Atheism appears to be on the rise, and atheists are becoming emboldened about their prospects.
Two reports - one fom the Washington Post and one from the New Humanist journal - explain the growing popularity of atheism.
According to Greg Paul, writing in the Post (20 Sept. 2011), "Western atheism has evolved into a forward-looking movement that has the wind at its back, is behind the success of the best run societies yet seen in human history, and is challenging religion as the better basis of morality." At least the first and last statements can be credited. The recent riots in London may be a portent of what lies ahead for societies which have thrown off God and the moral restraints of His Law.
Still, "Even in the U.S., a religious anomaly in the Western world, atheists are making major gains while Christianity withers, already having lost the mainstream culture to secularism." He's certainly correct about Christianity withering, in spite of the many visible evidences suggesting a yet-vibrant Christian presence in the land, and about the mainstream culture. Churches here look very little like the churches of the New Testament, which turned their world upside-down for Christ. Churches in America appear in many ways to have turned the world upside-down all right, only to sprinkle its savor lavishly on all their doings.
Mr. Paul continues, "The future of American faith is grim as the nation undergoes the secularization process that has already pretty much wrecked the churches in the rest of the West." Whether American churches stand to be "wrecked" any time soon remains to be seen; however, "the secularization process" certainly is proceeding apace in this country, and the churches seem unable or uninterested in challenging it.
Meanwhile, from a European perspective, Jonathan Ree offers a very informative summary of the rise of atheism in the West in his New Humanist article, "Varieties of irreligious experience" (Sept/Oct, 2011). He notes three primary reasons why people have been leaving Christianity over the past couple of centuries: Bewilderment at the size of the cosmos (and, thus, the insignificance of human beings); the improbability of the soul and eternal life; and the desire to break free of Biblical morality.
I rather suspect the last motive is the most significant of the three.
Just as much a contributor to the ascendancy of atheism, however, is the lack of an effective witness for Christ and Biblical truth on the part of Christians. In spite of clear Biblical mandates, most Christians are not active in sharing their faith with others, and they have not prepared themselves to give a reasoned and respectful answer for the hope they have in Christ.
Meanwhile, the "new atheists" are outspoken, cocky and engaging, and actively seeking to enlist government in their crusade to marginalize the faith of Christ and keep it bottled up within the harmless confines of churches.
Atheism is not good news for this or any society. Yet atheism is on the rise. What German sociologist Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann refers to as "the spiral of silence" has set in on the churches. Whereas the redeemed of the Lord should be "saying so" at every opportunity, by every means, and with boldness and power, we have backed down from our witness and yielded the floor to blustery atheists. The less we speak, the more emboldened they become.
I am persuaded this is a momentary setback and the Spirit of God will again revive His churches to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to an increasingly disillusioned and despairing world (twin children of the atheist resurgence). The Lord beckons us to seek Him and to call on Him, so that He might restore and renew us and shine the light of His countenance upon us once again.
We may be too timid to bear witnes to our neighbors - which, for shame. But are we too timid - and too disobedient - even to seek the Lord for revival?
Related texts: Psalm 80; Psalm 107.2; Jeremiah 33.3; Acts 1.8; 1 Peter 3.15
A conversation starter: "Why do you think atheism is on the rise? And is this a good thing for our nation?"