In Praise of the Modern Atheist

[ 5 ] December 6, AD 2012 |

We in internet land spend a great deal of time pointing out how our intellectual opponents are wrong and we are right.  We spend very little time however pointing out when they are right, and as Christians this is a failing on our part.  Truth is truth, and we hold that all Truth comes from God.  Regardless if the truth is said by us or our “enemies”, we have an obligation to point out when truth is presented, regardless of the source.

After much reflection I have condensed into a few points what I think are the strong points about  modern atheists.  Things that we can with some refinement look at and draw out the truth in what they say.  Obviously these points are qualified and require some nuance.  Not to mention a good deal of charity.

Alright, enough blather.  Point the first:

What we believe about God matters – The fierceness of the rhetoric that is employed by modern atheists points to an underlying truth.  The belief or unbelief in God not only matters in one’s worldview but how judges actions.  Our beliefs matter, and we either harm or help people based on the ideas that we impart to others.

This is not a trivial matter.  People on both sides suffer from a moral and intellectual relativism that makes it impossible for the exchange of ideas to take place.  While we are on opposite sides of the most important question this recognition of truth and the importance of truth defines both of our actions.  This should be praised whenever possible.

We as Christians should do all we can to highlight this underlying commitment to truth.  In my own discussions and debates online and elsewhere this commitment is sadly lacking.  We must do more to encourage this commitment to truth, and to point out and recognize those who do so.

A commitment to seeing justice done –  We have heard it before.  The sex abuse crisis, financial corruption, and sins of the clergy and Christian laity prove that religion is a lie etc.  What lies underneath this bad argument though is the real commitment to righting wrongs and seeing evil punished.

Evil is repulsive.  It drives people away from any good cause.  It is especially difficult to convert people to one’s side when our “friends” give a powerful counter argument.  We don’t do ourselves any favors when we ignore the real evil in our midst.

I will cite an example.  A while back a kerfuffle happened over an incident at an atheist convention. A woman who attended was approached in an elevator late at night and the fellow suggested going back to her hotel room “for coffee.”  The incident provoked a discussion about sexism in the atheist community.  What was particularly impressive was the river of flame when Richard Dawkins upon hearing about the incident said some things that are arguably sexist.

I won’t link anything because the language in that community is at times eye-watering.  But the eruption over what one of the icons of modern atheism said in relation to this incident shows me a concern for evil as they define it to be righted.  This is worth praising.

We would do well to recognize the vigilance toward evil in our midst and do our part to correct it.  Pointing out sex abuse is a human problem and not a Catholic problem is important.  But it is not as important as rectifying the evil in our midst.  We should be willing to call out evil regardless of where we find it.  And we cannot afford to be afraid of the truth even when it puts us in a bad light.

Saying it like it is –  It there is one constant I have encountered in modern atheism it is the fact that they are not shy about what they hold to be true.  Not to mention that they leave absolutely no doubt what they think of us and what we believe in the most breathtaking terms.  To a man I have no doubt that they hold their ideas as the truth and are not afraid to “preach the word.”

This attitude is to be commended.  It does takes true courage to stand by one’s convictions and state what they truly believe.  Regardless of how sympathetic the culture may be it will always require some conviction and courage to state what one actually holds.  It is far better for me to know that you think I’m an idiot than to pretend that you do not.

We should not be shy of what we believe or telling others what we believe.  We have every responsibility to preach the Truth.  We must be “out there” to the world that the Truth is the Truth.    We must always be charitable of course.  But we should not use “politeness” or charity as an excuse to shy away from what we truly believe.

God has always allowed the Church to be opposed by some faction or another.  To my mind one reason is because it challenges us to see the good in others and to emulate that good and refine it.  I’ll be the first to say that it takes a great deal of effort to see past the darkness to see the rays of light that every human possesses.  But we would do well in our duty to see the Light of God in those who are most convinced that He is not there.

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About the Author ()

Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a contract worker for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.
  • michael garner

    Very good Colin.
    I was thinking that the same idea that you have given us could be used in relation to the two opposing sides of American Catholicism: Right wing and Liberals, who also both hold that they are right and that they have understood the mind of God re various matters. Both tend hate each other more that Theists and Atheists tend to hate each other. Both should have more charity and understanding for their fellow Catholics with opposing views.

    • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

      Mr. Garner,

      I think the same, and it is possible even more true for the Liberal/Conservative divide. I find that the whole subsidiarity/solidarity divide completely unnecessary and one of Satan’s great victories that these twin truths are put at odds.

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  • steve b

    If you’re serious about dialouging with atheists or nonbelievers, you’ll have to check at the door the notion that what you say is TRUUUE and you have TRUUUUTH ™ on your side. I’m open to evidence that there might be God (or Zeus, Thor, Allah or Cu Chulainn) in the universe if there’s sufficient evidence presented. Until such evidence is presented (letters from Jesus, forensic exams showing that Mary’s uterine canal was a 1-way street, a study where a priest blesses off on a cracker and loses it in a stack of 1000, and someone else can find it and tell that it was the consecrated cracker, etc.I see no reason to pay the church any heed or make a lip-service practice as it were.

  • Bob Drury

    The core argument of Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion” is based on the valid principle that the simpler explains the more complex. However, Dawkins’ argument is also based on the mathematics of probability, which he obviously does not understand, though every high school senior should. I believe I gave both the new atheism as well as its critics a fair assessment in the essay. “What is modern in the new atheism? – The inference of probability”. Part 1 is on line at deltaepsilonsigma.org.