The Mistake Atheists Make

The Mistake Atheists Make September 4, 2010

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
– G.K Chesterton

I‘m not convinced of atheism, but I’m not half as skeptical of it as atheists are. The aggressive promotion of something NOT existing, if not pathologically insecure, is at least a little odd. For instance, I rarely work to set up a million dollar ad campaigns advocating the glory of life without unicorns, as the recent “Good Without God” campaign did for the glories of life without God, in New York City. But atheists are quite timid; they lack the courage to deny something and leave it alone. Like the child who, after having claimed to have won the argument, keeps on returning to say “and another thing!”: It doesn’t speak volumes about their confidence in atheism. Maybe Christians should take it upon ourselves to affirm these insecure, hyperactive folk in their earth-shaking ideas; they’ll fell less of a need to advertise.

These thoughts came to me regarding the Fransiscans who traveled on the New York subways to ask Manhattan natives what they thought about the massive posters proclaiming that “millions of atheists are good without god!” There is an obvious irony here, that if if Christians were to post similiar proclamations of how good we were with God, well that’s pride, and that’s not good. Duh, atheists. Self-defeating statements are a no-no. But in actual fact, Christians make no pretence of being good. As one native told the friars, in a wonderful accent I’m sure, “Father, I can’t be good with God.” And thus the difference between pride and humility is succintly summarized.

People that fault Christians for being sinners are both right and wrong at the same time. They are right because, yes, we are bad Catholics, and awful Protestants too. We are sinful and hypocritical. But they are utterly wrong in seeing Christianity as a sort of medicine; you take it and all the sins go away. Entering into Christianity is not entering into a sterilized hospital, but into a  both wonderful and terrifying battle. Its as if atheists were standing to the side, cleaning their nails, watching us fight and scoffing at all the blood we’re getting on ourselves, all the dirt on our armor and all the tactical mistakes we’re making. The Christian life is tough as shit. The fact our atheists brothers have not the courage to enter into it makes their apathetic “goodness without God” seem ridiculous. What goodness? You haven’t killed anyone lately? Haven’t committed genocide like all those Christian dictators, Stalin and Zedong and the like? Right, I’ll fetch your cookie. You deserve it. Better yet, you deserve a damn poster campaign, all over America, because you guys are just awe-inspiringly good. But while we’re at it, how’s your fight against the sin of pride coming? Lust? Never heard of ’em?

The first step to any 12-step-I-drink-like-a-Catholic program is admitting you have a problem. Christians need to stop the false pretence that our religion will somehow make us super-duper people. We need to admit that we sin, that we need forgiveness, that we will fight all our lives to be saints, not just “find Jesus” one day and that’s it, we’re heaven-bound. In the end, God will make us holy, if we let Him. But it will not be in the poster-perfect way the secular world would hope. Sometimes God shames us in our sin, reveals  it to the world that we might run away from it. Sometimes God removes the spiritual and emotional beauty of our faith so that we’ll learn to depend on him alone. Sometimes God allows our very bodies to broken down so that our souls will be built up. It is messy because it is a battle.

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