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A Woman’s Response to “New Atheism”

By April 25, 20105 Comments

Today I read an interesting articled published in First Things magazine by David B. Hart entitled “Believe It Or Not.” Hart is a Christian apologist who specifically grapples with the beliefs of New Atheism, and he does so in his book Atheist Delusions. This most recent article is written as a response to a recently published book titled 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists.

In case you aren’t familiar with the “New Atheism” that has risen in popularity in our culture, the term refers to a brand of Atheism that is extremely critical of and sometimes hostile towards religion, and in turn touts science as the antidote. The reason I’m bringing it up on my blog is that it’s an issue about which we as women should not only be concerned, but also well-informed.

What is particularly troubling about the New Atheism is that it has risen to popularity on the coattails of out-dated ideas, a point that Hart makes in his article. And while the lack of originality would seem to be a plus, it actually reveals a startling complacency amidst the church. New Atheism is raising concerns and objections that Christians addressed centuries ago, but so few of us are familiar with these arguments that we are ill-equipped to respond. As a result, we have witnessed the birth of a new generation of Atheists who believe they are genuinely challenging the Christian faith in new and original ways, especially because many Christians can only offer a babbling response.

This predicament aims a particularly searing critique at Christian women. It is not uncommon for Christian women to chuckle about how much their husbands enjoy discussing theology, all the while shrugging off their own lack of interest. “I just don’t understand that stuff” is the common excuse. Ladies, if you are someone who brushes off these important questions because it does not interest you, let me gently challenge you to repent of this mindset. While we are not all called to achieve advanced degrees in this area, the rise of the New Atheism has been made possible by our theological apathy.

Not all Atheists are men. Nor do they all live in ivory towers. They are your neighbor, your co-worker, maybe someone in your family. There are women who squarely reject God on philosophical grounds who will never enter your church to hear your pastor’s defense. That’s why they need to hear it from you.

Of course not all of us are philosophically minded, but that’s no excuse for not having thought through some of the questions that Atheists are asking. Consider the following:

  • Some Atheists object to the existence of God because He failed to answer their prayers when they needed Him most. How would you respond to that seeming betrayal?
  • Others object to the existence of God because they don’t understand how a good God could allow evil to exist in the world. How would you respond to this problem in a manner that avoids being cliché or pat?
  • Some Atheists are so repulsed by corruption within the church that they write off God altogether. How might you respond to this objection, taking seriously the very real mistakes of the church?

What is striking to me about some (though not all) of the Atheist objections to God is that they are sometimes founded upon an emotional reflex. Something bad happened to them in relation to the church or Christians, so they reject God altogether. And while that is by no means a sound philosophical argument against the existence of God, many Christians have a faith born out of the same basic reasoning; an equal but opposite reaction. It is a Christianity based upon sentimentalism, but not an understanding of WHY God is real and worth trusting your life with.

So while I do not mean to imply that reason trumps faith, nor is it a more powerful evangelistic tool than unconditional love, reason should certainly be a factor. As 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 reminds us, there will never come a time when the wisdom of God is anything but foolishness to a blind world, but we are still called to love God with both our hearts and our minds. So spend some time reading about these difficult issues. Few of them have tidy answers but the important thing is that you engage the questions, because as we are learning, your skeptical neighbors and friends certainly are.


  • J Pappa says:

    Great post Sharon! Thanks for the encouragement to go deeper. It really helped when someone told me that it wasn’t a matter of whether I’m smart enough to understand theology. It’s only a matter of whether or not you want to know God better. It’s “the study of God”… not just a bunch of jargon. Thanks for simplifying “theology” into at least three very real, important, applicable questions. 🙂

  • Emily says:

    “Gently challenge”–that made me chuckle a little. Sharon you and I both know that you would rather “strongly” challenge. 🙂
    But seriously, I really have never heard that term New Atheism. so they are like “old” atheism except angrier?

  • Sharon says:

    Haha yeah the term is a little ironic because there’s not a whole lot that’s new about it. It primarily refers to a group of vocal atheists who have found an audience in the mainstream culture.

  • Kelsea says:

    Sharon, thank you for posting this. As someone who did not believe in the existence of God from the time I was 15 until I became a Christian when I was 20, I know that one of the things that makes “New Atheists” most angry is the unwillingness of some Christians to even think about tough questions like the ones you posed. It is so important to be able to answer these at a “head level” as well as a “heart level.” More than anything, I think atheists want to be engaged as people with valid questions rather than just “sinners who won’t see the Truth.” Thanks again for drawing attention to a group of people in our culture who can be very difficult to help, but perhaps need it more than most.

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks for that perspective, Kelsea! You are so right. Rather than respond in anger when someone disagree with you, it’s important to listen and genuinely engage their questions with humility and love. (James 1:19)

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