The rise of the antitheists – a potentially healing experience
This summer I decided to dip deeper into the world of antitheism, especially into the writings of Dawkins and Sam Harris (I am trying to discipline myself to say antitheist with regard to Dawkins now, as I am convinced it is more accurate than simply 'atheist'). As of yet I have only skimmed through Harris's energetic (and dare I say helpful) Letter to a Christian Nation. Fundamentalists will struggle enormously with this little book I suspect. However, Dawkins' book, The God Delusion, really is, pardon my French, a bit shity. OK, it is well argued, eloquent and downright funny in places, but a cardinal rule for authors is to try to grasp the matter you criticise, the theory, the metaphysic, the political stance, the faith or whatever it is, before writing a book about it. But Dawkins feels he knows best how to define such matters as 'faith' and 'God' and he thereby ends up missing his target as he misunderstands even such basic matters as these. Reading his critique of Christianity, while spot on in places, was more like watching a fight from a distance or the demolition of a strange strawman, not the faith Christian theology has traditionally maintained. Not that his fans would notice. It is mildly annoying really, especially as so many people unquestioningly believe Dawkins - something I don't doubt Dawkins would himself find a little ironic.
I bumped into a chap in a Waterstones bookshop during my holiday in England a week or two ago. I was looking (read: drooling) through Dawkins' popular scientific works trying to imagine I had the money to buy one, and a man sidled up and started talking to me about Dawkins. It turned out that he was a convinced atheist and so I excitedly continued the conversation as in many ways I sympathise with atheism, even though I am a committed Christian (more on that below). I also felt that I had something to say in response to this man's claims. However, again and again he refused to listen to anything I said; he literally stopped me talking and barged in with his own rhetoric. I was standing, it slowly became clear to me, in the presence of a Fundamentalist atheist - or better still antitheist. All the marks were there in his speeches to me – a strong identification with an atheist subculture, talk of a strong and definite 'conversion' point, an inability to listen to a questioning of his authority (Dawkins), a total lack of awareness that he was unable to truly dialogue, the immediate and false pigeonholing of his 'opponents' etc.
Nevertheless, I think it is very important for Christian theologians to grapple with the arguments of antitheists. And Dawkins in particular is doing much that is worthwhile. To be honest, I think I kind of like the guy - and I certainly sympathised with much of what he said in his clash with Ted Haggard. In actual fact, though it would need to be judged case by case, a good volume of Dawkins or Harris could be the tonic a Christian Fundamentalist needs to progress in faith. These antitheist arguments must be digested and understood, and I am convinced that an honest grappling with antitheism will help to strip away illusions and bring the Christian back to the heart of faith and to a robust, deeply traditional and healthy faith. OK, some atheists are as bad as some religious folk, as your average fruit-loop pseudo-intellectual religious Fundamentalist, and there is no fun in attempting to dialogue with them. But it is still worth sitting through a monologue or two to really understand what they are saying. Let me explain:
Over the last year or so I have grappled very personally with atheism and I feel I really do understand (and appreciate) many aspects of the various atheist cases. The arguments got inside me and became conversation partners. At the end of the day I do not feel compelled by their arguments, but the issues and arguments that have internally bounced around in my head and in conversations with friends have pointed me deeper, I think, into the truth of God in Christ, the nature of faith and what this should practically mean for me and the world. It has been a healing experience.