Atheists and The Pilgrims

This is shaping up to be a very exhausting week. I’m thankful that I have a WordPress app that allows me to blog from my phone, but it’s certainly not preferable to my laptop.

Christian and Hopeful have come some way now from the Giant Despair’s Castle, passing over the Delectable Mountains (which fall under the kingdom of Immanuel), and onto the Enchanted Ground, where they encounter a man called Atheist. Atheist is a former pilgrim who became disenchanted with his journey when his expectations weren’t met, and tries, however briefly, to dissuade the pilgrims from their goal. Naturally, being steadfast in pursuing the kingdom, the pilgrims move on about their way.

This story serves a dual purpose for me, because I feel the way John Bunyan portrayed Atheist bears little relevancy in our time. For Bunyan, atheists were few and far between, and they were considered irrational and heretical. Today, not so much. Though still a minority, they are a loud one, and they work hard to make their voice heard. Today, however, their disenchantment, and in some cases hostility, toward Christians is sometimes more than just understandable, which brings me to my first point: Christians do an excellent job proving atheists right.

In Bunyan’s time, not being part of the church was radical and left you ostracized from society, and it was the attitude of the church to encourage that ostracizing, even demand it. Today the church, in most cases, has dialed it back in some places and turned up the heat in others, forcing the free thinker away either by cold indifference or stake-burning anger. Though the years have brought changes, much of it is too little, too late. The lack of forgiveness once lorded over the doubter returns now with greater ferocity, leaving the church reeling and dumbfounded.  Oppression tends to make people rather bitter, so the church’s shock is rather unfounded. The fact that people still make claims that God is dead (though I find this trend waning, even in the face of New Atheism) ought to testify that those seeking to kill him come, to some extent, with historical support.

However, for my second point, the fact does remain that, though doubt and questioning ought to be welcomed in the church, the church itself cannot simply bend to the will of the individual who wants church in his own way. What is more unfortunate, however, is that the church worldwide has bent over backward not to doubters, freethinkers, and those in pursuit of truth, but to popular topics and opinions, leading to a weak, more pliable Jesus. As Dorothy Sayers once said, “The church has pared the claws of the Lion of Judah.” In the interest of feeling good and learning how to be happy, we’ve molded Jesus into our own image, and have ignored the challenging, bold, sometimes insulting Jesusinto who called people to lead a life counter to the lasseiz-faire, survival of the fittest culture of their time (and ours as well).

Brennan Manning once said, “The greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus by their lips, then walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” How could anyone actually WANT to believe in the Jesus we have made, who tells us how to be happy and dispenses pithy quotes to make us feel good? Our Jesus only leaves the congregant disaffected, and turns them to unbelief. Shame on us, for turning away the atheist in favor of our emotions.

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