Friday, July 24, 2009

A response to rising atheism

In New York City, according to the New York Times today, an atheist group is sponsoring an advertising campaign. They're putting their messages on buses, subways, even overhead, with airplanes trailing banners that say something like, "You don't have to believe in God to be a good, moral person."

And the campaign is having some success--encouraging atheists, the article notes, to "come out of the closet" and boast their atheist identity. Further, the campaign is converting others, turning them to belief in non-belief.

The Times asserts that atheism is on the rise.

I don't have anything against atheists personally. I know atheists. And doubtless many of them are good, moral people--their motivation not theistic, but something else, perhaps humanistic.

What I do have against some atheists, however, particularly Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, is that they use the "straw man" argument so often in their attacks on religion.

The straw man is that logical fallacy where one distorts one's opponent's argument and then knock it down effortlessly. In doing so, one looks like a genius.

One of the favorite straw man arguments that atheists make involves citing some terrible thing that religious people did: the Crusades, the Inquisition, Israeli brutality against Palestinians, September 11.

Citing these examples, one then concludes that religion is malign, religious people deluded at best and dangerous or deadly at worst, and one rejects religion.

Arguing this way, atheists easily dismiss religion and religious people and the many contributions they have made to humankind because of their faith commitment.

These contributions include: orphanages, hospitals, and schools; the abolition of slavery, civil rights for oppressed people, and in my Episcopal Church today, a genuine commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, eliminating poverty, disease, and other global curses on humankind.

I'm sympathetic to, even appreciative of atheists.

When I get to know atheists, I usually find some deep hurt, disappointment or disillusionment because we religious people often fail to live what we believe; we Christians, for instance, follow the God of love and yet we do some unloving things to others.

Still, I'm grateful to atheists; they serve an important function for people who believe in God--if we take their critiques of us seriously and then live more fully and faithfully according to the best of our traditions.


  1. I read somewhere (some great thinker, but I forget who) that you must believe in God in order to NOT believe in God. I had to think that one over..............

  2. I've found that the atheists (and some agnostics) I know are blaming God for something Christians have done.


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