Is God really dead? Meet the new atheism, same as the old atheism?


Alluding to Time magazine’s famous cover in the 1960s, Philosophy Now magazine has offered an issue entitled, “Is God really dead?”

One of the U.S. editors for U.K.-based Philosophy Now, Tim Madigan, wrote the introductory editorial for this edition. Madigan was once an editor for the secular humanist publication Free Inquiry. However, it seems that the editorial approach to this issue of the magazine is more even-handed than one would be likely to find in Free Inquiry. I’ve just started reading through the articles, so we’ll see if that holds up. Check it out here. For most intellectual battles, I’d rather meet an honest enemy than a dishonest ally.

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2 responses to “Is God really dead? Meet the new atheism, same as the old atheism?

  1. Joseph Black

    As an atheist, and former Christian myself, I’d have to say that God will never be dead. Fortunately, at least in Weastern culture, the believe in God is slipping more and more into a benign semi-agnostic state. Once die-hard Christians are now more likely to concede that there may not be a God, that people go to Heaven just for being good, and that their Bible doesn’t have all the answers. Additionally, many of them will admit that they don’t believe in Hell, and that God may save non-Christians including atheists. However, as weak as the new idea of God is becoming, it will always be there. The reason is that most people feel the need to have someone looking after them. When life becomes difficult, as it often does, people need to “know” that God is on their side, and that He will see them through their troubles. Also, a belief in God and an afterlife helps to quell the fear of death. It is actually quite difficult for the conscious mind to work out the fact that it will one day no longer exist. One might think that, in this regard atheism is quite hopeless. I’ve heard many Christians say things like: “Well, if you can’t look forward to heaven, isn’t your life meaningless?” or “What’s the point of living, if it’s all going to just end?”. You get the idea. I say to these people that, because I believe my existence it finite, it makes every second of my life precious to me. Knowing that I will one day cease to be, makes me strive to live a good and meaningful life. However, taking on this belief -or lack of belief, so to speak- can be quite scary, and requires a great deal of bravery and honesty. Coming to terms with your own mortality is one thing, but accepting the mortality of your loved ones is quite another. For example, I have three children, and when I stopped believing, I suddenly came to the horrifying realization that if they were to die they wouldn’t be in heaven smiling down on me – they’d be gone! It’s for reasons like this, I don’t think that God will ever be dead. I think eventually Christianity will be dead though. The “New Atheists” have learned that arguing about God’s existence is futile – it goes nowhere. The idea of God cannot be proven nor disproven. Period. However, the Judeo-Christian version of God, the validity of biblical scripture, and the absurd Christian doctrines, all crumble easily under only moderate rational scrutiny.

    There’s a running joke among the atheist community that goes like this:

    Q: “How do you turn a Christian into an atheist?”
    A: “Make them read the Bible!”

    While this is a joke, it is remarkably true. An honest person cannot bear the cognitive dissonance created by the contradiction between the vicious and jealous Yahweh, and the meek and loving Jesus. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t actually read the Bible. They just listen to their pastors’ cherry-picked verses for an hour and then go get pancakes.

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  2. Thanks for your comment. I completely agree that text criticism of the Bible is the biggest challenge facing Christians, even if that challenge is often unseen on the inside of the parishes. Some scholars have tried to answer these problems from within the Christian tradition. That doesn’t mean they are right, but they have at least tried to wrestle with the obvious problems. However, I wish more ministers would take these issues straight-on, rather than setting up people for big surprises when they scrutinize the Scriptures. To say, from within the Christian tradition, that any person can read and benefit from the Bible seems a bit rash, no matter how much Protestants want to say so. Oddly enough, it’s the authoritarian Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions that make more sense in this regard — they understand that professional interpreters are needed to match texts with traditions, and understand the symbiotic relationships between the texts and the interpretative approaches over the centuries. Professional interpreters can be both liberating and enslaving; I’ve experienced it both ways.

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