Contemporary Atheists and Sneer
I’ll confess that I feel sorry for contemporary atheists. There was a time when “atheism” simply meant “rejecting belief in a God or gods.” Thanks to the rise of New Atheism, things are not so simple for the modern atheist. Today, the discerning skeptic can choose from a smorgasbord of brands, including antitheism, nontheism, friendly atheism, militant atheism, activist atheism, agnostic atheism, and plain old-fashioned atheism. Old-fashioned atheists are a straightforward bunch; they have rejected belief in God for emotional or intellectual reasons that they usually can articulate. Atheism is just something they happen to believe.
The newer atheists are a different kettle of fish: atheism is part of their identity, and they consider themselves part of a movement. They have arguments for atheism, but usually these have been copied and pasted from Dawkins and Hitchens and can be reduced to the length of a “tweet.” They often are passionate about their branch of “atheist movement” yet also will insist that atheism isn’t actually a belief system. In other words, their thinking tends to be a little addled, and this makes reasoning with them difficult.
So if it is difficult to be an atheist, witnessing to atheists is even more challenging. An atheist with a considered opinion can be reasoned with, but many members of the various movements have minds muddled by Internet memes and celebrity soundbites. These ideas must be untangled carefully to make progress. And, on top of all this, the atheist movement does not want for curmudgeons who simply wish to waste the Christian’s time with invective and insults. I assume that most readers of the Christian Research Journal are familiar with the best arguments for Christianity. So, in this short article, I will simply point out a method that will help you discern which atheists are open to conversation, and which are deliberately attempting to demoralize and distract you. If an atheist is genuinely open to conversation, no matter how combative that atheist is, I counsel patience and respect. Christians need to play the “long game” when witnessing to their skeptical friends. Don’t aim to win arguments; aim to sow seeds of doubt that their atheism is true, and let God give the increase.
What Led You To Become An Atheist? Some Surprising Answers
What leads people away from religion and into atheism? That’s the question that fascinated Larry Taunton so much that he launched a nationwide series of interviews with hundreds of college-age atheists.
His question was simple: “What led you to become an atheist?”
The answers were surprising, creating a completely unexpected composite sketch of American college-aged atheists. Here’s a summary from his article, Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for A Stronger Christianity.
1. They had attended church: Most of them had a church background and had chosen atheism in reaction to Christianity.
2. The mission and message of their churches was vague: While there were many messages about doing good in the community, “they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible.”
3. They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions: Churches did not address questions like creation v evolution, sexuality, reliability of the Bible, purpose of life, etc. Messages were bland, shallow, irrelevant, and boring.
4. They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously: This is summed up in one student’s response: ”I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.”
5. Ages 14-17 were decisive: Most embraced unbelief in the high school years.
6. The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one: Although all gave rational reasons for becoming atheists, for most there were powerful emotional reasons too – usually associated with suffering.
7. The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism: Instead of being “converted” through the popular New Atheists, most were influenced by Youtube videos and website forums.
So, what are the lessons for a stronger Christianity? Taking the above points in order:
A Very Challenging Task: Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus
Out of all the people I have encountered over the years, I find Jewish people to probably be the most difficult to reach for the Messiah. We seem to be living in a day when SOME Christians are being stumbled by objections by Jewish people. And for the record I also see atheists appealing to Jewish objections to Christianity. So I think this is a worthwhile topic. I know it is easy for many Christians to forget that the Gospel is still “To the Jew First” (Romans 1:16). Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. (1) Also, as Trevor Wax notes in his article, “Why Did Jesus Say He Came Only For Israel,”
“The Gospels reveal a Jesus focused on Israel. In fact, his ministry appears to be focused so relentlessly on the Jewish people that many scholars have debated whether Jesus was concerned with outsiders at all. When taking into consideration the nations-focused mission of the early church as directed by the risen Jesus that was so prominent in Christian thinking, it is striking to discover that this global impulse appears to be absent from Jesus’ earthly ministry.”
I want to go over some of the objections that I have heard and still hear from Jewish people. I will provide some tips and resource that may help:
Horus Manure: Debunking the Jesus/Horus Connection
Many atheists, neo-pagans, and other disbelievers of Christianity claim the story of Jesus Christ was borrowed from earlier mythologies. In recent years, a claim has been making the rounds that Jesus is based on the Egyptian god, Horus.
Who was Horus?
Horus is one of the oldest recorded deities in the ancient Egyptian religion. Often depicted as a falcon or a man with a falcon head, Horus was believed to be the god of the sun and of war. Initially he appeared as a local god, but over time the ancient Egyptians came to believe the reigning pharaoh was a manifestation of Horus (cf. Encyclopedia Britannica, “Horus”).
What about Jesus?
The skeptical claims being made about Jesus are not always the same. In some versions he was a persuasive teacher whose followers later attempted to deify him by adopting aspects of earlier god-figures, while in others he is merely an amalgamation of myths and never really existed at all. Both versions attempt to provide evidence that the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ are rip-offs.
In the 2008 documentary film Religulous (whose name is a combination of religion andridiculous), erstwhile comedian and political commentator Bill Maher confronts an unprepared Christian with this claim. Here is part of their interaction.
The Image of God Gives All Human Life Value
Lethal acts of terrorism, controversial police shootings, and attacks upon law enforcement officers have left many unsettled in America. These horrific public killings cause many to wonder whose lives really matter in life.
So do all human lives have value? And, if so, on what basis do they carry worth? Without debating the controversial social and political issues involved, I will briefly explore the biblical answer to these two critical questions.
A World-Changing Biblical Truth: Imago Dei
The Bible states that of all God’s creatures, only human beings were created in the express image of God. While the Judeo-Christian Scriptures specifically mention the imago Dei (Latin for divine image) only a half-dozen times (Genesis 1:26–27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10; James 3:9), it seems all of Scripture is written with the imago Dei in mind.
Genesis 1:26–27 is the most important text that describes this vital doctrinal truth:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.