It’s one thing to have a messy house. It’s quite another thing (grotesque, actually) to allow an elephant into your home to make a splendid wreck of things. Atheists seem strangely comfortable allowing elephants into their living rooms to knock their lamps over. Unfortunately, Christians have a reputation of not mentioning the beast in the room and even coddling the massive creatures because Atheists have a reputation for biting the folks from animal control. Never-you-mind: Don’t coddle the elephant—it doesn’t belong there.
Our Atheist friends want us to agree with them when they tell us the grand-legend that our ancestors were (once upon a time) fish.1 They want us to be committed to the idea that the universe is not subject to any personal governance, that it is unguided, and that we are all the descendants of highly-evolved societies of bacteria. Further, these products of time and chance acting on matter want us to devote ourselves to the notion that (in a godless universe) there is no good and no evil—only blind and pitiless indifference.2 These bags of protoplasm are ferociously dogmatic and demand that other African apes stop their foolish commitments to the transcendent Creator—Who made them in the Imago Dei and sustains the universe—to come along with them and revel in their announcement that we are Orcs. We live; we die; and we are gone; we’re absolutely gone when we die! – So it is written, so let it be. Thus, it is decreed, that all bi-pedal bags of brutish matter adopt this system. Here, here! (I think the elephant just knocked over their china cabinet.)
The Word coming down from the God they are warring against is clear. Yes, even Orcs understand the language of this King. He says:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21, ESV)
Because of our enmity with The Light, image-bearers of God despise being men and long to be considered Orcs in the strictest sense. However, the knowledge we have of the Creator (the One and Only) is inescapable. This knowledge of God is so unavoidable that the Word from the King is, on the last day, no image-bearer will stand before the court arguing that there wasn’t enough light to wade through the darkness. The truth is: we love the darkness rather than the light and our lives are a rehearsal and perpetual practice of stuffing down the manifest knowledge of Him that we all have. This brings us to that gargantuan elephant tromping through the Atheist’s kitchen.
We cannot cease being what God has made us to be. Jumping into a lake and diving to the bottom while pretending to be a fish, doesn’t make you a fish, it means you are holding your breath. You’ll come up for air; eventually. Atheists want to be Orcs. But, they won’t live consistently with the tough stuff required of the Orc-life. They kiss their children (they are precious, aren’t they?), attend the funerals of departed loved ones, rage against injustice, demand commitments to invisible laws of thought (A=A, dummy), decry the degradation of human value and dignity, assume and depend upon the uniformity of nature, and take to the theater to experience the awe of a symphony while their hearts pump their eyes into tears. The elephant in the room is the unjustified assumptions inherent in these things that simply do not comport with Atheism. That beast isn’t supposed to be there and it is high-time Christians started to point it out. They know it doesn’t belong in there and so do we. Our Atheistic friends want us to pretend that it’s normal to have such a creature wreaking havoc in one’s home leaving such incomprehensible messes of their lives. Their houses are a wreck. And there is a reason for the wreck: the difficulty with elephants in your dining room is they are known to cause messes. It simply doesn’t work. And frankly: it’s just weird. Atheism is incoherent and inconsistent. Of course, this should be troublesome to image-bearers, it shouldn’t matter to matter—but it does. Doesn’t it?
How does one go about the business of lovingly showing our Atheist friends that they really are more than Orcs? We can start by grasping their hand and placing it firmly on the trunk of the giant elephant presently knocking the house into a senseless mess. Point to the borrowed capital displayed most vividly in the tension between what the Atheist says he believes and what he is actually doing. For instance, the demand that we all love our neighbor (rather than eat them) isn’t required of descendants of fish. Yet, Atheists require this of their neighbors and promise to put other apish humanoids behind bars if they act in ways that maximize harm rather than minimize it. The militant Atheist will crowd the Christian into a corner during a coffee-shop conversation waxing long about the immoral character of the God of the Bible. “He’s just a pompous, evil, blood-thirsty god who is not worthy of worship from any moral human being”, they’ll say. The militant Atheist chatters along, morally indignant, in a way that would make a Puritan blush. (Hey, look! How did that elephant get itself through the door of this café?)
One might also consider rejecting the notion that we should give our Atheist friends a pass when they borrow concepts from Christianity in order to argue against Christianity. In the film Collision, Douglas Wilson accused the well-known (and now, sadly, deceased) Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, of borrowing from the Christian worldview. He said that Hitchens was essentially hijacking the Christian car in an attempt to crash it into a ditch. That’s another way of pointing out the elephant. Science is dependent upon the uniformity in nature. Laws of logic and arithmetic are universal, immaterial, invariant, and necessary. There are actions that human beings recognize that we ought not to do. These things do not arise out of Atheistic assumptions. However, Atheists work very hard at convincing other random results of evolutionary processes that they do. (What’s that smell?)
The foundation holding up this discussion is simple: we aren’t going to convince men and women that they are more than star-stuff bing-banging on the surface of the cosmos if we are not willing to make them uncomfortable by pointing out the elephant. They live and move in the world violating their most basic assertions about reality and assuming things that only image-bearers can.
We are all image-bearers of God. He is immanent, and it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. We are sinners against a God Who is infinitely loving, infinitely merciful, infinitely good, infinitely holy, and infinitely just. We should be both soothed by this message as well as terrified. God is a consuming fire. Yet, the maddening and incomprehensible part of history, is that the God we’ve offended delivered His Son over to death in the place of the rebels. God with us. God, now also man, to live the life of perfection and righteousness that the unrighteous have scorned. God, now also man, taking death in the place of the wretches. God, now also man, buried, resurrected, ascended, and seated in victory making all of His enemies a footstool for His feet; (Psalm 110:1) calling everyone to turn from sin to Him, to trust in Him for forgiveness and salvation.
That is a glorious story. It also happens to be true. If we ever want to convince the Atheists that they are not Orcs and that they really are men:
Don’t coddle the elephant—it doesn’t belong there.
11/16/2013 – Update. Jeff has posted a response to critics en masse here. Or listen below.