So an atheist walks into a church. If you're waiting for the punch line, it's not a joke. According to a recent AP report, something called "atheist mega-churches" are springing up across the USA. There's music, talks about science, maybe a sermon, but one element is missing: God.
Atheism is chic. An organization called the Secular Student Alliance has more than 400 affiliates at American colleges and high schools, a 500% increase over the past few years. Another group, American Atheists, will hold its annual convention in April in Salt Lake City, right there amid the Mormon faithful. The group's motto: "Think Again." I would say the same to them.
Meanwhile, book stores are filled with authors declaring that "God is Not Great," God is a "Delusion," and you are a moron if you believe in the Deity. The secular press, of course, loves these books and the reviews are largely favorable.
That's not to say there aren't believers in the mainstream media. Soon after swimmer Diana Nyad completed her remarkable swim from Cuba to Florida last year, she described herself as an atheist who is in awe of "the beauty of this universe." Oprah Winfrey got in hot water, pardon the expression, for informing Nyad that she is therefore not really an atheist.
Polling the folks about faith is tricky, but most surveys show that about 90% of Americans believe in God. Impressive, but that's down from 98% in 1967. And younger people are less considerably likely to believe than their parents.
Hollywood plays a role in this trend. According to the book Celebrities in Hell, a number of big stars may be aligned with the universe, but not with the force that most of us believe created it.
The book quotes the following: - George Clooney: "I don't believe in heaven or hell. I don't know if I believe in God." - Angelina Jolie: "There doesn't need to be a God for me." - Carrie Fisher: "I love the idea of God, but it's not stylistically in keeping with the way I function."
Indeed. Believing in God is not very stylish in mainstream media circles these days. The question then becomes, is there anything wrong with that? After all, we have freedom from religion in America; the Constitution makes it clear that no power in this country has the right to impose religion on anyone.
So the atheists have clear sailing, and I say: Thank God. People of faith should be challenged and made to think about their beliefs. Critical thinking in all areas makes your mind sharper, your philosophy stronger.
Back in 2007, I was looking forward to debating the most successful of the atheist proselytizers, Richard Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion. He basically says that science can explain everything and no one has any direct evidence there is a God.
But I knocked him out in the fourth round with this right hook: "[The earth] had to come from somewhere, and that is the leap of faith you guys make - that it just somehow happened."
Dawkins replied: "You're the one who needs a leap of faith. The onus is on you to say why you believe in something ... you believe in, presumably, the Christian God Jesus."
"Jesus is a real guy," I said. "I'm not positive that Jesus is God, but I'm throwing in with him rather than throwing in with you guys, because you guys can't tell me how it all got here."
"We're working on it," Dawkins said.
"When you get it," I shot back, "maybe I'll listen."
But the atheists will never get it. The universe and the earth are so complex, so incredibly detailed, that to believe an accidental evolutionary occurrence could have led to the nature/mankind situation we have now requires a giant leap of imagination.
Richard Dawkins and I had a rematch a couple of years ago when he wrote a book aimed specifically at children. "The book is about science," he told me, "and everything about the natural world can be explained by science."
I chastised Dawkins for promoting atheism to youngsters. "You want children to reject God and religion," I told him, "and you're trying to get to the kids and say you're an idiot if you believe in God."
Richard Dawkins and all the other non-believers are free to think and say whatever they want. As long as they don't attack people of faith and leave the kids out of it, I have no problem with them. As my eighth grade teacher Sister Martin once said, "Faith is a gift." But not everybody gets to open the box.