At times you can witness a pianist play a “dissonant note” at the very beginning of the music piece he or she has chosen to play. This can be stylistic or, in some cases a psychological “device” used to break the tension before starting the actual song. So, to introduce this book review, I am going to use a “dissonant literary introduction” by actually talking about a different book which I read a few years ago. The book I am referring to is titled “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” written by Retired Army Colonel Harold G Moore and Joseph L Galloway. This book is based on a true story about an early and strategic battle of the Vietnam War that became a “policy baseline” for the future planning of the war. As for America, the entire social ethos soon became engulfed with the war. One can still hear the haunting lyrics “Tin Soldiers and Nixon coming, four dead in Ohio” (taken from the song titled “Ohio” by Neil Young). Then there was “I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, Everybody look what’s goin down” (lyrics taken from the song titled “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield). And then, we can always contemplate what was the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” really about. The rest is history. Let’s get back to the book. After I started reading “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” I couldn’t put it down. With each page I actually felt as if I was there, experiencing the same breathtaking peril, desperation and uncertaintity as the soldiers on the battlefield. After reading “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” I felt as if I finally understood what really happened in Vietnam.
When one reads the book entitled “The Twilight of Atheism” by Alister McGrath a person gets the sense that they have happened upon a long lost explanation that has been missing from the historical record – a bridge that connects the present with the past. McGrath masterfully weaves between the inter-relatedness of politics, psychology and Christianity, over the last couple of centuries in Europe and the United States. McGrath’s book pulsates with a tone and congruence that makes history “come alive” in the mind of the reader as you get a sense that you are finally understanding what happened to the collective soul of America.
There are several key points made in the book and I will briefly discuss a few. First, on pages 76-77 we see a European society in which there had been a long-standing historical belief in God that had existed through the ages and this belief was now being challenged by atheism. This challenge to the church was essentially a socio-religious “flip-flopping” of collective, social thought, in that, Christians were now being challenged to “prove that God exits.” It might be pointed out here, that atheists gave no thought to, and showed no appreciation for the “narrative method” of recording history that was used for scripture. In other words, it is the “story” and the context within history in which the story was handed down that makes it legitimate. To say otherwise, is simply to “erase” the story of mankind. And, if you erase the historical record, then you have to put something else in its place. Re-writing history was the business of atheists, the same as we see today.
To the atheist who asks for evidence that God exits, we have it. The complexity of nature itself is proof enough. With each technological advancement in our ability to “look inside” nature, we see that it becomes more and more complex with crescendoing intricacy. The Apostle Paul makes reference to this in the Book of Acts when he talks about the seasons and climate that causes the fields to give produce. On the other hand, if the atheist is going to insist that God doesn’t exist, then how is the atheist going to prove it? Christians are often sarcastically referred to as “book burners.” The reality is, if the atheists had their way and burned all the Bibles in the world, it wouldn’t affect the reality of God one bit. If the atheists ever succeeded in shutting off all Christian radio and TV and put padlocks on the doors of all the churches in the world, it still wouldn’t change the reality of God.
Another point McGrath makes is found on page 164 and it is directed at the church. McGrath describes how the leaders of the church witnessed the social change taking place during the counter-culture revolution of the 1960’s and tried to emulate the same in the church by attempting to “make God relevant.” It was as if the leaders of the church were “belatedly jumping on the bandwagon of social change” and in so doing, they bought into a temporal social phenomenon and actually weakened the influence of the church in the process. It was a strategic blunder on the part of the church leaders as they gave in to the pressure of believing that the influence of the church was limited to, and driven by, social trends of the day rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit. To some degree, we are witnessing the same thing today, however; the resistance we are beginning to witness coming against the church today is quite a bit more virulent than what we saw in the 1960’s. If the present persecution against Christianity continues on the progressive curve we are witnessing, a Christian will not be able to maintain his or her faith without the power of the Holy Spirit. We are beginning to see a systematic marginalization and exclusion of evangelical and spirit-filled Christians from the mainstream of society.
On page 230 of the book, McGrath makes an astute observation as he points out the reality that a paradox has been put forth in that “the greatest intolerance and violence” of the 20th Century was, in fact, practiced and conducted by those who were at the same time, claiming that religion caused intolerance and violence. To put it in street vernacular it was like “The Christians are all intolerant and have been reported to be violent at times, therefore; let’s kill all the Christians because they are intolerant and violent.” Truly, a paradox.
But today, it seems that we are witnessing something far more ominous on the horizon. It seems that there is a strata within society that has settled into a mindset that says it is OK to persecute, marginalize and even kill those who don’t agree with them, so long as you persecute, marginalize and kill the others in a systematic and “sanitized” way that keeps it all at a safe and deniable distance. There is a form of ecumenical world religion that is becoming very pervasive and extremely exclusive toward any who dare to challenge it, especially conservative minded, spirit-filled Christians. The world is telling the church “It is OK to claim to be a Christian, and to believe in God, Jesus and Christianity, so long as you don’t practice it.” It’s kind of like what we have seen develop over the last few years toward the Christmas season which is “Please celebrate Christmas, buy lots of gifts, spend lots of money, but, just don’t really be Christian and what ever you do, don’t say anything about Jesus coming into the world to save sinners.” In other words, please celebrate Christmas because you are Christians, but just don’t practice your Christianity.
In the process of the above, we are seeing a slow but sure drift of our society toward a world system of government and religion. Let us all be clear on one point. I will use a quote that is attributed to Nietzsche in which he is recorded to have said, “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet.” This is a true statement, in that, if you are going to say that God doesn’t exist, then, at the same time you are saying that the morality and behavioral standards attributed to God do not exist either. So, then, you are left with either a free for all, and a king of the hill approach to man’s existence in which the most powerful, brutal, evil men will gain control, or, at best, the most you could hope for is that mankind can get organized enough to develop some sort of behavioral code and hope that you and your kind somehow find favor with those who are making the decisions.
If you found this particular book review interesting, then you might also enjoy reading “Rage Against God” by Peter Hitchens.