Atheism is a spent force

A couple of things have made me think of atheism lately, which has made me realise how much things have changed in the last few years. I used to spend hours online debating atheists – far too much time, if I’m honest. Time which would have been far better spent doing something more productive. (I don’t think any good ever came out of debating atheists on the internet.)

Some of that debating was done on this blog, and out of curiosity I decided to search for the last time it happened. The last time was back in February 2016, which was when I decided I’d had enough and pulled the plug on it. That’s about eight years ago now. Eight years may not seem like a long time, but with the pace of what’s happening today it’s virtually an eternity. The world is fundamentally different, and it’s a world where atheism just doesn’t seem to belong any more.

There were a couple of things that made me come to this realisation.

1: The Life of Brian

The first thing was watching the classic film, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. I love this film – it’s one of my all-time favourites. I watched it a lot as a student, but I haven’t watched it for a few years. Coming back to the film I felt like I saw it through new eyes. The film is famous for being a satire of religion, but I felt like the critique of religion didn’t really hit the target any more.

The film is heavily critical of hypocritical moralism. It’s the kind of religion which may have been popular amongst the political and media class back in the 1960s and 70s, but it’s no longer the religion of the elites. In fact, it seemed to me like the film would be more accurately targeted at the new religion of the elites – what we might call “wokeism”.

The scene which hit me most of all was the scene where one of the characters says he wants to be a woman:

I know it gets said a lot, but this scene would absolutely never be made in today’s climate! But that in itself is telling. It struck me that what Python thought was utterly impossible happened within a few decades. The idea that a man could actually become a woman is absurd – but instead of mocking the idea, we now have to pretend that it is possible. Now you are mocked (or more likely cancelled) if you are ‘gender-critical’.

A few years ago I read an article which suggested that the new atheists had morphed into the social justice movement (which became wokeism). It should have been an obvious step: as Dostoevsky once observed, “if God is dead, everything is permitted.” It seems that the new atheists actually paved the way for the insanity which is going on at the moment. The atheist critique of religion, such as the Pythons made in the Life of Brian, is far more applicable to this modern secular religion than it is to Christianity.

What I find strange is the lack of self-awareness of some modern atheists who don’t realise that the critique they make of religion applies far more to the godless secular “woke” religion than it does to Christianity.

2: Anti-theist pile ons

A few days ago, I made a video about why we should stop doing evangelism. For some reason, this video seems to have been picked up on YouTube by a lot of anti-religious types who have been commenting – assuming that I’m an ex-Christian, or something like that. (I presume it’s because they haven’t watched the video but are just reacting to the title. This is a depressingly familiar experience to anyone who posts videos to YouTube.)

What struck me this time, however, was how much has changed since I was last engaging with anti-religious types. I’m not sure whether the change has been within me, or whether the world has changed. Either way, the atmosphere is different now. Whereas ten or so years ago Christians might have seemed like dinosaurs, now it seems to me that it’s the atheists who are the dinosaurs. They just don’t fit in this world any more. Their arguments have been tried and found wanting; they have nothing to offer a world in the mess that we’re in.

You can see the way that that people are far more receptive to Christianity looking at what’s happened in the last few years: just to name a handful of examples, Tom Holland’s bestselling book Dominion powerfully made the case that Christianity has made more impact on the Western world than anything else. Jordan Peterson has lectures on books of the Old Testament with millions of views. Several high profile intellectuals have converted to Christianity (e.g. most recently, Ayaan Hirsi Ali – once a member of the new atheist movement). Many public political figures and commentators such as Calvin Robinson and Laurence Fox speak openly about their faith. Many in the freedom movement (such as Eva Vlaardingerbroek) are Christian. I could go on and on.

Justin Brierley has a whole podcast called The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God which is all about this topic.

Christianity isn’t something to be embarrassed by any more; many people are much bolder in speaking open about it – and the world is starting to listen. Where once people weren’t open to the Bible or Christianity, now there is renewed interest. Covid, lockdowns, government authoritarianism, the cost of living crisis, war in Ukraine, and so on – everything is falling apart. A lot of people are putting the pieces together and thinking, “well, maybe doing things without God hasn’t worked out so well after all.”

It just struck me, as I was reading those comments over the last couple of days, these anti-theist types are tone-deaf. They just don’t recognise what is happening in the world, and they have no solutions to offer. All they can do is recycle their tired old cliches about religion. The boot is well and truly on the other foot: once it was Christianity that was on the defensive; now it’s atheism.

All I wanted to say to these people was: “read the room, guys … do you not see how out of place you look today?” It seems to me that it is the atheists who are now on the wrong side of history.

Atheism is a spent force

Twelve years ago, Richard Dawkins did a survey on attitudes to Christianity in the UK. He concluded: “it is clear that faith is a spent force in the UK”.

Well, a lot can change in twelve years. I would argue that atheism is now a spent force in the UK. Twelve years ago, it was kind of cool to be an atheist – a lot of comedians made jokes about Christianity, for example. It was common to attack Christians on the internet for their ridiculous and outdated beliefs. Now, however – things have changed 180 degrees. Given the madness of what is happening in the world, atheism feels like an irrelevance at best. Even Richard Dawkins himself has changed his tune – described himself recently as a “cultural Christian” and that he’d rather live in a Christian country than an Islamic one.

When I look back on the debates I used to have about Christianity and atheism, I think I was far too defensive. Christianity doesn’t need defending. As I believe Spurgeon once said: “Defend the Bible? I’d soon as defend a lion!”

Atheism is the ultimate ‘luxury belief’, a belief which is only possible in a world where things work pretty well. As society collapses deeper into decay and chaos, people realise that Solzhenitsyn’s words are absolutely true: “Men have forgotten God, that’s why all this has happened.” I never needed to defend Christianity from atheists. Rather, I needed to proclaim the truth that, unless we repent and believe in the good news, madness and chaos awaits. That is exactly what we are seeing now.

My challenge to atheists today is the same as it is for everyone: will you repent of your sins and submit to Christ as Lord today, and find salvation – or will you continue in your wilful unbelief and suffer the consequences?

In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, which I will finish with:

How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

Hebrews 2:3


2 responses to “Atheism is a spent force”

  1. Louise Robinson avatar
    Louise Robinson

    Thanks for that Phill. We recently watched the Life of Brian again and we were struck by the ‘I want to be a woman’ sketch too!
    What I’m finding is that when I say to people I go to church or that I am a believer they almost want to defend their own position but in a positive way. So I don’t get dismissed but they try to almost explain away why they might be lapsed or that they think it’s a good thing but they don’t have the time etc…
    So I think the tide is turning and I try to witness wherever I can because so few of us go to church in our 30s/40s that people look up and think oh…it gets them thinking.

    1. Thanks Louise! Yes I think we probably spent too long on the back foot, we just need to keep plugging away and trust that people will listen. There’s definitely a new interest now.

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