We are using the quotes taken from A. McGrath’s book, Why God Won’t Go Away (McGrath, A. (2011). Why God Won’t Go Away: Engaging with the New Atheism London: SPCK), to make our own points about the topic being discussed in those blurbs. We are not addressing Dr. McGrath or criticizing him at all, we are sticking strictly to the topic in those quotes.
#1. In 1932, William Temple (1881–1944), Archbishop of York and later of Canterbury, delivered a series of lectures at the University of Glasgow on the theme of religion. His tone was uncompromising. A strong case could be made, he declared, for suggesting that religion had done more harm than good to humanity; that ‘bad religion’ was not only the most serious problem facing humanity in the modern world, but its chief enemy: ‘Religion itself, when developed to real maturity, knows quite well that the first object of its condemnation is bad Religion, which is a totally different thing from irreligion, and can be a very much worse thing.’1
Undoubtedly religion can go wrong, and when it does it must be challenged and changed. The prophets of Israel and Jesus of Nazareth were, William Temple believed, reformers who called into question the religious conventions of their day. In a similar way we could regard the New Atheist critique of religion as helpfully indicating where reformation might be needed in our own time. But where most people see religion as something that can go wrong, the New Atheism seems to see it as something that is wrong. End of discussion: the only solution is to get rid of it (p. 43).
This is the heart of the issue between Christianity and atheism. The atheist generalizes and does not take the time to use the finer points that God has taught us about what is going on in the world today. It is NOT religion per se that is the problem.
What the atheist does not want to admit or acknowledge is that it is HOW men and women USE religion that is the problem. This issue is comparable to the gun control controversy. So many people blame the weapon and not the person who uses the weapon incorrectly.
The weapon has done nothing wrong until it has been misused but that choice to use the weapon wrongly lies solely on the human who picks it up and employs its talents. The same goes for religion. Religion, unless it is a false belief, is not wrong but when it is used to commit sin then it is not the religion’s choice to do evil but the person who picks up that particular faith and chooses to apply it for evil deeds and then compounds the problem by trying to justify the evil with religious writing support.
The problem with religion, is not that it is bad, for the most part, but that the person who subscribes to a particular faith has not allowed Jesus to remove the sin nature in them and they let their sin nature dictate how they will practice their faith.
The one problem we have with that quote comes in the following sentence:
“In a similar way we could regard the New Atheist critique of religion as helpfully indicating where reformation might be needed in our own time.”
We must be careful here not to violate God’s instructions about following in the counsel of the ungodly. We do not let the unbeliever inform the church where reformation needs to take place for they do not know what God has told the church to do, they do not understand what God has told the church to do and they are not in a position to learn from God what is the true way for the church to follow.
Indicating where reformation in the church is needed is God’s job alone. It is his church and his creation and he knows what needs to be done not the deceived secular world.
#2. The idea that ‘religion poisons everything’ has become deeply embedded within the New Atheism. Religion is the ‘root of all evil’—intrinsically and necessarily dangerous (p. 43).
This is more of a sign of how deep the deception in the unbeliever goes. They are directed to attack the superficial problem, the symptoms, not the source. If we restrict the word ‘religion’ to Christianity alone, and we should, the root of the problem in the atheist is that they hate Christ therefore they hate anything to do with Christ.
This is why they have campaigned against prayer in schools or any religious item a school may display even for innocent reasons.
#3. Perhaps for this reason, many New Atheists, when pressed firmly in open debate and confronted with the findings of the scholarly research literature, will grudgingly concede that there’s nothing intrinsically evil about belief in God. The problem, they believe, is that it can lead to fanaticism (p. 44).
Fanaticism is a problem but it is a problem for the church in general to deal with as it involves their members, their adherents. It is a problem that is not easily solved as fanatics do not listen to all of scripture nor know how to apply all of scripture to their lives correctly. Helping these extremists is complicated by the fact that the fanatic closes their minds to all constructive criticism and wise counsel.
When this happens, the church may need to do some spiritual warfare and help free the fanatic from evil influences that have driven them to the extreme and keeps them locked in that fanatical mode. Fanatics need to learn that we cannot sin in living out our faith nor can we justify sinful acts by appealing badly to scriptural writings.
We in the church already know that belief in God or different gods can lead people to fanaticism, we do not need the atheist to open our eyes to such information. Nor do we need the atheist to instruct us in how to deal with the problem. We need to go to God and follow his directions in solving the problem.
#4. Another may be seen in the Amish Schoolhouse Killings of October 2006. A gunman broke into an Amish school in the village of Nickel Mines in the state of Pennsylvania and gunned down a group of schoolgirls. Five of the young girls died. The gunman shot himself at the scene, leaving a suicide note that declared that he was ‘filled with so much hate’ against God.
The Amish are a conservative Protestant religious group who repudiate any form of violence on account of their understanding of the absolute moral authority of the person and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Despite the brutal force used against the most vulnerable members of their community by a man with a grudge against God, the Amish community urged forgiveness. There would be no violence, no revenge—only the offering of forgiveness.17 The gunman’s widow spoke, gratefully and movingly, of how this provided the ‘healing’ that she and her three children ‘so desperately needed’. The cycle of violence was thus broken before it began.
This tragic story, shot through with nobility and dignity, is unquestionably a challenge to the churches to bring their ethics into line with those of their founder. But it’s an even greater challenge to the plausibility of the New Atheist critique of religion as intrinsically violent. Jesus of Nazareth just doesn’t fit that mould, and neither should Christianity. (p. 49).
The Amish have set a very good example here and have dealt with their natural human instincts for years before being able to apply biblical teaching to such a violent act. This conclusion is not easy to reach and it is understandable why some churches have not reached this level of spirituality.
The life that Jesus taught us is not an easy life and for some people it is very hard to come to this point in their faith. We should not condemn such people nor should we open them up to criticism but strive to help those who are weaker to become strong in Jesus and reach this level of responding to sin the way God would want and has taught us to respond.
#5. The Bolshevik Revolution gave Lenin the opportunity to implement his political and religious objectives. When religious belief conspicuously and obstinately failed to disappear as a result of social and political change, he eventually put in place measures designed to eradicate it through the ‘protracted use of violence’. One of the greatest tragedies of this dark era in human history was that those who sought to eliminate faith through violence and oppression believed that they were justified in doing so.20 They were accountable to no higher authority than the state.(p. 51).
This is what destroys the atheistic and unbeliever’s message about the church. They will bt hypocritical when they need to be and when it fits their desires. They do not want religion to use violence in any form i=or in any response to their evil deeds but they have no qualms in using violence to remove religion from their presence.
This shows that the atheist and the other unbelievers have nothing to offer anyone and those words help us to understand why God has told us not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly.
They do not have a better way to live than Jesus does.