passionless christianity: a lesson from atheism
10/30/2006 10:10:00 AM
I was reading an article in Christianity Today that is a summation of Allister McGrath's book, The Twilight of Atheism by McGrath himself. In the article, McGrath speaks to a number of reasons that point to the downfall of atheism as a movement. Interestingly though, I think McGrath points out two things that atheism often uses as objections to Christianity. I was intrigued by this, and decided that it was post worthy, so here it is:

Religiosity: Replacing Relationship with Ritual

Religiosity is the "affected or excessive devotion to religion." Such devotion is often used as a means to draw closer to God. In doing so, people often replace relationships with the rituals of religion. For a while, a person may find comfort in piety, but after some time people grow weary of this. Atheists often point out how religious piety is empty, and reject religion based on that. What seems more natural is that people seek to be in community with like minded people, and on that McGrath writes:
The growth of community churches has helped meet this need. There is a sense of belonging to a common group, of shared common values, and of knowing each other. People don't just go to community churches; they see themselves as belonging there. At a time when American society appears to be fragmenting, the community churches offer cohesion.
Religion can be manifested in two ways: First, there is religious activity: This is essentially "doing" church. Often times, people can get so caught up church activities that they miss relationships. Second, there is religious liturgy: Participating in religious services to essentially check something off a list. While neither of these things are inherently bad, they can be traps if they are done not for the sake of knowing God. The atheist objection does not have to stand if Christians would place religious activity with relationships.

Intellect: Replacing Religion with Reason

One of the biggest objections to Christianity is that it is non-intellectual. As atheists see it, the church is blinded to the truth because of faith. In the article, McGrath addresses Thompson, who basically says that atheists have got the answers to free religious people from the entrapments of faith, and all they need now is leadership. McGrath writes:
Thompson argues that a new dawn awaits-if only the leadership issue can be resolved. "Total victory is the only acceptable goal in a mind-control war because humanity is diminished so long as a single mind remains trapped in superstition by programming or choice." But who will lead them? And can this goal actually be achieved?

The fatal flaw within Thompson's argument, found within many other atheist tracts and publications, is his strident insistence that humanity has been enslaved by supernaturalist superstition. It is merely necessary to educate people, he believes, and these mad ideas will fall away. Thompson and his colleagues have not even begun to understand a fundamental fact about religion: People actually like their faith, find it helpful in structuring their lives, and inconveniently believe that it might actually be true.
While faith has practical value, I do think the atheist's objection is grounded in the anti-intellectualism that so often pervades churches. Often times, church leaders are not willing to wrestle with tough questions, and will diminish such things as being unimportant. Church leaders will replace teaching with feeling, and equating the euphoria of religious worship with spiritual maturity. This is not biblical--the Bible equates spiritual maturity with being learned in the teachings of Christ, and does not advocate Christian minds being lazy. In fact it encourages its readers to engage in studying so that Christians can address and correct false teachings. Christians shouldn't be scared to engage in listening to and thinking about what other worldviews have to say. In doing so, a Christian can answer those worldviews from his own. I will post more on this in the next post.

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