DISCLAIMER: THIS PIECE INCLUDES AN OVERTLY CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE THAT IS NORMALLY ABSENT FROM MY POSTS.
Like many Christians I went through a time in my life when I considered myself a non-believer. Actually, I considered myself something more than a non-believer – I was an atheist and, perhaps, an anti-theist.
After my parents’ divorce, I was mad at the world and God seemed like a suitable scapegoat for my misery and cosmological angst. For seven years, I lived as an atheist. However, my journey was different than most non-believers. While most atheists simply opt to walk away from religious dogma and religious institutions, I wanted to burn the Christian faith to the ground. I thought that I would rise up from the ashes and swiftly conquer the misery that permeated my consciousness.
I declared my own private war on the cross in the same sanctuary where most of the world’s greatest heroes and abhorrent villains declared theirs: the library.
I devoured the writings of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and post-modern philosophers that shared my disdain for the divine. I read Voltaire, Hume, Nietzsche, Bacon and Spinoza. I was particularly attracted to Nietzsche due to the brutal timbre of his prose. Contemporary 19th-century readers of Nietzsche noted how the author seemed to delight in making his audience uncomfortable. They referred to it as “philosophy with a hammer.” I can’t imagine why someone would be attracted to something so angry and caustic… (sarcasm).
I quickly advanced through the centuries and came across the writings of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism,” Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris.
Dawkins wrote “The God Delusion.”
Hitchens wrote “God is NOT Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything.”
Dennett wrote “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”
And Harris wrote “The End of Faith,” “Letter to a Christian Nation,” and “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.”
Check out this video by Sam Harris. It’s a good introduction to the thought process of many atheists.
After many years, I separated the root psychological frustration and familial dysfunction from my unrelated issues of faith and religious skepticism. My anger had nothing to do with God or religion. It had everything to do with a young boy; a boy that felt he had no control over the world around him and that desperately needed the illusion of control.
Nevertheless, I feel truly blessed that I went through this period of doubt, skepticism and anger. I’m infinitely grateful to God for the experience of having my faith tested. A person’s faith is like the immune system. Children that are not exposed to pathogens do not develop antibodies. That’s why vaccines work – the body is exposed to a hostile element and it learns how to fight it. If a child is kept indoors during its entire childhood, it will not learn the physiological and psychological lessons necessary to survive in a hostile world.
Like my immune system, I eventually developed philosophical antibodies to the ideas that I was devouring. I do not get uncomfortable or anxious when I hear an argument targeted at my faith because I have already made the argument to myself many times before.
I’ve processed it. I’m immune to it. My faith is not so easily shaken now.
Make no mistake, the thinkers that I listed are all VERY smart individuals and their ideas cannot be straw-manned or easily dismissed.
They’re also all MORAL individuals that want suffering to be minimized and well-being to be maximized. They’re operating in good faith. They’re good people and they’re justifiably concerned about religious abuses.
Just like Jacob did with God in Genesis, we all must wrestle with the arguments of our philosophical opponents. We should never intentionally mischaracterize them to make our fragile worldview easier to maintain. We should never smear them with petty ad hominem attacks that ignore the validity of their arguments’ claims. This is how we strengthen our faith and, perhaps more important, it is also how we build relationships with our philosophical enemies. I know many atheists that treat others like Jesus did and, because of that, I’m privileged to know them.
Many Christians want to hide from the outside world. They want to isolate their children from any non-Christian ideas or cultural elements. They want their children to go to religious schools and universities and then work at religious companies. They don’t want their children to be exposed to any non-Christian pathogens because they’re afraid that their children are too impressionable. They fear that their children can’t be trusted with something so inextricably linked to their eternal salvation. I can certainly understand this desire when it comes to drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc.