A Cultural Cold Front: Bashing Religion

Perhaps you've noticed a chill in the air this autumn. No, I'm not talking about the weather. Maybe you shared with a colleague your religious convictions, and in return, you received a look that would blow the leaves off a tree.

It doesn't take a meteorologist to read the forecast. A quick glance at the New York Times's bestseller list will do. High on the list is Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. One reader describes the book as "a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold to no religious doctrine." Another reader jubilantly gushes, reading the book "was like sitting ring side, cheering the champion, yelling ‘Yes!' at every jab." The barrel of the gun and the sting of the fist, however, are aimed directly at Christians.

Further down the list of pugilistic bestsellers is Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, weighing in at 416 pages of hot air. Even Publishers Weekly rightly cautions readers, "For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe." Publishers Weekly continues: "While Dawkins can be witty, even confirmed atheists who agree with his advocacy of science and vigorous rationalism may have trouble stomaching some of the rhetoric: [According to Dawkins] the biblical Yahweh is ‘psychotic,' Aquinas's proofs of God's existence are ‘fatuous' and religion generally is ‘nonsense'."

In a recent interview with Wired News, Dawkins said, "At some point there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God." Certainly if books like The God Delusion succeed in heaping "fatuous," "delusional," and "nonsensical" epithets on believers, some Christians will choose to remain silent rather than face derision.

But it's not simply the streams of the book market that are swollen with icy scorn for Christians. Recently the New York Times ran a week-long series on church and state. With titles like, "Where Faith Abides Employees Have Few Rights," and "As Exemptions Grow Religion Outweighs Regulation," there's little doubt that Christians are in for a season of harsh criticism, if not outright scorn. So how ought we to prepare ourselves for what may be a long winter of cultural disdain?

First of all, the situation isn't new, and neither is the answer. The Apostle Paul, a former Christ-scoffer, responded to pressures of his day by reaffirming: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for all those who believe: first for the Jew, and then for the Gentile" (Romans 1:16). In 1 Peter 2:15, a favorite verse of mine, Peter instructed us to silence the ignorant talk of foolish men by doing good.

The truth of the matter is that the ones heaping derision on Christians are probably the ones who most need our prayers. So, in the end, maybe the best way to prepare for this cold front is by fanning the coal of our own devotion to Christ through good works. If our lives are aflame with care for the least, the last, and the lost, the kind of thing we do here at Prison Fellowship, perhaps even the coldest hearts will thaw.

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