Atheists are one of the fastest growing religious groups in the world. They are the second largest religious segment in North America and Europe. In the United States alone, “nones” (meaning no religious affiliation) make up almost a quarter of the population. If this particular group was accurately represented in Congress, we would have more than 100 non-believing Senators and House members.
They call themselves the “New Atheists” because their rejection of God and religion are denials founded in scientific discovery, philosophy, basic human morality, and ethics.
But that is not the only cause. There is another source adding fuel to the fire of growing atheism.
That source is Christian Fundamentalism.
A rather odd couple, no? – fundamentalism and atheism.
Christian Fundamentalism is a term some might not be familiar with, so let me try to explain. At its core, it is a belief system that seeks to “stand for the truth” by strenuously rejecting any information that does not fit within its worldview. While it appears motivated by noble intentions, it is a hidden virus responsible for the decay of theological relevance and Kingdom effectiveness. My disagreement with the positions is not the point of this post (although I disagree with virtually all of the Fundamentalist positions). Instead, it is the stiffnecked refusal to consider other ideas or information.
For example, the Christian Fundamentalist maintains that:
– Genesis provides a literal explanation of the origins of the universe and humankind, so scientific discovery is essentially anti-God and anti-Bible.
– Cain married his sister and that… isn’t… a problem…?
– That dinosaurs… well, they don’t have a good answer for dinosaurs.
– Republicans are God’s party, and Democrats are God’s enemies. FoxNews is manna from Heaven, and CNN is lies from Hell.
– The church has not replaced Israel, but America has. All the Scriptures speaking to the Jews apply somehow to the United States, beautifully expressed in our “Manifest Destiny.”
– America is the hope of the world.
– Freedom of speech means we should allow prayer in school but forbid protests on football fields.
– We should be pro-life as it pertains to abortion, but it is okay to be pro-death regarding capital punishment or dropping bombs on other countries.
– Hell is simply a lake of fire consumed in utter darkness where one is covered with worms that never die, all while simultaneously falling down a bottomless pit. The paradoxes of these statements never register: 1) how can it be dark if there is fire, 2) how does a lake fall through a pit, and 3) how do worms survive flames of any kind?
– Barack Obama (married faithfully to one woman) is the Anti-christ while Donald Trump (well-known for womanizing) is God’s anointed.
– Old Testament genocide was honorable; Hitler’s genocide was horrific (which it most certainly was!).
– Hurricane Katrina, AIDS, and 9/11 was God’s judgment on a nation for permitting homosexuality.
…and so forth.
To make things worse, they call into question the salvation of anyone who dares question their fundamentalist assumptions and positions.
For example, I’ve had several interactions with people over my pro-science view. They adamantly claim I no longer believe in the Bible and have forfeited the faith by suggesting Genesis is a theological masterpiece rather than a scientific textbook.
Side note: Genesis is not a work of science. It was written by people who did not know what a germ was, did not know what an atom was, thought the earth was a flat disc surrounded by a solid dome where water (called rain) poured through the cracks, and they didn’t know where the sun went at night. No, they were not cutting-edge scientists advancing a hypothesis of how the universe came to be. It is a theological, archetypal Ancient Near East narrative that describes God’s activity in the world.
So what does this have to do with the new atheism?
When we put forth a theology that betrays rationale and logic, it creates a dichotomy that our reasoning faculties cannot reconcile – the very tools that God hardwired into us. Fundamentalism suggests we do just that – ignore the inner witness of reason; to quit thinking and start believing.
The new atheists aren’t buying it.
I hope they never buy it.
When overly-simplistic positions are our response, it fuels disbelief in God because, quite simply, the answers don’t make sense.
Case in point: if a child falls from a balcony, lands in bushes, and miraculously survives… then all glory to God! If a child falls from a balcony, lands on concrete, and tragically dies… well, God works in mysterious ways.
Do you see the incongruence in our thinking?
I know countless people who believe man is born as a sinner (also known as original sin). Yet those same people do not believe a man can be born a homosexual? How can he be born a depraved sinner but not gay? Furthermore, they believe we are created sick and commanded to be well, and if we don’t make ourselves “well” enough, then we go to Hell with the fire, pit, worms, etc.
For the record, I do believe in eternal judgment, just not the Fundamentalist version of it.
Simply put: Christian fundamentalism is destroying our critical thinking, and it is precisely these positions that atheists love to attack because they know our answers do not make sense. These positions violate the very laws of logic and reason.
Indeed, there are sound, nuanced, theological answers to the problems I just listed. But the fundamentalist answers will always come up short.
The church historically has a rich heritage of beautifully intertwining reason and faith, natural and special theology. For crying out loud, it was a Roman Catholic priest who first suggested a Big Bang Theory!
My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Please, please let us be more informed. Let us think deeper, richer, and more nuanced about our theological positions. Two former leaders in the church have recently made public their faith struggles to the point of “falling away.” It would be rather Fundamentalist of us to dismiss their salvation rather than consider their questions.
We can, we must, go deeper.