I earlier posted the following as a quick, reflection letter to some of the primary voices of the new atheism movement. However, as a kind commenter pointed out, I played more with words than with thought, and did an injustice to a dialogue that could occur. Another atheist reader of this blog suggested that I misplaced the word “new” in “new atheism” by referring to an atheist (Sagan) who died approximately 10 years ago.
I.e. A letter purporting such ideas would best be thoroughly researched, and create a willingness for dialogue. Sometimes, we’re just too busy, and “say stuff.” I’m pulling back, and resaying, in another form, these reflections.
REFLECTIONS ON THE GIFTS OF THE NEW ATHEISM TO THE CHURCH
Today, a new atheism is topping the book charts, filling conference halls and gaining the ear of the everyday person in the street. Typically, the Church recoils at such a spread of thought, as it has with every other expression of thought deemed to be heresy or blasphemy. I on the other hand, am among the many today who believe that truth can be heard from any corner of the human family, and some brands of faith are worth losing, especially if a fresh vision of a familiar faith might be attained in the process. “Kenosis” is the Greek word for “emptying;” at times, our opponents challenge us to empty ourselves, and to actually listen to the ideas behind their ideas.
I’d like to note a few, unedited reflections on the gifts that I believe the new atheism has brought to the Church. In other words, I am now speaking to the Church in this revision of my post. This list is by no means exhaustive (it would be, moreso, if I had more time), but scratches the surface. A central tenet in the teaching we do at SSU is “We learn as much from that with which we disagree, as from that with which we agree.” In that spirit, I offer these reflections.
The arguments of the new atheism have shown us that the God in whom many of us as Christians believe, may actually not be worth believing in. I.e. There is a form of faith embraced by many believing people today that is unhelpful, inaccurate to the biblical accounts, and more formed by popular spiritual trends than by the life of Jesus. This kind of faith we should indeed lose. Current thoughts are pressing the Church to recover a fresh vision of the new Adam (Jesus) and the veracity of the biblical story for the whole of humankind. This can only be good, though we risk both losing and gaining in the same stroke of reflection.
The arguments of the new atheism have pushed us back to our Scriptures, and compelled us to question the socio-cultural underpinnings of our ways of seeing God. Many of us have come away from this gruelling (and “faith on the brink”) exercise with a fresh view of God that is more expansive, more mysterious, more stunning and more encompassing than ever before. The “god of the gaps” is dispensed with; we should surrender this knee jerk response to anything we don’t understand. We may now be prepared to see a God beyond the gaps of human perception, and the resulting epiphany may produce a form of faith that even atheists might be compelled to respect on the grounds of its humanity healing effects.
The arguments of the new atheism have held up a mirror to the modernist worldview of the Church, and we have seen our selfishness, lack of credibility, retaliatory spirit and general lack of human love in the reflection. We have not learned to empty ourselves of power, as the one we profess to follow seems to have done, but have used it further a corrupted story that, when taken to its logical conclusions, even we would struggle to believe.
The arguments of the new atheism have to push average Christians to think hard, think well and become basically conversant in arenas of worldview, astrophysics, biological systems, quantum physics, world religions, cultural anthropology, theology, societal justice and ecclesiology. We should also thank postmodernism, in this turn, for recovering for us the power of narrative, emotion, reflection, passion and art in the everyday life of the modernized human being.
The arguments of the new atheism have drawn links between the nationalistic attachments of other religions and the nationalistic attachments of those who profess to stand for a Kingdom that we believe is in, yet not of, this world. We cannot ally ourselves more with our nation than with Christ – our nationalistic stances (beautiful as patriotism and national gratefulness can be – this deserves a fuller treatment) must always bow before the teaching of Christ.
The arguments of the new atheism have shown us again that the human race is a common family, and we would do well to attend to our understandings of faith (and our scriptures) from the vantage point of “us” rather than “I.”
The arguments of the new atheism have shown us that our covenant commitments might be meant to enhance our human family rather than continually set us in opposition against it. We’ve reviewed our New Testament because of antithetical writings and lectures, and found that the best ideas in Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching thrust us with healing goodness into the culture of our age. We’ve looked into our Old Testament, and recognized that any God worth worshiping would speak into various ages with enduring truths, and yet in specific to the shifting cultures of an age.
The arguments of the new atheism have elevated the important questions (Western, largely) of our age so that we can see them, find them brewing within us as well, and turn our seeking energies toward pursuing a living faith that engages with the joy and suffering around us.
The arguments of the new atheism have shown us that there is gifting, strength, excellence and passion for truth in every human being – no matter one’s faith stance. The proponents of the new atheism have shown us that we all carry a quest in our hearts – driven by some unseen force or reason – for some form of scientific, and/or spiritual, discovery.
The arguments of the new atheism have revealed that even the seemingly most objective of voices can make bold faith statements – just like the rest of us. Their arguments have shown us that we are all creatures of faith, whether emboldened by our discoveries or mystified by our remaining questions, and that ultimately every statement we make rests on some view in which we either hope, or trust.