The BBC reported that the world’s first Church of Atheism opened in North London, England last month. The “service” drew roughly 300 people (nearly a packed house) to sing Queen and Stevie Wonder songs, hear readings from secular novels and lectures on science and/or philosophy.
The whole thing strikes me as faddish and will probably disappear soon but it seems to me that the gathering is very telling. The new atheism is more dogmatic and evangelistic than earlier strands of naturalistic secularism. The new atheists have their sacred books by the four chief evangelists–Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens. Like certain sectarian fundamentalist groups, many adherents of the new atheism become angered very easily and are prone to red face rants against non-believers who they see as wicked and responsible for most of the worlds ills. The new atheism has all the hallmarks of a new religion, so a church gathering, as odd as it sounds, seems to be the next logical step for the movement.
I have had the misfortune of attempting to converse with many over the last few years. The experience has driven me to study apologetics with zeal but it has also fostered a dread of dealing with the new atheists. I don’t dread the encounters because I am unsure of my arguments. My study of apologetics is driving me closer and closer to God and surer of my faith in Jesus Christ. But when I speak with the new atheists they quickly become defensive, abandon reason, embrace logical fallacies like the genetic fallacy (“You just believe that because you were raised to!” as if cultural conditioning had anything to do with the truth or falsity of my arguments) or, even worse, ad hominems or personal attacks, which usually signal that your conversation partner has run out of counterarguments.
I try to use the Columbo Method to deal with skeptics (i.e., ask questions to expose logical flaws and then gently propose an alternative) and this works with many but often fails to engage the new atheist who clings to his copy of Dawkins’ The God Delusion as if it were a holy book. So, I often ask the new atheist, “What evidence would convince you that God exists and created the Universe?” Often, the response I receive is something along the lines of “Absolutely no evidence will ever convince me!” Thus, it is like trying to reason with a brainwashed member of a cult.
What are we Christians to do?
First of all, pray for them and love them anyway. If Jesus can look upon the people torturing him that He helped make before the creation of the world and could intercede for them by praying, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34), we should be pray for those who call down curses upon us. Second, stick to your guns and graciously but forcefully advocate for the truth. This requires training and I have become convinced that EVERY church leader, paid or volunteer, needs to study apologetics. We have the truth and need not fear discussions about philosophy or science. The fine modern apologist William Lane Craig is undefeated in debating the leaders of the new atheism and the world is watching.
The new atheism is a religion. It worships the creation rather than the creator just as Paul wrote 2000 years ago (Romans 1:18-25). Let us not shirk from what is ahead but pray, love, study and reason with those who need to know the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Please remember, the new atheists are philosophical opponents, not enemies.