Atheism is not what it used to be.
Once upon a time, it seemed, God’s presence was sorely missed. Twentieth-century philosophers and even theologians wrote God’s obituary—and then they sorely missed him. In fact, many of these very people were deeply horrified by God’s nonexistence. Take Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the poster-child atheist of the last century. Being and Nothingness, his seminal work, speaks of man being condemned to be free. God was nowhere to be found in Sartre’s universe, and this scared the heebie-jeebies out of the French philosopher. Sartre groaned when he wrote, That God is silent I cannot deny. That everything within me calls for God, I cannot forget. Or how about Franz Kafka? This Czech novelist lived in a universe devoid of God, and he was traumatized by God’s absence: We stand on the shore of an ocean crying to the night and to the emptiness. Sometimes a voice answers out of the darkness, but it is the voice of one drowning, and in a moment the silence returns. The world seems to me quite dreadful. Kafka, Sartre, and others from a bygone era didn’t dance at the tomb of God; they wept. They understood themselves to be on their own. Silence.
And then there is atheism in the twenty-first century. It seems that God’s absence is enjoyed like obnoxious cousin Barney’s when he calls at the last minute to say he cannot come to Thanksgiving dinner. . . The party goes on and is even enhanced by his absence. Indeed, a horde of recent books propounds atheism as an intellectually cool mindset, and traditional religious belief is portrayed as both dumb and dangerous. From Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), who calls the religious training parents provide for their children a form of child abuse, to neuroscientist Sam Harris (The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation), who calls believers narcissistic and self-deceived, atheists have grown quite smug. Intolerant, in fact.
The shift is profound. In a bygone era it was the atheist who blushed. During the reign of Queen Victoria, atheists were forbidden to serve in Parliament. After all, if a public servant didn’t believe in God, how could the queen trust his oath of allegiance? And to paraphrase eighteenth-century Samuel Johnson, When your dinner guest doesn’t believe in God, you better count the spoons before he goes home for the evening. Twenty-first-century Sam Harris, however, says that this mistrust should be reversed, that it is the religious who are untrustworthy. Believers are blinded by their irrational belief and should be scrutinized. Christians in America, he says, are nearly as troubling as jihadists from the Middle East! As columnist Sam Schulman writes, To a lot of atheists, the fate of civilization and of mankind depends on their ability to cool—or, better, simply to ban—the fevered fancies of the God-intoxicated among us.
The tone of these atheistic tomes is pretty nasty. The puerile faith of the faithful is scorned. Religious belief is worse than naïve; it is contemptible. God is dead, so why are you so stupid that you believe in a nonexistent deity? Harris marvels on his website that, according to one poll, over 80 percent of Hurricane Katrina survivors said their faith in God was strengthened (!) by their experience in the storm. The neuroscientist says of the survivors in New Orleans, Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend. On another occasion Harris was speaking in defense of embryonic stem-cell research to those who had concerns about creating life only to destroy it and said, Your qualms . . . are obscene.
It is interesting that Harris, Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Brooke Allen (Moral Minority), and others make such efforts to defend what they say should be self-evident. Harris, for example, says the term atheism should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. Their apologetics for unbelief testify to their angry soul. Perhaps they shake their fist at the God who won’t let them flee from his presence. Consider C. S. Lewis’s reflections on his season of atheism:
I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.
We need not get past the dust jacket of their books to sense OR realize that the current crop of atheists is an angry bunch. People who refuse to bow in submission to God (Romans 1), these thinkers refuse to give God the thanksgiving and obeisance that are his due. But in the end God will not be mocked. This new batch of apologists for God’s nonexistence will one day bow the knee to the Deity whom they disavow.
This poem by Steven Crane comes to mind.
A Spirit Sped
A spirit sped
Through spaces of night;
And as he sped, he called,
He went through valleys
Of black death-slime,
From crevice and cavern
“God! God! God!”
Fleetly into the plains of space
He went, ever calling,
Eventually, then, he screamed,
Mad in denial,
“Ah, there is no God!”
A swift hand,
A sword from the sky,
And he was dead.