Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Vision (1/10/13): Lessons from an Atheist


“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1; cf. Psalm 53:1).

“And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam….” (Numbers 22:28 NKJV).

The first book I read this year was Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).  The book made a splash when it appeared six years ago, representing a tide of anti-Christian screeds that washed ashore our ever-secular culture in the early 2000s from neo-atheistic writers like Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

The basic thesis of the book in a nutshell:  Religion, especially Christianity, is very, very bad, and enlightened atheism is very, very good.  Along the way, Harris hits plenty of the typical clichéd criticisms of Christianity, arguing against its outdated puritanical views of human sexuality, its obstinate opposition to abortion, and its intolerant stance against other religions, all the while bending the knee before the idol of “science” (which he wrongly pits against Christianity; this is especially ironic, because modern science and technology developed in cultures shaped by the Christian worldview and its conception of humans as the dominion mandated stewards of God’s creation).  Idaho Pastor Douglas Wilson has already written a point by point response to Harris titled Letter from a Christian Citizen (American Vision, 2007).  I hope to read that book too at some point (though the controversial Wilson is not always a reliable guide and must be read with caution). 

In his book, Harris is often intentionally offensive to Christians, comparing prayer to talking with “an imaginary friend” and suggesting that religion might be eradicated in our nation just as slavery was in a past generation.  On the other hand, there were also a few things in the book to be admired.  For example, at the start Harris makes clear that one cannot be neutral about the claims of the Christian faith:

The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn’t.  Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not.  We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe that all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so.  If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell….  I have misused my life in the worst possible way.  I admit this without a single caveat (pp. 3-4).

Of course, he goes on to say that he maintains “his continuous and public rejection of Christianity” (p. 4).  Still, he is to be admired for describing the options in such clear, black and white terms.  Indeed, Harris despises those who prefer gray.  Thus, we can learn some lessons even from this atheist.  One is either all in for Christ or all out. There is no middle ground. The difference: While Harris rejects Christ, we embrace him.  While Harris despises him, we love him and desire to serve him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle      

1 comment:

Armand said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Sammy on a few points. I admit that I too should suffer the torments of hell, and I too have used my life (in times past) in the worst possible ways.

The difference however is more profound; my hope rests solely upon Christ alone, while Sammy's hope is in his erroneous (and scientifically untestable) assessment being correct.

BTW, good to read a rare post from you ;).