Atheist Richard Dawkins offers a description of God in 23 adjectives: “jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynist, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal…, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Dawkins doesn’t just disbelieve in God; he detests Him. Dawkins has bought the hermeneutic of suspicion.
In 1976, faith was “a blind trust that goes against the evidence”. Then in 1989, faith is “a mental illness”. Now, in recent years, faith according to the new breed of atheists, is “one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate” (Alister McGrath). Dawkins even suggested that faith in God is morally reprehensible. The hermeneutic of suspicion.
John Shelby Spong tells about Michael Goulder, who unlike Richard Dawkins, describes himself as a “non-aggressive atheist.” He asserts that God has no real work to do. It’s not so much “Is God good?” The question for Gould is “What good is He?” This God no longer fights wars and defeats enemies. This God no longer chooses a special people and works through them. This God no longer sends storms, heals the sick, spares the dying, or even judges the sinner. This God no longer rewards goodness and punishes evil. God is an unemployed deity. Goulder asserts that the church has entered exile. God now rings with a hollow emptiness. The power once ascribed to this God is now explained in countless other ways. God is irrelevant.
It’s the Nietzschean “God is dead” line all over again. Americans are really fulfilling the prophecy of a syphilitic and eventually insane German, but a brilliant philosopher. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote over 100 years ago, “God will be dead in the 20th Century.” He was a very bright man. He didn’t argue that there wasn’t a God in the Heavens. One could look at the stars and galaxies all in perfect harmony and know there was a God. What Nietzsche argued was that people would live as if God does not exist – and that’s precisely what we are doing; that they would kill God – and that’s what happened in the 20th Century and what is happening in the 21st.
Nietzsche had a hermeneutic of suspicion (Tim Keller). He suggested that religion was not just a product of wish-fulfillment (Freud); it was not just a way to control the masses (Marx); it was the suggestion that God doesn’t matter anymore. Nietzsche attacked our motives for being religious. We create religion so that we can feel good about ourselves, so that we have a system of payment for the bad things we do. And there is substantially no life difference between atheists and theists.
Rebecca Manly Pippert shares her story (Hope Has Its Reasons). A conversation with a Harvard professor went something like this: “Even though I am an atheist, I genuinely admire people like you who take faith seriously. There is no question that the human race needs help. But honestly Becky, isn’t life the same whether we believe in God or not? Don’t all of us long to be loved and understood?… Life is difficult for all of us. I don’t think cancer cells ask before entering a body, ‘Excuse me, are you a praying person?’ And don’t all of us, believers as well as skeptics, raise our children the best we can? And some make it and some don’t, leaving us with broken hearts and dashed hopes whether we believe in God or not?… And don’t believers fail morally? I grant that many of you do better in certain areas than we do. But I have met my share of religious people who were racists, gluttons, self-righteous, and full of pride, all the while mouthing religious platitudes… What possible difference does God make?”
That Harvard professor’s critique of religion is right on. Believers aren’t exempt from pain. They experience illness, sexist bosses, unemployment, violence, and marital problems just like everyone else. Christians fail morally. We are deeply flawed people.
What difference does religion make? The answer is “No difference.” It is easy to be just religious versions of the same people we’ve always been.
The atheists have it right. Religion is a power play to control others. It is the opiate of the masses. It’s a pain-killer. It’s a crutch for the weak. It’s a way to justify our behavior and allows us to feel good about ourselves. This is the way religion was perceived and what we learn is that Jesus Himself was anti-religious too and had some of the same issues that Frued, Marx, and Nietzche had with organized religion. That’s why he blasted the religious establishment guys, the Pharisees, like He did and kicked over tables and “violated their rules” like He did.
But what happened was that the ideas of these anti-religious establishment philosophers transferred over to God. Now people seem to see God one of two ways. “God does not exist, so life is meaningless.” Or, “God does exist, and here are the rules – keep them.” Jesus offers a corrective to all this and basically asserts that “I have fulfilled any requirement necessary to procure the salvation of mankind. All religion is inadequate and insufficient. And if you want to know what God is like and how He feels about humanity, then look at my life.”
Christianity goes beyond Judaism. It’s not just repackaging of the same system. Judaism (religion) could not contain it and it answers the deeper questions of life. Christianity blasts the lie that we’re OK or that we’re in charge. It shatters our religion. We can’t hide behind religion anymore. We want God without the hassle of looking at the mess we’ve become. Christianity forces you to look at the mess you’ve become.
What Nietzsche failed to consider is that in Christianity, God himself became the payment. In no other religion, do you have god or the gods becoming a payment for human evil. Stott says it best: “For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” The tragedy is that when people turn away from God and turn to religion or man-made theories, they begin to see themselves as the center of the universe and they miss grace. We hate not being god, just like Dawkins.
I deeply believe that the crisis we face today is not a crisis of the economy or the stock market or health care, the real crisis in American life today is a crisis of values. What can we believe in anymore? There is only one answer. God became flesh. He became a person in the person of Jesus Christ. He’s come over from the other side of the hedge to let us know that there is a true and living God, and that an unseen world parallel to this one exists and there is a great battle raging for the minds and allegiance of creation.
Religion has been replaced by Relationship.