Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Heavenly Whatchamacallit:
A Plea for Contentment

Many atheists feign a desire to merely argue against the general notion of a god, being unconcerned with and having no special antipathy for any god or gods in particular. Some Christians are also willing to make the case for a god of some sort or other.

In spite of how they would like it to appear, the reality is that all the wrangling over the existence or non-existence of a god is tentative or preliminary to the real aim of atheists and theists, for a nebulous being with no definite nature, attributes, and character and no concrete revelation as to what he/she/it expects or promises, is hardly offensive to the one or worth loving to the other. Furthermore, such a god is not and could not possibly be known, whereas the true God, the God of revelation, is inescapably known; indeed, He is inescapably loved or hated. The sooner all parties come to terms with this the better. Accordingly, as the following will labor to make plain, atheists are not content to attack, any more than Christians are content to affirm, a Heavenly Watchamacallit.

Atheistic Discontent

When it comes to atheists, an attack on “theism in general” should be seen for what it really is: a warm-up; their real interest is to get to the living God. Consider the following three examples.

First, there is the example of atheist B. C. Johnson. In his book The Atheist Debaters Handbook, Johnson, after an inordinate amount of calisthenics (often necessary to psych up the more timid) spent on attacking theism generally, finally writes:

"Having discussed theism in general, we may now turn our attention briefly to a prominent example of theism: Christianity. Here we will see theism in action and examine some of the moral absurdities it appears to encourage."[i]

Second, in Atheism: the Case Against God, well-known anti-theist philosopher George Smith in what is considered by many to be the Pilates of atheism (i.e., the most popular workout for atheists),[ii] had this to say about the aim of his book:

"This book is a presentation and defense of atheism. This is not a sympathetic examination or interpretation of religious doctrines; it is a straightforward critique, philosophically and psychologically, of the belief in a god, especially as manifested in Christianity."

Third, there is prominent atheist philosopher Michael Martin who wrote what appears to be an atheist’s guide to body building, i.e. a scholarly attempt to defend atheism. Noteworthy is the fact that Martin, unlike Johnson and Smith, seems to have little time for dumbbells and goes straight for the big iron. He said the following about the aim of his book, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification:

"My object is not utopian. It is merely to provide good reasons for being an atheist. Atheism is defended and justified…My object is to show that atheism is a rational position and that belief in God is not…I confine my efforts to showing the irrationality of belief in the existence of the Hebrew-Christian God, a personal being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and completely good and who created heave and earth."[iv]

So, from roundabout and run of the mill attempts like Johnson’s, through popular works like Smith’s, to more direct and scholarly efforts like Michael Martin’s, atheists belie their indifference to Yahweh, showing that they are not content until their ultimate hostility is directed at “Christianity”, “especially” at “the Hebrew-Christian God.” It may be the direct route of the few or the circuitous route of the many, but it is the specific God of Biblical revelation that all are aiming at in the end. The reason for this is simple: He is the only true God.[v]

Christian Discontent

As has been said, many theists are also willing to argue that “a god” exists, but even these are not content to leave it at that. After all, there is always the planned “second step” where it is hoped they can move from a bland god to a brand God. The examples could be multiplied many times over, but that of the otherwise venerable C. S. Lewis[vi] should be sufficient to make the point.

Good British gentleman that he was, Lewis would first try to gently nudge his audience in the direction of a god, rather than confronting them with the living God at the outset. He said,

“Do not think that I am going faster than I really am. I am not yet within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology. All I have got to is Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”

However, as a Christian Lewis was not content to end with “mere theism”, He wanted to conclude with “mere Christianity”. Consequently, he said a little later:

“When I chose to get to my real subject in this roundabout way, I was not trying to play any kind of trick on you. I had a different reason. My reason was that Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing.”[vii]

The Excluded Middle

Since both atheists and theists ultimately set their sights on the living God, the question naturally arises: “Why bother with this ‘other god’ that no atheist is really content to argue against and no theist is content to argue for? Why doesn’t everyone just cut out the middle man and go straight for numero uno?”

Underlying all of this, or so the fear/hope seems to be, is the idea that if you allow an elephant to get his nose in the door it will not be content until it comes all the way in. The atheist appears to fear that by leaving the door open to the possibility that a god exists they are also leaving the door open to the God, and He, above all, is not welcome in their homes. The theist appears to share this fancy; consequently, he believes that he must keep the door open so that the living God may eventually be permitted or have an opportunity to enter in.

However, it is just because He is the only true God that general theism is a fallacy. The God of the Bible appears in any room He pleases, regardless of whether the door is opened with a welcome mat or locked with a “Do Not Disturb” sign; in fact, He doesn’t even care if there is no door at all (this only means that there is no exit for the unbeliever).

[i] Johnson, P. 109
[ii] Pilates is the exercise fad that appears to have replaced, or at least surpassed, Tae-Bo in popularity. Before these there was Jabez and WWJD. Er, um, maybe I am getting my fads confused.
[iii] (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1989), p. ix. Just a few pages later, Smith says, “Also, it is necessary to mention that I employ the term “god” in two ways. I use it with a lower case ‘g’ (god) to refer to the general idea of a god, i.e., the general notion of a supernatural being, apart from any specific characteristics. I use the term ‘God’ (with an upper case ‘G’) to refer specifically to the God of Christianity, along with its various attributes, such as omnipotence and so forth (p. xii).
[iv] Martin, p. 24.
[v] It would be a mistake to conclude from the limited focus of this article that only atheists belie the real object of their hate when they surreptitiously turn from a consideration of a vaguely defined deity to focus the brunt of their hostility on the full-orbed God of revelation; this is true of every ideologue and religionist on the planet. The natural man, acknowledged atheist or otherwise, hates God (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 5:9; Jn. 15:18-25; Rom. 3:9-19, 8:6-8, et. al.) In fact, as Christians have known for millennia, all men hate God so much that if they could get their hands on Him they would crucify Him.
[vi] Those things that contribute to Lewis’s “otherwise venerable” status do not include of course his low view of inspiration, his own contemptible view of the imprecatory Psalms, or his Arminianism. For trenchant insights and a response to such things as they relate to apologetics, see Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics (Philipsburgh, New Jersey: P&R, 1980), p. 84-88
[vii] Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 20. Later Lewis makes a similar comment: “We have not yet gotten as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity. We have only gotten as far as a Somebody or Something behind the moral law.” p. 23
[viii] Ibid, p. 24

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