Yep, I’m not writing about what is typically identified as the Presumption of Atheism—the hotly disputed assumption that atheism, not theism, is the default position in this whole debate. That’s a whole other can of worms to be opened at a later time. Rather, this provocatively titled post is about another and all too common oversight to which many atheists seem vulnerable, and I would contend it’s the atheists of this time’s greatest weakness and ultimate undoing.
Inspiration for this post came from my ethics professor, who openly admitted he was an atheist. Today he explained that he came from a long line of Baptist preachers and how they left him the impression that they thought most people were going to end up boiling in a lake of fire. My professor said this belief contributed to his eventual apostasy. He went on further to make the disparaging comment that if Christians really believed the vast majority of people would be broiling with the fishes for eternity, that they would be out in Speaker Circle like Brother Jed and Sister Cindy yelling at and accusing students.
A little background information on Brother Jed and Sister Cindy: They’re a married couple of Christian fundamentalists who frequently stand in Speaker Circle and engage in combative evangelism. Speaker Circle is small amphitheater on campus where the speaker has the right to proclaim whatever he or she wants to students sitting down to listen and those on their way to class.
Now, I don’t agree with Brother Jed’s methods. I feel they cause more harm than good. Plus, he has uttered claims that are both non-biblical and blasphemous. Apparently, he hasn’t sinned in years, and he has the right to judge others despite the Bible reading, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” ~ 1 John 1:8 or “‘If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast the first stone at her.'” ~ John 8:7.
Brother Jed and fundamentalists like him seem to lack significant knowledge of Christian theology and teachings. Everyone still sins, even Christians. Judgement is God’s alone. The Bible is explicitly clear on those points. So often these fundamentalists have their heads so far stuck in the ass of the Old Testament they fail to recognize the New Testament and superseding covenant established within it. They don’t take in Christianity comprehensively and neither do many atheists.
Both groups, who are spectrally opposite to each other, make the same error. Both are so frequently unaware and unappreciative of all the thought and scholarly effort behind the religion. In the case of my professor, he was raised on a diet of dogmatism and porous theology that of course a lake of perpetually burning fire seemed absurd. However, I’m aghast at how anyone who objectively opens and reads Revelations where said lake is described can come to the conclusion that it’s a physical place. There is nowhere in the Bible that provides a sound basis for Hell to be an actual tangible region with its own geography much like the afterlife in Greek mythology. It’s not like the River Styx empties into the mythical Lake of Fire in Revelations. The actual book is permeated with metaphors and allegories. Hence, for my professor to so egregiously mischaracterize the Christian concept of Hell must mean he is ignorant of Christian doctrine.
And finally I get to it, the other presumption of atheism. That once they think atheism must be true and theism is patent nonsense, they underestimate the latter. They straw man and bastardize Christian theism. They make woefully fallacious arguments against what they erroneously deem such a indefensible position. So, yes, my professor is correct in thinking Christians believe Hell will be awful forever for a vast number of individuals, but is incorrect in thinking that this implies we must all “preach” like Brother Jed if we genuinely hold to that. He again is an ignoramus to evangelization. That, many Christians believe the Holy Spirit plays the pivotal role in conversion and we are mere pawns in a cosmic chess game for souls. Or that there are different ways to evangelize. Or maybe some Christians just realize there are more effective methods for persuading people than shouting and casting judgement on your intended audience.
It’s evident to me my professor, who specializes in ethics, isn’t remotely intimate with the current happenings of philosophy of religion or Christian theism. Once he became entrenched in his atheism, he didn’t bother to understand or study the opposing position before he criticizes it. He assumed it to be weak, lackluster and defeated by David Hume and Bertrand Russell long ago. He undervalued the arguments made by the brilliant theists of the past and present. He presumed Christian theism is not an intellectual force to be reckoned with.
He presumed too much.
“Know thy enemy,”