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The Devil's Favorite Religion? October 8, 2010

We Historic Christians, who believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as well as being God the Son, sometimes come up with theories as to which other religion is the polar opposite, or the devil’s favorite.  Many people instinctively assume that atheism is it.  More recently, especially since 9/11, a lot of people have assumed that Islam was the devil’s favorite.  Now Islam isn’t necessarily any “falser” than any other false religion.  What is unusually problematic about Islam is that unlike Christianity and most other faiths, with the possible exception of the nearly tribal Judaism, Islam acquired power and control over a society during its founder’s lifetime.  So it has had a hard time living as a minority religion in societies it does not control.  Christianity, on the other hand, has, rightly or wrongly, exercised power at various times in its history, sometimes for bad things.  But deep in Christian DNA is the memory of a time when it was not so, the Age of the Martyrs.  Our New Testament was written in a society that we were manifestly not in charge of.  And now that we are not in charge of the Western World any more, we fuss, grind our teeth, proclaim that Jesus is coming soon, etc., etc., but we know online casino how to live in such a society.  Our New Testament was written in a society like this one, and we have always had a strong nostalgia for the New Testament Era, the Early Church, and the Age of the Martyrs.  So when a neopagan age like ours comes along, we know how to handle it.

That being said, I have thought, since I was a young Christian in my twenties, that if the devil has a favorite religion it’s neither atheism nor Islam, but a sort of New Age spirituality that is very comfortable with using the God-word and talking about “prayer,” and even comfortable with “prayer in public schools,” but meaning something very different from the Christian God and Christian prayer.  This god did not send his son to die for our sins – he didn’t have to – he can be approached by almost all roads with the possible exception of racism and Nazism, and “prayer” is more a means of conjuring him up and empowering him, or even controlling him, than in appealing to his mercy.  The closer to the truth without being the saving truth, the better to ensnare human souls.  The controversial figure of the Antichrist, whoever or whatever he or it is, is not pictured in the Biblical texts as atheistic, but rather as demanding worship for himself or itself.  I myself wonder how well the four horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse – Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens – will do in the long run unless they can shred the current postmodern view that doubts absolute truth claims – for, whatever else they are doing, they are certainly making truth claims!  And if they succeed in restoring the idea of absolute truth to respectability, they may well have done us Christians a favor!

2 Comments
curt.deckert 10/13/2010

Interesting post–if anyone is looking for absolute truth in the evolutionary beginning of life, it is going to take an intelligent design approach to our creator to find absolute truth. The evidence is all around us. Many scientists before the “four horsemen of the Atheist Apocalypse” made considerable scientific progress with the assumption of a Creator.

Goog 06/06/2012

Your post comes across, to me, like religious “inside baseball.” It seems to exclude the likes of me, an agnostic. It seems to exclude many self-professed theists, too—and many self-professed Christians as well.
And so who is your audience? Is it possible that you are talking to yourself?
I am struck by your assumption that “atheism” is a religion. (Please note your second sentence.) Is that meant as a kind of joke? You do not seem to be joking.
Allow me to conceptualize the terrain by speaking of “negative” and “positive” beliefs. On its face, atheism is essentially or entirely a negative belief in that it amounts to the rejection—or, anyway, the non-acceptance—of a belief, namely, theism or, rather, any particular form of it. (As I often suggest to my students, beyond theism, atheism, and agnosticism, there is also the position of my cat: no thought on the matter whatsoever. [Meow.] Surely an atheist, unlike my cat, is aware of theism and somehow rejects it or, anyway, fails to embrace it, despite its availability.)
One can identify some more-or-less coherent cluster of (roughly “positive”) beliefs that often attend this negative doctrine—some sort of “humanism” and embrace of reason & science, I suppose. But that is not really atheism. It is, rather, the accidental and transitory form in which atheism tends to take among many intellectuals of our time. Perhaps it should be called atheistic humanism or humanistic atheism. (Roughly, I’m attracted to this perspective except insofar as it sees certainty where I see mere probability.)
Is humanistic atheism a religion? I don’t see how it is. Does it ultimately rely on faith? The Christopher Hitchenses of this world (now that there is no such one!) would likely deny that. A case can be made for it, I think, but only by getting into the philosophical weeds, that difficult garden. It is by no means obvious to me that these people have anything that should be described as a “religion.” Surely, the burden is on anyone who gives that description. (You.)
In any case, I am not among this group, I think, although my distance from those noisy people on the belief spectrum is a matter of degree, I think, and not of kind. I do not embrace theism (mostly, I think, in the sense that I do not find myself believing in that way—as opposed to confronting and then rejecting that way of believing). I’m very clear on that—on my non-embrace—though I think that the truth (see, I even use one of your favorite words!) about such matters is very unclear and that some form of theism might be correct in the end. (I suspect that we lack the intelligence to make much headway on this subject. We are nearly blind and yet we are trying to make out what’s at the bottom of the sea.)
The point, of course, is that all religions are positive belief-clusters whereas atheism, or at least my atheism/agnosticism, is essentially a negative belief. Religions tend to assert that “this is the way things are, cosmically.” That is a very distinctive (and bold) kind of assertion. To say, as I do, that I fail to see any good grounds for making any such assertion—well, that’s another sort of believing altogether. Isn’t it?

Good Lord. I’ve got to run. 

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