One difference between new atheists and old atheists: In the past, outspoken infidels believed it was only a matter of time before enlightened populations wised up and dropped their faith in the supernatural. But the majority of new atheists have accepted that humans are naturally superstitious, credulous, and willfully ignorant. Therefore, the enlightened ones (the “Brights”) will always remain a small (but smug) minority.
Indeed, faith seems impossible to eradicate—at least in this country, as the percentage of Americans who claim to believe in something is about as high as it’s ever been. Much has been made of numerous polls that report the rise of “nones,” or respondents who claim to have no religious affiliation. Pundits often take this to mean that the public is growing less religious, but it only means people are growing less particular about religion. A good (i.e., genuine) atheist is hard to find, because almost everyone believes in a being they call God.
Earlier this month, Rodney Stark commented in The Wall Street Journal on “The Myth of Unreligious America”: “[T]hose who say they have no religion are strikingly religious. Most say they pray, and a third report having had a religious experience. Half of these respondents who would be considered by survey takers to have ‘no religion’ believe in angels.” Stark, an author (The Triumph of Christianity), sociologist, and co-director of the Institute for Religious Studies at Baylor University, understands polling; he and his colleagues have conducted three comprehensive Baylor Religion Studies over the last 10 years. There’s no reason to doubt his conclusion that religion per se is hardly on the wane in America, but it doesn’t follow that “no news really is good news.”
Stark does not mention the content of religious faith—which can vary widely, even among self-identifying Christians. And there’s the rub: Even though hard-core atheists make a lot of noise and stage high-profile tantrums, the real challenge to biblical truth comes from the “religious” who feel free to ignore or re-interpret parts of Scripture that don’t square with a 21st century worldview. If God had a Facebook page it might break all records for “Likes.” What’s not to like in a “God” who doesn’t say much? Whose communication is limited to breathtaking sunrises and comforting proverbs? He could be your touchstone, your candle in the dark, your lucky charm, your dashboard bobblehead doll who nods reassuringly at every turn. He could be anything except the righteous judge displayed in the Bible.
The prophet Jeremiah indicts our generation as much as his own: “They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Jeremiah’s audience was intensely religious, but there’s a world of difference, as R.C. Sproul says, between believing in God and believing God. Our Battle for the Bible has just begun.