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Vol. 78 - No. 2

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Atheism Attacks!
                An early scene in the classic film “Going My Way” depicts Bing Crosby’s Father O’Malley
character playing baseball in the street with some neighborhood children. An errant ball smashes a
window. The resident of the apartment with the broken window storms onto the porch with the ball
in his hand and demands payment for the damage. Father O’Malley offers him a rosary as security
for the damages. But the man rebuffs the offer by saying: “I’m an atheist.” Then, instead of handing
the ball to Father O’Malley, he awkwardly tosses it into the street. O’Malley comments: “You even
throw like an atheist.”
                In recent days, however, atheists have learned to throw with greater velocity. A couple of
hard-hitting books attacking religion and promoting atheism have ended up on the best-seller lists:
Sam Harris’ The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, and the celebrated biologist Richard
Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Atheism, it seems, is somewhat in style.
                This should not be unexpected. There was a brief religious revival after the attacks of Sept. 11.
It’s not surprising that, five years later, the pendulum should swing in the other direction, and
some disillusionment set in–especially since the attacks on our nation all seem to stem from religious
sources. When one is confronted every night on the news with people doing horrible things in the
name of God, it’s easy to get a little cynical about religious faith. Dawkins declares that “religion can
be a force for evil in the world”, and one can hardly disagree with him.
                However, in attacking religion, Dawkins tends to draw his negative examples from the lunatic
element of Christianity. For instance, Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas City (the church that
organizes protests at the funerals of soldiers), a major peddler of hateful rhetoric against homosexuals
and practically anyone else, basically consists of a single extended family–but Dawkins sees this tiny
group as somehow characteristic of large numbers of Christians. He sees Christians who bomb
abortion clinics and murder abortion providers as people who are truly and sincerely acting out their
faith–thus, authentic representatives of Christianity. Genuine Christians repudiate hatred and murder.
But, using these examples, Dawkins contends that religion leads people to delusional behavior. 
                Two, however, can play the “your worldview leads to horrible things” game.. One could
argue that atheism leads to immorality. With no God-given commandments, the atheist pretty much
has to make up moral standards as he or she goes along. Ivan Karamazov, the atheist character in
Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, declares: “If there is no god, then anything is permissible.”
The philosopher John Locke–one of the intellectual forebears of American democracy–once said that
atheists can’t ultimately be trusted in their promises and commitments, since they have no ultimate
divine authority to whom they must answer.
                Karl Marx, an atheist, laid the intellectual foundations for Communism–and thus for the mass
murders of Stalin (who was an atheist even when he was attending a Russian Orthodox seminary!) and
Mao Zedong. Friedrich Nietzsche, an atheist (who famously declared, “God is dead!”), laid the
intellectual foundations for Nazism. The two boys who carried out the school massacre at Columbine
were atheists. In the twentieth century, it was atheists who did most of the damage–perhaps because
of a tendency to view individual human life as dispensable.
                Christianity believes that every human being is created in the image of God, is special to God.
Christianity believes that Jesus Christ shed His precious blood for every human being. (By the way,
Dawkins calls the idea of Christ dying for the sins of the world “barking mad” and “sado-
masochism”). Thus, every person is unique and valuable. Atheists, building their view of life solely
on Darwinian evolutionary theory, cannot ascribe the same value to the human person. Humans are,
in the end, simply animals who got lucky in the evolutionary office pool.
                I have always been fascinated by an exchange that took place between General Eisenhower
(an American Christian) and Field Marshal Zhukov (a Soviet atheist) at the end of World War II.
Zhukov asked Eisenhower what the American army did when they encountered a German minefield.
Eisenhower explained that the army’s advance would stop; an engineer battalion would be brought
forward and would work to clear the mines. Zhukov said that the Soviet army would simply advance
through the minefield, figuring that the resulting casualties would be no greater than if the Germans
had defended the area with troops. 
                That dialogue between two great generals captures, for me, the difference between a Christian
and an atheistic view of life. For Eisenhower, every life was important; for Zhukov, soldiers could
be liberally sacrificed for the good of Soviet society.
                This is not to say that all atheists are bad, horrible, immoral people. One of the great patriots
of our time was Pat Tillman, who gave up his football career to join the army, and perished in
Afghanistan. He was an atheist. I honor and cherish his devotion to our country–he died for my
freedom to believe and his freedom to disbelieve, for which I am deeply grateful. 
                While valuing people like Tillman, I strongly believe that it is Christianity, rather than
atheism, that is better equipped to produce loving, devoted people who care for others. 
                And better equipped to give meaning and purpose to life. Dawkins quotes a very famous
Nobel-prize winning scientist who acknowledges that human life ultimately has no purpose. “But,”
the scientist said, “I intend to have a good lunch.” But frankly, if the meaning of life comes down to
random pleasures like a good lunch, it’s pretty depressing. Real joy comes from knowing that God
has created us in His own image, with a wonderful purpose–to glorify Him and to live in His light
                I intend to have a good lunch, too. And I also intend to thank the God who gives me that lunch!
                He loves you and so do I! (And I hope He gives you a good lunch, too!)

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