The words “Happy Atheist” come across much in atheist literature and conversations. In part, the point is to prove that 1) An atheist can be happy without God 2) That not all atheists fit the old stereotype of angry and mad at God. There is also sort of a PR battle that takes place when we see the words on buttons, signs, and in literature. Getting the word out about atheism is almost a celebratory activity. I remember when the big signs about atheism went on billboards and buses, some atheist organizations were celebrating that they were spoken of in churches, even if in a negative light. Thus, some atheists may be happy to see me writing on the subject.
Either way, I think it is important for Christians to evaluate what we are saying and what we are not saying about atheists and atheism. Christians sometimes make the argument that Atheists cannot live a happy life since they do not believe in God. It is this basic argument that we must distinguish some things.
First, an atheist can live a happy life if they surround themselves with the things that makes them happy. Happiness in this sense has to do with happenings. It is this sense of happiness that the Christian should concede that the atheist can have many meaningful and happy moments in their life. We should also be glad for them in this respect. For instance, right now I am listening to so music that I enjoy. Is this not a happy time in my life? I would say that it is, and the atheist can surely experience this as well.
Second, the Christian’s main contention is that the atheist lacks an ultimate reference point for their meaning and thus their happiness. Happiness when used in the historic Christian sense had much more to do with a telos. A telos is the “end” or the “goal.” It is here that the Christian questions the atheist on happiness. Can they obtain an ultimate end or goal which helps them frame all of reality with purpose? It is hard to see how.
The atheist might be stoic on this and point out that they are just living in line with the reality that life ends and there is no God. Other atheists may answer that living for the human community or perhaps for the value of reason gives them purpose and meaning. I would agree that both of those areas can have some meaning. Yet, making these the absolute reference point seems to be lacking. When pushed I typically find that atheists will agree that the areas of happiness they experience little purposes that give them moments of happiness, but none of these provides the kind of happiness that Christians speak of.
The atheist lacks an objective framework of meaning, that the Christian at least has available to them. If you run into a happy atheist, make friends with them and enjoy a reasonable conversation… something that both Christians and atheists can find sublime. Although, this could lead us to another discussion about the meaning of reason if there is no God, but we will leave this for another post.
A couple blogs ago, I wrote about the need to “get back to the sources.” In this case to the various sources of truth. In the history of Christianity, all four of the sources have played a role in the discovery and appropriation of truth. More importantly, the call to ‘all four’ of the sources represents a renaissance in Christian thinking. There is so much to be discovered in these treasure troves that can enhance and strengthen our Christian walks today.
A renaissance is a renewed and deepened appreciation for something. For our call of ‘ad fontes’ it is the renewed interest in the larger tool kit of the Christian. This tool kit has existed through the entire history of the church in one way or another. The writers of the New Testament drew upon all four sources in their formulating their arguments to various churches. Scripture has always played the prize role, and a person with a set of Scripture verses would trump the person with a set of experiences in the regular history of the church.
All of that being said, the role of the four sources can call our attention back to resources that can fully develop the Christian for the challenges we find today. Many of the great Christian thinkers used two, three, or all four in their discussions and arguments with those they were trying to reach or prove wrong. The Gnostics, Docetists, Ebionites, Marcionites, Arian’s (These were all heretical groups in the first few centuries of the church) were all curtailed with the use of a multiplicity of sources. Moreover, even our opportunities for witness today with non-believers or believers of other faiths, is best done from the foundation of all four.
From the position of all four, one is not entirely boxed into one language category. Their ability to navigate the heavy waters of challengers is all the stronger because their base has been broadened. Thinkers like the great Church Father Augustine or the later Anselm knew this well. Moreover, even Martin Luther, who is so famed for Scripture alone, appealed to both tradition (early Christian history) and reason to formulate his arguments. The great circuit riding preacher and Oxford grad, John Wesley became famous for his use of all four sources. From this base he could adequately address the corruption in both the world and the church and challenge them to more sound footing.
If you get the chance to read a book which could develop your own thinking in this respect, pick up “The Story of Christian Theology” by Roger Olson. It is a big one though, so time may not allow. However, going online and reading some of John Wesley’s sermons could do the trick as well. Taking the time to drink deeply from the wells of Christian history, and watch how they used Scripture and reason, may be the best way of being encouraged to grow your toolkit along with theirs. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley/sermons.ii.html
Ad Fontes is the call of “back to the sources.” It challenges us to read again whatever piece of literature we may find valuable in order to think about it rightly. I think as Christians this is very important to understanding the Bible as well as many early documents that inform the Christian mind. However, today I want to get back to the strength of the Christian Faith with some other ‘sources.’
Many a Christian will say “we need the Bible and we need the Holy Spirit.” As good as that sounds, it often collapses into individualism. A “Me, my Bible interpretation and no one else” approach. Moreover, it can lead to hostility when something in the modern world seems to contradict our personal interpretations of the Bible. If we come at the Bible as if it has every single answer to every question, we are going to treat it as sort of an ancient day Google, where we can simply put in our questions and here comes the answer! There is good news though. This is not the historic Christianity that we all have inherited. Since the Apostles Creed affirms the “communion of the saints” we should affirm the ancient faith that we inherited.
Throughout history, the church has operated with four main sources of understanding truth. Different eras have appropriated them more or less, but the bulk of the Christian church has used all four. Truth is understood through multiple avenues of truth getting. The four are…
These four conduits or channels, have all been valuable for Christians to look into. This affirms a whole person and whole God approach to being Christian. Would God want us to shut down our reasoning processes? Would God want us to close our mind to the work of Christians in the past? Would God say there is no value to our current experience? My answer is no.
When I say “It’s time to get back to the sources,” I think it is time Christians see the beauty of their Christian past which actually affirms a whole human approach to thinking. Moreover, let me say that we really need it. The questions Christians consider regularly need all of our thinking (Past and Present) to help develop solutions to the complexities of the world and the Church.
Morality, other religions, atheism, science, politics, globalism, or just how to raise our children well. Bringing together all of these to help process our living, will help to fulfill the ‘transformation’ of the mind (Romans 12:1-2). God has so graciously gifted us with Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. I think it is time to appropriate those gifts in our life for the sake of the one who could never be afraid of the truth.
Christianity is about getting to the truth. The four sources have been faithful guides in the past, and will help us immensely in the future.
This last week I spent a week in a class called “Muslim People’s and Missions.” The class was at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Since there are 1.8 Billion Muslims in the world right now, I thought it would be incredibly valuable to understand Islam from their own sources.
The class had a great intersection of topics to cover including Theology, History, Modernity, Colonialism and more. This of course made the class a very fruitful ground for discussion and debating ideas. Debating is something that I absolutely love because it challenges me and others to think critically and test out their ideas.
There was one particular point where the Professor allowed me and another student to ‘duke it out’ for an extended period of time on the subject of international politics in relation to Islamic countries. The other student thought my position was 100% wrong, and claimed that his position was the superior because it was more ‘nuanced’.
Nuancing is basically seeing something for all that it is. In other words, not just letting subjects collapse into easy forms of black and white that do not account for the whole of the subject. I highly approve of nuancing and think the world needs to do more of it, but the other student made one big mistake in charging my position to be in the wrong.
He claimed that his position was the correct one because he was advocating for “nuance” while at the same time not allowing nuance for the “pro” side of the subject under debate. One can claim nuance all they want and make their side look sophisticated, but if they allow no nuance for the other position, then they have in effect given to the black and white thinking they were trying to avoid.
Either way the class rocked, and having the opportunity to debate and discuss ideas is in fact, all the rage.
Pastor Isaac – January 10, 2017