In Luke 15, Christ shares two parables. One of them – the Prodigal Son – is the lesson that had me thinking today. For those not familiar with the story, a young man demands his inheritance. His father gives him his portion, and the young man leaves and squanders the money on wild living. When famine stuck, he lost everything and was destitute. Realizing that the lowest of his father’s servants lived better then he was, he returned home to beg for a place among the lowest of his father’s servants. When he saw his son returning, he clothed him in fine robes, adorned him with rings, and cried for a feast. “…let us eat and make merry: Because this my son was dead, and is come to life again: was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:23-24). A.N. Wilson, a British intellectual and long-time champion of atheism, has taken the path of the prodigal son and returned to the community of Christians. And he is one of several atheist intellectuals who have renounced their non-belief and come back to us.
Wilson, like many people, was raised Christian but lost his faith. According to him, the primary reason was that he had “…grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.” This is a common element in the United States as well. The atheistic culture of schools, colleges, and popular media are all around us. A kid wearing a Marilyn Manson t-shirt is acceptable; a kid wearing a ‘Got Jesus’ t-shirt is harassed by intolerant teachers. Two students in a San Francisco community college are assaulted by a professor – their crime? Praying for the health of one of their instructors. The atheist movement is essentially an ‘anti-‘ movement. Read their literature; they don’t stand for anything – theirs is a movement of dissent.
Religious institutions – especially the Catholic Church, with it’s vast structure and history – have become the targets for all social ills. Secularists will tell you that the church condoned slavery – my research into early colonial American history shows me that several Spanish priests spoke out vehemently against the practice. But we don’t study that in history class, do we? Historical discrimination against women – misogyny inculcated by the Church. The Enlightenment is taught as an atheistic, humanist movement. Yet Newton, Descartes, Faraday, Boyle – some great scientists and thinkers of the day were deeply religious. Another thing not taught in secondary schools and colleges.
Atheists are not born, they are made. This movement now has momentum. Bill Maher, in his highly-rated cable program and through movies like Religulous, are inculcating a new generation of atheists while supporting the ‘beliefs’ of the smug, pseudo-intellectual liberal humanist. Philip Pullman in his ‘Golden Compass’ series seeks to teach children that God is dead, the ‘Religion’ is a source of suppression and evil, and the Crowley mantra ‘Do what one will, that is the law’ mentality. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins lead the vanguard of atheists who lead the intellectual arm of their crusade. I recommend Ben Stein’s movie Expelled for an excellent treatment of the persecution of faith in education – and you get to hear Mr. Dawkins at his most absurd.
But there is a movement pulling people back. Wilson came to fame for writing the book “Jesus: A Life” that sought to disprove the divinity of Christ. Why has he returned? “materialist atheism is not merely an arid creed, but totally irrational.” Anthony Flew, the Spokesman Emeritus for atheism, “…followed the argument where it led him” in his search to understand the “integrated complexity of life.” Francis Collins, a prominent geneticist, sees God’s Hand in our genomes themselves. Alister McGrath has written prolifically on God’s hand in the natural world. He has also been a champion against the arguments postulated by Dawkins.
Our society has become secular. The humanist forces arrayed against us are ruthless and implacable. They are strident and often offensive – because they have to be. When your arguments are weak, you attack to belittle your opponents.
It is important that we stand firm in our beliefs, that we cleave to the tenets of our Faith and the Magisterium. But do so with a loving heart, Brothers and Sisters. It is easy in our outrage to be strident. When dealing with someone who attacks you because of your belief, fight the argument and not the person. Don’t descend into name-calling or dismissive, smug zingers like ‘yeah – well, Hell is forever!” Explain our position with patience. Take the high ground of the argument and you will find your opponent struggling. Let them call you names; let them fling invective. Why? Not only will it help our cause more in the long run, it may bring – it DOES bring – our lost brothers and sisters home. Mr. Nelson, closing his touching essay on how he re-discovered his faith, closes with something to remember.
“My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known – not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.”
You – we – are the emissaries of Christ now. Be the example for someone like our prodigal brother, who was lost to us and has returned. Fight we must, but fight with an open and loving heart.