Friday, 7 June 2013

What the Church Can Learn from Young Atheists

In order to speak the Gospel effectively to young atheists the church first needs to understand them, which means listening to them. Some, at least, of their criticisms of the current church are valid. For example...

"These students heard plenty of messages encouraging "social justice," community involvement, and "being good," but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: "The connection between Jesus and a person's life was not clear." This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again."

As a Lutheran I would rather say we must "proclaim Jesus Christ and his teachings", lest we turn Jesus into just another founder of a religion rather the the Redeemer of humankind, but the import of Stephanie's criticism is clear. As a former young atheist (before it was fashionable), the responses in this article seemed very familiar. Read the whole thing here

There are many good Christian responses to the so-called new atheism out there; one I recommend to put into the hands of aspiring young atheists is 'Atheist Delusions' by David Bentley Hart, available in Australia through Koorong for $24.00. I don't agree with every facet of Hart's presentation of Christianity, but his critique of the new atheism is withering. How I wish Hart's book had been around when I was fifteen!

Thanks to colleague pastor Peter Kriewaldt for drawing my attention to the article.


Recovering Lutheran said...

Thank you for the post. I became an atheist at around age 16. Or to be more precise, I self-identified as an atheist since it seemed trendy and scientific, not because I had given it serious thought. I was deeply into reading science fiction, and the books and stories I read often went out of their way to mock religion in general and Christianity in particular. The article you linked to did not mention it, but I wonder how many of these young atheists were like me: withdrawn loners deeply into certain unhealthy elements of popular culture. What effect did it have on their decision to disbelieve?

I was struck by two things in the article. The first was the role the Internet played in the young atheists' conversion to unbelief. Christians should never forget that peer pressure - and I consider the Internet to be a form of peer pressure - is a major driving force in the lives of teens. The Internet is a place where there are no fact checkers, let alone very many cool heads. There are many websites that make wild, sensationalist claims, and because it is done in a slick, good-looking web site many teens automatically assume it must be true. Also, many teens are shy and socially awkward, and the Internet frees them from genuine human interaction.

The second was the degree to which emotion seemed to have played a role in their unbelief. I am not suggesting the emotions are unimportant, but as I grew older I found that emotion - not matter how powerful or raw - was a poor substitute for thinking. That is a lesson not usually learned by teens except after a few hard knocks delivered by life - and perhaps not even then.

Ironically, I lost my faith in atheism while in college, the time that is supposedly most dangerous for young Christians who may be away from home for the first time. I read a copy of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" as part of an English assignment, and later picked up a copy of "Miracles". The first book lit the fuse, and the second exploded my faith in atheism.

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for the comment, RL.
I agree on the internet and emotions in the young. Happy that we are both back in the fold!