Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity


This article points to some research why young people leave Christ (leaving the Church and leaving Christ are increasingly synonymous). It doesn’t address the drifting away because of preoccupation with other things but the conscious decision not to believe in Christ.

The rise of the New Atheists is probably a reason why drift has turned into decision, or at least provoked the recognition that a decision about faith or non-faith is too important to leave to indifference among those who at one time took religion seriously.

I was surprised that an important part of the decision was emotional, which on further reflection should not have surprised me at all. Faith or non-faith decisions are never divorced from the non-empirical constituents of human experience.

For the Orthodox, my experience is that conflicts in the parishes impose penalties on the young, especially those coming into the age where personal faith becomes a private decision. I have seen parishes in which the adults are in constant conflict. Moreover, many of the people who create the conflict or badger the priest or do the things that Christians should not do, are also those who have lost their children to the Church. On more than one occasion I’ve asked, “If their advice is so good, why have their children left?”

Source: The Atlantic Monthly | Larry Alex Taunton

When a Christian foundation interviewed college nonbelievers about how and why they left religion, surprising themes emerged.

“Church became all about ceremony, handholding, and kumbaya,” Phil said with a look of disgust. “I missed my old youth pastor. He actually knew the Bible.”

I have known a lot of atheists. The late Christopher Hitchens was a friend with whom I debated, road tripped, and even had a lengthy private Bible study. I have moderated Richard Dawkins and, on occasion, clashed with him. And I have listened for hours to the (often unsettling) arguments of Peter Singer and a whole host of others like him. These men are some of the public faces of the so-called “New Atheism,” and when Christians think about the subject — if they think about it at all — it is this sort of atheist who comes to mind: men whose unbelief is, as Dawkins once proudly put it, “militant.” But Phil, the atheist college student who had come to my office to share his story, was of an altogether different sort.

Phil was in my office as part of a project that began last year. Over the course of my career, I have met many students like Phil. It has been my privilege to address college students all over the world, usually as one defending the Christian worldview. These events typically attract large numbers of atheists. I like that. I find talking to people who disagree with me much more stimulating than those gatherings that feel a bit too much like a political party convention, and the exchanges with these students are mostly thoughtful and respectful. At some point, I like to ask them a sincere question:

What led you to become an atheist?

Given that the New Atheism fashions itself as a movement that is ruthlessly scientific, it should come as no surprise that those answering my question usually attribute the decision to the purely rational and objective: one invokes his understanding of science; another says it was her exploration of the claims of this or that religion; and still others will say that religious beliefs are illogical, and so on. To hear them tell it, the choice was made from a philosophically neutral position that was void of emotion.

Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it. There are a multitude of reasons for this mandate, ranging from care for the poor, orphaned, and widowed to offering hope to the hopeless. This means that Christians must be willing to listen to other perspectives while testing their own beliefs against them — above all, as the apostle Peter tells us, “with gentleness and respect.” The non-profit I direct, Fixed Point Foundation, endeavors to bridge the gaps between various factions (both religious and irreligious) as gently and respectfully as possible. Atheists particularly fascinate me. Perhaps it’s because I consider their philosophy — if the absence of belief may be called a philosophy — historically naive and potentially dangerous. Or maybe it’s because they, like any good Christian, take the Big Questions seriously. But it was how they processed those questions that intrigued me.

To gain some insight, we launched a nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances (SSA) or Freethought Societies (FS). These college groups are the atheist equivalents to Campus Crusade: They meet regularly for fellowship, encourage one another in their (un)belief, and even proselytize. They are people who are not merely irreligious; they are actively, determinedly irreligious.

Using the Fixed Point Foundation website, email, my Twitter, and my Facebook page, we contacted the leaders of these groups and asked if they and their fellow members would participate in our study. To our surprise, we received a flood of enquiries. Students ranging from Stanford University to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, from Northwestern to Portland State volunteered to talk to us. The rules were simple: Tell us your journey to unbelief. It was not our purpose to dispute their stories or to debate the merits of their views. Not then, anyway. We just wanted to listen to what they had to say. And what they had to say startled us.

This brings me back to Phil.

A smart, likable young man, he sat down nervously as my staff put a plate of food before him. Like others after him, he suspected a trap. Was he being punk’d? Talking to us required courage of all of these students, Phil most of all since he was the first to do so. Once he realized, however, that we truly meant him no harm, he started talking — and for three hours we listened.

Now the president of his campus’s SSA, Phil was once the president of his Methodist church’s youth group. He loved his church (“they weren’t just going through the motions”), his pastor (“a rock star trapped in a pastor’s body”), and, most of all, his youth leader, Jim (“a passionate man”). Jim’s Bible studies were particularly meaningful to him. He admired the fact that Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or the tough questions: “He didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, but he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.”

Listening to his story I had to remind myself that Phil was an atheist, not a seminary student recalling those who had inspired him to enter the pastorate. As the narrative developed, however, it became clear where things came apart for Phil. During his junior year of high school, the church, in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, an attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil, “didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.

An hour deeper into our conversation I asked, “When did you begin to think of yourself as an atheist?”

He thought for a moment. “I would say by the end of my junior year.”

I checked my notes. “Wasn’t that about the time that your church fired Jim?”

He seemed surprised by the connection. “Yeah, I guess it was.”

Phil’s story, while unique in its parts, was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country. Slowly, a composite sketch of American college-aged atheists began to emerge and it would challenge all that we thought we knew about this demographic. Here is what we learned:

They had attended church

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity.

The mission and message of their churches was vague

These students heard plenty of messages encouraging “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.

They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions

When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: “I really started to get bored with church.”

They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously

Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn’t try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: “Because you believe it.” Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.” As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well-publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Ages 14-17 were decisive

One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one

With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. This phenomenon was most powerfully exhibited in Meredith. She explained in detail how her study of anthropology had led her to atheism. When the conversation turned to her family, however, she spoke of an emotionally abusive father:

“It was when he died that I became an atheist,” she said.

I could see no obvious connection between her father’s death and her unbelief. Was it because she loved her abusive father — abused children often do love their parents — and she was angry with God for his death? “No,” Meredith explained. “I was terrified by the thought that he could still be alive somewhere.”

Rebecca, now a student at Clark University in Boston, bore similar childhood scars. When the state intervened and removed her from her home (her mother had attempted suicide), Rebecca prayed that God would let her return to her family. “He didn’t answer,” she said. “So I figured he must not be real.” After a moment’s reflection, she appended her remarks: “Either that, or maybe he is [real] and he’s just trying to teach me something.”

The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism

When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism–people, books, seminars, etc. — we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the “New Atheists.” We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.


Religion is a sensitive topic, and a study like this is bound to draw critics. To begin with, there is, of course, another side to this story. Some Christians will object that our study was tilted against churches because they were given no chance to defend themselves. They might justifiably ask to what extent these students really engaged with their Bibles, their churches, and the Christians around them. But that is beside the point. If churches are to reach this growing element of American collegiate life, they must first understand who these people are, and that means listening to them.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this whole study was the lasting impression many of these discussions made upon us.

That these students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable. I again quote Michael: “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”

Sincerity does not trump truth. After all, one can be sincerely wrong. But sincerity is indispensable to any truth we wish others to believe. There is something winsome, even irresistible, about a life lived with conviction. I am reminded of the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, David Hume, who was recognized among a crowd of those listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the First Great Awakening:

“I thought you didn’t believe in the Gospel,” someone asked.

“I do not,” Hume replied. Then, with a nod toward Whitefield, he added, “But he does.”


  1. James Bradshaw says

    “The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one”

    So is the decision to embrace belief, often.

    I would personally like to believe in a divine entity who cared for His creation. Let me rephrase: I don’t just want to think it’s true. I wish it were actually true. Life would certainly be a bit cheerier. Hope is a good thing.

    However, I’m not sure how one sees the hand of such a being in the thousands of children that die every year due to starvation and malnutrition (even though the Bible seems to promise that God would meet the basic needs of humans (Matthew 6:26)). Even were we to ignore the evils done by men in this life, there’s enough natural misery and suffering to take its place. Animals eat each other to survive. Bacteria and viruses compete with us to maintain existence (and often win). Tsunamis, earthquakes and floods devastate the planet’s inhabitants on a regular basis. Then there’s the joy of watching one’s parents waste away from cancer or dementia. Some get to watch this happen to their own kids.

    I don’t know. Maybe religion is the only way we can witness these horrors without throwing our hands up in despair and putting a gun to our heads. I certainly don’t wish to rip anyone’s only means of comfort away from them. If that’s what keeps you going, more power to you. Just understand that some of us come to different conclusions about the realities of the universe for reasons that have nothing to do with an unwillingness to believe.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

      Religion is the only way to witness the horrors and not be overcome by them. Imagine a world where the only other option is determinism or random action. A world without meaning is a cruel affliction but often self-inflicted. The atheists who deride the God in whom the virtue is honed that ameliorates suffering fail to see that their criticism comes from a moral vision that atheism itself is powerless to provide.

      • Fr. Hans,

        I enjoy reading this sight because I truly enjoy your theology and want to thank you for being such a splendid instrument of God’s love. I did have a question for you that has befuddled me for a while. I’ve spent a great deal of time watching atheists (Matt Dillahunty for example). Yet in all my research, and what I have seen on Youtube or other mediums, not one has explained an alternative to what God in our lives can provide. Namely, where do they get their hope? I watched “The Atheist Experience” after the Sandy Hook tragedy where Dillahunty’s colleagues (he wasn’t on that episode) merely said, “it sucks.” It seemed to be a concession, that in such horrible circumstances, they can’t provide any sense of solace. I just can’t bring myself to understand that. All their time has been spent regaling us with their belief in a superior intellect and their rationale for their Atheism. Yet they have never once provided a solution. What solutions have they offered? You would know this more than I have because you have debated atheists and perhaps, Mr. Dillahunty shared with you where he gets his hope over that beer that you offered him!

        thanks for everything,

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse says

          Larry, I don’t think Dillahunty thinks it through that far. It’s easy being an atheist in a Christian culture because the atheist still enjoys the fruits of Christendom (even in a weakened Christendom such as ours). In a country where atheism is enforced like it was in the Soviet Union however, atheism ceased to be an ideology except officially and most of the country just slipped into terminal despair — not Christian certainly but not atheist activism either.

          Sometimes when I run into Bertrand Russel who wrote in a time when the Christian moral consensus was stronger than today, when Christendom was more Christian, I find his criticisms against Christianity childish, even petulant in a way. It was easy being the randy contrarian when there was virtually no chance of suffering the fallout that atheistic culture could (and did) produce.

          As for atheists like Hitchens (RIP) and Dawkins, they act like they get their cues from Hollywood publicists. Nothing like a shocking declaration or two to get attention. Take for example Hitchens’ attack on Mother Teresa. What possible point could that have except to shock, to raise capital among people who think Vanity Fair represents serious thinking? It really reaches no deeper than that.

          Atheists have no hope, or at least hope drawn from atheism because atheism can’t provide any. Atheism leads in only two directions: 1) nihilism, or 2) dancing with demonic forces. The latter is not atheistic strictly speaking, but it is anti-monotheistic. Yet, Dawkins, Hitchens and other professional atheists don’t deal with nihilism much either. The royalties take care of that. Dillahunty on the other hand is the son of a Fundamentalist preacher. When I debated him, I saw the concept of God he held was the Fundamentalist god of his youth.

          If an atheist has hope, then the reasons for it are drawn from elsewhere. It’s the same with morals. Atheists might be fine upstanding citizens that pick up after their dog and don’t stiff the waitress and might even think that committing adultery, killing, stealing and the other big sins are, well, sins. But they don’t get these virtues from atheism. I mentioned this to Dillahunty during the debate and he did not like that although he admitted that the work of atheism and morals still needed to be done.

          What is atheism really? Well, presuming it is not chosen because one has not yet found God (that happens), atheism in its true Nietzschian sense is a revolt against the hierarchy and order of creation. Repudiating hierarchy repudiates God. That’s a terrifying prospect if one has their head put on straight, which is why atheism, when it enters culture and sows its destruction, is usually wrapped inside an ideology like Marxism and more increasingly Progressivism. One must promise a temporal New Jerusalem in order to justify the overthrow of those who wait for the New Jerusalem from heaven.

          So yes, they have offered no solution. They can’t. Atheism has no solution to offer.

          One of my favorite paintings that used to instruct me when I was a younger. I saw in it the realization of a young man who saw the futility and horror of a world where no transcendent or enduring meaning exists. It would help keep my mind on the important questions. A sense of mortality has replaced the painting as I have gotten older.

          Edvard Munch — “The Scream

          • M. Stankovich says

            I must say that in reading your observations, you speak of a class of individuals who are scholars, and bear very little resemblance to the “new atheists” these authors surveyed, if I may return to my original point. I will tell you that the difference in teaching undergraduates from the time I casually began with psych majors at CUNY in the late 1980’s and now is truly astonishing. That is me in Munch’s painting (stolen and currently missing, by the way) screaming at reading the 15-page papers required of senior majors in psychology! Madonna mia! It is disheartening, and as an instructor, uninspiring to be faced with such less-than-mediocre “scholarship,” and be forced to lower the academic threshold under pressure.

            On the other hand, it is somehow academically inspirational to see the photographs of the gatherings of Sartre, Camus, Genet, DeBeauvoir, and the rest who were such brilliant scholars, philosophers, writers, playwrights, and poets. Or Blessed Bishop Basil (Rodzianko), who basically kept me silent and in awe in his description of his participation as a delegate to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991: though he spent days “engaged” with the Communists delegates, with no pretension that he had changed their minds in the moment, he said they made it a point to shake his hand as they departed, stating they respected him and the caliber of his argument. The “new atheists” are unwashed, unlearned, and lazy “scholars” and would wilt at Hitchens and Dawkins (if they even recognized the names). I am surprised that they don’t even read Roiling Stone,” the vanguard of anarchy & opposition for my generation (though it bears little resemblance), let alone Vanity Fair. It is a continuous battle to get them to read, period. Without blaming them, I believe you give them much more intellectual and philosophical capacity than they deserve.

            How is possible to utterly destroy the innate longing for God imputed to us in the creation? It is this internal conflict that is the source of Sarte’s nausée, Kierkegaard’s ennui, Camus’ angst, and the Nietzschian “revolt” you identify. I truly believe that these “new atheists” will be reached by signs and examples of daily holiness on our part, not by more words and instruction. Was it here I read, why didn’t Hitchens customarily “lash out” at a moderator of one of his presentations? Because he sensed the moderator “really believed” what he spoke. Why did the figure of Fr. Florovsky draw such attention on Princeton’s campus? I believe because of his genuineness. Why is this “new atheism” bound up in such “emotion?” As St. Seraphim said, ““Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Fr. Schmemann delivered the first Nicholai Zernov Memorial Lecture in London, and reduced to argument to one word, “joy,”:

            There is in fact no theological definition of joy. For we cannot define that sense of joy which no one can take away from us, and at this point all definitions are silent. Yet only if this experience of the joy of the Kingdom in all its fullness is again placed at the centre of theology, does it become possible for theology to deal once more with creation in its true cosmic dimensions, with the historic reality of the fight between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the prince of this world, and finally with redemption as the plenitude, the victory and the presence of God, who becomes all in all things.

            It is ridiculous to imagine one answer to this dilemma, but it seems to me a reasonable beginning point.

            • Archpriest Alexander F. C. Webster, PhD says

              Thanks, Dr. S, for your thoughtful reflection on the “new” atheists, particularly your closing point about joy. My thoughts turn immediately to the Apostle Paul’s gracious extolling of the Christians themselves in Philippi as “my joy and my crown” (Phil 4:1) and in Thessaly as “our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:20), and, even more wondrously, Metropolitan Antony Bloom’s favorite personal name for God the Holy Trinity in his devotional classic, Beginning to Pray.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Mr. Bradshaw, for many years when young, I though much as you do. At that time two things turned me toward Christ: in the study of philosophies and other religions of mankind it was the Chrisitan faith that gave the clearest reason for evil and how to overcome it (not just endure it) and a personal experience with the living God.

      Now that I am older there are two things that keep me in the faith: Chrisitianity offers the best answer for why there is any goodness in the world (it is that goodness which overcomes the world) and a continuing experience with the living God that is consonant with the experiences described by innumerable Chrisitian saints down through the centuries. The lives of the saints provide us with the longest, unbroken scientific experiment with which I am familiar: If one does thus and so (pray, fast, give alms, worship and most of all repent, communion with God will occur and be manifest). While I am certainly not in their class of holiness being little more than a wretched sinner, God is merciful and reaches out to me in the mysteries of the Church to let me know He is here, a piece of bread from His table at which the saints feast with Him.

      Often my reason tells me that what I know to be true in my heart is a delusion, but as St. Paul so aptly said: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”(Heb.11:1).

      So I have to ask, where is your faith, in things seen and felt that pass away into dust or in the unseen reality of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ Incarnate whose love does not pass away?

      It is not a facetious question but it is one to ponder in your heart. Flesh and blood will not reveal the answer to you, nor can you remain as you are now.

    • “Goodness is Tested by its Encounter with Evil”

      In 1972, Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Surouzh participated in a discussion aired on British radio. His opponent was the British journalist Anatoly Goldberg (1910-1982), an agnostic who was born in Riga, Latvia and later emigrated to Great Britain. The following discussion became a chapter in a book entitled, God: Yes or No? Discussions between believers and unbelievers, published by Nikea publishers (Moscow), who granted permission to publish it. We present an English translation of that discussion here.

      –Metropolitan Anthony, I have known people who became religious because they were tormented by the question of the manifestation of evil. I also have known people who have become disillusioned by religion for that same reason. The first category felt or came to the conviction that the concept of good and evil could not have come into being by itself, that good and evil must have been created by a higher power. Why good exists is of course obvious to them, but they hoped to find the answer in religion to why evil exists. The second category, those who became disillusioned with religion, arrived at the conviction that religion does not answer the question of how to reconcile the existence of an omnipotent God, Who personifies goodness and justice, with what happens in the world–not only in the realm of human relations, but also in nature, where chaos, strife, and cruelty reign. What answer can you give to that question?

      –This is a very difficult question in the sense that one really can come from the same postulate either to belief or to doubt. It seems to me that a Christian would give approximately the following answer: Yes, God is omnipotent, but He created man free, and this freedom necessarily carries with it the potential for both good and evil; the potential for deviating from the law of life or, to the contrary, participating in this law of life. It seems to me, this question of freedom is central to the problem of good and evil. If God had created man incapable of deviating, then man would be just as incapable of anything positive. For example, love is unthinkable outside the category of freedom. You can’t give of yourself when it is impossible to refuse giving of yourself; you can’t love a person if that means a purely mechanical relationship. If there were no freedom to refuse or renounce; if there were, finally, no possibility of evil, then love would be no more than a power of attraction, a power that binds all units, but does not create any kind of moral relationship between them.

      –Why? Does that mean that evil exists only to distinguish good, by way of contrast?

      –No, I do not think that it exists for that reason; but where there is the possibility of one, the possibility of the other inevitably follows. Of course, if we were simply perfect beings, incapable of making a wrong choice, evil would exhaust itself; but it would nevertheless exist as a possibility.

      –But do you allow that God, the omnipotent God, cares for people, watches after human fates, helps people, and makes sure that evil does not triumph on earth?

      –Yes, I am deeply convinced of this. Again, from my Christian point of view, I definitely do not picture God as an unresponsive God Who created man, gave him this terrible freedom–which can ruin and destroy everything–and then, (I will use the image provided by Ivan Karamazov) “waits” somewhere at the end of time for the moment when He will judge and condemn man for not using his freedom the right way. I do not imagine God to be that way. I imagine God as responsible, a God Who created man and life, but Who does not just wait at the end for the moment when He will settle accounts. And the fullest extent of this responsibility that God takes for life and for His actions, for His creative act, is the Incarnation–it is that God becomes Man, enters into history and immerses Himself to the end in its tragedy, then somewhere resolves this tragedy.

      –How and where does he permit this tragedy?

      –He does not outwardly permit it in the sense that death, sickness, and suffering continue to mow people down. But the relationship between one person and another can become something deeply different; the relationship to one’s own suffering can be something completely different; the relationship to another person’s suffering can, again, change deeply from this.

      –This means that, as a Christian, you definitely deny Voltaire’s thesis, which proceeds approximately from the assumption that God created man, gave him everything necessary–first of all reason–and then considered His task done. If people are guided by reason then everything will be fine. If not, then that is their own business. This is essentially a quite logical explanation. However, from what you have just said, it seems you categorically deny this.

      –Yes. I simply could not imagine such a God because this would be so irresponsible an act, a simply immoral act, which would ultimately be the foundation and cause of all evil. It would be an irresponsible, evil act because: What right does such a God have to create us when He bears no responsibility for what we do, and will moreover someday judge us for it? What sort of God is that?

      –Voltaire did not say that God will judge us. He simply said that God has given man everything he needs, that God created the amazing mechanism and structure of man, most importantly–reason. Why is that irresponsible? Why would that be criminal?

      –Anatoly Maximovich, if the God you describe had created such a remarkable mechanism then it would not go so hopelessly wrong. It would mean that God, Who built this mechanism, is just a horribly bad mechanic and good for nothing. If that is the God we have, one who can’t even create a decent mechanism, then really we have nothing more to say.

      –But how do you explain the fact that God on the one hand cares for people, while on the other hand, over the course of the existence of all mankind, injustice has mainly triumphed over justice? At first this was explained by saying that when man is in trouble he is to blame for it–that means that it is all punishment for his sins. Then apparently that no longer satisfied people and they began talking about how God tests man, that He tests man’s faith–that of course relates to Job [St. Job the Longsuffering of the Old Testament]; but when this no longer satisfied people, then Christianity came along and began convincing people that suffering is something exalted. Do you agree with this somewhat simplified characterization of the development of human thought along these lines?

      –I agree; only those explanations that you have relegated to the past as something that have outlived their time are things that I do not see as outlived. Very much evil, suffering, and human torment comes from sin–only from sin in the sense that man is evil. He causes evil and suffering, and besides that, he deforms his own self, he becomes monstrous and ceases to be human.

      –I think that justice in this sense would be very unattractive. If happiness and prosperity were the rapid award for goodness, then goodness as a moral category would be guaranteed; it would be a basic calculation. I think that goodness becomes goodness precisely when a person can stand up against injustice, against unrighteousness, against suffering, and yet not renounce his own goodness, what seems to him–or what objectively is–goodness. If, let’s say, a person is generous but is sometimes deceived by others, and after trying to be generous one or two more times comes to the conclusion that it is not worth it to be generous, then his generosity is rather impoverished. It is a question of what kind of responsiveness he has. In every respect it seems to me that goodness is tested and subjected to examination by coming up against evil. I am not saying that this is essentially good; but undoubtedly a person grows into a completely new dimension, a completely new grandeur when he is capable of meeting face to face with suffering, hatred, sorrow, and terrible wars, and yet remain humane to the end, even grow to the greater measure of, let’s say, compassion, understanding, courage, and the ability to give of himself and sacrifice himself.

      –This is, after all, a somewhat complicated process. I entirely agree that the end result is desirable, but the acquisition process is very complicated. It is a very difficult path and it is rather hard to imagine that it couldn’t be achieved in a simpler way. But tell me: Does God concern Himself with the fate of mankind? If so, then how do you explain such a monstrous phenomenon as for example Hitler, who I personally consider absolutely exceptional, because in his case there weren’t even attempts to justify those evil acts by some higher, pseudo-ethical ideas. Instead it was stated clear and simple: We want to do evil. How do you explain such a phenomenon if you assume that God concerns Himself with the fate of mankind?

      –First, I am convinced that God concerns Himself with the fate of mankind. Second, I think that if there is freedom in man that was given by God, God no longer has the right to stand in the way of this freedom and destroy it. Otherwise it would look like this: God makes you free, but the moment you use that freedom in a way that He doesn’t like He flattens you and you are no more. There would be less evil in the world–that is, there would be fewer evil-doers, no Hitler or others like him. However, in fact the greatest evil-doer of them all would be that very God Who gives me freedom, but Who, the moment I make a mistake on my path or stray from it due to my madness, kills me, destroys me for it. I would say that the moral problem in this case would be worse than the former one… Just imagine what man’s life would be like! He would be living with the knowledge that if he does something wrong God will destroy him. Here is the next stage: because God knows everything and can foresee things, then the moment an evil thought comes into your mind, God may destroy you. That would be worse than a concentration camp! We would be living under the sword of Damocles all the time. Now He’ll kill me… maybe He won’t, no, He’ll kill me… no, He won’t… Thanks a million for such a God!

      –Could you repeat that…

      If God really made man free, that is, free to make responsible decisions that are reflected in his actions, then God no longer has the right to violate that freedom. He can enter a person’s life; but on an equal footing. That is how Christ became Man and died from that on the cross: yes, I understand that. If He had forced Himself upon life as God, that is, with all His omnipotence, omniscience, and so on, then the moment the earthly evil-doer, who was given his freedom by God, mistakenly uses that freedom not as he should, he would become the victim of Divine wrath; that is, he would simply be destroyed–killed. And even worse: so sooner would a person think about doing something wrong than God would destroy him on the spot, because God knows what would happen in the future. And all mankind, gifted with that cursed freedom, would be living in eternal fear. Ah, an evil thought slipped in–now I’ll be punished… Ah, I just had a desire for something I shouldn’t have–what will happen now?… That would be a monster and not God. He would be the greatest evil-doer of them all.

      –Then what does Divine intervention in people’s fate mean?

      –First, that God has instilled the laws of life in man; that is the yearning for all that is the fulness of triumphant life, triumphant love. Second, that He gave man the consciousness of good and evil. We did not make it up, it is not just a sociological phenomenon, because sociological forms change endlessly, whereas the understanding of good and evil runs like a thread through everything.

      –I agree with that entirely.

      –Furthermore: Through people who are faithful to Him, who know Him by experience, prayer, and life, God has said His word, shown the moral measures, and pointed out the moral paths. Because man’s conscience is a relative thing, clear to varying degrees, and wavering, He gave man the law; He gave man rules of life. Most important, God Himself entered into history through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He became Man and showed us in deed that one can pass through all the horror of life and suffering and never waver in love, righteousness, or purity; and that although this person was historically destroyed and crushed, he was not conquered. He achieved the full measure of his humanity; and that is truly a victory over evil that is much greater than if there simply were no evil.

      –This raises a whole series of questions, which I hope to discuss the next time.

      –That is perfectly clear. We are talking about how injustice triumphs over justice; in other words, how bad it is for those who are not such terrible sinners, who are perhaps even righteous.

      Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

      • James Bradshaw says

        Rostislav writes: “He created man free, and this freedom necessarily carries with it the potential for both good and evil”

        If this freedom is an intrinsic good, then the promise of eternal Paradise is contingent upon our continued “right choices”, yes? We are told both Satan and Adam were cast out of their respective places in Eden. Why would it be any different for the saved after death?

        While I find Calvinism repugnant in numerous ways, it does seem to address this problem by simply discarding the notion of free will entirely. The saved are guaranteed eternal bliss because they will never have the capacity to choose otherwise.

        Perhaps the answer is a matter of desire. Sure, I technically could take the life of someone I cared for, but there’s nothing in me that desires to do so, so why would I?

        Michael B asks: “where is your faith?”

        I have a hope of a sort. I’m not really a materialist in the sense of thinking the only reality is the physical. There’s a mystery to our existence, and we are told that even the atom, at its base, is nothing but energy. To assert that this energy somehow reacted in various ways to compose complex biological systems from prehistoric ooze (even if over eons) seems preposterous to me. So yes, I think there’s a designer. My hope is that we were built to give and experience love in this life and continue that in the next, but it’s a hope, that’s all. Beyond that, well, I’m uncomfortable being too dogmatic. I just don’t know, nor do I really trust the speculation of men, no matter how genuine or good they appear to be.

        • M. Stankovich says

          Mr. Bradshaw,

          I believe it is more correct to say “the promise of eternal Paradise is contingent upon our continued effort to make the right choices.”

          I occasionaly take a ride around to re-read some of past postings for the simple mission of demonstrating to myself what a verbose, blustering jackass I am. And there are certain things to which my mind is always drawn as a “fall-back” and “head-butt” for my verbosity, and that usually is the final chapter of the Book of Job. And it shocks me that after the whole of Great Lent in which we listen to the drama of the forging of the covenant of God & His people in the Book of Exodus, the Church prescribes the Book of Job for Holy Week; culmination at the Vespers of Great and Holy Friday, standing at the feet of the Lord crucified, and describing how everything was restored to Job, “And Job died, an old man and full of days.” (Job 42:17) What! You would think the only appropriate thing to read would be 16 verses above, when finally, face-to-face with God at whom he has railed, Job is humiliated:

          Then Job answered the LORD and said,
          “I know that You can do all things,
          And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

          ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
          “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
          Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

          ‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
          I will ask You, and You instruct me.’

          “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
          But now my eye sees You;

          Therefore I retract,
          And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)

          And this is specifically what Fr. Alexander Schmemann wanted to run home and tell his mother, so great was his astonishment, “things I had never heard in my life!” Job was the icon of the “man of endurance.” Job was there as the icon of every reason under the sun to abandon hope – “Then said his wife to him, Do you still retain your integrity? curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9) – but he endured until the end. And for this he is called “Job the Righteous.”

          My point to you is that all of us in this world struggle as you do, whether we will admit it or not, and better you are here than not. As someone who works in the midst of overwhelming human tragedy, “religion” can be a rationalization for “witness[ing] the horrors and not be overcome by them,” and I have written about this here. In my opinion, you do need to explain yourself, and I welcome your presence.

          • M. Stankovich says

            Pardon me, Mr. Bradshaw, I intended to say you do NOT need to explain yourself, and I welcome your presence. And it must be me, Fr. Hans, but I get three minutes to edit after posting.

            • Fr. Hans Jacobse says

              If you are using FF, hit CTRL + 5, Chrome CTRL + R, Safari on a Windows box CTRL + R. That clears the browser. You might have some extraneous java script hanging it up. I get 60 min on my end and it is set for 60 min.

  2. cynthia curran says

    Yes, I know of a lot of atheists against Christianity because of Hypatria’s murder The Greek philosopher in Alexandria in the 5th century.

  3. I am always struck with any atheist commenting on the tragedies which occurred at certain times and places during the Christian era while they neglect to mention that they killed more people in one century than all the religions and all the wars of the world combined and still believe they achieved the “progress of mankind” in doing so.

    Besides, for me, the term “atheist” is synonymous with irrational bigot, because it is predicated on the notion that one derives ones faith structure on being convinced that he has proven a negative: “there is no GOD!” they pound on the table while offering no empirical (or any type of objective) evidence to make such a ridiculous claim. An atheist would call any contention that maintained it had proven a negative as the basis of its “faith” or “ideology” ridiculous, impossible, even stupid. Yet just such an impossible foundation is the root of atheism. When it is pursued militantly by infringing others of their rights to pursue their convictions unhindered then it is clear it is pathologically depraved.

    At best, an honest person lacking faith can be nothing more than agnostic. For one can either not know or know by Faith.

  4. M. Stankovich says

    Whenever I am presented with something described as an “unique” presentation – in this case the “new” atheist, suggesting the end of the “old” atheist” – my first inclination is to test the validity of the proposal. This is, in my estimation, much ado about… college students. And worse, American college students. Fr. Schmemann chided that everywhere he turned he heard the phrase, “post-Christian era, the whole Christian world-view on the one hand, and the culture and society in which we live on the other,” while Fr. Florovsky noted, “It is quite usual in our days, and indeed quite fashionable, to say that we are already dwelling in a “Post-Christian world”—whatever the exact meaning of this pretentious phrase may actually be—in a world which, subconsciously or deliberately, “retreated” or seceded from Christianity.” The authors of this “study” apparently missed the lecture indicating that the average college student is considered developmentally as a late adolescent, leaving the late Allan Bloom from the University of Chicago to sum it all up in The Closing of the American Mind that young people are not taught and have lost any appreciation for philosophy, history, literature, and art, (as Bloom so classically pondered, “They walk past the ruins without the slightest curiosity as to what was once there.”) leaving me to conclude that it is highly unlikely we are even discussing “atheism” on a comparable morphological level of comprehension! Wow, I’m hearing Roger Daltrey singing “Come meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” from a bangin’ version of “We Won’t Get Fooled Again.” As my aged colleague from Ghana-via-London repeatedly tells me, “The test of the pudding, Michael, is in the tasting,” I suspect a protracted examination of the “new atheist” would reveal little more than the phasic existential ennui described by Kierkegaard as the consequence of a lack of structure and formalized direction in one’s life – and, it seems to me, typical of the final process of emerging from adolescence into adulthood: “This too shall pass.”

    Today is the 34th anniversary of the death of Fr. Georges Florovsky – which I will note seperately – and I believe he would cut through all these supposed “lessons” for a better Christianity by his insistence that we read (and re-read) the conversation between St. Seraphim of Sarov and Nicholas Motovilov:

    ‘Is it really possible for people to see God so openly?’ But there is nothing incomprehensible here. This failure to understand has come about because we have departed from the simplicity of the original Christian knowledge. Under the pretext of education, we have reached such a darkness of ignorance that what the ancients understood so clearly seems to us almost inconceivable. Even in ordinary conversation, the idea of God’s appearance among men did not seem strange to them. Thus, when his friends rebuked him for blaspheming God, Job answered them: How can that be when I feel the Spirit of God in my nostrils? (cf. Job 27:3). That is, ‘How can I blaspheme God when the Holy Spirit abides with me? If I had blasphemed God, the Holy Spirit would have withdrawn from me; but lo, I feel His breath in my nostrils.’ We have become so inattentive to the work of our salvation that we misinterpret many other words in Holy Scripture as well, all because we do not seek the grace of God and in the pride of our minds do not allow it to dwell in our souls. That is why we are without true enlightenment from the Lord, which He sends into the hearts of men who hunger and thirst wholeheartedly for God’s righteousness.

    When Motovilov acknowledges the brightness of Seraphim’s face and the warmth and comfort he feels despite the fact that they stand in the forest as it snows, St. Seraphim tells him:

    Our present state is that of which the Apostle says; The Kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Our faith consists not in the plausible words of earthly wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power (cf. I Cor.2:4). That is just the state that we are in now. Of this state the Lord said: There are some of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Kingdom of God come in power (Mk. 9:1). See, my son, what unspeakable joy the Lord God has now granted us! This is what it means to be in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, about which St. Macarius of Egypt writes: ‘I myself was in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.’ With this fullness of His Holy Spirit the Lord has now filled us poor creatures to overflowing.

    This seems as foolishness to the “post-Christian world” and the post-Christian Christians! “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” Unimaginable. It seems to me that the lesson here is that there is something shameful in our negligence to deliver the answers to those who seek them in the most unlikely sources.

  5. M. Stankovich says

    Today marks the 34th anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of Archpriest Georges V. Florovsky, arguably the most gifted and insightful Orthodox church historian, patristic scholar, Byzantine & Slavic history scholar, philosopher, and influential theologian and father of our generation and of the 20th century.

    Born in Odessa, Russa in 1893 to an Orthodox priest father and a mother who was a teacher, he was educated at the University of Odessa and said to have had an “encyclopedic mind and memory,” but the ability to “analyze with insight.” He fled Russia with his family to Prague where he completed his advanced education and taught philosophy until he was invited to hold the chair of Patristics at St. Sergius’ Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris in 1926. In 1948, he became the first Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York and simultaneously taught at Union Theological School (which originally housed SVS) and Columbia University. In 1956 he accepted the chair of Eastern Church History at Harvard University, and simultaneously taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, Massachusetts until 1964. From 1964 until his repose on August 11,1979, Fr. Georges was Visiting Professor at Princeton University. I have been told by friends who live in Princeton – and perhaps with a certain amount of “apocrypha” – that there are only two people who have literally stopped traffic simply by their appearance: the first was Einstein, and the second was Florovsky.

    While there is no question that Fr. Florovsky dramatically influenced modern church historians and commentators, and that he is nearly single-handedly responsible for what he termed the “new patristic synthesis, that is, one must return to patristic thought for a point of departure,” his influence was accomplished before his major works (e.g. The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century, The Byzantine Fathers of the Fifth to the Eighth Centuries, The Ways of Russian Theology), were ever translated into a Western language! Such was his extraordinary blessing as a scholar and theologian.

    Finally, what is frequently forgotten is that, for as much as Fr. Georges Florovsky was a theologian and father of our generation, he was an Orthodox priest very intimately involved in parish life, who loved the Liturgy, who loved to preach, who loved his role as confessor and pastor as his first calling. He is buried, simply, next to his beloved wife, in the parish cemetery of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church in Trenton, NJ. May his memory be eternal and may he rest with the saints!

  6. Seems their own are beginning to distance themselves from the bigotry and immorality of atheism… For the record, atheism is not “OK”: it is absurdity, because it is a faith (“anti-belief”) system founded on the premise of having proven a negative. That is irrational and impossible. Moreover, this hateful, neo pagan faith was responsible for the murder of over one hundred million in the twentieth century.

    How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet

    When did atheists become so teeth-gratingly annoying? Surely non-believers in God weren’t always the colossal pains in the collective backside that they are today? Surely there was a time when you could say to someone “I am an atheist” without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, “Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?” Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I’m put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I’m a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes.

    These days, barely a week passes without the emergence of yet more evidence that atheists are the most irritating people on Earth. Last week we had the spectacle of Dawkins and his slavish Twitter followers (whose adherence to Dawkins’ diktats makes those Kool-Aid-drinking Jonestown folk seem level-headed in comparison) boring on about how stupid Muslims are. This week we’ve been treated to new scientific research claiming to show that atheists are cleverer than religious people. I say scientific. I say research. It is of course neither; it’s just a pre-existing belief dolled up in rags snatched from various reports and stories. Not unlike the Bible. But that hasn’t stopped the atheistic blogosphere and Twitterati from effectively saying, “See? Told you we were brainier than you Bible-reading numbskulls.”

    Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are. I know this because some of my best Facebook friends are atheists. There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful. In the words of Robin Wright, they seem determined “to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers”. To that end if you ever have the misfortune, as I once did, to step foot into an atheistic get-together, which are now common occurrences in the Western world, patronised by people afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back for being clever, you will witness unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.

    So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity. Where earlier generations of the Godless viewed their atheism as a pretty minor part of their personality, or at most as the starting point of their broader identity as socialists or humanists or whatever, today’s ostentatiously Godless folk constantly declare “I am an atheist!” as if that tells you everything you need to know about a person, when it doesn’t. The utter hollowness of this transformation of a nothing into an identity is summed up by the fact that some American atheists now refer to themselves as “Nones” – that is, their response to the question “What is your religious affiliation?” is “None”. Okay, big deal, you don’t believe in God, well done. But what do you believe in?

    Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God. There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?

    • James Bradshaw says

      I’m going to project a little here, but I realize I can’t possibly speak for everyone.

      Though I consider myself a marginal Deist who believes in a First Cause but has rejected as improbable the existence of the God of the Bible, I nevertheless find myself at times praying to that very God. Because my intellect (or whatever it is) tells me that seeking such comfort is both a result of personal weakness and the conditioning of my culture, I tend to harshly repudiate these thoughts …. which can easily extend towards mocking those who hold the very ideas and beliefs that I apparently hold myself. What’s the old saying … “What we hate in others is often what we hate in ourselves”. Something like that.

      I’ve read numerous accounts of atheists in various blogs. Very often, it is less an outright rejection of God then a repudiation of a particular theology which they’ve come to understand as the whole of religion. For example, children brought up in harsh and possibly abusive households where God is portrayed as little more than a theological taskmaster may reject what they’ve come to see as yet another source of pain. Some who may have been force fed the God of the “Word Faith” movement eventually realize that good people sometimes suffer serious illness, disease and misfortune. So they reject the idea of a God who promises health, wealth and a large garage filled with expensive German sports cars.

      So, I think some of this is indeed based on emotion. As such, you’re going to find that people can appear to be obnoxious when touting their atheism.

      Thoughtful atheists and agnostics (like Bart Ehrman) who have only come to their beliefs (or lack thereof) after years of inquiry and study are usually not as hostile.

      When it comes to the atheist regimes throughout history, you’re dealing instead with men who sought to replace the worship of any god with the worship of themselves. It goes quite beyond emotionalism … it’s psychosis.

      • The psychosis of organized atheism. If that is what an ideology/faith system produces at its apotheosis, then it discredits it as any type of humanist model for “progress”.

        Atheism in practice murders without remorse once it obtains political power. It oppresses conscience. It acts in bigotry. It is predicated on the impossible and irrational notion that a negative has been proven.

        Whereas, on a personal level, atheism seems to be nothing more than a neo paganism where people essentially worship themselves as mortal gods. But when truth and morality lose all objective basis, the only thing which holds relevance is the power of coercion: social Darwinism reigns. The consequence being that all people are false gods and reality outside of brute force and display of power is absurd, a narrative of despair without respite. For all values, all non materialist considerations are denied in a nihilistic fugue.

        To wit, an atomized Stalinist or Nazi is not as bad as a state where such hateful ideology has come to power? Perhaps, but one is still bad and as an exponent of an ideology which has engaged in wanton murder is really a psychopath.

        Really, a Stalinist, Bolshevik, Nazi is just a particular breed of atheist, whose infamies are justified by the casuistry of materialism/Darwinism and its inherent amorality. Darwinism promotes survival at all costs. Objectively speaking therefore, a moral could which contradicts Darwinism is sin to an atheist. Amorality is the smokescreen for the actions which construct cultural relations and thus the culture may not live with a moral code, but is free to sink into a Darwinist immorality: indeed, it is the most appropriate mode of existence if one truly is a secular humanist materialist.

        Again, an agnostic or Deist is a person who has a more honest religious point of view. People of these orientations tend to be open and more tolerant. They tend not to be the pathological bigots atheists are.

        Ultimately, your disconnect, if I understand it correctly, is one where humanism conflicts with theology. So openness to exploring theological answers, without bias, is something which will enable you to navigate your course.

        The worst thing about the ideology (faith system) of atheism is that it traffics in ignorance of faith and the narrative of reality/existenz it gives meaning to. If you refuse to accept any meaning offered by faith as plausible because you hate its foundation, then you essentially assert a prejudiced approach which can never lead you to honest answers.

        The answer Orthodoxy offers you is that the meaning of life and existence, the most authentic accomplishment of humanism, is Christological, Eucharistic, offering an eschatology of human perfection where teleologically death is abolished, life continues, human achievement and potential limitless, where perfection can be a human process for eternity. Moreover, it offers you acceptance, love, receives you as who you are and takes your talents and channels them in the best that you can become.

    • How much smarter can you be when you adopt an ideology predicated on the irrational impossibility of having proven a negative?

      Thanks to a couple of surveys, it’s being put about in certain circles that atheists have higher IQs than believers. That may or may not be the case, but one problem with this argument is that, if you accept “average group differences in IQ”, you get into all sorts of sinister debates whichbien pensant atheist Lefties might find less to their liking.

      So let’s not go down that unhappy road. Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently.

      And guess what: it’s the believers. A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.

      In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health. In 2006, population researchers at the University of Texas discovered that the more often you go to church, the longer you live. In the same year researchers at Duke University in America discovered that religious people have stronger immune systems than the irreligious. They also established that churchgoers have lower blood pressure.

      Meanwhile in 2009 a team of Harvard psychologists discovered that believers who checked into hospital with broken hips reported less depression, had shorter hospital stays, and could hobble further when they left hospital – as compared to their similarly crippled but heathen fellow-sufferers.

      The list goes on. In the last few years scientists have revealed that believers, compared to non-believers, have better outcomes from breast cancer, coronary disease, mental illness, Aids, and rheumatoid arthritis. Believers even get better results from IVF. Likewise, believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better. Believers also have more kids.

      What’s more, these benefits are visible even if you adjust for the fact that believers are less likely to smoke, drink or take drugs. And let’s not forget that religious people are nicer. They certainly give more money to charity than atheists, who are, according to the very latest survey, themeanest of all.

      So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?

      Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.

      And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.

      Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

  7. cynthia curran says

    James, this is an Eastern Orthodox blog and Eastern Orthodox is a lot different than Evangelical Protestantism who everyone is very familiar with since Evangelical Protestants took the place away from the Mainline Protestants about 40 years ago. As for Bart Erhman I agree he is not one of the hostile ones and still has a vast interested in early Christianity.

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