The New Atheist Crusaders and their Unholy Grail

The New Atheist Crusaders and their Unholy Grail:
The Misguided Quest to Destroy Your Faith

By Becky Garrison
Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007
Review by Carl McColman

As I hope readers of my blog have figured out by now, I rather like atheists. Not that I agree with them, but I admire their willingness to be honest about their doubts and dislikes when it comes to religion in general (and Christianity in particular). Just like the fool in the king’s courts of old, every religion needs a cadre of atheists to point out when the emperor is actually naked (or to put that in more religious terms, when God is presented as mean and tyrannical rather than loving and merciful).

But in the last few years, as anyone who has their finger on the pulse of popular culture should know, a new breed of atheists have emerged, who are vocal, popular (their books climb the bestseller lists), and most significant of all, aggressively hostile to religion. No more do atheists settle for, “No thanks, I’ll pass on the believing in God bit.” The new war-cry for today’s nonbeliever is “I reject the notion of God and you should too.” Basically mimicking the fetish for intolerance that has come to characterize religious conservatives in our day, the new atheists have made it fashionable to dismiss religion as not only “untrue,” but unworthy of even the right to exist.

A situation like this calls for… a satirist! And so, into the fray comes Becky Garrison, fresh from The Wittenburg Door where she’ll spoof just about anything that stands still long enough. And in The New Atheist Crusaders she does just that, because she aims her satirical wit not only at the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, but she also — and perhaps, more importantly — holds up a mirror to all the silly and stupid stuff that Christians do to give fuel to the atheists’ ire.

“Scorn the devil and he will flee,” wrote Martin Luther, and this appears to be one of Garrison’s guiding principles as well. She gently pokes fun at the new atheists, but she’s also aggressively willing to go after the blind spots in their logic, with an overriding theme of her book being, “Why do you only pick on what’s wrong with religion? That hardly seems fair.” She points out that while the new atheists are renowned for their scientific acumen, they make for pretty lousy theologians — since they’re arguing against a caricature of religiosity that most informed believers would themselves disavow.

Still, Garrison saves her best shots and most salients points for Christians (and other believers) themselves. She notes that what really fires up the new atheists is how Christianity has been reduced to sloganeering (“repent of your sins and you’ll be saved), bad science (since evolution isn’t in the Bible, it must not exist) and mass marketing. Exasperated, she asks, “Why would anyone in his right mind want to follow such a banal, bubble-gum belief system? I know I wouldn’t.”

Garrison suggests that Christians need to spend less time defending their faith against atheists or other secularists, and more time following the examples of people like Shane Claiborne or Peter Rollins, who are so busy actually trying to live the Gospel that they don’t have time for middle class prejudices or the latest Jesus jewelry. Her message is as simple as it is powerful: once Christians actually get down to the business of following Christ, most of what annoys the new atheists will disappear anyway. And if they still are angry about such things as love, compassion, care for the sick and the poor, and creating communities of reconciliation… well, that’s their problem, huh?

But what really makes this book lovely is how Garrison occasionally lets down her satirical armor long enough to share bits of her own story, including life with an alcoholic father and navigating all the insecurities of adolescence. In her vulnerability, she reminds us that the real power of the Gospel lies not in how well it can stand up against the monological gaze of science, but in how it can transform even the most wounded and broken of lives. Here is a subject that the atheists cannot even come close to touching, since their scientific mindset hardly knows what to do with such things as personal pain or the possibility of inner healing.

The New Atheist Crusaders and their Holy Grail proves that if laughter isn’t the best medicine, it’s still quite a good tonic. But believers, beware: even while she’s busy skewering the naysayers, Garrison will not let you off the hook either.

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  1. Sounds like a great book, and I’m glad to hear the Wittenburg Door is still playfully skewering believers. However, don’t lump all atheists together. For most of my life I was a Christian, however, I’ve found that particular belief system lacking in several aspects. Yes, Christianity (and other religions) can transform lives, and it transformed mine. However, it don’t think this is necessarily evidence of any ultimate truth or infallibility in Christianity itself. I think any religion can do this, if a believer is disciplined. I think it says more about our capacity for belief in something rather than the accuracy of whatever we believe in. Personal pain can be healed in numerous ways, as I have discovered. In fact, I no longer find Christianity able to heal those parts of me still in need. I think all belief systems have their limits, and we have to be open to find healing however it comes. A hatred of Christianity has not made me an atheist, but rather an honest appraisal of what it can and cannot do, the willingness to admit it, appreciate what it has given me and the courage to move on.

  2. I agree, not only should we be careful not to lump all atheists together, but the same goes for any broad category. Garrison, of course, is really only concerning herself with the guys who have written bestsellers: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens. As I said in my review, I appreciate atheists who are candid and honest about their faith/doubt experience. I just don’t want atheism shoved down my throat any more than non-Christians want Christianity shoved down theirs…

  3. krustifer says:

    I just bought this book and I’m really looking forward to reading it. After all a humorous response is better than an angry one. The new atheists are starting to make me feel attacked for being stupid enough to believe in God every time I go to a bookstore.

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