|The Twilight of Atheism
This is a very good book. It presents the history of atheism over the course of the last four centuries, offering circumstances, outcomes and suggestions for the future. It poignantly describes the failures of the church that led to the ascent of atheism in the West, while also detailing the reasons behind atheism’s decline with the advent of Postmodernism.
What was in my mind as I read the first half and then came out explicitly in the book during the second half was an overwhelming desire to make faith real – head and heart. God, may I live each day with you in mind and in view. I do not want to spend one day living etsi Deus non daretur, “as if God did not exist.” You rescued me from that in the beginning. Guard me from it now!
After that, what impressed me the most was the discussion of the failings of Protestantism that aligned with and supported the growth of atheism. McGrath presented how the stark nature of the major Protestant churches encouraged head knowledge but destroyed a sense of wonder or imagination. Catholicism had encouraged a sense of God throughout nature, and approachable within creation and everyday experience. The pendulum-swing of Protestantism discouraged this impression and stated that God could only be experienced through the word, and was not to be found dispersed through nature. This very indirect mechanism for approaching God was devoid of imagination and led to a move away from the Church, and God.
Maybe based on my own generation, I never had that feel for Protestantism. My involvement encourages imagination and artistic imagination. I am involved actively in ministries that do just that – seek to share God with believers and non-believers alike through all the senses. To share an imaginative and vibrant vision of life that can be experienced, not just learned about second-hand. I am not inclined to drop the need for a grounding in the objective reality God provides, but I relish in the creative and imaginative nature that God has given us.
I can certainly understand early Protestant concerns with the God-dispersed-through-nature issue. It smacks of polytheism. It promotes wonder and spirituality but lacks a rigor and clear impression of the personal nature of God. It highlights the general nature of revelation without giving special attention to special revelation.
I enjoyed learning much more about the theological and philosophical arguments offered by many of the well-known (and many less well-known) atheists, agnostics and church-reformers. Poetry and science take central roles as human exploits aimed at extending the reach of human control over the world. In the end, the atheist “doctrine” becomes just as controlling and violent as any of the “unjust” religions it opposed – indeed having removed the limit on immoral behavior that religion commonly allows.
Lots of good things to think about, keeping the church focused on what Jesus called it to. Offering God as the real source of hope, security and truth in the midst of a scary, uncertain and sin-scarred world.