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"Rise in Atheism Includes Condescending Attitude Towards People of Faith"

Hal Tarleton
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000

Hal Tarleton has edited weekly and small daily newspapers in North Carolina and Virginia for more than 30 years, during which time he has won numerous writing awards.  He has spent the past 28 years at The Wilson Daily Times, where he has held the titles of managing editor, editor, editor and associate publisher, and opinion editor.  A 1971 graduate of the University of North Carolina, he served as a U.S. Coast Guard officer before beginning his newspaper career.  Hal and his wife, Ginny, have three children and four grandchildren.


© 2007 - The Wilson Daily Times;  Reprinted with Permission.

Dan Neill, an East Carolina graduate and former News & Observer car reviewer, wrote a column before Christmas for Tribune Media Services in which he celebrated what he called "atheistic chic" — the new, trendy popularity of atheism.


Neill cited a number of recent developments that show how cool it is to be an atheist. "The God Delusion" by biologist Richard Dawkins is on the New York Times bestseller list, and Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" argues that belief in a god is hard-wired into the human brain. The November elections were a blow to the religious right, Neill says; intelligent design has been stamped out by court decisions, and the Rev. Ted Haggard, a prominent Christian conservative leader, has been exposed as a hypocrite.


It's hard to deny the secularization of American society, but is atheism really on the rise or are people simply rebelling rather than denying God? Although I don't get giddy about the prospects, as Neill does, he appears to have a point. It's becoming more acceptable to be an atheist, just as it's more acceptable to be a Buddhist, a Hindu, an agnostic, a Muslim or a pagan.


But these "new atheists," as they've been called, are celebrating their upsurge and acceptance in ways other groups have not. There is an air of condescension about them, evidenced in the best-selling books denying the existence of a god/creator. People of faith, the atheists imply if not say outright, just aren't smart. If the faithful were smart, they would recognize their delusion. Dawkins has even opined that religious education is a form of child abuse.


Religious fundamentalism has had a difficult time standing up to scientific discoveries and theories of the past 500 years. First, there was idea that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and now men have walked on the moon, fossils are reliably dated from millions of years ago and psychology — not sin or demons or divine intervention — explains much of human behavior.


But any atheist who deems the faithful to be lacking in intellect has not read C.S. Lewis or Reinhold Neibuhr or Soren Kierkegaard or Dietrich Bonhoffer. Nor has he taken the time to examine modern Christian theology.


If understanding astrophysics or neurology is difficult, how much more taxing is understanding God's relationship with the created world?


Religious fundamentalism — whether Christian or Muslim or some other — is easy to parody — but the new atheists take aim at religion in all its forms. They are not opposed only to fanatics who try to impose their beliefs on others or who kill in God's name. They disparage all forms of religious faith and deny the existence of any power greater than their own mind.


Faith, which Paul described as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen," cannot be measured on any scientific scale or observed by any instrument. Its very existence is a mystery to those who rely wholly on reason and science.


The new atheists cannot appreciate the concept of grace — an undeserved gift — or explain away the humility of holding your newborn baby. Only a fool would say, "I did this all on my own." The Psalmist knew long ago, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God."

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