Some might not believe me when I say that I’m grateful for the New Atheist movement, but I am. This is not to say that I agree with their position, or even find it reasonable. In this blog, I’ve been hard on them, and they deserve it. The confidence and scorn with which they attack all religion is wildly out of proportion with the (lack of) evidence and logical rigor they provide as support for their claims.
Still, I’ve come to disagree with David Bentley Hart’s sentiments:
The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike.
I, too, feel a sense of loss when I think about the shallowness of the modern discussion on religion. But I don’t think the New Atheists can be viewed simply as the most recent chapter in a tale of intellectual regression. They can, just as easily, be seen as the first chapter in the return to a more robust understanding of spirituality.
The church has been wading in shallow intellectual waters for some time. And the New Atheists, for all their sloppiness of thought, their commitment to rhetoric over rationality, and their refusal to understand the subject being discussed, have forced the Church to think.
That is, a group of raging atheists calling Christians moronic, while using arguments that just a little study could overcome, was probably the perfect motivator for Christians to engage their minds in their faith. For the first time in far too long, Christians en masse are starting to take seriously the idea that every Christian should be intellectually engaged.
This has not only meant more intellectual honesty, but also the opening up of an entirely new dimension of faith. I, for one, have been amazed at how much deeper an intellectually engaged faith can go than the basically emotional faith I had as a teenager. I think many are feeling this difference, and hope that many more will follow.
While it was the last thing they intended, the New Atheists have done a lot to bring this change about. They may well have set in motion events which will lead to theism being stereotyped as the intellectual position. Thus, while it wouldn’t be polite to thank them for it, I am grateful for what God is doing through them.