Monday, 29 December 2014

Seven Steps for Atheists

You’re hard at it, my friends – some of you; but you need a more vigorous recruiting method if you’re to have a hope of turning the world atheist. For all the efforts of a number of your champions, you’re falling behind on a number of fronts. Ought you not perhaps to disown some of your more prominent up-front spokespersons – who only seem to be turning out the well-worn slogans and boring cliches of many centuries? As an outsider to your cause, then, here are a few tips – nothing too heavy:

1. Up-grade your message

The BBC, here in the UK, does you a good turn from time to time, in sticking an atheist on its ‘religious’ morning programme Thought for the Day. As a Christian I’ve done a number of Thoughts myself for them.But why do your representatives come up with such daft and stale utterances as that given by your Richard Dawkins? - “Humanity can now leave the cry-baby stage and learn that it has finally come of age.” We’ve heard this sort of thing before. My goodness – we would like to see some substantial indication of the truth behind Dawkins’ statement. When was the turning point of our growing-up supposed to have taken place?

It was the celebrated Professor C.E.M. Joad who thought that the point was being reached quite early in the twentieth century; that our problems could be dealt with as circumstantial - relating to environment, lack of education and the ‘growing pains’ of the human race. But Joad completely back-tracked in 1952, after the experience of two world-wars. In his book Recovery of Belief, he admitted that such a theory “has been rendered utterly unplausible by the events of the last 40 years. To me, at any rate, the view of evil implied by Marxism, expressed by Shaw and maintained by modern psychotherapy, a view which regards evil as a by-product of circumstances, which circumstances can therefore alter and even eliminate, has come to seem intolerably shallow.”

So, in the face of today’s escalating wars, conflicts and atrocities on a bewildering variety of fronts, it’s a suggestion (only a suggestion) that you do what we Christians have done. Despite all the world problems that perplex us, we at least have worked out a framework of thinking that takes account of how evil entered our world, what God has done about it and how we may confront it.Suggestion: let the ‘growing-up’ argument be tactfully ditched, and some re-thinking be done. If not Dawkins, then someone else should try a little harder.

2. Be positive about your atheism

All too often, the impression that we get given in the public is not of what you atheists are FOR, but of what you DENY –and that was Christianity.

It doesn’t add much to the argument when one of your representatives, Philip Pulman, declares, “Without a doubt Christianity will cease to exist in a few years.” Does he not know that the Emperor Diocletian even had a medal struck at the turn of the third century AD, to celebrate the end of Christianity? In the end it was the Roman empire that bit the dust. Voltaire some two centuries ago prophesied that the Bible would soon be obsolete. He would have been surprised if he had known that his own Parisian residence would one day be turned into a Bible depot.

No, the historian T.R. Glover is nearer the mark in his words, “The final disappearance of Christianity has been prophesied so often as to be no longer interesting.” See to it, then; surely you atheists can improve on these clapped-out sentiments?

And it is absolutely no answer at all, when asked what your world-view is, to answer “I’m an atheist”; what we would want to know is not what you don’tbelieve, but what you do believe, about life and its meaning, on this world. How do you interpret your own existence? What is life for?

It was Mahatma Gandhi years ago who was once asked to organise and promote an atheistic cult. He replied, “It amazes me to find an intelligent person who fights against something in which he does not believe.” Exactly. Atheism is a denial – and if it simply stays as that, then its only reason for existing is parasitic. So my tip for the atheist is, See if you can develop a positive message which does not rely on an adversary to keep its momentum going! Otherwise, all you will do is to harden and strengthen the defences of your opponents. So whatdo you believe – positively?

3. Be creative about your atheism

Forget what you’re trying to attack; there’s no lasting future in that. Instead, start to express your atheism creatively; to address sonnets to it, to createsculptures - and dedicate concertos to it. I’m not sure you have done much in this field of sheer creativity yet; symphonies, paintings, statues, poetry? Most of the art galleries in Europe seem to be stuffed with the work of Christians. See if you can fill the beautiful museums of this world with vivid and attractive expressions of your belief-system. Anything else? -

4. Be populist in your appeal

Rallies, for example. Oh, you need to do more than book a London theatre for an esoteric debate with some religious cleric. That will only feed yourselves. No, think towards filling the biggest football stadiums you can – with people who are ready (and even longing?) for something better than what they are living for now. Like Billy Graham has done at Wembley Stadium. Why you might even emulate him as he did in Korea, and have a million in your audience at a disused airfield! He and Pope John Paul; they did tend to think big. Work a little harder.

Can you do the equivalent of BBC Television’s Songs of Praise? Let’s hear your atheistic music with its positive lyrics than can lift, inspire and give new hope to millions!

5. Show us your virtues

It would be a help if you can show us around atheistic youth clubs and camps and summer houseparties and any work you may be doing among orphans; let’s see your family and play groups, and community centres.

Could you take us on a tour of your work among the down-and-outs and the homeless, and your equivalent of the Salvation Army’s soup kitchens? And your centres for Aids sufferers? And the hospice movement – had you thought of getting any homes established, and staffing them yourselves?

And – if we can be really adventurous – take us abroad for a peep at your leprosariums? I remember meeting Dr. Dennis Burkitt (of the Burkitt Lymphoma fame) out in Tanzania. He told me that he had been all over the tropics. Every single one of the leprosy hospitals he had ever visited were begun and run by Christians. Surely there must be one, run by an atheist organisation?

You see, I’m not absolutely sure that we have seen all that you have done, or could do, for suffering humanity. It’s only my tip….

6. Can you develop a ritual?

Every movement of substance needs a form of celebration, if it is to appeal to great masses of people. I suppose that the only really big atheistic movements in recent times were Communism and Fascism. And indeed for a while they did pull young people into their ranks, with marches, flags, songs, parades, medals and orchestrated adulation of the leadership. Have you plans for a similar exercise? Always assuming, I hope, that you would avoid the persecution of non-adherents - the burning of books, the pulling down of buildings and destruction of family life that seemed to go hand in hand with these organised movements?

So, I’d be glad to see how you celebrate your atheism. Which leads me to my last and seventh tip:

7. Let’s see some joy in your lifestyle

Oh we Christians have sometimes been accused of being kill-joys! Perhaps that has occurred when our beliefs have become rigidly nominal and mechanical. But visit a community which bears a close and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I would then ask whether you too have an infectious enthusiasm and joy that overspill with songs, love and practical service into the surrounding society, as theirs do, in community after community, in country after country – even when the government and the media try to shut down their operation. We have millions of martyrs on our roll of honour. I have known some of them. They were honoured to die for Christ. How far would you be prepared to be killed for your beliefs?

Are your prophets and your champions happy people? Do they come across that way? For they – and you also – will certainly need to show some joy, if others are to be drawn like a magnet into the sheer satisfaction of an atheistic world-view that really holds together and makes sense of the universe!

So, try a little harder. Seven tips, my friends. I wonder if this helps.