The New Old New Atheism of Simon Critchley & Others


I have noticed, recently, especially with the waning influence (or at least presence) of the “New Atheists” in the public square, that there has been a shift in the tack that Atheists have taken against Christianity in the past year or so.

Philosophical movements generally begin in academia, then find themselves trickling down to the masses as those twenty-something college students that were influenced by these academic discussions now move on into the wider world. Both Atheism and Evangelical Christianity generally find themselves one generation behind in these philosophical developments of the world.

So, for example, when the world was just beginning to move on into “post-modernity” (notwithstanding the functional meaninglessness of such terms at this point), it was the heyday of  Atheistic and Evangelical evidentiary apologetics, representing firm pre-modernist, Enlightenment thought (on both sides). Arguments centered around the very existence of Jesus, fidelity in translation and transmission, Intelligent Design, and the general historical reliability of the Bible.

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If it weren’t for God, I’d be an Atheist


Forgive how disconnected my thoughts are. I’m taking a break from all my reading for Grad school to write this and I’m really tired. Anyway, I’m really frustrated right now.

For all those still in Richmond, the United Secular Alliance (U.S.A.) of VCU (the atheist “campus ministry”) is bringing in Christopher Hitchens, one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism (as many evangelicals lovingly call them; the other three main evangelical atheists Dennett, Dawkins, and Harris), on Tuesday to debate a Christian apologist who I think they had to find after no campus ministry answered their call for a debater.

Several weeks ago, I was inspired by this news to watch some videos with this apologist, Frank Turek, and then watch a bunch of videos from Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens online (including a fascinating discussion between Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath at Oxford). Anyway, like I said, I’m really frustrated.

As I hope the leaders I know and love of the U.S.A. read this, I have one main take way from this post. If no one gets anything else out of this, just take this:

Christian conversion is first and fundamentally a spiritual event with intellectual implications, rather than the more outspoken model out there that it is an intellectual event with spiritual implications.

All the tenets of the Christian faith as encapsulated in what the Bible refers to as “the Gospel” are the highest of all Divine wisdom. They are. The Gospel is the highest of all possible “storylines” this world could go through. The Bible over and over again places this Gospel against human wisdom and shows the futility and hopelessness of a non-Christian, non-theistic worldview.But here’s the key: this is only truly seen from the inside.

I look at Hitchens and am reaffirmed in my belief that conversion is and must be a spiritual act initiated and accomplished by God, and not by man. Apart from God, I really would be a rational atheist. For someone not converted by God, Atheism really is the only logically consistent worldview.

“Conversion” is an act by God by which he changes the very nature of the individual so their entire perceptual framework is changed. Many Christians seem to act like every non-Christian out there is just miserable as they perpetually and willfully suppress the faith they secretly know is true; that they can’t have any healthy relationships, raise any good children, and their worldview necessitates a holocaust and wonton anarchy of bloodthirsty violence and debauchery.

This certainly is not the case, because it is not giddy emotionalism, healthy relationships, good kids, or the social benefits of any given worldview that defines its “truth”. Many Christians act like this is the case. This is the “christianity” that is often offered to the Hitchens’ of the world. The nice, perfectly packaged, logically superior worldview that makes everything better.

One need not look long at the world to see the absurdity and repulsion this profession must evoke. Christians often try to appeal to the same standard of rationalism to undergird their faith that Atheists do to form theirs. This can be helpful I suppose to a point, as long as the Christian knows that this is the standard of truth the Bible spends its entire time mocking, so none of our faith can rest in it.

Ultimately, it was not archaeology, philosophy, pragmatism, or logic that drew us to the realities of this “Christianity thing”. It was the effectual and Sovereign work of God that changed us so we then saw the evil of our hearts, the beauty of Christ, and the wisdom of this “storyline” of the Gospel.

What is this highest of all Divine wisdom, so far above human minds that it cannot be comprehended naturally but must be revealed to us? That God, being the source of all life, has a justifiable claim on those that use this gift of life, and He has so desired we use this life to be joined to the source of it and in that find our ultimate rest, joy, and peace. But humanity, seeking to find that rest, joy, and peace in lower things he can manipulate, control, and take responsibility for, left union with this source of life for lower things and in that allowed sin to weaken and corrupt every part of themselves – mind, will, and emotions.

And then, while we were the rightful repositories for the full wrath of God, He rescued us. For humanity committed these acts of treason, so humanity must be the one to pay for them. But weakened and corrupted, humanity has not the ability to do this fully and live.

So God came in the form of a human and lived the life of righteousness we were meant to live, and died the death we were supposed to die, taking the cup of God’s wrath that hung perilously over the heads of those that would be saved and pouring it fully upon Himself, suffering more than any sinner ever will in Hell, that he might bring his people to Him, to be joined once more with that source of life. And all he asks is that we would but trust that what he lived and died was adequate to do for us what we were not able to do for ourselves, and that we cannot add to it, nor take from it.

Does this answer “all the questions”? No. But no Christian becomes a Christian because all their questions are answered or because the flow of the propositional statements lined up. I don’t believe in Christianity because it makes sense; I know I have and will encounter things in life that will challenge that.

In short, I can’t not believe in God, because Christianity ultimately is self-verifying. This is so important. It’s ultimate validity and truth does not lie in history, philosophy, facts, human experience, logic, or reason. It lies in the within the Source of all Truth, God Himself. Can I use all the grounds listed above to show the superiority of the Christian worldview and the beauty of its wisdom? Yes, but that is not what converts people or changes their mind.

To the unconverted mind, this highest of all wisdom is foolishness. But this realization of the necessity of revelation should not be something that brings self-righteousness as if we Christians were able “figure out” and discern this highest of Divine Wisdom while those foolish Atheists just aren’t astute enough. No, this show of our absolute dependence on God to know anything about God should bring us to our knees in humility and praise.

That a God this good would still reveal Himself and change us when it would be absolutely just for Him to let us continue to wallow in our weakness and corruption, forever disconnected from this source of all true life, peace, and deep transcendent joy.

So, even though after my little bit of movie-watching I think Turek is going to embarrass himself and the other Christians in the room by reinforcing every bad stereotype, know that no one’s conversion depends upon Turek or anyone else, but it depends on God who can stop the mouth of Hitchens or Turek at any moment He pleases and change the hearts of anyone in that room to see the wonders and beauty of His Glorious, Wise, and Beautiful Self.

I pray He might.