Friday, January 15, 2010

The New Atheist Crusaders, by Becky Garrison

This was cheap book I picked up on sale at a Christian bookshop. The subtitle “The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith” appealed to me. I have always found it very ironic that so many atheists are more vocal about a God in whom they don’t believe, than most professing Christians are about the God to whom they are supposed to be devoted.
The letters pages of most newspapers have their regular atheist contributors who seem to have little better to do than attack a “non-existent” God.

Becky Garrison is a self-described satirist whose specialty is writing religious exposés for “The Wittenburg Door, the oldest, largest and only religious satire magazine in the United States”. In this book she turns to her keyboard to deal with the “New Atheists” a currently prominent collection of men (the most well known perhaps being Richard Dawkins) who have recently become famous for attacking religious faith. Their view is that religion has been the cause of all human evils and the sooner it is abolished, the sooner mankind can settle down and be nice to each other.

The problem with this book is that Garrison doesn’t succeed with her attempt at “satire”. There was nothing really satirical within this book, even though Garrison keeps reminding the reader that she is a satirist, trying to convince us that she is using satire to make her point. Allying herself with “fellow satirist Jonathon Swift” hardly does her a favour; it merely highlights the chasm between a classic master of the form and a modern day wannabe.

I found this book works best when Garrison uses quotes from the targeted “New Atheists” who very readily shoot themselves in the foot with comments such as this one attributed to Sam Harris:
“If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion. I would not hesitate to get rid of religion”.

Other quotes highlight how theologically ignorant these men are, with many of their arguments based on their own imagined theological framework. The religious views they so eagerly demolish are mainly straw men of their own creation. There is more than a hint of “if I were God I’d do things this way and since the Christian God doesn’t do it like that, it’s clear that He doesn’t exist”.
For example, Richard Dawkins thinks “If he existed and chose to reveal it. God Himself could clinch the argument, noisily and unequivocally, in his favour”. The obvious implication is that God hasn’t done this so therefore He doesn’t exist. But why should the Creator of the universe stoop to fulfilling Dawkins’ expectations? If Dawkins took a little time to learn what God is like and how He relates to His creation it would be clear how pathetic Dawkins’ expectations are.
Likewise, while not exactly a “New” atheist the late Bertram Russell is quoted as saying “If I were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence”. Again it is an argument based on personal assumptions with no regard for the God of the Bible that is being refuted. These men create their own “God” and then tear Him apart.

However, perhaps it is expecting too much to wish that these men had a little more integrity with their treatment of religious belief and the nature of God. The promotion of religious ignorance is an effective tool in their hands. If they had done their Sunday school homework they would be guilty of wilful dishonesty instead of mere ignorance. But I have to admit that many Christians are no less careless in their approach to the sciences and therefore do their own beliefs no favours when they involve themselves with scientific arguments they don’t understand.

I found Garrison’s own approach to the Christian faith was also problematic at times, but I would have been better prepared for that if I’d taken better note of those who endorsed the book in the back cover promotion. While it currently has one of the most popular faces of the church today, the borderline syncretism of the “emergent church” is hardly representative of biblical Christianity. One of its major figures, Brian McLaren, is regularly referenced in the book and is one who gave his endorsement on the cover. To the emergent church “relevance” and tolerance have become the dominant characteristics, even if they lead to a compromising of the essential gospel message.

Certainly there are parts of Jesus’ gospel there, – the parts about loving your neighbour, feeding the hungry and caring for the poor, but they are placed within the context of improving the world and human existence as if they were the purpose of Jesus’ time on earth. But these very temporal matters were NOT the main focus of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection which was all about reconciling fallen man with a perfect God.
However, those things have such a strong feel-good aspect to them that it’s much easier to promote work towards a better world and a better life than it is to promote dying to ones’ self and living for God. Improving mankind’s temporal state is much easier to sell than it is to promote God’s eternal plans; especially to a generation who needs to have everything now.

While Garrison’s book does expose the hypocrisy of fundamentalist atheists calling for an end to religion, I felt that Garrison was more interested in getting everyone to play nicely together than in exploring the truth. Considering that Jesus said that He is THE TRUTH this book clearly fell short. Maybe we should consider which is most likely to destroy true faith, the loud mouthed clearly hostile atheist; or the purveyor of a watered down, compromised view of Jesus and His gospel.

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