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On the surface I am a rather shy, retiring person who usually doesn’t make a big splash in either a positive or negative direction. Beneath the surface, though, I have a rather large dose of the choleric element in my temperament, and I may sometimes be angry on the inside when I appear placid on the surface.
When I see something that is wrong, out of place, or a threat to my beliefs, I find it hard to just let it go. My instinct is to try to do something about it, and I usually do that with the pen (or the computer).
Over the last fifteen or twenty years, at least three religious/philosophical movements have appeared as a threat to my faith. The first one was the Jesus Seminar, which became prominent about 20 years ago. For those unaware of the Jesus Seminar, it consists of a group of 150 or so extremely liberal scholars who began meeting in 1985 to “vote” on whether or not they thought certain sayings in the Gospels had actually been spoken by
Jesus. Including the Gospel of Thomas in their studies, they eliminated all but 18% of the sayings of Jesus. My choleric temperament became fired up and the result was a short book designed to try to answer these scholars (I was mostly preaching to the choir.)
Not too long after that the “new” Gnostic gospels became all the rage, and no one could visit Barnes & Noble or Borders or any other prominent bookstore without noticing books on the shelves bearing titles such as the Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, etc. Scholars such as Elaine Pagels, Margaret Starbird, Karen King plus several Jesus Seminar scholars promoted these books, claiming that they were “just as authentic as” the four Gospels we have in our Bibles, and that some of the material might even predate the earliest of our canonical gospels. Again, my ire was roused and I wrote a short book called Another Gospel to try to provide some answers to these questionable claims.
My most recent and perhaps greatest challenge has been to try to answer the so-called “New Atheism.” For the uninitiated, the New Atheism is a very aggressive, militant form of atheism that not only promotes the belief that there is no God, but actively seeks to destroy all religion, including Christianity, which of all religions the new atheists hate the most. The four nefarious horsemen of this seemingly apocalyptic movement are Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. The most well-known books are: The God Delusion, by Dawkins, God Is Not Great, by Hitchens, and The End of Faith, by Harris. All of these books have been on the New York Times bestseller list, and any public library will carry several copies of each of these, showing that the public is reading them avidly. That in itself is alarming.
Richard Dawkins has written a 400-page book (The God Delusion) in an attempt to prove that there is no God, or at least “probably” (a word he uses often) no God. Most conservative scholars agree that he has not even shown that there is “probably” no God. If it were really clear that there is no God, why would it take a 400-page book to prove it? No one writes a tome to disprove, for example, the tooth fairy.
I have written a book about this new movement. The book, Atheism Is Not Great, has had a preliminary printing, but I am still working to improve it. In this present short article I do not have space to bring out detailed arguments against the atheists. These men are die-hard evolutionists, and thus they clearly have a “religion” of their own—a point fairly easily made. Aside from that, there are two other points that I believe cut the ground from under the anti-God arguments of these men.
First, they are all adamant that religion is “evil,” that it promotes violence, murder, mistreatment of women and children, and many other bad things. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins especially hammer this point—that Christianity is “bad.” However, both of them are sure that there is no God, and thus they reject the idea of an objective moral standard. Sam Harris will say that certain things—such as the treatment of women in Islam—are “absolutely” wrong. But he has no objective, absolute moral standard, and thus no basis for that statement. What he has done is smuggle in the Judeo-Christian moral standard that he otherwise claims to reject, and he has condemned both Islam and Christianity on that basis. Richard Dawkins does the same thing.
Secondly, these men are complete materialists, rejecting the idea that anything exists other than matter. Thus the human mind, in their thinking, is nothing more than the brain.
They say thinking is nothing more than neurological processes within the cranium. What they fail to see is that this kills their own arguments. The movement of atoms and chemicals are completely irrational processes, and yet when they make their atheistic statements, they think they are saying something rational. In reality, if their philosophy is true, then the sounds, or words, coming from their throat (or pen) are no more rational than the sweat secreting from their pores. Thus they have no way of knowing whether anything they say actually corresponds to reality, and one might be forgiven for dismissing their statements as irrational.
Now Dawkins goes further, and on the basis of his hatred of Christianity and nearly non-existent understanding of the Bible, he refers to the Christian doctrine of atonement as “barking mad” (The God Delusion, p. 253). He means, of course, that this doctrine is insane. When I read that statement, I was brought up short. I asked myself, why would he say that? What is it about the atonement, which is at the core of our faith, that could make him or anyone else say that it is a piece of insanity? This temporarily knocked me into a hole, which I had to slowly work myself out of. Here are some of my conclusions:
Richard Dawkins claims that the biblical doctrine of vicarious payment for sin is irrational. Is there any basis for this? No, there is not. Since atheists and other skeptics will not accept anything in the Bible, here are a few extra-biblical observations that support the idea of atonement.
First of all, since the beginning of time, in every society there have been strict laws that people have to obey. These laws are usually laid down by the king, or other ruler, or
in the case of a democratic society, by the people—or their representatives—as a whole. How much more reasonable that the Creator of mankind would give us certain rules by which his own creatures should live.
Is it unreasonable to think that we have broken the rules and thus are all guilty? Absolutely not. The mess our own country is in today is loud and clear evidence of the fact that we have broken the rules. Psychological studies have shown that guilt is one of the most pervasive mental and emotional states known to man. In fact, a case could be made that the atheists themselves are actually motivated by guilt when they try to get rid of the Lawgiver. As Dinesh D’Souza says, the whole “new-atheism” movement is a moral revolt. In order to avoid judgment, they try to get rid of the Judge (What’s So Great about Christianity? p. 261ff).
Is it unreasonable, then, that some perfectly innocent person should die in place of the guilty? Again, no. This has actually happened occasionally in history. The general idea of one person taking punishment for another is not only reasonable, it is actually quite beautiful and laudable (I just saw a movie in which a father took the rap for a crime committed by his son).
Then is it “crazy” or irrational that someone claiming to be God’s Son should die in our stead? No, in fact the exact opposite could be said. It is one of the most beautiful, the most loving of all deeds, and the most reasonable of all actions. In fact, it might be said that, in a sense, God as the Creator took responsibility for the mire and mess into which
His creation had fallen. And he sacrificed himself to get us out. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Throughout literature and other art, the idea of making “atonement” for misdeeds is a major theme. No doubt the reader can immediately think of cases in literature, art, and movies where atonement was made for mistakes or bad behavior. In fact, the word atonement has a spiritually satisfying ring.
I find then that the biblical doctrine of atonement, far from being “barking mad,” is one of the most reasonable, sanest events in all of history. It provided a way out of the mess in which we find ourselves, and opened the road to redemption and life.
So I need not be afraid that Dawkins might be right. I need not view the cross with suspicious eyes because someone has questioned it, but I can cling to it as the instrument that changed my destiny from death to life. And I can “love” the cross—and all it symbolizes, for the salvation through Jesus that it provided.
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