Dan Barker was once an evangelical christian who became an atheist years ago. Now instead of attempting to convert people to faith in Jesus he is attempting to convert people to atheism. While Barker is not one of “the four horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens) he fits into the category of the “new atheists.” Atheism, non-theism, agnosticism, and humanism are doctrines that are claimed by people who are among the “nones” – the fastest rising category of the US Census. Alarmed by this increase in non-believers and the attacks on Christian (and all other religious) beliefs, there has been an attempt by evangelicals to create a media storm of apologetics. Films such as “Heaven is for Real, Left Behind (again?), and “God is Not Dead” are attempts to defend “the faith” against these “doubting thomases”. The big surprise comes when the evangelical community reacts to movies such as “Noah.” Why?
The “Noah” film was accused of having an “agenda” that was “anti-christian.” Ken Hamm did much the same thing regarding movies such as “Contact” and “Dinosaur.” The agenda accusation must have something to do with market share in fundraising and mind control for evangelicalism. Let me present an example. While I have not seen the film based on Pastor Burpo’s book, Heaven is for Real holds that when children die and go to heaven they remain children. When elderly people die they go back to the prime of life. If a child is miscarried, they go to heaven at a later age while still a child without a name until one of her parents dies, goes to heaven, and names her. Pretty strange if you ask me. Yet, it provides good fodder for arguments concerning abortion. The atheistic professor of “God is Not Dead” is depicted as an evil target for conversion. In other words, evangelicals have a “convert them all” mentality. Left Behind has an escapist message. Believe and the really bad cannot happen to you.
When I read these books and the messages given in them, I realize why “the nones” are rising. It is hard to stomach the ridiculous agenda of the radical right evangelicals. These are the believers who obviously never heard of Jesus or truly wrestled with reading the scriptures. The roots of the movement are in puritanism and revivalism. Yet, the conversion called for is to destroy all attempt to learn and discover what is real in favor of fantasies that support silly dogmas. So then, the evangelizing atheists make their case in a strong way.
How do Christians stand for their own faith? We must recognize that the cultural assumption is North America is “either/or” in orientation. We have all been taught that a proposition is either true or false. The proposition is determined to be true or false by either logical deduction or observable data. The problem is that reality does not truly work this way. Intellectual disciplines such as history, the natural sciences, the social sciences, philosophy, and mathematics demonstrate few straight-line approaches in discovery. The trade disciplines are truly “hard sciences” in that reality is simply how things work. There is no matter and energy. There are power sources and mechanisms. If there is any truth in Theology, then Christians may not delve into ideological systems. Theology, to be real, must recognize the world that is real. And theologians must be prepared to acknowledge the superstitious thinking of the past (and much of the present). By using a clear-eyed approach christian theology can become a corrective in the present when scientism (not true science) threatens to overtake and create new superstitions. For instance there is a lot of math in astrology. It is only superstition
The evangelizing atheists are winning by playing by the rules of our either/or cultural assumption and by standing in reality. Christians do not need fantastic nonsense to make the arguments of the atheists any stronger.