2006-11-17 3 comments

Why some atheists make good sense

Just got finished reading an interesting column in a recent Newsweek. I thought I might take a few minutes over a few different posts to respond.

So, take a minute to read this column, and let's sit a spell -- to use the parlance of my southern West Virginia roots -- and talk a bit about it, point by point.

"Given the most common interpretation of of Biblical prophecy, it is not an exaggeration to say that nearly half the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world. It should be clear that this faith-based nihilism provides its adherents with absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilzation -- economically, environmentally or geopolitically."

First, let's nit-pick. As Christians, we are not anticipating the end of the world. We are anticipating the perfection of the fallen world in which we live. This is an important distinction that thsoe critical of Christians miss.

His second point, that Christians have no incentive to build a sustainable civilization smacks of truth, unfortunately. In an earnest desire to avoid an attitude the Bible warns about -- that the world comes to love the creation more than the creator -- many Christians from older generations take that thought to its extreme. Why recycle when we live in a dying world anyway? Because it's good stewardship, that's why.

Then, you must look at the shifting sands of Christian culture. We are rapidly moving beyond the fundamentalist thought of pre-Baby Boomer Christendom. Now, don't misunderstand: Christian beliefs are Christian beliefs, truth is truth, Jesus is the only way to salvation. Anyone who would say that we must concede bedrock principles to make ourselves relevant to post-modern culture does so at his peril. Jesus is Truth. Any orthodoxy that would distance itself even minutely away from that universal fact is flat-out wrong.

But the newer generations are embracing social activism, and that includes a healthy respect for economic, environmental and geopolitical issues. Christians are leading the way in pushing for greater worldwide assistance to the crisis in Sudan, for example. A weekend retreat I attended with a number of other young Christian men -- The Outpost -- had as one of its sessions a discussion entitled Environmentalism from a Christian Perspective.

As our generation of Christians become more educated and aware of our role in the world, we conversely become more aware of those issues that traditional evangelicals didn't embrace. It's not that they were wrong; they just didn't know any better (I hope that doesn't sound condescending ... it's not meant that way, I assure you.)

Our attitudes about the creation should reflect those about the Creator. I firmly believe that. And it's not because we can change the order God has set in motion. It's because, as Christians, our attitude about the world should be pure, beautiful and caring. Just like Jesus.

(Talking about Bush's stance against adult stem cell research) "Specifically, he believes that there is a soul in every 3-day-old human embyro, and the interests of one soul -- the soul of a little girl with burns over 75 percent of her body, for instance -- cannot trump the interests of another soul, even if that soul happens to live inside a petri dish. Here, as ever, religious dogmatism impedes genuine wisdom and compassion."

Let's nit-pick again. If Harris is an atheist, then why should he care about the soul of a little girl with burns over 75 percent of her body? Does she even have a soul? Do atheists believe in souls?

But you know what? He's right. This following point I'm about to make actually makes me cringe, because it smacks of the type of argument unbelievers make about Christ when they don't actually know Him. But the point is that Jesus Himself fought against the religious authorities of His day with a vengence, partly because in their narrow-minded dogma they missed the point.

Christians, by relying too much on their religious apparati instead of the personality and teachings of Jesus Christ, make the same mistakes that the Pharisees did.

I'm not taking a stance on stem cell research. I have a stance on it, but I try to avoid talking politics here. (Needless to say, my stance is at odds with a majority of evangelicals out there ... I know far too many people who I love deeply that could benefit from legitimate medical research ... wait, did I just reveal my position?)

But the point is our attitude about human suffering should mirror Christ's. And if the world sees us as lacking compassion, then we are doing something wrong. Watch the movie "Saved!," and you'll see what I mean. As a Christian, that film is terribly offensive to me. But you know what? I own that movie. Bought it at Blockbuster, $9.99, pre-viewed. Why? Because I want to know what the world thinks of me -- and what we are doing wrong that make them think that.

There's more to this column I want to address. We'll get to it later.

2006-11-09 1 comments


I never took higher science classes. Biology II in high school, but that was because the end of the year project was a bug collection. I like bugs.

Oh, and I took Geology in college, but that's because I like rocks. Bugs and rocks ... every 8 year-old boy's dream.

But I'm not an 8 year-old boy anymore, unless you ask my wife. Bugs and rocks, so I'm guilty, I suppose.

See, an 8 year-old boy wouldn't be afraid of flying, and I'm desperately so. I can't put my mind around the physics of it, you understand. I suppose it would be better if I'd taken classes that were more advanced than the study of bugs and/or rocks. But I didn't. So there.

The Embraer ERJ 145 airplane I flew in to New York a couple of weeks ago weighed approximately 38,000 pounds. Now, I don't know much about thrust, airfoils and whatever else it takes to get that puppy in the air and keep it there. And don't even get me started on why flying through cumulus clouds makes the multi-ton behemoth do the watusi at 28,000 feet. All I know is that my stomach doesn't like this.

I flew from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. one time -- never, ever go through Washington-Dulles, by the way; there's a free tip for you -- on a prop plane ... during a snowstorm ... before daybreak.

Nightmare doesn't begin to describe it. I'm not sure what made the plane shudder like a Maytag filled with 82 pounds of unbalanced bath towels. It could have been the chunks of ice that would dislodge from the nose of the plane and come careening back toward the propellers and explode when they hit the blades, or it could have been the Nor'Easter that no one bothered to tell the pilot was pounding the eastern seaboard. Could have been either one, frankly.

You want to know how to tell if you're on a bad flight? Watch the flight attendant. But on this trip, it wasn't an option. She was too busy sitting in her seat up front and staring at the floor. I think I heard a few Hail Marys, but I can't be sure.

I have a dozen stories like these, enough that I feel closer to God when on a business trip than anywhere else. I'm not kidding. I'm praying from check in to baggage claim.

But here's the curious thing: God rarely assuages my fear. Oh, there have been a few times He really cleared my mind, and quickly; flying into my home airport during a rainstorm one time, I almost audibly heard Him say "You are worth more than many sparrows," but for the most part, The Big Guy lets me deal with the stress on my own.

It ticked me off, to be honest with you. I never really understood why He was so cavalier about my fear. He has the ability to knock it out in one fell swoop, does He not? Yet each time that plane lifts off, I'm as nervous as Mike Tyson in a spelling bee (with apologies for blatantly ripping off Mark Driscoll on that one).

I never understood. At least, not until that flight to New York.

Christians can be put into two categories, for the most part: Milk Christians and Meat Christians. Milk Christians can't get too deep into the finer aspects of their spirituality. They are babes in Christ, still on the breast, not able to handle solid foods.

Meat Christians are warriors of the faith, able to look beyond surface level explorations of a life in Christ. Milk is fine for breakfast, but when dinner rolls around, it's time for a nice, juicy steak. Try giving filet mignon to my 17-month old. Not only couldn't her immature digestive system handle it, she'd refuse it as a matter of principle.

(The Apostle Paul wrote about this in some detail ... read 1 Corinthians 3 for more.)

Milk Christians are all about themselves and their own relationship to God: "Hallelujah, Christ is mine!" "Man, I can't wait to get to heaven ... won't it be cool?"

Meat Christians are all about God Himself, and what they can do to serve Him by serving others: "Man, I can't wait to tell others about heaven ... won't they think it's so cool?"

My fear of flying is solely the result of my own inadequacies as a Christian. Those Lord's Prayers I spout every time the plane hurtles down the runway? Those are Milk Christian prayers, sent to God purely to save my own skin, to keep myself from fear, to make myself more secure. They have nothing to do with anyone else -- except maybe the times I try to bribe God by explaning to Him that my wife wouldn't be able to raise two kids without me. And even then, it's all about me.

No, I need to start being a Meat Christian out on that runway, and that thought occured to me on a recent flight to New York. Why am I whining to God that He should keep me safe?

What about my wife, left home alone with two kids while I'm on a business trip? What about my dad, working a stressful job? What about a friend at work, going through a divorce? What about my daughters, their health and continuted development? What about my mom? What about my in-laws? My pastor? My co-workers? My neighbor? The Sudanese in Darfur? The homeless man who sleeps beneath the freeway less than a mile from my home? That guy at the gym who really annoys me?

It's shameful, really, that I'm too busy praying for my own skin when there's many more opportunities for intecessory prayer out there.

The question, then, is whether if I changed my attitude out there, focusing on others instead of my cowardly self, would God answer my original prayer and calm my frayed nerves?

Maybe, maybe not. But I can guarantee one thing: If I'm praying about someone else, how much time would I have to worry about myself?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2006. all rights under copyright reserved)