Thursday, October 02, 2008

On Counter-Apologetics

Derbyshire, in his September Diary, fulminates against Christianity (again):

I am tempted to say that any believers out there who feel like writing a book of apologetics should imitate [Paul Johnson's] approach, if they want to make any impression on the unbelieving reader (which I suspect very few of them actually do want to do) . . . . For an unbeliever, though, most apologetics is thin and dreary stuff. Thinnest and dreariest of all so far was the book all my Christian friends told me I must read, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

I believe Derbyshire when he says he finds Mere Christianity unpersuasive. Back when I read it (college) I found Lewis' reasoning airtight, yet I was disappointed to discover that his arguments made little impact on those with whom I shared them.

This experience made Calvin's doctrine of God's sovereignty all the more salient. We are not, by nature, basically good, basically rational creatures just waiting for the gospel to be properly explained to us by C.S. Lewis. On the contrary, rebellion against God is mankind's default state. It is only by God's prior regeneration that we can even understand it, let alone respond to it. As the Shorter Catechism says,

Effectual calling is an act of God's free grace, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

I've written this often enough that I should put it in a macro. But let's accept, arguendo, that the Derb's standard of persuasiveness is appropriate, and hold atheism to that standard: how many believers have been persuaded by the writings of, say, Sam Harris, to renounce their faith? Can Derbyshire name one person? Let's compare that number to the number for whom Mere Christianity answered their lingering objections. Does anyone doubt which number is greater?

Elsewhere in his post:

American liberalism and American conservatism have both in turn been debauched by presidents filled with religious zeal (J. Carter and G. W. Bush respectively). Perhaps atheism may yet be the salvation of the Republic.

Without defending George Bush, the assesment of whom I basically agree with Derbyshire, I would point out that atheism is functionally religious in the minds of most of its adherents, and the magical thinking Derbyshire loathes so much makes its political home in the party of unbelief. Derbyshire may have forgotten this, but cold-blooded rationalism on the level of GNXP is a trait shared by only a tiny, tiny minority of political actors. Yes, Bush, by virtue of his party affiliation convinced far too many people that the purity of our intentions could overcome any obstacle, but if Derbyshire believes that atheists are riding to extricate us from this disaster, then Derbyshire is guilty of the same magical thinking.

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