Saturday, May 26, 2007


Our local newspaper this morning carried an article with the headlines: “Angry atheist books sell, revealing public angst over faith.” The article’s introductory paragraph said: “Militant, atheist writers are making an all-out assault on religious faith and reaching the top of the best-seller list, a sign of widespread resentment over the influence of religion in the world among nonbelievers.”

It gave a list of books by prominent atheists, none of which I have read. The titles, however, tell a lot: “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”; “The End of Faith”; “Letter to a Christian Nation”; “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.”

The article goes on to describe the phenomenon, with quotes and viewpoints from all sides. Apparently the militancy of religious groups bothers these authors, and I can’t blame them, even though I do not share all their views. It seems from this article that these authors are attacking on at least two fronts, which are sometimes apparently confused.

The first is the old attack, that of reason and science: the Bible tells “fairy tales,” it is contradictory to scientific evidence, such as evolution, etc. This is the standard case for atheism. They really believe that the evidence disproves the existence of God.

But the second seems to me to be a new attack, and that is an attack not on the evidences for the existence of God, but an attack on religion. It seems that if religion can be discredited and disposed of in some way, then God can also be disposed of.

The authors point out that religion is bad. As one of them says, “Religion kills.” Certainly a case could be made that religious people have been involved in some of the worst atrocities ever committed, even right down to the present time. One does not have to be too well-versed in the news to see that. Islamic militants seem to be out to destroy not only non-Muslims, but Muslims of different “denominations.” Jews and Muslims killing one another. Hindu militants in India. Buddhist militants in Myanmar. Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. I’d have to agree that religion is often, perhaps usually, toxic.

But does that make the case that we should throw out religion and God along with it? Not so!

First, we should note that not all atrocities are committed in the name of religion. What about the Nazi holocaust? What about the Stalinist purges in Russia? The killing fields of Cambodia? In fact, a case could be made that the non-religious have done a better job of imposing terror than the religious have.

We should also note that many of the religious conflicts are really that in name only. Nationalism, tribalism and racism often lie behind them.
If the conflicts and atrocities prove anything, it would seem that they prove the depravity of man, or original sin, which as one theologian said, is “the one Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable.”

Having said all this, I must go along with the atheist who said “religion kills.” I have to agree that religion is bad. We even have evidence of this in the Bible. Jesus Himself told His followers, “ … an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). So what should we expect?

But the follower of Christ should be different. Though history demonstrates that evil is often done in the name of religion, even in the name of Christ, it ought not to be this way.

If to many people the evidence of God’s existence is proven or disproven by the behavior of those who profess Him, we’ve done a pretty poor job of proving. But not always. If we look around we can find plenty of people who not only ask “What would Jesus do?” -- but do it!

Shouldn’t that be true of all who name the name of Christ? That would be evidence enough.

Bill Ball

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