Dear Atheists: Please don't go!
I know Pastor John Hagee recently encouraged you to "leave the country" if you don't like "Merry Christmas", its carols and trappings.
Please don't go, because you teach us much. Here are the first four of seven reasons why we need you to stay (the next three follow in Part 2):
1. The light is seen best against the backdrop of night.
Matthew Parris, atheist and journalist, "saw the light" pragmatically at least, in his former homeland.
After a 45-year absence, Parris visited Malawi (once Nyasaland) to observe and report on the work of British charities there. "Now a confirmed atheist," he wrote in The Times of London, "I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs (non-governmental organizations), government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good."
Funny thing about light: the darker it gets the brighter it shines. Check it out down in Carlsbad Caverns when the guide turns out the lights and strikes a match. The more you try to turn out the light of faith the greater we see it. "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them," wrote the Prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 9:2, italics added)
2. Hope gleams most brilliantly in the morass of despair.
Paul wrote that "if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world." (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT)
A young atheist writes for help to the Richard Dawkins website. She is "miserable" because, she says, "I am consumed by terror of death and the meaninglessness it casts on my life and everything I love." She tries to live by the argument of Epicurus, "Where I am, death is not. Where death is, I am not." But it is not enough, and she asks her fellow atheists to help her "find a way to move forward…" "I guess you'll have to be content with Epicurus," counsels one. "I don't think there is a universal answer to this," replies another1.
And so it goes. No wonder atheist existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said, "Atheism is a long, hard, cruel business." Against that bleakness, the hope in Christ is a brilliant beacon.
Don't go, dear atheists. You help us appreciate even more the hope we have in Christ.
3. The appreciation for infinite transcendent lift is never felt more urgently than when we feel the imprisonment of the finite immanent.
Recently, London comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans founded The Sunday Assembly, an atheist "church", or "godless congregation."2 Their church is "dedicated to acts of benevolence and the search for transcendence."
However, they reveal that when atheists start looking for transcendence they set the ceiling too low. "Transcendence," Jones and Evans declare, "can be found in a breath of wind on your face or in a mouthful of custard tart."
Refreshing winds and luscious custards cannot be truly transcendent because they are not Wholly Other. Leonard Krishtalka of the University of Kansas once described Intelligent Design as "nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo." But I would term Jones' and Evans' "godless" transcendence as nothing more than immanence on stilts.
Max Planck, "the patriarch of Quantum Theory"3, faced honestly the dilemma of the finite immanent when he wrote, "over the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith... Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature... because in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of nature and therefore a part of the very mystery that we are trying to solve."
Saint Paul was speaking of liberation from the finite immanent when he said, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14) Isaiah experienced that life-transforming, destiny-setting freedom when he saw God "high and lifted up." The most bracing of winds and the most delectable custard tarts don't seem to have that kind of lifting power. One of the facts of worship is that we are qualitatively lifted up to the level of that which we worship.
Thank you, atheists, for reminding us of the reality of true Transcendence by showing us the counterfeit.
4. Faith is understood most profoundly in contrast to the futility of mere reason.
Peter Kreeft writes that ultimately all of us want God, but not all of us know that. Our heart is restless until it rests in God, says Augustine. We don't find Him "by being preached at, nor by rational argument." Rather, writes Kreeft, we find God through "the Augustinian experience of the restless heart and the Ecclesiastes experience of the vanity of everything else... We find the presence of God by first finding the presence of the absence of God" in that God-shaped hole at the core of our being "that nothing else can fill."4
Atheism reminds us that without God, reason can only attempt to fill vacuum with vacuum, nothing with nothing. Somehow it is harder to rest faith upon the words, "In the beginning Nothing created the heavens and the earth" than it is, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Thank you, non-theists, for inspiring us to think about the contrast.
So, dear atheists, for all these reasons and more to come in Part 2, I hope you will not follow Pastor Hagee's suggestion that you hop a plane.
Love (Really, because Christ's love is not based on emotion, but is unconditional, an act of the will, and I choose to love you),
2. "Do Atheists Exist?" By Nicholas Frankovich, National Review Online, December 28, 2013.
3. "Bo Jinn", Illogical Atheism.
4. Peter Kreeft, Heaven, the Heart's Deepest Longing