I don’t know how many people are aware of it but atheism — make that militant atheism — has been on the rise in the United States for years. Perhaps it was all the years of the religious right and the strident battles over abortion and the separation of church and state. Whatever the case, they are angry and they are on the march. They have shelved their public indifference and are confident that God and His faithful are in certain retreat.
Like their forebears from the French Revolution, they see the Church as an institution founded on unreason and superstition. It is their mission to chase such foolish ideas from the public marketplace. Since nature abhors a vacuum, they have found their god in science and a religion of man. Or what the intellectuals call secular humanism.
While Charles Darwin was not an atheist, his theory of evolution later became the adopted intellectual child of atheists around the globe. The leading Darwinian atheist is Richard Dawkins, author of the 2006 bestseller, The God Delusion. Another godless priest is Sam Harris. In his 2004 book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Religion, Harris takes more of an apocalyptic approach. He believes that people must renounce religious faith or it will mark the end of civilization, conveniently ignoring the destruction of more than 175 million people at the bloody hands of atheistic governments during the 20th century.
However the debate has not been the same since the priesthood of unbelief lost its presumptive leader in 2014. For much of his adult life, Christopher Hitchens, the author of What’s So Good about God? waged a take-no-prisoners war on faith and its believers. His energy and quick wit knew no boundaries nor took any prisoners. He was probably the only man in history who had the temerity to publicly lambaste Mother Teresa.
I have had very little personal experience with atheism or atheists. When I had a weekly radio program on WGNU in St. Louis, one of my most frequent and memorable callers was a man who sometimes used the handles Gunboy Jim or Jim from Ferguson. Jim was very bright, more of a library autodidact philosopher who proudly proclaimed his atheism. He was also ardently pro-abortion. For obvious reasons, the two often walk hand in hand. He would come up with the most creative arguments that justified in his mind a woman’s right to choose to kill her unborn child.
One time in the late 1980s in an off-air phone conversation he said that abortion was a noble act. So great was my visceral reaction that I could not restrain my contempt for him and his ideas. Despite my rage, Jim continued to call and challenge me. In doing so he made me a much better talk show host. I eventually put away my anger and tried to understand him and his atheism. I realized that he was my neighbor and he needed something more than my righteous indignation.
One time in an email he casually mentioned how he had been doing the dishes and the housework for his mother who was been seriously ill. I told him in a near apologetic tone that what he was doing was the work of sainthood. I was taken aback when he thanked me for seeing some good in him. I told Jim I would pray for him. He continued to call and write me. Jim was a seeker who wanted to know and understand the reality of life but had been looking in all the wrong places.
While he still occasionally writes long missives to my blog, the pretentious, Gospel of Truth, I often wonder if he ever filled the void or spiritual vacuum in his life that the absence of God leaves. I continue to pray that he find that inner peace or what Bishop Fulton J. Sheen called peace of soul. It is something we all strive for whether we know it or not. The same is true for all the militant atheists in this country. Like my friend Jim they also need our kind thoughts and prayers.