Monday, August 25, 2008

atheism: REMIX a Review

I just finished reading the new book by Albert Mohler Jr., atheism: REMIX. While a short book it is full of information on what is called “The New Atheism.” As Mohler says in the book “The New Atheism is not just a reassertion of atheism. It is a movement that represents a far greater public challenge to Christianity than that posed by the atheistic movements of previous times.” (pg 12)

While there are many things that could be said about the book there were at least a couple things that stuck out to me. First were the eight hallmarks of the New Atheism that Mohler identifies. These are important for us to understand because in some ways they reveal that the atheists may be more perceptive of what the scriptures say than many professing believers today. Here are the eight hallmarks with my comments in italics and in blue:

1 - They have a new boldness in that the old atheists seems to have a sense of longing and a sense of loss but this is not true of the New Atheists. While in times past belief in God may have been seen as archaic and unneeded the New Atheists see it as dangerous to believe in a God. This is important to see in that it lets us see that there is little common ground when conversing with those that hold to this brand of atheism as they have as a goal of theirs rid society of any form of theism.

2 – They are clearer that they reject the Christian God of the Bible. The old atheists simply denied that a God could exist but the New Atheists see the specific God of the scriptures as being “untenable.” What I find interesting here is that while many try and avoid the obvious place of God in the midst of turmoil and Open Theisms attempt to save God from this issue the New Atheists seem to see that plain reading of Bible as God being intimately involved in trials and tribulations. So in some ways they see the text more clearly than many professing believers do. As Christians we need to deal with God and the problem of evil not by stripping God from scripture but truly dealing with the text and the mystery of how God is sovereign and bad things happen.

3- “The New Atheists explicitly reject Jesus Christ.” The reason being is that they recognize that Jesus is not a nicer version of God as so many professing Christians put forth but they see from the NT that Jesus is to be as rejected as the God of the OT. They also see that Jesus is restrictive in entry into heaven and thus they would reject Him for this as well. Again this is a place that all too many believers miss while the atheists seem to see the obvious. This is not new as fro the time of Marcion many have either purposefully or inadvertently tried to picture Jesus as something He is not. When it comes to the Atheist seeing the restrictivism of Jesus this is sort of amazing as there are far too many that claim Christ as savior that either do not see this or do not feel comfortable stating the obvious.

4-“The New Atheism is specifically grounded in the scientific argument.” They see that science in the end has to be able to explain everything and so “their commitment to the worldview of naturalism and materialism is absolute and nonnegotiable.” We as believers need to understand this worldview so that we understand why the New Atheists reject our arguments. I am not saying to change our arguments as many have tried to do but instead it is helpful to now their worldview and thus know from the beginning that we are placing answers before them that come from a worldview they reject. We are not to take of their world view but be firm in ours.

5- They do not tolerate moderate and liberal forms of beliefs. I found this interesting because the moderates and liberals have seemed to try and make palatable Christianity that in the end is obvious even to the atheist not Christianity as the Bible depicts. So the message to us is that the world sees a sham when it is put before them. They may dislike and even dispise true Christianity but they know what scripture plainly puts forth. They do not believe it but they see it clearly there.

6-The New Atheists see the need to rid ourselves of religious toleration. They see all religion as untenable and dangerous. Again, for years we have tried to make Christianity just part of a larger religious picture and sought after religious toleration but this will no longer placate the Atheist.

7-“The New Atheists have begun to question the right of parents to inculcate belief in their own children” An argument that John Dewey put forth in the early 20th century. As believers we need to be aware of this as this is the direction of the public school system. This is not a far flung idea but has been around for many years but as the leaders of academia, many of who would probably hold to some form of this New Atheism train the teachers and students of the years to come this idea will only become more prevalent.

8-They argue that to preserve human freedom “religion itself must be eliminated.” With many believers human freedom, what ever that is, drives everything as it does for the atheist. We need to regain a biblical understanding of freedom in light of the sovereign God revealed in His inspired word.

The other interesting thing to read was the various arguments against the New Atheists from professing believers that hold to some form of evolutionary thought to those that would be in the liberal fringes of belief, The interesting part is that while they argue against the New Atheism it seems clear that in their desire to have things their way they will not win the argument either. While all of the arguments they give attempt to try and show they have it figured out it seems that where they stray from scripture will be their down fall as in the end their footing is on sand and not the solid ground of God’s word.

I would recommend this as book to read. If for no other reason than understanding if you are looking at sending your children to public school or even to college you need to realize that the men and women mentioned in this book that hold to this New Atheism are influential in academia. Whether they would directly influence you children or they do it by those they influence who then teach your children that influence is there.

One last comment; I think that it is a desire to not seem foolish that cause so many of the problems when speaking to those that hold the beliefs, or some form of them, that this book reveals. By this I mean we have forgotten that the message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing (1 Cor 1:17-21) so should we really expect anything different than the responses these New Atheists place before us. Yes we need to provide an answer for the faith we have (1 Peter 3:15) but realize without the work of God on the person before you the cross is a foolish message but for His children it is a message of hope.


Samuel Skinner said...

I'm tired, but I want to serve up a rebuttal.

1) That is the goal of all ideologies and religions. For example Christinaity seeks to bring all into the fold. Not surprising that the ideology of antitheism would have similar goals.

2) Antitheists insist that the idea of God is irrational. This is pretty obvious- if it wasn't they wouldn't attack it.

3) Another obvious line. There are "atheists for Christ" but none accept Jesus as lord and savior.

4) It would be nice if he said why it was wrong- science's foundations of empericalism, naturalism, sketicism, etc are excellent for finding the truth.

5) This will take some time to explain. You realize, just like most antitheists, that the moderate forms are unequivicolly wrong. They are watered down versions of the Bible. Antitheists reject it because to be a moderate you have to decide what to keep and what to toss. As such it is entirely arbitrary.

6) It depends on what you mean by tolerance. Most antitheists are for secularism and eliminating religious excemptions and the like- few wish to have the government actively persecute religion.

7) Not a new idea. Indoctrination is always a hot button. After all, when does religion become cult? Antitheists deny that popularity is any measure of the sanity of a belief and that people should be educated so they are reasonable and resistant to irrationality.

8 You do realize you just said "Freedom is Slavery"? Not in so many words, but that is about what: "We need to regain a biblical understanding of freedom in light of the sovereign God revealed in His inspired word."

Honestly, the fact he needs to state this is sad- it is obvious to anyone with but a passing interest in antitheism or "New atheism".

The reason I use antitheism is because it covers all antireligious movements. As such it can be critiqued as all ideologies should be.

Tony said...

Thanks for the comments Samuel;

Just a few comments, based on yours;

1) The difference that Mohler puts forth is that it is not just about bringing into the fold but that they place forward the danger of Christianity and religion.

2) The point I think that Mohler makes is that the New Antitheisits make is more specific than in the past and is pointed at the Christian God rather than just God in general.

3) The point here is not dealing with a Lord and Saviour issue but that they do not see Jesus as just a good guy but see Him being dangerous as the God of the Bible, which makes sense since the Bible reveals Jesus as God.

4) The issue probably is not much different from most antitheistis arguments as it denies the supernatural even if naturalism and materialism cannot answer the questions they seek answers for.

5) My point was that this revealed the problems with the moderate and liberal attempts to reconstruct the Bible in a more palatable form for the world, it does not in the end do so as the venire that is placed up is easily seen through.

6) Mohler makes the comment at the end of the book that while there may not be large numbers that hold to the more extreme views the ideas behind these views end up permeating our society. In the end though what happens is that laws are passed that make the proclamation of religion illegal. They may not start there but that would seem to be the end.

7) Who decides what is reasonable and resistant to irrationality. I would agree popularity should not decide the measure of the sanity of a belief. But it would seem that the antitheist see their beliefs as the most rational and want to indoctrinate children with their beliefs which is happening today in schools.

8) From your perspective I suppose that is true. But the question as to what is freedom may be a bigger question. From a Christian perspective to be free to do whatever one desires will in the end enslave them to their desires and the consequences of those desires.

Again thanks for your thoughts. I think Mohler’s, and I do not know him so can only surmise, goal in this book was to reveal that antitheism is not dead as many have seemed to imply in the church. It may not be to the extreme as some go but it is alive and the church needs to realize that it is not a matter of changing to meet this New Antitheism but is to become more firmly grounded in Biblical Theism.

Samuel Skinner said...

Wow... I was coherent? Any way, corrections.

1) Those are synonymous. Deconvertining people only makes sense if their beliefs are false, and spending time only makes sense if the beliefs are dangerous.

2) False. Hitchens hates Islam. In fact, the New Atheists alternately spend their time attacking Christianity (for the US) and Islam (for Europe) with the other religions covered a third of the time... basically they spend an amount of focus equal to the popularity.

3) Varies. Hitchins thinks Jesus is evil- the doctrine of hell and all. Dawkins thinks Jesus is a good guy- "Atheists for Jesus". Yes, he wears that T-shirt.

This isn't new- people have always argued about who Jesus was, if he existed, what he meant... I can think up at least ten Jesus varients. You have hippie Jesus, revolutionary Jesus, to the gential's Jesus, Platonic Jesus, socialist Jesus, Jesus as love, etc...

Needless to say they bear as much resemblance to the Jesus in the Gospels as the stain glass images in churches.

4) So far materialism has worked- we don't have a problem that required a superntaural solution!

5) True- generally such attempts are refered to as "marketing"- basically attempts to package the bible in a certain way. It fails because people don't take to it very well- the mushy religion doesn't hold the devotion as the origional did.

6) False. Even the Soviet Union didn't eliminate religion. During the Cold War, one in three of their citizens were theists. The only country that ever did so was Albania, which was entirely cut off from the rest of the world.

It is simply not possible for the government to ban religion- as it is, the government hasn't banned the Nazis or other movements even though they have commited terror attacks against the US.

7) If you believe your beliefs to be true AND you believe you used reason to get to them you will believe your beliefs are most rational- it goes without saying.

However, ideas such as faith are decidely antirational. There are other criteria- if it fails to follow the rules of logic, if it is based on fallacies, if its assumptions are unreasonable, etc.

8) That is actually a perspective known as... I have no clue. But some people hold that freedom is a release of control over the constraits of your body. Things like flying would fit into this...

Eh- I disagree with you, but it is the classic case of the people in the middle being idiots. Although it is sort of pathetic they need a book to realize what Mohler is telling them- I persume you realized this without the book and merely by paying attention to the news?

Seriously- what Americans can afford excess books, but lack access to news and the internet? Or is it just that alot of people are apathetic and ill informed?

Tony said...

I can see that we do not agree on much but that is fine. As I started this I guess I will make one last set of comments and leave it at that:

1) I am not sure they are the same thing as Mohler’s point is in the past the deconverting was from a system they saw as flawed and wrong but now the idea seems to be that religious belief is not only flawed and wrong but dangerous. I do not see these as synonymous. Actually if the New Antithiests see religion as dangerous then the impetuous would be greater to deconvert.

2) Again while I cannot disagree that they may dislike other religions as much the point may be that they are more specific, as you say Islam in Europe and Christianity in the US.

3) I would wonder if Dawkins’ t-shirt is not as much mocking as thinking Jesus is a good guy. If He truly believes Jesus is a good guy but denies God then he is not seeing the Jesus of the scriptures as Jesus is shown as God. This would then mean that the Jesus that he is for is not the Jesus of the Bible and thus not really Jesus at all.

4) Hmm, that would be a bold statement as there are many problems left in this world and it would not seem that materialism has solved them, from my perspective it has worsened many things. I know of many people that are still seeking purpose in life and materialism has only made the search more difficult and convoluted. Now the main problem the world has, and I am sure you do not see this as a problem, is man’s estrangement from God due to sin and the only solution is a supernatural work of God.

5) I guess we sort of agree here. Mohler’s point was more to point out that those that have tried to repackage the Gospel to make it more palatable have failed and others should take note.

6) I think you miss his point and that is not that religion will be eliminated but that governments over time will attempt to do so. I agree this will not rid the world of religion and will for sure not wipe out Christianity. The truth is if you look through history you will see that in times of persecution Christianity has grown, see China as an example of this.

7) To say faith is irrational would only seem to be true if that is your presupposition. Even antitheists have faith in their beliefs. By that I mean that it would seem you feel that materialism will solve mans problems and there is not a need for any supernatural solution. Since you do not know all of the problems that exist or will exist you need to have faith that materialism will solve that problem when it arises. So the way I see it the irrationality of religion that antitheists see stems from a presupposition that religion, and particularly faith, is irrational.

8) My point on freedom is that it is incorrect to think that absolute freedom is good for anyone. No one would believe that to be true since that would lead to chaos and eventually someone’s beliefs would take over. So, I did not initially say “freedom is slavery” I merely stated that freedom is not the right to do whatever one wants because when that happens we in the end will be enslaved to the results of our actions. Therefore a benevolent and loving God who knows what is best for His people would be the best arbiter to what allows the most freedom that is good for man.

Well that is it for me thanks for your comments and as we are probably at an impasse I think it is time to move on to other things. By the way just so you know I was not raised in a Christian home and did not grow up being taught to think this way. Actually in my High School and college years would have believed very much as you do. But God opened my eyes to the futility of my thoughts and while I understand that others will see what I believe as foolish, that is what I thought about Christianity at one time, I am confident it is not. My confidence is not in myself but in God as he has reveled Himself in His revealed word to mankind.