The Atheism Challenge

It was in my 2015 book, God and I, that I acknowledged my acceptance of atheism as a reasonable perspective on the supernatural, rejecting my long history as a Christian. In that book, my views were mixed, trying gently to show how a shift in a major belief is not an overnight experience, but one that requires hours, weeks, and months—years, really—internally searching for the truth. Were I to write that book today, I would share deeper thoughts. That first writing was a reaction to my upbringing in a Fundamental Christian family, but I am now more aware of the existence of what I refer to as Fundamental Atheism (my term for the people who post those anti-Christian billboards). That may appear as a contradictory term, mixing the words fundamental and atheism, but this subculture exists, thrives, and is growing. My fear is that it may be missing its true mission. But let me go back for a moment.

For decades, I have been aware of Fundamental Christians, those who long to return to a time when it was commonly believed that the Bible is 100% inerrant, when evolution was not a topic, and when the Earth was believed to be 6,000 years old. What people know has changed much in the past 150 years and I acknowledge it has been a struggle to adjust religious beliefs to accept new discoveries. This struggle has resulted in many Fundamental Christians withdrawing into their world, casting all aside who do not share their beliefs. This self-forced alienation hurts our society by ensuring there is no meaningful sharing, helping, and supporting of each other. Where I become especially troubled is when people attempt to recreate a history that did not exist, such as with the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

Such moves alienate the rest of us, sending a signal that a shared view on common ground will not be attempted. Scientific discoveries will always be with us and, yes, sometimes they may force us to accept that what we had always thought to be true was never true. The Bible was not written to be a book of science and there is much there that we can share and build upon. That seems a preferable place to start, but it may never happen through the Fundamental Christians’ reluctance.

Christianity has always had a rich religious history of support, compassion, help, and personal discovery that is being set aside and will be our loss due to the Fundamental Christians’ semi-militant rejection of newer ideas and discoveries. Life is a mystery that unfolds only with self-reflection and an acceptance that we are dependent on others as we struggle through what will always be too short a life. This one life. This undeserved and unearned life, this life that continues to seek answers to life’s questions and, through science, answers to the bigger parts of our world. The religious framework from our ancestors has a place here and the “us against the world” stance taken by Fundamental Christians could bring ruin to us all. I encourage all of us to move to a stance of reaching out to find common areas. Love one another should be our guiding phrase.

The problem as I see it is there is a belief among many that religion and science cannot coexist, yet they are two different topics. Science helps us understand this material world and how it works. Religion helps us understand ourselves, our dreams, our emotional needs, and the value of communal sharing. For each category, there will be topics we do not understand, but that does not mean we should reject them. In science, I do not understand black holes, quantum mechanics, or quasars—but I don’t deny their existence. In religion, I do not grasp a superior being as our creator, but I do not deny the possibility that such is conceivable.

And that brings me to my earlier topic: Fundamental Atheists. Here I see a lost opportunity in what appears to be their misdirected strategy. Whereas most atheists have a “live and let live” attitude, avoiding religious discussions when possible, Fundamental Atheists seem to be at war with people who identify with organized religions, seeing them as biased anti-intellectuals. However, their attempts to insult, tease, and demonize Christians (and other religious groups) by posting anti-Christian billboards cast them into the same mold, focusing on issues that are not relevant or that make their own statements, instead of focusing on areas where there may be shared beliefs to allow true communications. Common ground will not be found by debating Noah and the ark and similar stories that were written, not for accuracy, but to convey a truth, belief, or idea; nor will it be found by blatantly declaring that Christians are wrong. If the motivation of Fundamental Atheists is to replace religious beliefs with secular ethics to guide our world forward, they need to first discover the positive benefits that religious beliefs have provided and then to work within the religious community to explore common avenues. One does not drop a belief in anything without finding a replacement belief that addresses the same issue.

Which brings us to a stalemate. We have atheists who see organized religion preventing a more progressive agenda in society and preserving unscientific views on history. To them, organized religion must be eliminated, peacefully or forcefully. And we have the reverse from the attitude of many Fundamental Christians, who see atheism as an anathema to society that must be destroyed if not converted. Until both sides discover we are in this world together, little progress will happen. And we all lose. Fundamental Atheists are our hope to get the discussion started. We can all win if we but try. The Bible provides us with a guide in Galatians 6:9.