Adapted from a post originally published October 7, 2005
Blogging has a way of bringing people together who never would have met otherwise. Here, it is Christians and atheists. We don’t tend to run in the same circles in our social lives, and we don’t often talk about these kinds of issues at work, so this is unique in many ways. It’s very stimulating, too, and it’s giving me new perspective, too, on the so-called “culture wars.” I wonder whether we’ve chosen the wrong metaphor. It’s not so much a war between cultures as it is the fact of two worlds, vastly different from one another, coexisting on the same planet.
There is a world of those who believe in God as creator of the universe and all life; the sovereign, merciful ruler; the source of all goodness and beauty; the ground of all truth, including moral truth; the One revealed in Scripture and made manifest through Jesus Christ, who lived, died and rose again; the One on whom we depend for rescue from death due to our own rebellion from him; the one who gives life to those who accept it. This world accepts what it means to be a Christian, as LaShawn Barber eloquently summarized it.
… and Atheists
What is the second world? On a spiritual level God certainly knows who is who, but on a level more visible to us, it’s not necessarily easy for us to draw a clean line delineating the difference. Everyone is in a different stage of their journey, believing some things, questioning others. There is a spectrum of belief.
Clearly, though, there are opposite poles on that spectrum, and they are certainly in conflict. This was brought home to me when I wrote the original of the post by a treatise by Barbara Forrest, who testified that week at the Intelligent Design trial in Dover, PA. She is an active atheist; she argues in her paper for “philosophical materialism,” which for her (as for most of us) is explicitly equivalent to atheism. She was then, and apparently continues to be, a board member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, and she certainly represents pole of belief from Christianity.
The Other World Makes So Little Sense
Having studies some of her work in depth (see here, for example), I have this general impression to offer: She lives in a different world than I do. Her logic leads in directions that make no sense to me; I cannot fathom why she would take the argument where she does. It seems to me that any thinking person should see it the same way, but for the sake of this post, it’s enough to say that we are worlds apart.
Since writing this about Barbara Forrest, I’ve had the same experience replayed with atheist commenters over and over again.
A similar distance separates people on opposing sides of other current controversies: abortion, homosexual rights, atheistic evolutionism, public morality, stem cell research, capital punishment, and so on. Not every controversy can be cleanly characterized according to this two-worlds view (environmentalism, the war in Afghanistan, economic issues, and racial issues, for example), but some of the hottest ones do. Above all, the religion question itself–like the fear that some express (irrationally, in my opinion) that the U.S. is heading toward a rigid theocracy–demonstrates the polarity of which I speak.
The Bible, On Our Two Worlds
The Bible is certainly realistic about this. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you” (from John 15:18-25). This was not paranoia speaking: Jesus himself stood against the order of the day and was killed for it.
Those who follow Jesus still stand against the familiar world order, often called simply “the world” in the New Testament.
- The world says to get ahead; Jesus said, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last and servant of all.”
- The world says to get what you can get; Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
- The world says to get even; Jesus said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses [sins, offenses], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
- The world says to hold on for dear life; Jesus said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
- The world says to run your own life; Jesus said, speaking of himself, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
- The world says to figure things out for ourselves; Jesus said to rely on the Scriptures as the very seed of life.
- The world says we are self-sufficient; Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
- The world says all paths lead to the same end; Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
We see here two systems, diametrically opposed to each other in their most fundamental values. And why is that? In the passage above where Jesus speaks of being hated by the world, it is because in him the sin of the world stands exposed. Col. 1:13 says believers have been transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. That’s not just Christianity speaking that kind of language: unbelievers have referred to Christians as living in darkness, too. I for one stand with the conviction that there’s more light in Christ than in any other way.
Standing At a Distance
Two worlds. Is it any wonder we don’t always agree in our comments? Is it surprising that explanations of biblical thinking sometimes run lengthy? Is it any wonder that Christians have trouble finding common ground with atheists? We stand at such a distance from each other. For many unbelievers, considering the possibility of a supernatural and sovereign creator is strange, probably even repulsive. For me, the thought of a cosmos barren of such a loving creative source runs counter to what I know and have long experienced to be true.
The God I have known in this way is deeply wonderful and satisfying. I can only pray and hope that some unbeliever will be motivated to explore his reality.
Which World Is the Real World?
This leads to two great questions. The first is, which (if either) of these worlds has it right? The test is which one makes the most sense as a complete system. If I am right–and I’m betting my life on it–then the Biblical viewpoint squarely stands the test of being consistent with its own teachings and with what we know to be true of life and of ourselves.
Meeting One Another In Our Humanness
The second great question is, where shall we meet, we denizens of such different worlds? I suggest it is in our humanness; for we share more than a world, we share a common human condition. We know what it is to face our joys and our pains. We know particularly what it’s like to be misunderstood, misrepresented, stereotyped. In blogging that happens most often by twisting one another’s words, ignoring key points in the other’s argument, or (most egregiously of all) assuming the other side is intellectually deficient from the get-go. (Sometimes I’ll reach that conclusion eventually, but it takes a lot to get me there.) We know what it’s like not to be listened to.
This, by the way, is one reason I focus a lot here on our essential humanness: if we lose our common grip on that, then I don’t know what could bring us together. We live in two worlds, but we have to find a place to meet somewhere on common ground.