churches how to respond to them, as they will hear them unless they are so cloistered in a Christian subculture that they don’t pay attention.
Just as technology disseminates neo-atheists’ arguments faster and more broadly, it also makes it easier for us to equip ourselves and others with thoughtful, coherent answers. Great websites like Stand To Reason and LeaderU.com can help us learn how to respond to websites like ChristianityDisproved.com or EvilBible.com.
Living Our Faith
Having said all that, I fully know that despite all our studying, preparing and counterarguing, our human arguments and reasoning will not persuade someone to embrace faith in Christ. It truly helps, but ultimately only God’s Spirit will convince someone of the truth of Scripture. And as much as we need to study and have knowledge, we need to remember that our lives must demonstrate the truth of Scripture. We cannot allow greater intellectual knowledge to lessen our Christian compassion and love for others.
So I’m thankful for technology and how it challenges, helps and teaches us. I’m thankful for Christopher Hitchens and the new atheists. And most of all, I’m very thankful that God is God, and nothing surprises Him. No human argument causes God to cease existing. He is real, and that is why we must be passionate to let others know the truth of who He is.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Outreach.