An upcoming "Nontheist" book and talk show aimed at promoting discussion between faiths and supporting a spiritual brand of atheism has drawn criticism from an acclaimed Christian apologist.
Apologist and professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, Douglas Groothuis, attacked the inconsistencies of education adviser and coach Mark W. Gura's position in his book Blind Faith Virus Vaccine, due to hit Amazon.com on September 1 and the airwaves in October. In the book, Gura calls for open dialogue among different faiths, but argues that worship of Jesus Christ may separate one from the inner peace only found in atheism and Buddhist meditation.
"The atheist says that the universe is just here," Groothuis explained in a Thursday interview with The Christian Post. But Gura "is trying to sneak in some kind of purpose to a universe that can't have any purpose, given atheism, and he's trying to find a subjective spiritual meaning – hope – apart from a personal, moral, God, which cannot be done either."
Gura contends only an inner peace independent of God brings true satisfaction. "The only thing that really seems to satisfy" our deep human needs "is some sort of internal system…an inner peace," he told CP. "When someone who's theistic strives to have inner peace they usually wind up relying on that external being, on a God or gods," who may or may not help.
In order to avoid this reliance on someone else, Gura seeks a Buddhist enlightenment in an atheistic world. The universe "is neither good nor bad, it's just mechanistic," he claims. Nevertheless, he expressed hope for a life after death, a "possibility as a hypothesis for myself," and believes that "meditation is the next step in human evolution."
Gura's methods may resemble C. S. Lewis' version of hell in The Great Divorce, where men and women deny ultimate joy because it would require surrendering to God's love, Groothuis shared. "If you're talking about shutting out the outer world and creating a world in yourself," the Christian philosophy professor argued, "you have no pleasure." He admitted that "that would be something like hell."
Gura is also wrong when it comes to history, according to Groothuis.
Gura blamed Christianity for shutting down debate in the days of Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to follow Jesus. In Pagan Greece and Rome, the ideas of Plato, Pythagoras, and the Stoics mimicked the reincarnation of Buddhism, Gura argued. But "when Christianity became a political power in Europe, any competing philosophies…were basically wiped out from Europe," he charged.
Groothuis countered Gura's claim, saying that not only did Christians like Augustine and Aquinas read, understand, and integrate Pagan ideas into Christianity, but even those Greco-Roman philosophies had nothing but a superficial connection with Buddhism. "Plato believed in these universal, eternal, spiritual forms," he said, while "Buddhism believes in no forms at all, no substance, no essence, no anything."
Even the Hindu and Buddhist ideas of reincarnation are fundamentally different. Groothuis argued that "the most notable influence" of reincarnation is India's restrictive class system. "You can't have Hinduism without the caste system," because Karma requires a harsh hierarchy – someone's birth determines their social position – to punish the evil and reward the good in their next lives.
In Buddhism, on the other hand, "the whole point is to get off the wheel of reincarnation and karma," the philosopher noted. Rather than hoping for immortality, Buddhists pursue Nirvana, which literally means "extinction."
"This is just bad intellectual, philosophical history," Groothuis exclaimed.
Nevertheless, he did agree with Gura's desire for open dialogue. "It's not that to be a Christian you have to wall yourself off," he said, noting that after 30 years of engaging in dialogue with non-believers, his beliefs became even stronger.