Why are so many atheists on the CNN Belief Blog?

| Father Robert Barron | June 22, 2011 | 7 Comments

A small group of agnostics, atheists and freethinkers gather for a streetside demonstration in Laguna Beach, Calif., in this 2009 file photo. CNS photo / Nancy Wiechec

The CNN Belief Blog, which has graciously featured a few of my pieces, just celebrated its first anniversary, and for the occasion, its editors reflected on 10 things that they’ve learned in the course of the year. The one that got my eye was this: that atheists are by far the most fervent commentators on matters religious.

This completely coincides with my own experience as an Internet commentator and blogger. Every day, my website and YouTube page are inundated with remarks, usually of a sharply negative or dismissive nature, from atheists, agnostics and critics of religion.

In fact, some of my YouTube commentaries have been specifically targeted by atheist webmasters, who urge their followers to flood my site with “dislikes” and crude assessments of what I’ve said.

And one of my contributions to the CNN site — what I took to be a benign article urging Christians to pray for Christopher Hitchens — excited literally thousands of angry responses from the haters of religion.

Aggressive response

What do we make of this? I think we see, first, that atheists have come rather aggressively out of the closet.

Following the prompts of Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher and many others, they have found the confidence to (excuse the word) evangelize for atheism. They are no longer content to hold on to their conviction as a private opinion; they consider religion dangerous and retrograde, and they want religious people to change their minds.

This fervor has led them, sadly, to employ a good deal of vitriolic rhetoric, but this is a free country and their advocacy for atheism should not, of course, be censored. But it should be a wake-up call to all of my fellow religionists. We have a fight on our hands, and we have to be prepared, intellectually and morally, to get into the arena.

Most of the new atheists employ variations of the classical arguments of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud — namely, that religion is a pathetic projection born of suffering, that it is an infantile illusion, that it is de-humanizing, etc.

How well do Christians know the theories of our intellectual enemies? Can we identify their blind-spots and the flaws in their logic? Have we read the great Christian apologists — G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Ronald Knox, Fulton Sheen — and can we wield their arguments against those who are coming at us?

In my own Catholic Church, we sadly jettisoned much of our rich apologetic tradition in the years after the Second Vatican Council, convinced that it would be better to reach out positively to the culture. Well, at least part of that culture has turned pretty hostile, and it is high time to recover the intellectual weapons that we set aside.

Ready to meet the challenge?

Today’s atheists also eagerly use the findings of contemporary science — especially in evolutionary biology and quantum physics — to undermine the claims of religion. Are the advocates of the faith ready to meet that challenge? How carefully have we read the scientific critics? And have we bothered to study the works of such deeply religious scientists as Father John Polking- horne, Father George Coyne, Father Stanley Jaki and Father Georges Le Maitre, colleague of Einstein and the formulator of the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins?

We shouldn’t imitate the Internet atheists in their nastiness, but we should certainly imitate them in our willingness to come forward boldly and showing some intellectual teeth.

But the fierce and vocal presence of so many atheists on the CNN Belief Blog and so many other religious sites also speaks to what I call “the Herod principle.”

The Gospels tell us that Herod Antipas arrested John the Baptist because the prophet had publicly challenged the king. Herod threw John into prison, but then, we are told, the king loved secretly to listen to the prophet, who continued to preach from his cell.

St. Augustine formulated an adage that beautifully sums up the essentials of Christian anthropology: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself; therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” A basic as­sump­tion of biblical people is that everyone is hard-wired for God in the measure that everyone seeks a fulfillment that cannot be had through any of the goods of this world. Long before Augustine, the psalmist prayed, “only in God is my soul at rest.”

Everyone is searching

My wager, as a person of faith, is that everyone — and that includes Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins — implicitly wants God and hence remains permanently fascinated by the things of God.

Though the fierce atheists of today profess that they would like to eliminate religious speech and religious ideas, secretly they love to listen as people speak of God. This goes a long way, it seems to me, toward explaining their presence in great numbers on religious blogs.

So I say to Christians and other believers: Be ready for a good fight, and get some spiritual weapons in your hands.

And, I say to the atheists: I’ll keep talking — because I know, despite all of your protestations and sputtering, that your hearts are listening.

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry Word on Fire and the Francis Cardinal George Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill.

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  • Sam

    10,000 gods and counting…still nothing. This too shall pass.

    It’s going to be really hard to support your delusion of your present god without the literal sword. 

    Superstition is hard to maintain without evidence. 

    • Spanish Inquisitor

      Here’s when you’ll see a decline in aggressive atheist commenters:
      1. When theists stop voting for politicians on the basis of their religious beliefs.
      2. When politicians stop trying to legislate morality on the basis of their religious beliefs.
      3. When theists stop trying to force their beliefs concerning the sexual habits or the sexual identity of others, on others.
      4. when theists and religious politicians stop trying to insert their religious beliefs into public education.
      5. When theists stop objecting to science, including medical research, because it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

      In short, when private religious belief becomes truly private, I think you see a drastic decline in aheaitic coments.

  • Spanish Inquisitor

    What a hypocrite! Let me quote you:

    “this is a free country and their advocacy for atheism should not, of course, be censored”

    Except, of course, here.

  • XanderG

    You really shouldn’t have a question as a blog title. Especially, if when you receive an answer, you delete it straight away. 

    Don’t just shy away from answers you dislike. If your faith is strong, how could someone’s lack of faith affect you?

    You also should not discount a response based on it’s tone. You should be looking at the validity of the argument, not at how it has been expressed.

    Especially when in your own writing: “but this is a free country and their advocacy for atheism should not, of course, be censored”.

    It is entirely hypocritical to then censor comments on your own blog.

    Is this really how you want to act? Is it moral? Is it right?

  • John

    This is so true. I don’t understand why people who say they don’t believe in our Lord have to spend so much time and effort trying to convince the majority to hate Him. I mean, if you don’t believe, why do you care, athiests?

    I think your spot on. They really want to believe in Him, and they can’t stay away.

  • joseph stricklin

    Hey, an atheist here and I feel the need to shine the light on some things you said:

    ?

    ” Are the advocates of the faith ready to meet that challenge?”

    In my opinion, no. And they won’t be until Churches can increase the level of legitimate education among their members and decrease the level of wilful ignorance. One of the most annoying things about Christians to me is their lack in understanding of not only the history of their own religion, but the wall that is built up by their parents and their Church to hide them from the rest of the world’s philosophies. This leads to people bumbling around when are they confronted with strange philosophical analogies and questions or have an atheist throw Bible verses back at them. Oh yes, we read it. Any good atheist has read the entire thing and the Koran. The modern world is too small to keep all of our religious views from affecting one another and therefore, it behoves us to communicate with each other honestly and effectively.

    ?

    “We shouldn’t imitate the Internet atheists in their nastiness,”

    Sometimes we become annoyed at having to answer the same questions over and over again and we resort to short snappy answers. Don’t let this scare you off. However, If you truly encounter a tone you don’t like or they seem to be shot-gunning around your questions, then don’t talk to that person. It’s that simple.

    ?

    “Everyone is searching”

    No. This is not true.

    ?

    “My wager, as a person of faith, is that everyone — and that includes Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins — implicitly wants God and hence remains permanently fascinated by the things of God.”

    This is untrue on many levels. You are asserting to know what is on other men’s hearts and minds, that’s just silly to start off with. And, you shouldn’t find any intellectually honest atheists doing any mind-reading either. This leads to the wilful that they are lying when they assert that they are not searching for God. You’ve already lost the wager if you claim something like that. What If I were a Muslim and told you that, as a Christian, “Your lying about actually believing in Jesus. All of the strife in your life is because Allah is calling to you, but you refuse to see him.”? I would expect you to get angry. Not only is the assertaion a direct assult to your deeply held beliefs…but it’s completely unfounded. These types of accusations are not only dishonest, but also fail to open any sort of productive dialogue.

    ?

    “Though the fierce atheists of today profess that they would like to eliminate religious speech and religious ideas, secretly they love to listen as people speak of God. This goes a long way, it seems to me, toward explaining their presence in great numbers on religious blogs”

    No, it’s not an elimination of speech and ideas we want. It is a broadening and universality of all philosophies and ideals, religious or not, with all subject to he same scrutinity to ensure they adhere to the tenants of equal human rights. Also, again, No I don’t secretly long for your Yahweh. I have a passion for religious philosophy and finding out what people believe and why they believe it.

    ?

    “I think your spot on. They really want to believe in Him, and they can’t stay away.”

    Again, I hoped I covered this well enough above. If not I can go over it again.  And feel free to ask me any other questions.