Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Drive-By Atheism

I was walking out of the church building with a group of friends last evening when some guy driving past rolled his window down and shouted, “Jesus isn’t real.”
We’ve all been tempted to yell rudely out the window at other people from time to time. The guy who cuts you off in traffic might merit a “yahoo!”; the woman who walks cluelessly across the street while yakking on the cell phone deserves a “hang up and walk!” But I’ve never been tempted to verbally assault someone else’s faith convictions.
I wonder what motivates that. More to the point, I wonder why atheists these days are so boring.
Come on. Jesus is not real? How silly is that. That the man, Jesus, lived is all but self-evident unless one wants to believe that within a generation of his life a series of letters and other writings attesting to his life began to spring up in various small communities throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Oh, to be sure, nothing like contemporary history existed at the time so none survives. Moreover, the writings that do attest to him describe a poor man from a marginal background who led a ragtag group of outcasts on a somewhat Quixotic religious quest that led to a shameful execution – not the type of personage about whom history is ever written.
It beggars belief to suggest that writings describing such a life would emerge within 20 years of his death, and that small gatherings of people dedicated to living in the way of Jesus would similarly emerge. Who, if trying to found a religious movement – much less an institution – would make up a story about such a socially insignificant founding leader? Yet there is plenty of contemporaneous evidence of such writings and such communities.
So, I’m sorry Mr. Drive-by atheist, but Jesus was real.
As to the Christ of faith? Well that is, of course, a different kind of question altogether, and a much more interesting, nuanced and compelling one at that.
I find contemporary atheist dull and bombastic. They continue to slay a God who died a long time ago, and seem incapable of imagining any different image of God than the capricious, puppet master, omnipotent albeit slightly crazy old-man-in-the-beard-sitting-on-high being who rules the universe in a manner that is demonstrably unjust.
To unpack that just a bit by way of recent news, the God who protected some from the earthquake in Haiti but was somehow mindless of the 200,000 others buried under tons of rubble, is the strawman of contemporary atheism. To be sure, that God is also on the other end of the God-phone of many faithful people who often lose that faith when, in cruel blindness, this God happens to miss out saving a loved one from tragedy or disease. That God shows up all too often in the sermons at funerals of those who die tragically young and whose pastors attempt to comfort the survivors with some variation on “God just needed another angel so He called Billy home.”
Lousy theology and even worse pastoral care! But that theology describes a God at whom contemporary atheists take regular and loud aim – even out the windows of passing cars. That God is long dead, and well buried. It is a sad fact of contemporary faith that His funeral continues in houses of worship on many Sunday mornings (and on the Holy Days of other faiths as well).
The God toward whom Jesus points is a far more interesting power who works through human life in all its joys and its suffering to bring about redemption and resurrection. Where is that God amidst the rubble of Haiti? First, in the midst of it with those who suffer, but also empowering and sustaining all of those brave souls who are working tirelessly to dig out, to rescue and to restore – all those working for resurrection, for the rising up of new life from the very real deaths.
Christ lives in the midst of that suffering.
That God is known, as the Johanine literature of one of those ancient gatherings of people of way knew well, simply as love. And that is enough theology for today.


James said...

Excellent posting David. A bit of thoughtful observation is just what I needed at 11 p.m. after a tiring day.

Thelema said...

Interesting posts you have, though I think Christianity is dead and will be redeemed and brought to fruition and perfection through Thelema. Check out my blog at http://christianityisdead.wordpress.com/ if you will. Love is the law, love under will. ;)

Ron said...

David, I also appreciate this thoughtful and hopeful posting. I fear that I may have the "God-phone" type relationship with God that you've described but that feels better than the atheism I espoused from adolescence until age 24. It really helps me to believe in a personal, loving God who is there for me and those I care about every day. However, I don't believe God necessarily prevents or causes bad things from happening, and to date haven't given up on God when bad things, even really bad things happen to my loved ones, but I believe God merely supports us through those difficult times as well as celebrates with us the good times. I believe you, and Madeline before you as well as other spiritual programs, led me to that understanding of God.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing!

Christian Wright said...

Hey Lulu! How's it going?!? Hope all is well. Come see us sometime.

Pierre Radulescu said...

The God toward whom Jesus points is a far more interesting power who works through human life in all its joys and its suffering

Great Line!

Thanks David!

The Singing Farm Wife said...

I love your posts. They lift me up and make me think. Thanks.