Friday, January 24, 2014

Christopher Hitchens, Wikimedia
While looking for decent evangelical twitter feeds, I checked out Christian Post. There I found a two-part response (Part 1 & Part 2) by Wallace Henley to John Hagee's recommendation that atheists leave the country (“Planes are leaving every hour on the hour. Get on one...").

Henley writes to atheists, "Please don't go, because you teach us much." He then gives seven reasons, which are presumably some are those things that atheists can teach Christians.

  • The light is seen best against the backdrop of night. 
  • Hope gleams most brilliantly in the morass of despair. 
  • The appreciation for infinite transcendent lift is never felt more urgently than when we feel the imprisonment of the finite immanent. 
  • Faith is understood most profoundly in contrast to the futility of mere reason. 
  • Positive affirmation is best appreciated as the counterpoint to perpetual negation. 
  • Love shines brightest in the gloom of hate. 
  • A symphony is never lovelier than when it first arises from the cacophony of the warm-up. 
To summarize, 'Thank you, atheists, for reminding us that belief is superior to unbelief and making us feel good about ourselves."

Henley intersperses his explanation with quotes ("Thank you, non-theists, for inspiring us to think about the contrast," and "Thank you, atheists, for reminding us of the reality of true Transcendence by showing us the counterfeit.") He also peppers the article with biblical passages, such as Isaiah 9:2:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.
And, of course, he must include Psalm 14:1, "Fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.'"

While I wholeheartedly join him in rebuffing John Hagee, who tends to make grand pronouncements that can be ranked by the number of communities they offend, I find Henley's response to be just as tone-deaf. Firstly, Henley's use of scripture is not really that applicable to contemporary atheism. Whatever can be said about ancient atheism, whatever the Psalmist was referring to, it wasn't the likes of Christopher Hitchens.  Secondly, the author's reasons for wanting atheists to stay represents a skewed understanding of the value of diversity. While it is obvious that theists and atheists have a huge, fundamental difference in worldview, the benefit of their interaction should not be measured in how much your own beliefs are affirmed.
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