What atheists think about religion and how should Christians respond?

Here’s an article from radically left-wing anti-Christian New York Times that talks about what militant atheists are doing for Christmas in order to annoy Christians. (H/T Mary)

Let’s see what atheists want to say.

Excerpt:

Just in time for the holiday season, Americans are about to be hit with a spate of advertisements promoting the joy and wisdom of atheism.

Four separate and competing national organizations representing various streams of atheists, humanists and freethinkers will soon be spreading their gospel through advertisements on billboards, buses and trains, and in newspapers and magazines.

The latest, announced on Tuesday in Washington, is the first to include spots on television and cable. This campaign juxtaposes particularly primitive — even barbaric — passages from the Bible and the Koran with quotations from nonbelievers and humanists…

[…]Relying on the largess of a few wealthy atheists, these groups are now capable of bankrolling efforts to recruit and organize a population that mostly has been quiet and closeted.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., one of the groups running advertisements, said, “We feel the only way to fight the stigma toward atheists and agnostics is for people to feel like they know them, and they’re your neighbors and your friends. It’s the same idea as the out-of-the-closet campaign for gay rights.”

[…]“We must denounce politicians that contend U.S. law should be based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” said Todd Stiefel, a retired pharmaceutical company executive who is underwriting most of the ad campaign that cites alarming Scripture passages. “It has not been based on these and should never be. Our founding fathers created a secular democracy.”

[…] On the confrontational end of the spectrum, American Atheists, which was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, will just before Thanksgiving put a billboard on the busy approach to the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey heading into New York.

It features a Nativity scene, and the words: “You Know it’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason.”

David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said that the idea of the campaign is to reach people who might go to church but are just going through the motions. “We’re going after that market share,” he said.

The United Coalition of Reason, a group in Washington, is sponsoring billboards and ads on bus shelters in about 15 cities that say, “Don’t Believe In God? Join the Club.”

The ads by the Freedom From Religion Foundation take a more inviting approach, with big portraits of some famous and some workaday people, listing their hobbies and professions and giving a punchy, personal declaration of independence from religion. The group, which has been running advertisements on and off since 2007, has spent about $55,000 this year to put up 150 billboards in about a dozen cities.

One, featuring Barbara Wright, a restaurateur in Madison, says: “It’s not what you believe, but how you behave.”

Wow! I’m impressed by these one-line catch phrases on billboards! So persuasive and rational! So focused on making propositional claims about the external world! So concerned with reason and evidence, not emotions and community! Such a careful investigation of the facts on both sides! The “Join the Club” argument! The “Celebrate Reason” argument! The “Be Nice If You Feel Like It” argument! Wowie wow wow! I’m impressed.

I note that the atheists are not funding formal debates, because that would require a discussion with two sides, and atheism is not something that performs well when the other side is well-represented. So, flashy sound-bite advertisements are used by atheists to present atheism to the public. It’s not rational, it’s marketing.

So how should Christians respond to this?

One group of Christians thinks that apologetics is the answer to this atheist plan. They think that Christians should learn the good scientific arguments for the existence of God from science (the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, habitability, Cambrian explosion, irreducible complexity, etc.) and the good philosophical arguments (moral argument, defense to the problem of evil, defense to the hiddenness of God, defense to religious pluralism, defense to postmodern skepticism, etc.), and the good historical arguments that don’t ASSUME the inerrancy of the Bible (1 Cor 15, minimal facts, responses to Old Testament violence, etc.).

I think that it is also important to have the money to be able to sponsor debates and conferences, as well. Nothing much would be made known the public unless deep-pocketed Christians were able to sponsor these debates and conferences. So Christians believe in choosing good degrees and getting good jobs and saving money to be able to invest in debates and conferences and such.

That’s one way to combat the sound-bite ads of the new atheists, and their rich backers.

But lately I have been having second thoughts. I talked to some of the Christians in my church, and they recommended alternative solutions to these challenges from the new atheists. They claim that these alternative solutions are superior to apologetics, so I thought I would list some of them out and you can see whether you agree with them or me.

Here they are:

  • the argument from doing yoga
  • the argument from becoming a vegetarian
  • the argument from getting body piercings and tattoos
  • the argument from reading trendy theologians whom non-Christians have never even heard of
  • the argument from reading  fiction like “The Shack”, “The Da Vinci Code” and “Conversations with God”
  • the argument from watching television shows like “American Idol”, “The Amazing Race” and “Lost”
  • the argument from short-term mission trips to Bolivia to take pictures and then tell stories (not like Neil’s)
  • the argument from having emotional experiences by singing about things we don’t know are true
  • the argument from not talking about our beliefs at work because people won’t like us
  • the argument from watching popular movies so many times that you memorize the dialog
  • the argument from listening to popular music so many times that you memorize the lyrics
  • the argument from watching sports teams play so many times that you memorize the rosters
  • the argument from breast enlargement surgery
  • the argument from turning worship into entertainment
  • the argument from telling people that things that are wrong are not really wrong so they like us
  • the argument from reading teenage vampire romance murder mysteries
  • the argument from treating cats as if they were people

And so on.

Anyway, I am not sure whether apologetics or these other church arguments are better. Can anyone help me to decide?

I actually think that William Lane Craig used a new argument in his recent debate in Mexico against Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer. I think he called it the argument from “watching the Home Decorating Network obsessively and creating detailed home renovation projects and decorating your home with expensive tacky crap and then showing it off to your neighbors”. I am not sure if that worked on Dawkins, we have to wait for the video to see what Dawkins’ response was.

Come on people. We can beat atheism like a bongo drum. We just have to be serious about out-thinking them. They have nothing. The only way they win is if we put down our apologetics and amuse ourselves with narcissism and hedonism.

UPDATE: Excellent comments here from Laura (Pursuing Holiness) about the important of good works IN ADDITION TO apologetics. She is a real culture warrior and understands all the connections between Christianity and politics.

26 thoughts on “What atheists think about religion and how should Christians respond?”

  1. Excellent and provocative post.

    My only quibble is your short-term mission bashing, and especially its inclusion with those other activities.

    Of course short-term missions that are poorly thought out or executed are bad by definition. But the ones I’ve been associated with involve long-term relationships with fellow Christians (anything wrong with that?), very cost-effective support for their evangelical enterprises (anything wrong with that?) and very cost effective assistance to widows, orphans and others in need who can’t help themselves (anything wrong with that?).

    Demand accountability and justification of any church activity, but don’t dismiss the whole thing because some folks don’t do it properly or don’t follow your preferred method of evangelism.

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    1. Your short-term missions are not the ones I am talking about! Yours are good. I updated the post to say not you. I was thinking of a different person whose nickname starts with M and ends with Z and has four letters and who writes crazy comments about moral equivalence.

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  2. Is it fair to concede that much of the Christmas story is unsubstantiated myth? For example: The Three Wise men (Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior) are not named in the bible or any reliable source that I’m aware of. The unknown number of magi likely visited Jesus after the stay at the inn, so I would concede that the creche scene is a myth.

    The resurrection is where it’s at.

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  3. I’m waiting for one atheist with character and integrity who will stand up and say, “Nay! I WILL NOT take this day off! It is a religious holiday and I do not believe in either religion or ‘holy’-days, so I REFUSE to recognize the day and will work through it like any other! Indeed, this whole ‘weekends off’ thing is a product of a faulty Judeo-Christian worldview, so I will not recognize THAT, either!” Yeah, okay, maybe I’m not waiting expectantly …

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  4. *sigh* I hear ya WK, I’ve been trying to tell my lead pastor at my church that apologetics is a bigger deal than he’s making it out to be. Both Christians and non-Christians need to be aware that the evidence really is on our side! I mean, how else would Paul be so confident to even say that if Christ was not raised, then our faith is in vain, and we are [wo]men who are to be most pitied.

    I really want to open up an apologetics ministry after grad school in my state. It’s stories like these and Christians who feel afraid in sharing their faith that compels me to do so!

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  5. “I’m impressed by these one-line catch phrases on billboards! So persuasive and rational!”

    I totally agree, because you can publish, like, the entire text of “God is Not Great” on a billboard and people can just totally read that on the way past. Yeah. That’s what billboards are good for, right?

    Look, to be honest, I have no idea what your intention is with this post, because towards the end you sound uncannily like Edward Current (qv: youtube).

    Are you using your perceived “soundbite atheism” as a launching point to berate christians for their own bite-size theology?

    Because I’m not convinced, based on my own interactions with christians, that they’ll get it.

    Or maybe you’re just an outright parody? I have no idea.

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  6. Excellent & interesting post – as always enjoy reading your words. We all have our personal experiences & beliefs, but I do have to challenge you to check out an event coming up in the spring that I recently was introduced to. March 12, 2011 a simulcast called The Case for Christianity is taking place that will address the very question you have asked. Led by Lee Strobel (former Legal Editor of the Chicago Tribune) & Mark Mittelberg, all of the most avoided questions Christians don’t like to answer or even discuss. Both are authors of extremely intriguing books, I encourage you to check them out as well as the simulcast in March. Definitely worth the time & worthy of the debate! Thanks again!

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  7. “the argument from getting body piercings and tattoos”

    Uh oh. I really thought I was reaching people for Christ with my nose rings and two tats. Whoops. :-/

    Seriously though, I do feel apologetic is needed as a good foundation in evangelizing, and it’s often downplayed in this culture.

    However, please be careful not to scrap all outreaches that deal with people’s emotional or physical needs. For dealing with the new atheists, I would use the rational, apologetic-based arguments. However, I work with many teens (young adults) and if I tried to witness with such an approach, they’d shut me down before I could finish uttering the name of Jesus. Some of them are into the “arts” and act as if science is anathema, lol. So my having an idea of what “Twilight” is (even though, I admittedly, have not bothered to read the copy I have sitting on my bookshelf)- makes me relatable. Where I work, there are many atheists (I believe I told you WK and Mary knows) and agnostics. They sadly hold a great deal of influence on these young people. But I’m happy when they do come to me about God. They tell me the reason they did is because of my actions/reactions and faith. Once the door was opened, I was able to address the usual litany of questions: “But doesn’t the Bible have many errors?” “How do we know God is real?”

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    1. Thank you, Alisha. You make a good point. Our friend, Wintery, has a tendency to lapse into hyperbole to make his point. I know what he means, as do you, but the hyperbole requires us to balance it out. Apologetics is good and necessary and the best way to deal with the arguments from New Atheism. The New Atheists will not hold back, but are actively seeking “market share”. We need to respond with robust apologetics. However, that does not preclude God working in all sorts of other ways to reach people too.

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      1. Hyperbole, me! Why, that’s the literally the most exaggerated claim I have ever heard since the time I fell off my triceratops while dodging a swooping pterodactyl! Literally!!!!!!1!!!11!!one!!!Eleventy-one!!!

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        1. Really, Wintery. Whoever heard of a lobster riding a triceratops? Lobsters ride on giant spider crabs. Cockatiels ride on pterodactyls. EVERYBODY knows that.

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  8. I linked over from Laura’s site… found the excerpted article fascinating in light of the Acura commercial I saw last night with the tagline “Season of Reason”.

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