Summary: Atheism has its reasons. This sermon examines the circumstances which contribute to the illogical choice for atheism.
Lessons Learned from the Village Atheist
(Open with image of Christopher Hitchens)
Can you identify the man on the screen? This is the famous or infamous Christopher Hitchens. He died on December 15th of last year. Hitchens was a gifted writer who notably transitioned from early Marxist leanings to full support of America's war on terror. He is most well-known as one of the leading voices for atheism in America. Hitchens was called one of the "four horsemen of the new atheism." To be more accurate, he considered himself to be not an atheist, but an anti-theist. Let me give you a sample of some of his thoughts:
“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals. It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me.”
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”
“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”
As you can tell from the quotes, Hitchens was smart, eloquent, and witty. He was one of the best wordsmiths of our generation. Add to this his British accent, disheveled appearance, heavy drinking and smoking with gruff approach you can see why Hitchens thoughts were so compelling to so many aspiring atheists. As a Christian I found his points to be somewhat intimidating at first. But if you take a step back and consider the substance of what he said and wrote, there's little actual reason. What he offered is rhetorical flourish, clever turn of the words, and thinly disguised logical fallacies.
Just think for a minute about the first quote. Hitchens reaches for the tired false dilemma of modern atheism: you must choose between faith and reason. The first problem with his statement is that God never calls us to put aside reason. There are explicit commands throughout the Scriptures to "reason together," think, meditate, and test. When Thomas doubted the resurrected Jesus what was he encouraged to do? Look at the evidence! No one said, "Just have faith." Hitchens, in fact, paints himself into a nasty corner. Why should anyone think that the use of reason or logic will lead them to the truth? You have to trust in reason to take you there. Why should you trust in reason? Faith.
Let me encourage to investigate the claims of the new atheists. Read books like Hitchen's God Is Not Great, Sam Harris' The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, and Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion. At first you'll be unnerved. In the process you will find some legitimate critiques of religion. In the end you'll find their arguments unconvincing. Watch online debates between these guys and Christian apologists and see who makes the most compelling case. (Dawkins has refused to debate top Christian apologist William Lane Craig. he knows that logic is not on his side and he will lose.) For all of their intelligence and eloquence there is little substance in what they are saying.
Please understand that I am not diminishing their intellectual ability. Being an atheist does not mean stupid - far from it. There does seem to be some cognitive inability here, however. It's as if atheists are unable to take in evidence and draw the logical conclusion of God. Even worse, their resistance makes them calloused to prompting of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Atheists are sad and interesting creatures. Although their reasons leave much to be desired, we can learn a lot from them. Let's investigate. A helpful place to begin is to ask, "What leads a person down the road of atheism in the first place?"
Dr. Paul Vitz studied the psychology of atheists and arrived at an astonishing conclusion. A common pattern among famous atheists was a broken father-figure. When he looked at their family of origin he found that their fathers were either absent or abusive. Here are some examples from Vitz's work Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism:
Atheists Whose Fathers Died:
David Hume—was two years old when his father died
Arthur Schopenhauer—was sixteen when his father died
Friedrich Nietzsche—was four years old when his father died