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Militant Atheism and the future of the Church

Men like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Michael Newdow represent the future of the American atheism. It is my strong belief that they also represent an earthquake in the middle of the information-ocean that has the potential to drive the American Church to its knees. While we are distracted with glossy marketing and video venues I believe our generation of Pastors may well be on the verge of overseeing America's version of an atheistic tsunami.

Our elders have been sounding the alarm for nearly thirty years and consequently the issues (as of late) have drawn about as much attention as a car alarm in a mall parking lot.

America is in the middle of a shift in the tide. This change is a response to over-politicization of Christianity. History has shown us that Christian leaders in each generation tend to throw the baby out with the bath water. Each new generation responds to the previous generation by acting as an acne-faced freshman who 'needs his space'. Like the squealing adolescent, younger generations of leaders try to create space by dumping the faith of their fathers in favor of an uber-cool version.

The protestant church in America is a great example with several hundred denominations formed for every reason under the sun... all labeled "doctrinal differences". The banner under which my denomination was formed stems from that doctrinal issue of 'slavery'. Each generation of leaders believes that they have special revelation from God that their parents weren't privileged to receive. Being faithful to their calling, they toss out the ways of the old to start something 'fresh and exciting'. Sometimes this starts a Great-Awakening but most of the time it becomes a great-disappointment.

Our current generation is faced with yet another crossroads and with concern I believe we all know the path the majority are taking.

In the 80's and 90's our Christian leadership became much more mobilized. Christian leaders who were distraught by decisions such as the elimination of prayer from public school and abortion on demand believed that it was time for Christ's people to have a say in the public discourse. Viewing their mission as 'salt' and 'light', they organized like never before and were credited with the election of several presidents. The first of which was extremely instrumental in the fall of communism and subsequently the freedom of millions of lives. Since this time democracy has spread from a handful of countries to over 140. God used Christians to help shape the course and affairs of man. It wasn't all glorious. America found out that the restrooms in Pastor's offices don't smell like roses. Some of our predecessors got too high on power and lost touch with Jesus while others forgot their first call and some jumped on the bandwagon to scream bible thumpin' worse than a UFC fight. In the end the label of "religious right" started to become a stereotype of what it meant to be Christian.

At present, the Christian world seems to be running from the label of 'religious right' because it's not cool any more. In an attempt to prove we're not our father's church, we're running to things like service projects and social justice causes. In many corners of the country these social projects are being done incognito. We wouldn't want the world to know that we're doing it in Jesus' name. It doesn't have to be this way. We've done this before and it made us look dumb to the world.

Mainline churches and Evangelical churches faced this same fork in the road a while back. Mainlines answered this dilemma by trying to bring Jesus in through social causes. Evangelicals said 'man shall not live by bread alone but on the very word of God' and dumped social justice in favor of preaching and political activism. So some were introduced to Jesus as a pacifist social worker while others met an overweight angry Jesus preaching about homosexuality while he scarfed down a Big Mac. Today we face a fork in the road where one sign reads 'have a heart' and he other reads 'have a voice'. For the most part the American Church is headed toward having a heart (which is good if that's the only choice) but in the meantime we're giving up our voice.

While we run to perform the very noble acts of extending a cup of water to our neighbor the people who believe our God is nothing more than a brain fart are responding to the 'religious right' as well.

Let me introduce to you Militant Atheism. Militant Atheism is the atheists answer to the Moral Majority. They believe in nothing and have committed their lives to ensure America believes in it as well.

You see... while our churches rush to grow larger and be cooler... while our marketing materials get slicker and the name of Jesus gets smaller... the Atheist movement is growing around us. People attack our Savior and we're silent. A Christian pastor is called a Charlatan and a fraud upon his death and the Church remains silent. I wonder how many Christians even know the names of Dawkins, Hitchens or Newdow. It's not because these men haven't been effective or popular. Their books are on the New York Times bestseller lists and their court cases are covered by the major news outlets. Christians however are more interested in Paris Hilton's upcoming jail sentence or who won American Idol. This ingrained ignorance is because we (in our attempt to toss out the baby) cover our ears and close our eyes believing that it's better to be liked than to lead in our culture.

Atheists aren't sitting back, they are on the aggressive. Atheists are picking fights with believers in every venue over every issue. These aren't our grandfather's atheists. They do not believe in a marketplace of ideas. These men and their followers are every bit as evangelistic about atheism as Mormons are to converting Christians to believe they too can have god-babies. When we consider Militant Atheism, the rise of cults in America and the trend for our Christian leaders to teach pragmatism or extremism over balanced theology, I'd say we have cause for concern.

It doesn't have to be this way. It is in fact possible to be known as a Christian with both a voice and a heart. We can stay involved politically, educationally and socially all at the same time. We do not need to abandon theological training or the public arena for the sake of fighting social injustices. We can proclaim our faith with our minds, voices and actions all at the same time. I believe the Christ we worship modeled this very thing for us. Politically minded, Socially active, Passionately devoted Christians. This is my prayer.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Sunday, June 03, 2007


At 11:17 AM, Blogger Hayduke said...

Excellent rational and logical commentary. Very refreshing.

A few quibbles:

"They believe in nothing and have committed their lives to ensure America believes in it as well."

I am an atheist and I don't know any of these "militant" atheists. While some atheists, including myself, have no beliefs, most atheists are content with not believing in a god. We cannot be committed to ensuring that people of "America" (did you mean the United States?) believe in atheism, since atheism is not a belief. Atheists merely want to live their lives free of religious domination.

"They do not believe in a marketplace of ideas. These men and their followers are every bit as evangelistic about atheism as Mormons are to converting Christians to believe they too can have god-babies."

This is a pretty extreme generality. I doubt that atheists are ever so monolithic on any subject other than lack of a god. There are no "followers:" atheism is a solitary practice. There is no church of atheism, no congregation. Atheism is a personal world-view.

There are no more atheists now than there ever have been as a percentage of society. If religious groups are feeling the pinch, it is due to the failure of religion, not the rise of atheism.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Kyle Minckler said...

Amen, my man! Thanks for the post.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Kyle Minckler said...

Amen, my man! Thanks for the post.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Tally said...


Welcome to the conversation. Glad you've stopped by. Feel free to drop a line in the future.

Thanks for the positive feedback. I'd love to remark on your quibbles.

Regarding Atheism as a belief:
We disagree here. There's not much else to the matter. While you hold that the absense of a belief means there simply is no belief, I contend that the fact you hold a belief about my belief means that you have come to a conclusion about which to base your life in the same way I have come to a conclusion to base mine. My belief is in a deity. Your belief is in this world being all that their is. For example. There are some who believe in UFO's, Aliens, Sasquach or the Lockness Monster. I do not believe in these things. I have looked at the evidence, made a judgement and determined a stance. Therefore in any logical discussion I would have a belief. My belief is in the absense of the things mentioned. I hold a belief. I operate my life based on that belief. My belief in these things leads to decision making (do I continue investigating?, do I read books, do I watch television programs with these things? etc.) My belief influences my action regarding these things and I'm sure your belief that God doesn't exist influences your actions as well. You can phrase it that you're void of a belief but with a lack of a God you do hold a pro-belief. Pro evolution, pro humanist, etc. Based on your lack of a belief you do hold a belief system regarding religion. Chances are your belief that God doesn't exist governs your behavior as much as my belief that God does exist.

I'm aware we may disagree on this... I just wanted to share more about my assertion that atheists hold to a belief and that the militant atheist is aggressively pushing their belief on others.

Second thought- "I doubt that atheists are ever so monolithic on any subject other than lack of a god." While on the surface we would agree, I believe we can quickly survey atheists to find how their 'non-belief' belief influences thenm as I described above. As a result, their world-view grows from this belief system of starting with 'no god'. So I would argue that there are patterns to which the atheist isn't as much of a free spirit as one would like to believe.

The other part to your statement is simply a matter of misunderstanding. I do not insinuate that there is any form of 'Church' of atheism. In fact I said "These men and THEIR followers..." While you have stated that you do not know the men of whom I speak I assure you that CNN and the NYT best seller reveals that these men do in fact have a following. They travel the lecture circuit around the country talking down about people of faith (especially Christians) and they are actively promoting the agenda I described in my post. These men certainly have an agenda and most definitly have a following. Fortunately you aren't a part of their following and I respect that fact but be assured a following of militant atheists both exist and are aggressively pushing an agenda that is counter to people of faith.

Thanks for allowing me to continue a discussion with you. As I have said I appreciate your comments and would gladly welcome them in the future. You have not shown yourself to be argumentative and I hope to show myself in the same manner. I wish you well and look forward to speaking in the future.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Tally said...

Thanks man. Stop by anytime.


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